On the War with Iraq: Some Thoughts

by William Mahedy

Fellow Vets,

Colin Powell presented no new evidence, but persuasively argued that Hussein possesses WMD, is trying to develop them, is a tyrant, etc. Conceding that this is all true, the questions still remain 1. Is war the lesser of two evils? 2. Is war in this case a last resort? I think the answer to both questions is still a resounding “No..” That for me is the kernel of the case against this war.

Thoughts on Bush and the race toward war. There is a long standing theological problem here. Bush, reportedly a devout Christian, has, I think completely bought into what scholars call American civil religion. He–and a lot of Americans–also seems to be Manichean in thinking: this was an ancient philosophy which held, among other things that the universe is divided into good light and evil darkness. We, as a nation, of course represent good and our opponents evil. This means literally that we are completely good, our enemies thoroughly evil. We can do no wrong, they can do no right–in politics, war or anything else. Manicheans also disparaged sex.

Perhaps that’s why the Bushies revile Clinton so profoundly.

Bush, and a lot of other people, are messianic in thinking as well. The Bible talks about “Shalom,” the beautiful Hebrew word which means the “peace” which God alone will bring about in God’s own time. But that peace is not here yet and we are still on the way towards it. We are left with what one scholar calls “Pax,” the Latin word for peace which means “peace of a sort, minimization of conflict, compromise, trade-offs, the absence of war. It calls for prudence, negotiation, it is temporary and shifting.” It’s the best we can do at present with human nature as it is. The just war tradition deals with this, but it’s not good enough for the messaianists.

Bush and a lot of our fellow Americans also buy into what scholars call “American civil religion.” Ever since John Winthrop’s “City on the Hill” speech to the colonists in 1630, we have believed we are the chosen people. This theme runs throughout American life and literature. There is a concomitant idea that war is the means of our greatness (the Revolution, Civil War, WWII being high points).

In an increasingly secular age, American democracy itself, rather than Christianity, subtly became that to which we evangelize the world.

Enough Americans buy into this stuff to make it very dangerous especially at historical moments like this one. American civil religion and its myth of war took a serious drubbing in Vietnam but it seems to be back again in a most virulent form. From my perspective this stuff is very dangerous. As an ordained Christian minister, I also think it is a form of idolatry.