Tonight my wife and I went to a local theater that was showing Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satire, “Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” It’s a hilarious film–but sobering, at the same time.
Lots of people love the Bomb. They express their love whenever anyone criticizes Truman’s decision to drop it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Throughout the Cold War, America and the USSR had a morbid love/fear of it, stockpiling thousands of them because they were afraid of the other’s collection. It has been seen as unthinkable, but that hasn’t stopped people from thinking about how it might be used. The French debated dropping it on Dienbienphu. In recent years, some have suggested dropping it on ISIS strongholds or even on Mecca. And now President Obama is seeking to upgrade the aging missile systems so we still have the capability.
I’m old enough to remember Fallout Shelters in schools and other public buildings, but not old enough to have participated in a drill. Back in the late 1950s, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day was arrested five times for refusing to run to a shelter when the siren sounded in a mandatory Civil Defense test. She sat on a park bench scoffing at what she thought to be the absurdity of the idea that fallout shelters would protect anyone from an all-out atomic war between the Soviet Union and the United States.
During those days of the Cold War, some defended the build up through the theory of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD. Others built fallout shelters in the belief that a nuclear exchange was survivable. What “survival” might look like was dramatized at the end of the Cold War in the 1983 TV movie, “The Day After.” Secretary of State George Shultz went on TV after the movie’s credits to calmly state, in grandfatherly gentility, the Reagan administration’s belief that things really weren’t so bad as the filmmakers wanted to make us think.
The world has changed. Many wonder how safe our nuclear arsenal is, and whether a madman within the system (like BG Jack D. Ripper in “Dr. Strangelove”), or terrorists outside, could access even a small one–and what the results might be. That terrorist scenario played out in the 2002 movie, “The Sum of All Fears,” based on a Tom Clancy novel. Scenes from it were shown in the Chaplain Captain Career Course I took a few years ago at the US Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, SC. We had training in DSCA (Defense Support of Civil Authorities) that took us through an exercise based on a scenario in which terrorists detonate a small nuclear bomb in Kansas City. It was suggested that such a catastrophe is now inevitable–a matter of when, not if.
I’ve been thinking more about peace lately, and reading authors old and new as I seek to reevaluate my own attitudes. I’ve ministered to Soldiers and veterans who bear visible and invisible wounds of war. I’ve been on a deployment where I witnessed the appalling ignorance of the US military regarding the Middle East, even after 25 years of military occupation. I’ve followed political debates in which both major party candidates seem to want to outdo the other’s commitment to what Eisenhower called, “the military-industrial complex.” No one speaks of peace, apart from “third party” candidates who are shut out of the national debate. No one speaks of reconciliation. No one wants to understand.
Earlier this week, I finished reading The Root of War is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peacemakers, by Merton’s friend, Jim Forest, founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship. He narrates the story of Merton’s journey as a peace advocate, shown especially in his writings on the Cold War. His growing convictions on the immorality of nuclear weapons resulted in increased censorship. Nevertheless, Merton’s views managed to make their way outside his monastic enclosure, all the way to Rome, where they influenced the debate of the Second Vatican Council, leading to the promulgation of “Gaudium et Spes.” Observes Forest, “What [Merton] had attempted to say in his banned book in 1962 had become the official teaching of the Catholic Church in 1965.”
Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.
The change didn’t happen over night, of course. And Merton was one of many thinkers who were reevaluating the Just War theory in the light of the mushroom cloud.
Those who “love the Bomb” regard Hiroshima and Nagasaki as closing the door on World War 2, and doing so swiftly, diminishing what they think would have been a greater loss of American lives had the US and its allies invaded Japan. Any Christian so arguing has already abandoned traditional Just War doctrine, which prohibits the targeting of civilians and requires “proportionality.” The US had transgressed both areas in firebombing German and Japanese cities prior to August 6, 1945. “But,” argue the lovers of the Bomb, “the War was just! Anyone must admit we had a right to stop Germany and Japan.” Just War theory, however, is not merely concerned with whether a nation has a just reason to go to war, but whether the means by which the war is fought are just.
The defenders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki claim that everyone at the time agreed they were necessary, and only “revisionists” of later decades opposed their use. In fact, Christian opposition to the Bomb was voiced immediately, in articles like the editorial, “America’s Atomic Atrocity,” in the Christian Century of August 29, 1945, and “Horror & Shame” in Commonweal, August 24, 1945.
In our day, the threat of nuclear annihilation has receded in our imagination, replaced by the fear of terrorism. This new threat does not destroy cities, but, through unexpected acts, large and small, insinuates itself into the dark corners of our imaginations. After 9-11, we lashed out at terrorism in vengeance, in anger. But our national rage couldn’t be contained. It wasn’t enough to get Osama bin Laden, or the Afghan Taliban who had sheltered him, we had to destroy Iraq, a country that had never attacked us. We had to set Sunni against Shia to provide a way for us to duck out. We had to use terror and torture and drone attacks on indiscriminate targets in supposedly allied nations–things which only turned more young people against us.
Christians defended the barbarity into which we stepped. I defended it, too, sharing the anger and fear of my fellow Americans. I listened to the crowd, and to our shared emotions, and didn’t hear the voice of Jesus. I think it’s time to listen to him, and to reevaluate our national experience. Maybe you are in the same place. I know other veterans who are.
