On this Memorial Day I find myself having to stare my latest internal struggle right in the face. I don’t think it’s going to be a big shocker to any regular readers of this blog that I’m a small “l” libertarian at my core. I think the best thing government can do for us is nothing, and stay out of our lives and our business. Why then, do I have such a hard time with war, and all things military? Shouldn’t it be a no brainer that if I don’t trust the government for something as mundane and simple as mail delivery that I should naturally not trust them with war matters? I mean, do you trust Barack Obama to send your son into a “just” war? I didn’t think so. What about you liberals? Did you trust George Bush to send your son into a just war? And, by the way. Where are all the anti-war liberals these days? As far as I can see we are still bombing Pakistan. Is it ok because Barack is doing it? Well, I digress. That conflict between anti-government in everything, but pro-government in war matters has to be resolved. And, even though I haven’t fully solved it, I think that now I at least have a little more sober grip on it than before.
Last night at church we had one of our members give a really good lesson on how to deal with the problem of evil. And, one thing he said really impacted me when I was thinking of it this morning. He mentioned that we can have all the philosophical and technical arguments nailed down on why the problem of evil is not a defeater for theism, but when it comes to dealing with someone who has just lost a loved one, that’s not the time or place to start rattling off syllogisms. In that situation we instead put our arm around that person and love them through their pain. That’s a time for ministry, not philosophy. I think the same thing is true in the case of war. I think it’s just wrong to look at a soldier and tell them that they are just tools of a corrupt government. Most soldiers are convinced that they are fighting for freedom and liberty. And they don’t need us to come along and tell them that during such and such war they were just pawns of a corrupt government. Even if it’s true. War veterans believe that they fought for something noble and pure. It’s not our place to tell them otherwise, and make the hell they went through into a pair of shackles.
But, this doesn’t mean that Christians should be pro-war. It just doesn’t follow. What we do need to do is to stop defining war-time heroism as the ultimate virtue. To me, this is a big problem. Evangelicalism has come to almost idolize war time bravery. That’s wrong. It ends up creating a spirit in our young men that if they really want to be special and brave, they need to don the uniform. But, what’s the difference ultimately between someone who rushes into a burning building to save two trapped children and a soldier who runs back into gunfire to save a comrade? I don’t see the difference. They are both heroes. They are both brave. But, in too many evangelical churches we would praise the former, but immortalize the latter. It’s not right. Lew posted this very moving scene from The Americanization of Emily on his blog yesterday. It really had an impact on me:
Of course, James Garner’s character is right. Immortalizing our fallen military is a self-perpetuating problem. When we do it, it just creates a spirit amongst our sons that they are something less than they could ultimately be if they don’t face the same thing. And the consequences of that can be seen in the faces of too many sonless mothers and fathers. Too many fatherless children and husbandless wives are the victims of the modern churches obsession with war-time heroism. If you don’t believe me just look at the reasons people give. How many times have you heard the story of the younger brother joining the military to be just like his big brother that the family is so proud of? My wife was reading the other night about the Whisky Rebellion, and Stephen Ambrose was talking about all the different reasons people gave for joining up with Washington to squash those nasty “rebels”:
[Merriweather Lewis] told himself – and his mother – that he signed on for the campaign in order “to support the glorious cause of Liberty, and my country.” He considered the rebels to be traitors and was delighted that “our leading men are deteremined entirely to consume every attuum of that turbulent and refractory sperit that exists among the incergents.”
He was hardly alone. Thousands of young men from the Middle States volunteered. They had been children during the Revolutionary War. Throughout their teen-age years they had heard war stories from their fathers and uncles. They envied the older generation its adventures and leaped at this chance to experience the camaraderie of the campfire, and the possibility of becoming a hero.
The roll of the drum, the cadence of the march, the glittering new uniforms, the eager young patriots, the thrilling sight of General/President Washington at the head of the column, was the way artists of the campaign saw it. The reality was different.
These men had been pawns of the government, seduced by the tales of heroism that they had heard growing up. Those “rebels” had the audacity to not want their whisky to be taxed, since it was one of their only profitable products in the midst of the harsh mountain terrain. And for that, what did they get? They got war. George Washingon , who just happened to be the country’s largest whiskey producer(and thus a business competitor to these “rebels”) and large owner of land in this rebellious area that was threatening to secede used the power of his office and the allure of his war mystique to whip up the young men of the country to go and squash this “rebellion”. The fact that this was clearly a war for the direct benefit of president Washington was evidently not mentioned. This is the danger of trusting government with a large military.
The ability to send it’s men to war is the most horrible symptom of large government, and we should realize that as Christians. The early church was very much pacifist. Not because they objected to violence per se(I personally believe that pacifism is immoral), but because it meant swearing an oath to the state. This is very obvious from the story of Maximillian of Tabessa. Maximillian would not take the seal of the Roman army because he said that he already bore the “seal of Christ”:
On the 12th day of March during the consulship of Tuscus and Anolinus , when Fabius Victor had been brought into the forum at Tebessa, together with Maximilianus, and their advocate Pompeianus had been granted an audience, the last declared, “The temonarius Fabius Victor is present, together with Valerianus Quintianus, the praepositus Caesariensis, and the fine recruit Maximilianus, Victor’s son. Since he is acceptable, I ask that he be measured.” The proconsul Dion said, “What are you called ?” Maximilianus replied, “Why do you want to know my name ? It is not permitted to me to serve in the military since I am a Christian”. The proconsul Dion said, “Ready him”. When he was being got ready, Maximilianus replied, “I cannot serve in the military; I cannot do wrong; I am a Christian.” The proconsul Dion said, “Let him be measured”. When he had been measured, an official reported, “He is five feet ten inches tall.” Dion said to the official, “Let him be marked.” And as Maximilianus resisted, he replied, “I will not do it; I cannot serve in the military.”
Dion said, “Serve so that you do not perish.” Maximilianus replied, “I will not serve; cut off my head; I do not serve the world, but I do serve my God.” Dion the proconsul said, “Who has persuaded you of this ?” Maximilianus replied, “My soul and he who has called me.” Dion said to his father Victor, “Advise your son.” Victor replied, “He himself knows – he has his purpose – what is best for him.” Dion said to Maximilianus, “Serve and accept the seal.” He replied, “I will not accept the seal: I already have the seal of my Christ.” Dion the proconsul said, “I will send you to your Christ right now.” He replied, “I wish that you would do so. That is even my title to glory.” Dion said to his staff, “Let him be marked.” And when he was resisting, he replied, “I do not accept the world’s seal, and if you give it to me, I will break it, since I value it at nought. I am a Christian. It is not permitted to me to bear the lead upon my neck after [having received] the saving seal of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, he whom you do not know, who suffered for the life of the world, whom God surrendered for our sins. All of us Christians serve Him. Him we follow as the source of life and author of salvation.”
It’s necessary for us as Christians to not align ourselves with a certain government. Patriotism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Patriotism, in many cases, gets people killed for senseless reasons. What does that have to do with Christianity? I’m not saying that I have all this stuff worked out yet, but these are my thoughts so far. Here’s the bottom line in as much as I can boil it down. We need to honor people if they fought for an honorable reason, no matter what the real political reason was. Their sacrifice is real. But as we do this we should stear clear of memorializing war itself above other acts of bravery and virtue. In light of all this I’m seeing further that Christian principles fit naturally with libertarian ideas. That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m spent.