Monday, August 20, 2007

Considering war itself

I first read War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges about the time the Iraq war began. I found it compelling, yet strangely disturbing. Here was this veteran war correspondent, who'd covered conflicts around the globe and seen the horrors of war up close and personal, and he was describing war itself in terms of a drug, a highly addictive narcotic — and he loved it.

At the time, I was still conflicted a bit about the Iraq war. We'd already went into Afghanistan, and were after Osama bin Laden, but even that effort didn't seem to be going very well, as I recall.

And Iraq ... well, let's say I guess I read too much. I was skeptical about the Bush Administration's claims of weapons of mass destruction, and dubious of any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

On the other hand, so many relatives, friends and neighbors were proudly flying their flags, sticking yellow ribbons and patriotic bumper stickers on their cars.

And yet my doubts persisted. I just couldn't join in with the flag-waving crowd.

I picked up Hedges' book ... and looked into the abyss. Sometimes I'd angrily put it down, unable to read another paragraph. But I'd invariably return to it. Hedges knows. This man knows. This guy has really been there.

Hedges' writing in War is a Force has stayed with me since I first read it, so I thought it deserved a second look. I'll be posting excerpts from it over the next few weeks (a la Doug Wilson) and offering some of my own thoughts as well. Think of these posts as an online commonplace book.

This blog is about just war. But as we examine attendant issues like conscription, just war doctrine, the military-industrial complex, etc., we mustn't forget to look at war itself. What it is, what it does to those we call upon to fight. Chris Hedges examines war — places it under a microscope, if you will — for us.
I wrote this book not to dissuade us from war but to understand it. It is especially important that we, who wield such massive force around the globe, see within ourselves the seeds of our own obliteration. We must guard against the myth of war and the drug of war that can, together, render us as blind and callous as some of those we battle.

We were humbled in Vietnam, purged, for a while, of a dangerous hubris, offered in our understanding and reflection about the war, a moment of grace. We became a better country. But once again the message is slipping away from us, even as we confront the possibility of devastating biological or nuclear terrorist attacks in Washington or New York. If the humility we gained from our defeat in Vietnam is not the engine that drives our response to future terrorist strikes, even those that are cataclysmic, we are lost.

The only antidote to ward off self-destruction and the indiscriminate use of force is humility and, ultimately, compassion. Reinhold Niebuhr aptly reminded us that we must all act and then ask for forgiveness. This book is not a call for inaction. It is a call for repentance.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The citizen militia — a third way of national defense

Did you notice anything unusual about Gen. Lute's comments from last Friday?
I think it makes sense to certainly consider [returning to the draft], and I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table, but ultimately, this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation's security by one means or another.
Sorry for the trick question. There wasn't anything unusual about Lute's comments. Although Lute didn't explicitly say it in so many words, implicit in his remarks is the defense-policy assumption which always goes unchallenged, to wit: there are only two possible means to "meet the demands for the nation's security" — either an all-volunteer, professional military; or a "mixed" Army of conscripts and volunteers.

But there's a third option that is virtually never discussed today, even though it is precisely what our nation's founders had in mind since the beginning: Armed neutrality, which combines a foreign policy of non-interventionism with a militia-based national defense.

An army comprised primarily of every able-bodied male, supported and augmented by a small corps of full-time military professionals, has supported Switzerland's policy of armed neutrality for centuries — and it is what our founders had in mind 200+ years ago. I intend to introduce and discuss in future posts the concept of a militia-based national defense. I think it is the biblical model for a just national defense — the best way for a free people to defend their nation without becoming entangled in foreign affairs and conflicts.

But for now, I commend to you "The Swiss Report," a paper on the Swiss militia system written in 1983 by retired Generals George S. Patton (USA — son of "the" Gen. Patton) and Lewis W. Walt (USMC). (I also just stumbled upon this rather detailed Wikipedia entry: "Military of Switzerland.") Read about how the Swiss do it, and consider how we might do it ourselves.

Consider also just what kind of national character would be necessary.

He said/he said: Draft chatter

As noted in my last post, President Bush's "War Czar," Lt. Gen. David Lute, made the following comments re. a possible return to the military draft in an interview on NPR Friday afternoon:
I think it makes sense to certainly consider, and I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table, but ultimately, this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation's security by one means or another.
Gen. Lute's remarks garnered much discussion and speculation in the mainstream — and not-so-mainstream — media last weekend.

But then on Monday, the Pentagon said, No, we're not even thinking about a new draft:
"I can tell you emphatically that there is absolutely no consideration being given to reinstituting the draft," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. "The all-volunteer force has surpassed all expectations of its founders."
My, my, look at all the pretty superlatives: Emphatically! Absolutely! Surpassed!

Yep, smells like administrative Bravo Sierra to me.

Now, I was but a humble USAF jet engine mechanic from 1980 through 1983. A running joke of mine is, "No, I wasn't in the military. I was in the Air Force," so I don't claim to have any special insights into things pertaining to ground combat forces.

But when I see what appears to be the sad condition of our military, and when I hear American leaders thumping the war drums against Iran, and when I read this genius saying he thinks another 9/11 would be good, because it would unify America ... well, you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

US intelligence agencies routinely monitor open and clandestine communication channels looking for "chatter" — messages that could indicate current or pending enemy activity. Americans should be similarly attuned to a recent increase in US government and media chatter that may portend a possible return to a military draft in the near future.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"War Czar": It "Makes Sense" to Consider Draft

In an interview broadcast today on NPR's All Things Considered, US Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute said he shared the concerns of his fellow military officers that repeated and extended deployments of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are straining the military to the breaking point.

