[Rough Draft]

A weblog about god, doubt, insomnia, culture, baseball

5.29.2004

i never knew war

until i had ellie, i never knew. you see, i now believe that someone w/o a child has a less than complete understanding of the consequences of war, no matter the so-called justifiability of the war. i'm 36 years old, and i have been a democrat, a republican, a democrat again, a screw-all-the-labels-i'm-votin'-for-nader-crat (or perot or, most recently, dean -- and did i mention i really like dennis kucinic?). my grandfather fought in wwii, my father in korea. i barely remember anything of vietnam, but i remember clashes here and there over the years, from operation urgent fury in grenada in 1980, to persian gulf i (which, apolyptically minded as i was then, i was certain would usher in the second coming; i don't think that any more, obviously), somalia, haiti, the balkans, and now afghanistan and iraq. i confess to a morbid, sickening glee @ the news we had initiated operations in afghanistan, and (sadly) one of the most troubling things to me about gulf war ii in iraq was that its advent coincided w/ the beginning of the ncaa basketball tourney, which i had flown home from boston to watch w/ my dad. talk about your shallow reasoning.

yet i am learning. and my greatest lesson has come in the form of my little daughter. i recently watched an emmy award nominated documentary by susan sonneborn called "regret to inform" (1998), which recounts sonneborn's own 20-year struggle to come to grips w/ her husband's death in vietnam. ultimately, on the morning of the 20th anniversary of his death, she realizes that she will have to go to vietnam in order to understand, to remember and, @ last, to let go. she allows the viewer along, but she also includes candid documentaries from widows, american and vietnamese, who lost their husbands in that war. some of the images were the least "doctored" that i had seen in a war documentary, and one in particular depicted a woman lying in a rice field, clutching her child to her, in the wash from the blades of a helicopter hovering directly above her. in another scene you hear a child, a very young child, screaming amidst carnage of strafing runs and bomb detonations. i will most likely never watch this movie again.

i am not, generally, averse to violence on film. violence in some form is often a central figure in my favorite movies, such as braveheart, pulp fiction, apocalypse now, even the last samurai. badlands, a clockwork orange, elizabeth, fight club, gangs of new york, the godfather all rate a 9 or 10 on my movielist @ imdb.com. so it's not that i'm sickened by violence; indeed, i appear to be quite enthralled w/ it, @ least on the screen or on a hockey rink. but war -- i have come round to a place that i cannot expect anyone else to reach, necessarily, but i can't see my way out of it.

in divinity school, i wrote a paper about war and discussed the "just war" theory of augustine and his progeny, the o.t. passages depicting the army of israel slaughtering nations under the cammand of god, the warlike images in apocalyptic, not least in the revelation to st. john. interestingly, i wrote that paper in dec. 2001, just months after the sept. 11 attacks in new york, washington and pennsylvania. but after reading origen and celsus and irenaeus, tertullian, athenagoras and clement of alexandria, i concluded that i could not be anything except a pacifist. the n.t. polemic against violence, jesus' own message @ its center, and the early church's views on war held sway in my intellect.

but not my heart.

i've been a dallas cowboy and boston red sox fan long enough to learn that players come and go, you win and you suck, but you pull for the jersey. as such, when the sox are in last place, you don't switch teams in midstream, to mix my metaphors. also, i'm a "homer." i pull for the home team against all others. i threw my lot in w/ mississippi state, so i pull for them, and i go the extra mile and pull against all other sec teams in almost all other situations, whether they're playing state or not. that's a long way around to say this -- i didn't vote for bush, but i don't want him to fail. i pull for him. i pray for him. i want him to succeed, and if that means another 4 years i want him to succeed then, too. go bush! he is my president. i say that so, even though i probably won't vote for him in november, i won't automatically get lumped in w/ those who hate the guy and just want him out of office @ any cost, and things going badly in the war almost seem to be, for those people, acceptable means to that end. if i judge those people too harshly, well i am acquainted w/ my own duplicitous heart, and i suspect the hearts of others are similar to mine own in their sinfulness and ill motivation. but i watched a movie, a simple 72-minute movie that didn't win the emmy and probably shouldn't have, and something began to happen.

earlier i wrote: "but not in my heart." i was opposed to war in my mind, but my emotions betrayed me. i was glad when saddam hussein was caught. i opposed the war in iraq, but i was glad when things went well for the u.s. and disappointed when they didn't. i would like a few minutes in a room w/ osama bin laden (although he looks kinda big and would likely kick my ass, my not having been in a fight since the late 80s and, as a result, being above fighting weight and most decidedly out of fighting shape). i want revenge. i watch "the west wing" and empathize w/ pres. bartlet's soul struggles over the use of force, but i say "i'd have done the same" when he sends in the troops, which he almost always does, albeit reluctantly. i get pissed @ the french, want to see the self-righteous germans taken down a peg, yearn to find the almost certainly non-existent "wmd's" (i hate that construction; it's on a par w/ "atm machine"). i have opposed violence, i have opposed war, in my mind.

but not in my heart. and then i had a daughter. and then i watched a movie. and then i heard a daughter's cry in that movie. the war was in her village, not my own. the little girls who ask "why are they burning down our house" have war in their backyards; mine has a sandbox in the shape of a turtle. i am removed, i am selfish, i have never served in an armed force, i do not own a gun, i've never actually hit an animal w/ a bullet or whatever it is that gets shot @ them (i've only shot one time, and i missed by something like 2 football fields, i'd imagine). i plan to become a priest, i love my wife, i love my parents, i have never known want. but now i have a daughter. one should be required to have a daughter to be allowed to vote on resolutions to allow the use of force. a family should be imperative for generals and heads of state and nato or u.n. delegates. hell, family members should have to be there, in plain sight, whenever ballots are cast for war or peace. war causes untold suffering, however precise the weapons and however "pure" the motives (do not kid yourself either way -- bush's motives are not as malevolent as you assume, nor are the doves or pacifists' or yours or mine as clean).

we are all fallen, and i do not naively believe that a world w/o war, a pax humana, would be utopia. indeed, to preach such social utopia is, in my opinion, heresy. for "utopia," we require a savior, for god is too just to accept people like us w/o atonement. but that is theology, and this is, well, i suppose it's ethics, although it wasn't my strong subject, either in law school or seminary. robert mcnamara, in the fog of war, said that it is necessary, paramount, essential that we empathize w/ our enemies in war. the former secretary of defense, himself a philosophy major, is, i presume, a just war advocate, as are many roman catholics and evangelical protestants, whom i assume would make up the majority of whatever paltry readership i have here. when i hold my daughter, only then am i able to follow mcnamara's counsel and, however imperfectly, begin to empathize w/ the wives, daughters, sons, parents, husbands of those whose loved ones die horrible (they are likely never clean) deaths in war. i may never preach this message from a pulpit, nor may i ever urge others to adopt it outside the confines of these pages, but i am beginning to appreciate it for what it is.

it seems to me that god must see war in this way. but, then, he has daughters, too.

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