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Justice

The Only Thing That Can End Forever Wars

February 2, 2018 by

I recently came across Adam Taylor’s piece in the Washington Post on America’s “forever war.” It is both scary and disheartening:

[A]bout 2,000 U.S. troops will remain indefinitely in Syria, and … American military goals there go far beyond the defeat of the Islamic State and other extremist organizations. US forces will also be there to contain Iranian influence and help bring about a peace agreement that results in President Bashar al-Assad's removal from power... Syria now looks like just the latest chapter in a war on terror that has already lasted nearly seventeen years – starting in Afghanistan and spreading to Iraq, Pakistan and many other countries – and that shows no signs of stopping. One independent estimate from last year argued that these conflicts have cost U.S. taxpayers $5.6 trillion; the human cost… is inestimable but devastating.

When will all this stop? It’s as if the world powers are fighting a war in quicksand and taking us down with them. This “forever war” is actually the byproduct of America’s longstanding commitment to fund, maintain, and operate the world’s foremost “forever” war machine. And when will this stop? With the current tensions between the US and North Korea, and with our military actively preparing for a nuclear war, it seems as if our efforts at national security are spinning out of control, if not collapsing in on themselves.

An image of a rubbing of names from the Vietnam War Memorial Wall

Over twenty-five years ago, Henri Nouwen, using the metaphor of a wall, wrote a simple parable that describes what happens when national security becomes an obsession and morphs into military absurdity:

Once there was a people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: “How can we be sure that we will have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food, materials, and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that other peoples protested and said: “You have much more than you need, while we don’t have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth!” But the fearful hoarders said: “No, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us, too, in case our lives are threatened.” But the others said: “We are dying now, please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can’t wait….we need it now!” Then the fearful hoarders became ever fearful since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another: “Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us.” They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see any more whether there were enemies outside the walls or not!
As their fear increased they told each other: “Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put bombs on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.” But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they had built with their own fear. They even became afraid of their own bombs, wondering if they might harm themselves more than their enemy. And gradually they realized their fear of death had brought them closer to it.

As the instruments of death escalate in number, complexity, and potential we must not forget that what we sow we reap. How we defend ourselves – whether behind walls or with guns or with bombs – endangers us as much as it does our enemies. “All who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

Do to others what you would have them do to you. Crazy and ridiculous? Could well be. But for those of us who follow the Prince of Peace, there is no other choice.

In a society overstocked with weapons, where superfluous wealth exists amid grave poverty and misery, the demons of death and fear take their toll. This is a perfect recipe for many more “forever wars.” Is this inevitable? Are we condemned to sink in quicksand? Must we be trapped in prisons made from our own fear?

What is the antidote? “Put away your sword!” Jesus says. “Give to the poor.” “Store up treasures that last, that can’t be blown to bits.” Unrealistic and impossible? Perhaps.

“Love your enemies and do good to them.” “Serve God, not mammon.” “Forgive.” Simplistic and naïve? Maybe.

“Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.” “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Crazy and ridiculous? Could well be.

But for those of us who claim to be followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, there is no other choice, no other hope for this world. He alone is the rock on which we can safely stand. He alone is our peace who can, and one day will, remove every dividing wall of hostility.


For more of Charles’s thoughts on this topic, read his series from last year on the Biblical vision of peacemaking

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About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore resides with his wife and daughter in Esopus, New York where he teaches Bible and Christian Thought at The...

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