Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sleeping with the Enemy


You're right. I was focused on our present enemy, the Islamist, the sort of enemy that pacifists don't want to fight against (or so it seems), namely an enemy trying to kill us. Yes, there are other sorts. I may have mentioned that in my experience some of the most verbally violent people (not you, for which thanks!) I've encountered in discussion groups have been pacifists. That would mean that these verbally violent people were not turning the other cheek in the very context in which Jesus was asking them too – namely, in a personal context. Jesus never addressed how we should behave if we were in control of our state, or how we should behave if we were attacked in a physical way by an enemy. (The slap to which we were to turn the other cheek was an insult not a physical attack) To take words Jesus applied to personal relationships and magnify them into a modus operendi for operating a state is in my opinion wrong. The world has changed. The context within which Jesus spoke is in many respects not our context; so we must apply his teachings with a certain degree of discretion. Jesus did not cover every possible thing that might confront us (he did not provide us with a Sharia like the Islamists have). You seem to be taking “enemy” in a literal fashion, i.e., as an absolute, in other words doing the very thing you chastised me for in your note below.

What I mean is an enemy like the Germans and Japanese in WWII, and the Islamists now. We should understand that such enemies are trying to defeat us in war. In the case of the Islamists they will kill us, both you and I, if they get the chance. Yes, when we are at war, we should be willing to kill our enemies. You seem to want to take this matter beyond what I am saying. I am not intending to do away with the Geneva Convention. I am entitled to wear a U.N. Service medal for my service in Korea and we Marines operated in accordance with the Geneva convention. I had a chance to kill someone but captured him instead. We shouldn’t be blood thirsty, but neither should we refuse to take up arms in the face of an enemy bent upon our destruction. We should understand what it is that makes them that sort of enemy, the sort that wants to kill us, and behave accordingly which means being willing to kill them if necessary.

You ask about survival of the fittest in regard to societies. Yes, as far as I can tell that is what happened prior to history (from anthropological studies) and during the entire history of the human race. Most of the tribes and peoples mentioned in the Bible can no longer be found. Read Tacitus’ Germania or Xenephon’s Anabasis and you will note the same thing. Many tribes and thriving people are mentioned that no longer exist. They didn’t decide to voluntarily disband. They were defeated in subsequent wars and then destroyed as distinct societies.

I had written “anthropologists tell us, in our pre-historic struggle against a variety of competitors (enemies).” And you responded with “So we take our cues on how we treat our enemies from ancient common sense that anthropologists tell us to do? What if some day anthropologists tell us in the future that its best not to kill or fight or do war no more?”

I’m not saying that we take our cues from anthropologists. I’m saying that wherever we look, whether in history or prehistory, men have always been willing to defend themselves, their families, and their societies. That happened in the pre-historical period and it happens today. Wishing it wasn’t true, wishing we didn’t have to fight against enemies trying to kill and defeat us, won’t make the enemies go away. I vaguely recall that there were some pacifistic tribes that were so sequestered in such a way that they lost their ability to fight. That didn’t save them however; so perhaps that ought to be the question you ask yourself. Would you want to make your pacifism a categorical imperative for your nation if it meant that we would be conquered by the Islamists? Further down you say this isn’t true, but I fail to understand under what circumstances you would be willing to fight – or be willing to let me fight; which in an earlier note was what I was insisting upon. I don’t have a problem with your being a pacifist, but I do have a problem with your wanting all Americans to be pacifists.

You ask, “How many wars are really fought because the other person started attacking us and would not quit that we in America have entered in the last fifty years? It seems to me there is typically a vagueness by Americans that we must support our country no matter what (ie-----nationalism to the idolatrous extent) and so this is justification alone that we must be good Americans and support all wars and our troops no matter what? This is why I think people feel very uneasy talking about ‘just wars’ because when those principles are applied (which are not even pacifist ones but ones that people use to justify wars), most of our modern wars still do not stand up to those standards.”

I disagree with you here. I’ve had occasion to study our modern wars and know what our considerations were before we entered them. Pick a war and let’s discuss it. The most seemingly ambivalent, the ones the Leftists like to trot out as our most unjust is the Vietnamese War, but this was part of the Cold War and the strategy developed by Acheson and his people during the Truman administration – that became known as the Truman policy, that is, applying pressure against the Communists wherever possible. Some people credit Reagan with having won the Cold War, but I believe it was won in the strategy developed during the Truman administration that we continued until the Cold war was won, and the Vietnam War was part of that strategy. The winning of the Cold War was worth it in my opinion. Communism, an ideology, and our enemy was defeated. That, in my opinion, is a good thing.

