Christian viewpoint:Jim Wallis on the lessons of war

 The American-led war with Iraq has begun. Over the past six months, tens of millions of people, including church bodies and leaders from all over the world, undertook a powerful campaign to stop this war and offered serious alternatives to confront the real threats posed by Saddam Hussein. But now the fighting and killing has begun. As I write, the early American military confidence has run into serious Iraqi resistance and casualties are mounting, both civilian and military. It is not too early to begin to assess the lessons of war. 1. Nobody should be surprised that a vastly superior American fighting force will vanquish a vastly inferior Iraqi army. But one of America's worst characteristics is hoping that success wipes away all the moral questions. In the long run, it won't. War is always ugly and this one will be too. 2. Modern warfare has caused many more civilian casualties than military. Smart bombs are never as perfect as boasted, and not all Iraqis may want to be "liberated" by an American occupation. Above all, we must remember that "collateral damage" is never collateral to the families and loved ones of those killed in war. Don't accept the first reports on casualties from governments (on either side) or "embedded" journalists, many of whom now sound more like cheerleaders than reporters. Be sure that technology will not ultimately usurp theology or morality. Find alternative sources for information (Sojomail can help you). Watch and wait for the real story. 3. Humanitarian aid must never be co-opted by the military as "force enhancement," as the U.S. secretary of defence now terms it. Assistance to the victims of war must never become another arm of military power, but instead is the painful task to be taken on after the destruction of war. Many predict that the aftermath of this war could be far more dangerous and costly in human terms than the military campaign. Listen to the non-governmental relief organizations as we move forward. 4. If an evil, dangerous, and unpopular regime does collapse quickly, that is not an endorsement of war as the answer, but a sign that a better way to resolve the threat might well have been possible. The best wisdom of most all church leaders, former Nobel Peace laureates, and a majority of international political figures and diplomats around the world was that alternatives to a full-scale military assault on Iraq were not adequately tried, and that this was not a war of last resort. 5. A pre-emptive war of choice, rather than of necessity, fought against overwhelming world opinion and United Nations disapproval will not create an atmosphere of cooperation for post-war reconstruction nor, most significantly, for the crucial international collaboration needed to defeat the real threats of terrorism. 6. A new world order based on unilateral rather than multilateral action, military power over international law, and the sole decisions of the world's last remaining superpower over the deliberations of the community of nations will not create a framework the world can or should trust for peace. 7. Unresolved injustices like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, feudal Arab regimes protected by oil, and globalization policies that systematically give advantage to wealthy nations over poor countries and people remain root causes of violence and will not be overcome by the imposition of American military superiority. 8. Dissent in a time of war is not only Christian, it is also patriotic. A long and honourable record of opposition to war in church tradition and American history puts dissent in the mainstream of Christian life and American citizenship. Rather than acquiesce with the start of war, prayerful and thoughtful dissent will become more important that ever. 9. The churches have demonstrated the most remarkable unity in our history in opposition to a war, even before the war with Iraq started. In the eleventh hour, the American churches didn't just say "no" to war, but offered compelling and credible alternatives that were seriously considered by many political leaders around the world, but not by our own government. An American president who increasingly uses the language of Christian faith refused even to meet with American church leaders for discernment and prayer as he made momentous decisions to go to war. The American churches are now in deep solidarity with the worldwide Body of Christ, and may have to choose between their Christian alliances and the demands and policies of their own government. We must learn to be Christians first and Americans second. 10. The onset of war with Iraq does not demonstrate the failure of the peace movement, but rather the failure of democracy. Tens of millions of people around the world have become engaged in active citizenship against the policies of pre-emptive war for resolving the greatest threats to peace and security. It is time to build on that movement, rather than withdraw from collective action. We must learn the differences between grief and despair, between lament and languishing, between hope and hostility. We are stronger now, not weaker. Our action has just begun. A personal note: On the brink of war, my wife Joy and I had a new baby. A little boy surprised us three and a half weeks early. We found ourselves in the middle of efforts to prevent war even in the labour and delivery room. Our healthy new child came into the world as our nation went to war. Amid the shock of war, we experienced the awe of new life. And during the first week of war, we have been deeply engaged as parents in the things that such new life requires. It has been deeply nourishing to our spirits - a divine intervention in a terrible time, a celebration in the midst of mourning, a blessing in the face of violence and destruction, and a joy in the middle of sorrow. Our new baby has taught me the importance of being nurtured by hope in times like these. I encourage each of us to look to those things, those relationships, and those practices, signs, wonders, and affirmations of life that we so deeply need at a time like this. I urge us all to remember that what we can do in the next few weeks of war will likely be less than we will be able to do in the months and years that lie directly ahead to help our nation develop a truly new "world perspective," as Martin Luther King Jr. said. So let us take care of ourselves, take care of each other, and carefully nourish the hope within us that God's purposes in this world will not go unfulfilled. As it became apparent that the U.S. government was on an unswerving course toward war with Iraq, leading Christian theologians and ethicists convened by George Hunsinger of Princeton Theological Seminary made the following appeal to the churches to respond with prophetic opposition, excerpted below. We are Christians, clergy and laity, from Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Historic Peace Church communities. After careful consideration and prayer, as citizens who love our country, we have come to painful conclusions. We believe that US war against Iraq is unjust and immoral. As a "pre-emptive" attack unprecedented in our history, it dishonours our nation, disregards morality, and violates international law. Citizens of good will are thrown into a crisis of conscience by our government's initiation of this war. THEREFORE, in so grave a situation, we issue the following appeal: - We appeal to all Christians: Put your faith in Jesus Christ above your loyalty to the nation, because today faith demands a higher loyalty, and patriotism means dissent. - We call upon all churches and all individual Christians to refuse their consent to this war. We call them to nonviolent resistance, rejecting actions that violate moral law. - We urge all U.S. military personnel, especially those who are Christians, to conscientious objection - to refuse to participate in this immoral war. - We commit ourselves to a renewed discipline of prayer, fasting, and meditation on God's Word. A dedicated spirituality will be needed by all who are led to faithful obedience. - We welcome support from all peoples of faith and conscience who wish to uphold us in making this appeal to the churches. - Finally, we pledge allegiance to our country and to every noble ideal for which it stands. Upholding it where it is right, we must oppose it with deep regret, for its own sake and the sake of the world, where it goes so grievously wrong. Find the full text and add your endorsement at: Source: Sojourners

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