Smart Borders

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The Effects of Not Choosing Nonviolence

“’You are unleashing certain things in a human being we don’t allow in civic society, and getting it all back in the box can be difficult for some people’, said William C. Gentry, an Army reservist and Iraq veteran who works as a prosecutor in San Diego County.” (Sontag, Deborah)

As the United States erects borders and infiltrates more and more countries with its military, it is chilling to see the effects of choosing violence over nonviolence. Today’s New York Times article entitled “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” states that 121 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been involved in a killing after returning home. The stories are heart-wrenching because everyone is a victim. Sadly, peace is not a choice we make after war happens. Nonviolence must be the means if it is to be the end.

Martin Luther King voiced it this way in Loving your Enemies..

Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Mindful that hate is an evil and dangerous force, we too often think of what it does to the person hated. This is understandable, for hate brings irreparable damage to its victims. We have seen its ugly consequences in the ignominious deaths brought to six million Jews by a hate-obsessed madman named Hitler, in the unspeakable violence inflicted upon Negroes by bloodthirsty mobs, in the dark horrors of war, and in the terrible indignities and injustices perpetrated against millions of God’s children by unconscionable oppressors.

But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

It is startling to look back on the last 50 years of American history and cringe at the spiraling cycle of hate from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Our nation, as well as our soldiers, suffers from PTSD. How can we pay men and women to travel to other countries to engage in actions which will endanger their lives, their minds, and their souls, yet has never been proven to work and in fact has done exactly the opposite? We shiver to imagine the future of a world which continues to up its use of violence.

“’Seth has been asked and required to do very violent things in defense of his country,’ Captain Tiffner wrote. ‘He spent the majority of 2003 to 2005 in Iraq solving very dangerous problems by using violence and the threat of violence as his main tools. He was congratulated and given awards for these actions. This builds in a person the propensity to deal with life’s problems through violence and the threat of violence’.” (Sontag, Deborah)

In this century, we must dust off the proven theory of nonviolence and assert that it is not only the effective tool of the African-American girl marching in a civil rights demonstration, but also the path to diplomacy and lasting peace in the Middle East and the Midwest. Nonviolence is much more than the civil disobedience of Gandhi’s satyagrahis; it can also be a national policy which works with the opposition to create two winners and true progress. Nonviolence cannot be solely left to those of impeccable character like Martin Luther King, Jr., or the ascetics like Gandhi, or even the ornery curmudgeons like Henry David Thoreau. We have seen enough; it is high time the United States and the United Nations take the lead in truly employing nonviolent strategies not just in conjunction with military power but in stead of violence. Nonviolence is more than civil disobedience, noncompliance, more than sit-ins and hunger strikes, more than boycotts and speeches and marches and voting. It is love in action.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a, NASB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sontag, Deborah and Lizette Alvarez. “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles.” New York Times. January 13, 2008. Web:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/us/13vets.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

 

This is part of an ongoing series entitled “War Torn.” Look for it in upcoming issues of the New York Times.

Veteran’s Day

The organ mimics marching feet, the harmonized singing echoes the call and response of orders and assent. The five verses summon up images of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq I and II. How clean and pure and melodic it must be for angels to wage war singing songs like this, songs that sing like peacetime parades but conjure up allusions to the battlefield.

Veteran’s Day falls but a week after All Saint’s Day. What uneasy company! The one is to celebrate all those who have died, died working and loving and waiting and worshiping. The other celebrates all those who have rushed laughing and mistaken to the plunge of bullets, deeming their cause righteous enough to kill for, judging their salary a mandate of the people and their victory divine right.

Perhaps instead we should remember all those who we’ve killed in the name of war. There can be no other cause for war than war, and we have certainly killed more than our fair share of the opposition, whether that enemy opposed us or our economy or our friends’ economies.

Like many congregations around the nation, a Methodist church in Brownsville struggles with the Veteran’s Day holiday every year. Inevitably the large cadre of veterans want military songs and salutes, while those who hold Jesus’ message of peace cringe at the thought of a militarized church zone. The same dispute waged years ago over the three flagpoles outside. Many wanted the American flag to fly above the Texas flag and the Christian flag, but many complained, some because they though Christ should be overall, a few who thought Texas should be tallest.

