Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Drums of War


After the President's Rose Garden announcement yesterday regarding military action in Syria, a friend of mine emailed me: "I think I hear the drums of war sounding." The phrase sent chills up my spine. I'm hearing the same sounds.

I am just as horrified and appalled as anyone over the Syrian people who were so brutally murdered with deadly gas; but I honestly have no idea why sending bombs into Syria is a response to the evil and cruelty that was perpetrated there. First of all, I am not sure what the effect of such an attack might be other than to escalate the world into even more widespread war and greater aggression.  But I have an even stronger reason to question the use of "violence as a response to violence" - doing so is "contrary" to our human nature.

One might argue that human beings have been engaged in war and aggression ever since the dawn of humanity.  While this may be true; whenever it does happen, we violate the way in which we have been created.  We, human beings, are "wired" as a relationship. We are a complex web of dynamic, interdependent relationships. The idea of a separated "self" is a delusion. The borders that isolate one nation from another are artificial and arbitrary because we are a web of relationship.  There is no "other" because the other is "me."

Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, describes our human condition as "inter being." Our human nature is "inter being."

A few years back a young 12 year old girl was raped by a sea pirate, after which she committed suicide by jumping into the ocean and drowning in the sea.  Thich Nhat Hanh knew this little girl, and upon hearing this tragic story, he was filled with anger that his first response was to seek revenge; but then he realized that we are "inter being."  There is no "other" upon whom he might heap his revenge.   The other is "me." So he wrote a poem in response:

Please Call Me By My True Names

I am the twelve-year old girl, refugee on a small boat who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea-pirate,
and I am the sea-pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
Please call me by my true names so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

A few days ago the focus of the world's attention was not on the Rose Garden at the White House but rather on the stairs in front of the Lincoln Memorial, as the life and legacy of Dr. King was celebrated -  elegant speeches and glowing tributes. As those war drums echo in the days to come, we would do well to remember what Dr. King, who we so beautifully honored last week, actually said about war and violence:

Non-violence means avoiding not only external violence
but also internal violence of spirit.
You not only refuse to shoot a man,
you refuse to hate him.


  1. I share your thought that, seen through the eye of faith, there is no "other" and either everyone shares the common image of God or no one does, and our faith is a lie and our religion a sham.

    I also share your insights into and commitment to nonviolence, concurrent with not avoiding nonviolent confrontation when aggressively and proactively opposing that which is morally abhorrent Ons can not forget that in the 1930's and 1940's when their crisis of conscience came, most churches and churchmen in Europe were silent. Here and there there were heroes in the churches: nuns, monks, ;priests and Christian laymen. A few theologians, Barth, Bonhoffer and a righteous handful bore courageous witness and action, including Bonhoffer's involvement with anfd support of efforts to assassinate Hitler.

    Now surely, I do no think you are saying that Bonhoffer's actions in this regard were wrong, for you point out that one of your reasons for opposing the use of force in Syria is that you do not see it as in fact saving lives and ameliorating the horror. Yet that should not leave us in a position of just wring our hands and giving speeches of condemnation. At times one has to take what in the abstract of content would be considered violence. The question is whether the use of poisonous gas in Syria is one of those times and what, if any, action beyond words alone might ameliorate the crrisis and help assure it does not recur.

  2. Very thoughtful comment. I do not at all compare Bonhoeffer's acts of courage to the current military response in Syria. Bonhoeffer's case one make make a comparison to a "just" or moral war. In Syria, the violence for the sake of violence is far more political and and more risky.

    As the drums of war sound we also need to listen carefully to the voice of the prophets.