Gen. Lute, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan (a.k.a. President Bush's "War Czar"), also said that from a military standpoint, it makes sense to consider reinstating the draft.

Ever since the "battle for Iraq" ended and the occupation began, it has become increasingly clear to me that our military forces are being severely strained. To very near the breaking point.

Re-enlistments are down. Recruiting is down. Recruiting standards (re. age, health, education level and even criminal history) are down. "National" Guardsmen are routinely deployed internationally. US Air Force airmen — e.g., pilots, loadmasters and other aircrew — are receiving ground combat training at Ft. Dix (an Army base), then being sent to help soldiers and Marines fight in Iraq. It seems like we're just barely covering our commitments in the Middle East.

Thus, I've long thought that they could very well reinstate the draft sometime in the next 3 to 5 years, in order to rebuild our military while maintaining (or further expanding) our force level in the Middle East.

But if the feces hits the blower before that — whether here or someplace else in the world — I think a new draft is a slam dunk. The president would probably be announcing it live on TV and radio within a month.

Thus it would behoove parents to start discussing this matter with their sons and daughters, so they can consider how they'll respond to Caesar's fraudulent claim on their lives.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Ethics — Grounded in the character of God

In portraying the development of [the traditional Christian just war] doctrine, I rely a great deal upon two preeminent theologians in history, Thomas Aquinas from the thirteenth century and John Calvin from the sixteenth.

Why these two?

First (and most simply), Aquinas and Calvin are untainted by modern liberalism's distorted views of both religion and war and thus provide a useful Christian antidote to these distortions. Second (and more complicated), Aquinas and Calvin offer an approach to war that motivates Christians to be shaped morally and spiritually so they can act well on the battlefield and also in everyday life, which is something missing in almost every other modern perspective on war.

Aquinas and Calvin present an account of just war that is grounded in the character of God ...

~ Dr. Darrell Cole, When God Says War Is Right, p. 2

Day Zero — What would you do?

A couple of weeks ago, Di was surfing and learned about the new indie film, Day Zero. The premise: The military draft is reinstated to fill the ranks for the war on terror. Three best friends in New York City — a novelist, a lawyer and a cabbie — receive their draft notices, and in the 30 days before they must report for duty, they confront their beliefs about duty, honor, courage, friendship and love.

I e-mailed Lew Rockwell about the film on 27 July. He blogged about it on 2 August.

When Day Zero's website saw a surge in traffic, producer Anthony Moody traced it back to Lew Rockwell's blog — you just gotta love the Internets, right George? — so he contacted him. Rockwell invited Moody to write a piece about the film for his website.

Moody's piece appeared on LRC today. He writes:
... Of note, the trio of writer, director and producer included (in no particular order) a liberal, a conservative, and a centrist. So how did we collaborate to make a "political" film? The answer, for my part at least, is that we didn't make a political film in the traditional sense which, to me, is one that takes a biased stance and attempts to persuade the audience to its argument.

Instead, we made a film meant to provoke thought, introspection, discussion, and debate. Mandatory conscription is a concept and practice that dates back literally millennia. Day Zero asks the simple but universal question: What would you do if called to serve? It's a question, like those surrounding guns or abortion, about which people tend to have extremely strong opinions. It's a question whose answer is ultimately rooted in all that is deeply personal.

Is it influenced by one's view of government (left or right), war, class, or religion and morality? Of course. But it is also shaped by who we are, how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us and interact with us, and how we live our lives. These latter, most personal factors are ones we rarely stop and think about (for the most part).

With Day Zero, what we've tried to do is to get people to stop and ponder for themselves — not a knee-jerk, but a consideration ... when you come home from work, check the mailbox, and sort through the pile — you see that envelope from the Selective Service Administration ... what do you do? How do you feel? How do you respond? How do you treat others around you? And ultimately — what choice do you make?

What's been most gratifying, in this age of disposable entertainment (when was the last time you chatted about a blockbuster beyond the ride home from the theater?) is how the audiences at our screenings let us know — by email, phone, blog posts, reviews, etc. — that Day Zero stayed with them. They continue to think about the characters and how they would respond in their place long after the credits rolled. Even better — they continue to discuss it with their friends and family. In that regard, I'm extremely proud and feel like we did our job.
Before a person can answer the question, "What would I do," I think he needs to answer (as Moody alluded to) the fundamental question, "Who owns my life?" Me? God? The polis (state)? The demos (people)?

Moody writes, "Day Zero is due for a small-scale theatrical release later this year. If successful it will be rolled out to more screens in more markets. It will also eventually be available on DVD." If you are interested in seeing this film, don't wait around for the DVD! Contact the management of your local theaters (especially those that screen documentaries and indie films) and encourage them to get the film.

And when they do, be sure to take some friends along.

I look forward to seeing Day Zero, and hope it provokes a vital and long-overdue discussion in our nation about the proper relationship between the individual and Caesar.

Welcome aboard

This weblog is dedicated to a biblical consideration of war and the waging of war. Anticipated topics:
  • foreign policy
  • principles of national defense
  • raisng, training and equipping an army
  • conscription
  • individual ethics in war
  • Just War doctrine
  • international law

... etc. & so forth.

As a Christian, it is my view that God is the final measure of justice, and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are given to man by inspiration of God to teach us, among other things, how to do justice and live justly — whether in peace or in war.

I invite you to join in the discussion.