But why not speak about what we are facing now, the Islamists? I’ve had occasion to study them, their tactics, their goals and their ambitions. They have declared themselves our enemies. I think we should treat them as such and consider ourselves at war with them. What do you think about the Islamists?

You write, “I find it interesting that many people propose our nation must have a standing army and that the church should give its blessing on this. All this tells me is different Christians certainly have different notions of what Jesus meant as he calls us to be ‘peacemakers.’”

There is nothing that establishes peace in the face of a resolute enemy bent on defeating you better than defeating him. One or the other of you is going to be defeated. We in the West treat our enemies better than those we have fought. I propose we seek to be the winners in a war rather than the losers. We have had bad experiences after disbanding our armies and putting our ships in mothballs. Hopefully we have learned the folly of that.

You write, “It seems like you suggest that Liberal democracies are inherently good nor would they ever fight against each other. That non-liberal democratic societies deserve to be revolted against (which I still do not know what scriptural precedent is used there except it just seems common sense dictates this?) to Christians must follow Caesar (Rom.13). Again, I think your refusal to see that liberal democratic nations can be coopted by the principalities and powers or be a kind of ideology just expounds the problem of how you can neatly have one set of rules for liberal democratic societies and a seemingly different set of rules for non-liberal democratic societies. Again, I can’t see how one would not easily move to God must be on liberal democratic societies side because they are always right and good and non-liberal democratic societies are always wrong and evil no matter what . . .”

You mentioned Romans 13. Romans 13 includes the words, “for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil.” Bring that forward in time to now. We now participate in the rule of our Liberal-Democratic nations. Let us apply this principle and be a terror to evil by defeating the Islamists. The people of in Islamic nations would have nothing to fear from us (per Romans 13) if they did good, but they have chosen to do evil. Let us therefore be a terror to them. You introduce Romans 13 as though we were still a First Century minority, a tiny remnant in the Roman Empire. We are in a very different situation from that.

I’m not saying that non-Liberal-Democratic societies deserve to be revolted against. I said that tyrannies deserve to be revolted against. At least that is what our founding fathers taught, and I agree with them. Were the Islamists to win and establish a tyranny here in our country, I would want to revolt against them. I don’t think I can shoot as well as I used to, but I’d be willing to do whatever I could.

And, once again, I’m not saying that Liberal-Democracies are inherently good – just better than any other form of government that I’ve read about in history. And, once again, you seem to be trying to force the absolutes required for an ideology upon me. I don’t think absolutes apply. We are a protean form of government, not an absolute one.

I had written, “in other words, what we have isn’t an absolute. We may not get justice in our particular case in our law courts, but comparatively we stand a better chance of it than in any previous state or any current modern state that isn’t Liberal-Democracy.” You then write “Okay . . . so this legitimizes war for Christians? (that’s the ball I am keeping my eye on when the conversation seems to make a lot of twists and turns :---)”

No, having a better shot at justice doesn’t justify going to war. I don’t think that is where my statement came from. I think it was in regard to a different ball – the one where you argued that Liberal-Democracy was an ideology. I fail to see the sorts of fixity and absolutes in Liberal-Democracy that there are in other known ideologies. I believe you ignored me on this and wanted to impose an absolute, namely that I thought Liberal-Democracy was absolutely just. I don’t believe that because I don’t believe Liberal-democratic nations adhere to an ideology, and I don’t believe there are fixities, or absolutes, in it such as what would be necessary to pretend that we could provide “absolute justice.” The best we can do is to claim to be relatively better than any of the ideologies or non-Liberal-Democracies.

You say at one point that you don’t agree with the “better red than dead” concept and in another place “anyone arguing for some kind of passive pacifism . . . is totally out to lunch.” But that is what I thought you were saying. Perhaps I was attributing an absolute to you that you don’t really want. On what occasions is it acceptable to you to fight a war, to defend one’s family, etc.?

I had written, “. . . the first step, in my opinion, is to understand our history and the next step is to reinsert ourselves into the mix.” You responded with “and the debate is over how? . . .”

No, I don’t believe the debate is over – just my note. You quoted the end of my note.

Lawrence Helm

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