Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Iraq and Peace

I suspect that this is only one of many blog comments on the third anniversary of the most recent Iraq war, but I felt drawn to commenting on this occasion. We have, of course, seen all the news reports that this war is increasingly becoming as unpopular in the US as it always has been in much of the rest of the world.

I had that impressed on me earlier this week, when I was returning from a vacation in California. I had been diverted to Denver and had to stay the night in a hotel far, far away from the airport (long story!). My flight was very early in the morning and I was taking a cab back to the airport. The cabbie had a news program on which was doing a retrospective on the leadup to the war and he was giving a running commentary on how bad an idea this war had been. I, the polite Canadian, nodded and agreed, working very hard not to be smug.

I'm not interested in spouting anti-American rhetoric here, but I believe very much that the last five years have been tragic in many ways. Tragic, in the sense, that much of what we are seeing happening in Iraq and in America is precisely what people like Archbishop Williams, Stanley Hawerwas and others were warning about; namely, that , in the very understandible national trauma after 9/11, it was crucial not to lose sight of the need for truthful discourse. This means that we needed to ask the hard questions, not only about our enemies, but about ourselves. What have we done to contribute to this situation, what are we doing or planning on doing which will exacerbate it? What do we need to do to really undercut the forces of violence both among our enemies and among our friends?

The problem is, of course, that these are the hard questions and that, if we ask them only in the time of imminent war (as after 9/11 or just before the Iraq war), we are already too late. That is, when war threatens, our communal capacity for critical moral thought is seriously compromised. So, we jump into wars and into conflicts before we are cool enough to discern what morally is going on in a situation. This, I suggest, is precisely what happened in the US and the current tragedy (for both Iraqis and the Americans) is merely the inevitable playing out of that haste.

I am, mind you, a pacifist in the tradition of Stanley Hauerwas and the Mennonites, so I'm constitutionally unwilling to accept the necessity of war. Yet, it strikes me that, in retrospect, attempting to formulate a non-resistant policy at a time when an attack has been made is analagous to the the problem with WWJD boxer shorts and teenagers (if you're down to the WWJD boxer shorts, your chastity pledge is some jeopardy). At the time, the rush to war after 9/11 seemed to me sickeningly inevitable and, I regret to say, the invasions of Afganistan and Iraq did not come as a shock when they were launched. Nor did the inevitable quagmires which have resulted. The desire for vengeance then drowned out those few, courageous voices which tried to warn that these wars were not just and, perhaps, we need to face up to our own moral failings before punishing those of others around us.

That is the perennial lessons of periods of national madness like the one experienced by the US after 9/11. As a Christian pacifist, I recognize that the real time for work is not in these crises, but rather now, as we come out the madness and try to discover what is true again. I pray that we all take this time to think and pray about where our communal sins have worsened an already bad situation. (I say this as a Canadian because I don't believe for a second that we Canadians can stand unimplicated in the madness of the last five years, even if we refused to join the war in Iraq). That takes courage and it takes faith that God will lead us through the difficulties of this age to the peace He promises.


Anonymous said...

"What have we done to contribute to this situation, what are we doing or planning on doing which will exacerbate it? "
Phil, it sounds like you've got "Blame-the-victim" syndrome.

Phil S. said...

I was actually expecting this comment at some stage and I was working very hard not to give that impression. Let me be very clear. I'm not saying that those who have died in 9/11, for instance, were personally to blame for their own deaths. That would be nonesense and dangerous nonesense at that.

Yet, as a society, we need to think about how we communually have incurred the enmity of the Muslim world and what we might be doing to make that enmity worse. Conflicts are rarely onsided and we do have to discern our own role in the conflicts we find ourselves in, if we expect to work our way out of them.

In that sense, I don't think I'm blaming any victim. I am asking some hard questions about our common actions in the West which I think need to be asked.


angli_fan said...

You said: "I am, mind you, a pacifist in the tradition of Stanley Hauerwas and the Mennonites, so I'm constitutionally unwilling to accept the necessity of war."

Could you (briefly) explain what it means to be in that tradition? For example, would that mean that you would forsake the use of violence on a personal as well as a national level? Even in the face of an imminent threat to yourself (or others)? I would like to understand this, but I really, really don't.

In your tradition, for example, what should the West's response be to the nuclear threat currently posed by Iran, given the messianic fervor of their president, and his public threat to "wipe Israel off the map"?

And since you bring it up, what do you believe we have done "to contribute to this situation?"



Phil S. said...

Good questions, anglifan, and ones that I think I'll have to give a full blog article to. Watch for it in the next week or so. I think I have to do a little re-reading and re-thinking before I do.