I refuse to allow myself to accept the inevitability of war.
As a historian and theologian, this requires work. People are drawn to war as moths to a flame, no matter their religious, ethical, or moral allegiances. Power creates fear, fear creates military might, military might promotes its own self-interest, which creates new fears, which keeps powerful people powerful. It is a cycle that is better understood as a series of countless spirals which ebb and flow from one generation to the next.
A week after 9/11, I remember standing at attention under the American flag at the marching grounds of Howard University’s Air Force ROTC headquarters. I remember feeling a sense of duty, honor, and pride, standing under this flag which had been so besieged and battered. I remember thinking this pride was pride for my country, but I think now it was more pride for a certain idea, for a military toughness, for a show of might. It was certainly not pride for the land or the people who walked it.
I remember back to those moments of ROTC training whenever war comes again. I wasn’t long for the military, did a few years active duty and a bunch in inactive reserve, but the mental exercises required for such work weigh heavily on a young mind. “We are in the business of war,” one commanding officer would repeat, “either trying to win a war or trying to keep one from starting. Don’t delude yourselves about why we’re here today.”
Nearly twenty years later, I am convinced that Christians should not support a permanent military. A permanent military breeds its own survival, argues for its permanence, begs for expansion, conjures reasons for its existence. And, most of all, a permanent military offers horrific, well-honed, and technologically advanced tools to whomever might be in power on any given day. Tools that can murder individuals, groups, and entire cities with the push of a button. No human should have such power.
We are, and have been, at war. This new violence is particularly troubling, for it was an assassination of a national leader and seemingly done without regard to the dire political and military consequences that are already following. There is no version of just war that could support such an act.
You might think that you have no power in this moment, but you would be wrong. You have your own platform, your own friends, your priest, pastor, teacher, all of whom know different people than you. You have representatives who know more people than they do, and they have leaders that know even more. Your priests have bishops who must be held to respond strongly and persuasively, and bishops have lines of communication and persuasion affecting many.
Do not be lulled into inaction by the mirage of a flattened power structure that social media offers: politicians and athletes and bishops and CEOs writing alongside that random person you met once at a conference. Influence and persuasion, first and foremost, is still a person to person game.
Speaking, writing, persuading, voting, and crying out for justice may seem like small, inconsequential acts compared to dropping bombs and voting for impeachment, but they’re not nothing. No one wants to be remembered for being asleep while the world went to hell, but sometimes it is difficult to remind ourselves to wake up.
So allow me to remind you, once again, that the US is going to war with Iran under a president who brings Christian worship leaders to the White House, revels in ideas of vengeance, wants to rid the country of immigrants, and delights in saying Merry Christmas.
Wake up. Speak. Write. Call. Vote. Pray. Repeat.