Monday, September 9, 2013

There Is No Such Thing As a "Moral" War

“When Jesus said to ‘love our enemies’, I think he probably meant don’t kill them.”
--Linda K. Williams, Church of the Brethren

War is morally wrong. 

There it is: why I oppose the United States going to war against Syria. 

I suppose I could bury that declaration somewhere several lines down in this essay, maybe after a list of grim statistics about the real cost of going to war these days. Something about the thousands of civilian deaths which always result from war. A 2011 report from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies estimates at least 132,000 civilians have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone. That’s a powerful anti-war argument.

Or perhaps I could talk about just how much the United States has spent on these two wars since 2001: $1.49 trillion dollars, according to the latest figures from Congress and the budget office of the President. Imagine what those funds could have been used for by Uncle Sam: education, health care, housing, help for the poor, infrastructure.  That’s a convincing anti-war stance.    

I could attempt to refute the hawks who push for war, the earnest, breathless cases for attack made by President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Speaker John Boehner and Senator John McCain. That bombing Syria will be “limited” to air strikes. That it won’t involve U.S. boots on the ground. That we must wage war as a nation to ensure the use of chemicals weapons is swiftly punished by the international “civilized” community. 

Has there ever really been any limited war?  Is war somehow “cleaner”, “better” if it only kills and injures non-Americans?  Is chemical warfare any more heinous than say, genocide or unmanned drone strikes or folks killed in the “collateral” damages of war—women, children, civilians in the wrong place when the bombs start dropping?  That’s a compelling way to mute the drums of war now beating across Washington, D.C.

Or how about arguing against war by just naming out loud that term itself, “war”.  Notice that all of the folks pushing for us to start hostilities don’t use the “war” word.  Obama and company’s mantra is “military action”. They know Americans are exhausted from twelve years of continuous war making. That Americans are very skeptical about the efficacy of any war actually “working”. That Americans are burnt out from being the sole policeman on the world stage.

So have no doubt. If we and other nations attack Syria, it will be an act of war, regardless of any euphemisms used to justify it.  War is war is war. That’s a powerful denial of going to war.   

But here’s my argument against this war, a case no one speaks of anymore, at least not our elected officials or the media. War itself is inherently immoral as a human act, always has been, always will be. We may think we are waging a “good war” and argue we do so to protect the innocent, prevent further attacks or topple some “evil” regime or person.

Yet war by its nature is always messy, bloody, violent, filled with death and suffering and unintended consequences. War takes down all who live in its path, the “guilty” and the innocent, the combatant and the bystander. War changes forever those who make war and those who experience war.  Ask any veteran about war: they’ll tell you the truth about its chaos, how it forces women and men to do things they’d never think they could do.  War represents the last desperate act of humanity.  War denies God’s vision and hope for Creation: peace on earth, goodwill to all.    

We may keep on returning to war as a species to solve our conflicts, but longevity and familiarity does not equal morality.  War was wrong. War is wrong. War will always be wrong. 

So let’s debate, yes. But this time, God help us to name the immorality of combat before once again unleashing the dogs of war.


  1. I agree with you John only I usually say there is no "just war". It makes no sense to me that we want military action to kill to show others (Syrians or ...) that their killing was wrong. Why not look for negotiations or peace talks? That would take more time and effort but it may be the way to go. Pat jackman

  2. It is certainly a tough thing to consider...war. Even those who have fought for our country and I honor with respect will tell you that war is hell. When is force warranted? I believe there are times that it is warranted. But, I also believe that peaceful resolutions are preferable. How wonderful was it when the words "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall!" made such an impact on reuniting Germany without force.