On May 1, 2011, 8 years to the day after President George W. Bush mistakenly announced to the world “Mission Accomplished,” it has finally happened.
The war in Afghanistan was a direct response to the atrocities of 9/11: we were looking for a terrorist. Iraq too, was mistakenly sold to the US public as being necessary to defeat Al Qaeda. But does it make sense to continue wars begun in an effort to hunt Osama bin Laden, now that he is dead?
But of course terrorism is not the only reason we fight. Though begun primarily to pursue Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, these wars have been defended time and again on grounds that we are expanding the fundamental rights of democracy and freedom to the poor folks in Afghanistan and Iraq. For instance, Time magazine famously ran pictures in July 2010 of women in Afghanistan who were victimized by the Taliban, asking “What happens if we leave Afghanistan?”
So why are we still fighting: response to 9/11, or freedom for citizens of another country? Our telling of engagement in WW2 has unfolded in a similar vein: entry clearly as response to Pearl Harbor, with later justification wrapped almost exclusively around the Holocaust.
These are important questions, because the costs are unspeakable! We’re scheduled to spend $113 Billion in Afghanistan in 2011 alone, good money we don’t have that could easily be used for good causes here at home. We’ve also lost over 1500 service men and women, with 10,000 wounded. If we continue to fight, we better have a good reason!
So what do you think, is it time to end the war/s, or are there good reasons for continuing the fight?
Jim Wallis of Sojourners says clearly,
There is no more room or time for excuses. The war in Afghanistan — now the longest war in American history — no longer has any justification, and I am calling upon Christians, along with other people of good, moral sense, to lead the effort to finally end this war and bring our troops home. On moral, financial, and strategic grounds, the continuation of the war in Afghanistan cannot be justified.
This is directly in line with classic Just War theory, in both its Christian and secular varieties. When the intention of war has been met, the war must be called to an end. Bin Laden is dead; Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is, according to Leon Panetta, “relatively small. At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less.” Sounds like Mission Accomplished to me.
But what about the complex issue of secondary justification I mentioned earlier? How does a pacifist Christian like myself (I prefer the label “peacemaker” to pacifist) respond to the charge that we still have unfinished business in the Arab world?
Deep into the Easter season, my mind is fresh with Jesus’ choice in Gethsemene: will he use violence or nonviolence to bring peace to our world? Erica Chenoweth, in a brilliant article called People Power, provides incredible evidence that Jesus decision wasn’t just right for him, but was the most remarkable option in all settings. Comparing the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance and armed conflict to bring social change, Chenoweth says the results are “stunning.”
Among 323 major violent insurgencies and nonviolent mass movements that occurred from 1900 to 2006, nonviolent campaigns were twice as effective as violent insurgencies, succeeding more than 55 percent of the time. In fact, successful nonviolent mass action has occurred in countries as diverse as Serbia, Poland, Madagascar, South Africa, Chile, Venezuela, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, and Nepal… And, in fact, the overall trend suggests that even in situations where regimes used violence to crack down on resistance campaigns, 46 percent of nonviolent campaigns have prevailed, whereas only 20 percent of violent campaigns succeeded against these violently repressive states.
Set now in the context of the amazing Arab Spring, our continuing presence in the Middle East seems antiquated, proud, and, terribly misinformed. Nonviolence isn’t a quaint method from a bygone era, it has and is working in places as diverse as Wisconsin and Egypt. To continue to pursue social transformation through military might when nonviolent resistance is redefining the modern world is a morally misguided choice we can no longer afford to make.
Jesus choice can be ours: we can and must turn our back on violence without also turning our back on responsibility. The time to end the wars is now. The time to pursue peace through peace-making rather than war is here.
If our government refuses to abide by Just War standards of war-making, than its time for the church to call not just for an end to this war, but to all wars, and an end of our children joining the military.
The time will come, said an ancient leader, when God’s people will transform weapons into tools of productivity, and upgrade curriculums from war-making to peace.
Is this that time? If not now, when?