The myth of redemptive violence is alive and well in churches who still speak war rhetoric. There can be no vanquishing of evil, because it is people who commit evil deeds. To vanquish evil is to unconscionably vanquish those individuals who oppose our position, thereby making us evil and vile and worthy or violent retaliation. The cycle goes on and on, with the church’s crusade banner marching on at the forefront.

If the Christian church is to take serious its role in healing the nations, it must recall all hymns which equate holy wars with Calvary. Redemptive violence is not sacrificial love – one invokes suffering on oneself, the other inflicts it upon any who oppose it. This imagery, contrary to some beliefs, is not necessary nor bedrock to the Christian faith. For years we Christians have been slack in our acceptance of war rhetoric. The late Kurt Vonnegut scathingly accused his fellow fiction writers of taking the easy way out by having the good guy kill the bad guy in the end. He writes,

I want to apologize for all of us. We have ended so many of our stories with gunfights, with showdowns and death, and millions upon millions of simpletons have mistaken our stories for models of modern living. We have ended our stories with showdowns so often because we’re so lazy. Gunplay is no way to live – but it is a peachy way to end a tale. (“Address at Rededication of Wheaton College Library, 1973”)

The same sad statement could be leveled at the church, though we have even less excuse than a capitalistic storyteller. Every time Christians support a war, we are admitting that God’s followers are unwilling either to follow his teachings or too impatient to work at the peaceful solution. Every time we give in to violence, we are espousing the dangerous belief that Jesus’s Good News of peace and love does not apply to all men everywhere the same.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was often frustrated with the churches of his time. He saw countless Christians talking about love but then keeping mum about the injustices of segregation and the immorality of Vietnam. In his famous book, Where do we go from here?, he writes,

Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases …Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

All too often, we Christians forget that we serve Jesus, the man of sorrows, the Savior who saved by becoming a living sacrifice, a martyr. How can we go on supporting “righteous” violence any longer?

The church is best when it counterbalances and opposes the state. It should provide the moral conscience of our 3-party system; it should be the fourth party, mores so than the media. Instead, we have allied ourselves with soldiers in a time that needs no encouragement for warring. It is high time we took Jesus’ brave stance against violence and began working on problems themselves rather than attacking those who might oppose us. The gospel of peace speaks for itself when it is lived out in earnest.

Published in: on November 12, 2007 at 7:28 am  Leave a Comment  

The Quest for Quality Quarreling

     Quakers know how to quarrel. Perhaps that is how they can be pacifists. According to a good brother of mine, Friends table their disputes until the next day of the meeting (every meeting is more than one day). If the dispute still exists, then the two Friends at odds participate in Two Men Standing. This involves standing beside each other for hours in silence, usually in a very public place. One person eventually cracks or comes up with a compromise/solution, and the dispute is solved without violence and without bitterness.

     If it’s one thing our country’s politics need, it’s civil discourse. Barack Obama has repeatedly voiced his stance for civil discourse, and to the extent that he and other candidates have engaged in such discussion throughout their campaigns, our nation has seen a much more respectful campaign trail. While it is important that our politicians civilly disagree, it is even more vital that we as Americans discuss common issues with respectful dialogue. “Illegal alien,” “welfare queen,” and “terrorist” are all incendiary terms which do little to progressively engage the issue but do much to inflame opinions and summon the worst in human biases. Lou Dobbs, I hesitate to mention his name for fear he might use it for further publicity, is solving our nation’s disputes about as well as a border wall will resolve our border insecurities. Such bombastic hate-speech separates us from our neighbors much more than a border wall, and it further discriminates those legal immigrants from the countries which have been targeted as chief senders (ex. Mexico).

    People are people, and to peg them as issues is to divest them of their sanctity. Civil discourse does not judge an entire race or gender or subculture on the actions of a single individual. Civil discourse does not try to beat one’s opponent but seeks eventual harmony between both sides. I wonder if shock speakers like Lou Dobbs would take up my challenge and stand beside me outside the U.N. Building in New York, agreeing to wait in silence until we had some words of peace and reconciliation for each other. Our country, I think, could do more with these standing disagreements than with a standing army.

Published in: on November 10, 2007 at 9:43 pm  Comments (2)