There is a sign in front of the Mennonite Church in Fairfield which reads “War is not the Answer.” Recently someone slipped a letter in the front door asking, “if war is not the answer, what is? And don't say prayer.” After a lot of thought and yes, prayer, here is my answer. To your question, “If war is not the answer, what is?” Here are a few thoughts to start a discussion.
There are no easy answers or short term solutions to the problem of war. Any solution involves addressing the the culture of violence and retribution that is so prevalent around the world. That will take time. A long time.
As a follower of Jesus I am convinced that the place to start finding different solutions to conflict is within the Christian Church because Jesus, whom we call Lord, taught the way of non-violent resistance. Rather than fight Rome he chose to die on the cross. He taught us to “love one another, even love our enemies, and to do good to those who despite-fully use us.” For the first 300 years the early church practiced non-violent resistance to aggression and tyranny. Thousands chose to die rather than fight back. Then came Constantine, the Roman emperor who made Christianity legal, baptized his troops and marched to war in the name of Christ. Augustine followed with his doctrine of “just war” and it has been downhill ever since, Salvation has been delegated to an after life, even though Jesus' teachings were all about how we should live in this life. Granted, the Jesus way is a tough way to run a nation.
Given the reality of our violent world, war is viewed as the quickest and easiest response to difficult national and international problems. Diplomacy and negotiation not only takes time but require everyone to enter into serious give and take given that few of us want to admit that we are part of the problem. Diplomacy is challenging. Even so, it's still true that the real goal of war is to force the defeated party to the negotiating table, so why not start there and avoid all the death and devastation? Then there is the additional problem that war creates new problems that often end up being worse than what came before. We learned this in Iraq. Killing off Saddam Hussein simply opened Pandora's box unleashing a plethora of new problems and religious rivalries that have actually escalated the vicious cycle of killing.
In the short term, war often seems a realistic response, especially if done in conjunction with a long range commitment to confronting the multiple challenges underlying rivalries and unrest, such as income and opportunity inequality, religious intolerance, violent struggles for power, and genocide.
If war is not to be the answer, what is? Justice. Peace is not the opposite of war, justice is. Therefore if we want to change the culture of violence within the United States and the world we must start with our own justice issues so we can truly become “ a more perfect union.” We can rationalize that we are better than most other countries but that is not an excuse for our current system of racist, elitist, systemic injustice. Justice for all, not just the rich and white race. The only way we can authentically demand the rest of the world to stop human rights abuses and move toward more democratic forms of government is by addressing the unmet needs and unjust practices within our own country. Doing this would give our words and actions credibility! By modeling peace through justice we'd address the endemic racism that shapes our so called justice system, pass realistic comprehensive immigration reform, stop the legalizing corruption the comes from such decisions as Citizens United, unjust voter ID laws that disenfranchise millions, and address the income inequality that has reduced too many to virtual slavery. If war is not the answer, what is? Justice. To quote Scripture: “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.”
“Follow the money,” we often say. Well, 59% of our national resources go into the military and -related programs and financing the military debt. Most of that is not included in the budget so the real costs of war are hidden. But hiding the cost of war in unfunded deficits is not only bad policy, it weakens our economy and nation, making us more afraid. This is why Congress needs to pass a war tax so we, the people, know where our money is really going, why there is not money for health care, roads, schools, etc.
Re-introducing the draft is another important answer to “if now war, what?” Why? Because all of us, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, young and old need to share in the consequences of our national and political decisions. Too many wars are started by older white men who never served in the military and have romantic notions of what war is.
If every young person served a minimum of 2 years in some form of national service, we could address many of the ”justice” issues listed above, develop greater tolerance and understanding for the plight for others and open our eyes to other ways of seeing, doing and being. This could create a new patriotism that is strong and vibrant.
It is the nature of young people to long for meaning and purpose. They are idealistic and critical of “the establishment.” Let's give them real and viable ways to create positive change. For those who wouldn't opt for military service, they could serve in an expanded Peace Corps, Ameri-Corps, etc. They could become fire fighters, do community development, work with inner city gangs, do needed conservation work, housing rehab programs, disaster relief, legal services, prison rehabilitation, health care in under served areas, work in nursing homes, etc.
If we are to prevent future wars we must harness the dreams of our young who aren't afraid of change. By providing our young people with meaningful opportunities to address social issues such as racism, religious intolerance, immigration, and economic inequality far fewer youth will be attracted to radical groups such as ISSIS. We could create an alternative culture to that of war and violence. Our nation could become truly exceptional by being less threatening to others and model a better way for the rest of the world.
Several years ago some “dreamers” started an organization called Christian Peacemakers. Christian Peacemakers are trained in methods of non-violent resistance and conflict resolution. They go into difficult areas such as the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Iraq, Central America, Pakistan, Mexico, Columbia. They serve as witnesses to human right abuses, land grabbing, gang violence, drug lord abuses, war crimes, and stand with the persecuted. Christian Peacemakers understand that until we who call ourselves Christian are as willing to die for peace and justice as soldiers are to die in war, wars will prevail.
Non-violence works. Non-violence shaped our own Civil Rights movement. Non-violence conquered apartheid in South Africa. Ghandi's non-violent movement brought the British empire in India to its knees.
There is another way. But, peace-making, like warfare, demands that we who care, especially those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ must be willing to die when necessary that others might live. Peace (justice) will take just as much time, money, commitment, and long term political will as our current climate of perpetual war, but the end results could be very different. Jesus said “love your enemies. Forgive those who persecute and abuse use you.” His is not an easy solution but in the end Christ-like non-violence is no more difficult or painful than that demanded by war. And the outcomes would be so much better!
As the song says, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”