Judged by the traditional criteria of the Just War theory, the past fifteen years of war violate both Jus ad Bellum (reasons for going to war) and Jus in Bello (conduct of the war). Argue if you must that it is right to respond to 9-11, that did not provide cover for invading Iraq. And the use of drone warfare that disproportionally kills the innocent, and the “double-taps” to take out first responders, as well as the practice of rounding up foreign nationals in exchange for bribes, and hiding them in secret prisons without due process and with torture–these things were wrong.
The words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount must speak to Christians with laser clarity. We cannot justify violence. We cannot excuse it. The Christian is called to obedience to a Higher Law, one which not only says, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” but which says “Thou Shalt Love.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Early Christians embraced this radical message, but in the centuries that followed, as their faith lost its original stigma, the believers lost their original innocence. They were accepted into public office, and ascended to the highest offices. They gave excuses and justification for violence; they tried to rein it in, and limit it, and then came to direct it at enemies of Christendom (Jews and Muslims), and then at enemies of The Church (other believers). The teachings of Jesus were turned into “evangelical counsels” applicable only to a few, and not of general application. The Protestant Reformers gave back with the same measure they received–except for the Anabaptists, radical believers who saw that Christ called them to separate from the world, and to separate from its means, and to live lives of holiness, simplicity, love, and peace.
Early Seventh-day Adventists shared the Anabaptists’ belief that the simple teachings of Jesus apply to his people today. Founded in a time of war, they took a stand against arms, aligning themselves with the peace churches which were entitled to a draft exemption. Said the Adventist leaders in 1864:
“The denomination of Christians calling themselves Seventh-day Adventists, taking the Bible as their rule of faith and practice, are unanimous in their views that its teachings are contrary to the spirit and practice of war; hence, they have ever been conscientiously opposed to bearing arms. If there is any portion of the Bible which we, as a people, can point to more than any other as our creed, it is the law of the ten commandments, which we regard as the supreme law, and each precept of which we take in its most obvious and literal import. The fourth of these commandments requires cessation from labor on the seventh day of the week, the sixth prohibits the taking of life, neither of which, in our view, could be observed while doing military duty. Our practice has uniformly been consistent with these principles. Hence, our people have not felt free to enlist into the service. In none of our denominational publications have we advocated or encouraged the practice of bearing arms, and, when drafted, rather than violate our principles, we have been content to pay, and assist each other in paying, the $300 commutation money.”
For full documentation, see F. M. Wilcox, Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War.
The Adventist Church continues to advocate for a position of noncombatancy, as may be seen in this statement from the Biblical Research Institute. And, as that statement notes, the church has also made positive statements in favor of peacemaking.
Over the years the Seventh-day Adventist Church has released statements that are related to the issue of noncombatancy. In “A Statement of Peace” we read: “In a world filled with hate and struggle, a world of ideological strife and of military conflicts, Seventh-day Adventists desire to be known as peacemakers and work for worldwide justice and peace under Christ as the head of a new humanity.” An earlier document declares: “Adventists, by precept and example, must stand and work for peace and good will toward men—and thus be known as peacemakers and bridge builders.” And the latest official statement, issued in 2002, affirms: “Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, wants His followers to be peacemakers in society and hence calls them blessed (Matt. 5:9).”
At times we sound ambivalent. We advocate noncombatancy, but then say that it’s up to the individual. Angel Rodriguez, in “Christians and War,” begins by rejecting “just war” theory and calls for Christians to be actively engaged in working for peace, but ends his article by suggesting that for Christians in the military, some elements of Just War theory might remain useful. This statement, though, speaks clearly:
We should also acknowledge that there is no such thing as a just war. Only God, who is all-powerful and all-loving, can define and actually bring about a war that results in permanent peace. Christian attempts to define the conditions under which it would be right for Christians to participate in warfare is called the just war tradition. It provides guidelines that could be useful for Christians, but its usefulness is weakened in that it could give the impression that under certain circumstances war may be morally or religiously justifiable. The church must insist at all times on the evilness of human wars.
Lincoln Steed, writing in Liberty in 2003, goes further in his criticism of Just War theory, especially in the context of the Iraq War:
… [S]tripped of false logic, the just war theory is little more than situation ethics writ large. Can the end justify the means? The Allies of World War II felt that firebombing German cities, with little to gain beyond widespread civilian death and destruction, was justified by German atrocities–-today we recognize that we too had been sucked in by the evil spirit of war and killing.
And in the aftermath of Nuremberg and Milosevic we know that the ordinary soldier, the supportive civilian, is not released from moral guilt just because orders come from on high. It is a fearsome thing to live in a world that long ago embraced the principle of mass destruction. But the boundaries of such weaponry are not geographical; they are moral. And it is worth considering that killing on an organized scale, no matter how urgent the need for action, is never just war—it’s always just war.
What do we do? I think we need to go beyond “Just War,” beyond rationalizations, and return ad fontes, to the sources of Christian moral reflection in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount. We are critical of the traditions of men that crept into the church through the medieval period–we say God progressively restored truth. Then let’s go back to those Reformers who restored the truth of the Christian opposition to killing, to the Anabaptists. Let’s flesh out our Adventist understanding that we are not only opposed to killing, we are in favor of peace, justice, and reconciliation (example). Let’s turn again to our Anabaptist brothers and sisters, and learn from them, and walk with them in seeking to show that Jesus’ teachings have meaning for today’s world.
Let’s turn from loving the Bomb, and excusing war, to loving peace–and loving our enemies.