The Source of Violence

There’s been a lot of violence in the world lately, but most of it hasn’t been in Paris or Colorado Springs or San Bernadino. No group is better at inflicting violence than militaries, since that’s what they’re there for. The best possible outcome of a standing army is the threat of violence, but what good is that threat without exercising it on occasion?

The Dalai Lama has pretty insightful thoughts on the reality of war:

Of course, war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous – an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.

Strong words that I completely agree with. This bit on the military threat to democracy is also cutting:

There are people with destructive intentions in every society, and the temptation to gain command over an organisation capable of fulfilling their desires can become overwhelming. But no matter how malevolent or evil are the many murderous dictators who can currently oppress their nations and cause international problems, it is obvious that they cannot harm others or destroy countless human lives if they don’t have a military organisation accepted and condoned by society. As long as there are powerful armies there will always be danger of dictatorship. If we really believe dictatorship to be a despicable and destructive form of government, then we must recognize that the existence of a powerful military establishment is one of its main causes.

“We” is Problematic

There’s a lot more I could have said in Us and Them but I wanted to keep it simple. Had I wanted to say more, it would have sounded a lot like Andrew Klager’s What should WE have done? Undermining the Myth of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’:

People regularly ask me the question (often in an attempt to trick me without taking the time to find real answers to it first), “What should we do in the face of ISIS?” … But this implies that our side is the good side and their side is evil; it perpetuates the “us” vs. “them” myth that not only fuels animosity and rivalry and dehumanizes the Other so that their lives—and therefore deaths—have less value, but it also forces us to choose one of only two options, however deplorable they both are, while distracting us from considering other legitimate options more seriously.

Klager puts the Paris attacks into perspective:

Given the much more destructive impact of Western involvement in the Middle East—too much to get into here in any great detail, but civilian deaths of approx. 170,000 in Iraq, 140,000 in Syria, 45,000 in Afghanistan, etc., etc.; billions in transnational corporate profit from blatantly exploitative economic incursions in oil-rich countries; taxpayer-funded billions in profits by munitions and armaments corporations in what Robert Reich has called (riffing off Eisenhower) the military-industrial-congressional complex; allied with some of the most notorious human rights violators (Saudi Arabia, esp.) who are also the biggest financiers of the same terrorism we apparently want eliminated—what should these impoverished Middle Easterners do in the face of us? And, perhaps more importantly, why—again—should we align ourselves with this “us” when the damage we’ve caused is near infinitely worse than what they have caused?

There’s also some good bits that undermine the commonly-held narrative of WWII as a “noble” war where “we” were good and “they” were bad.


Remembrance Day is always troubling for me as a pacifist. As those who have served in some military capacity—particularly those who died in conflict—are venerated, my Canadian niceness doesn’t want to interrupt the proceedings, especially if people who might read this have relatives who have served.1 But I am convicted that violence towards other human beings can never be justified in any context, and I resist the underlying narrative that war is necessary.

I thought of writing some current thoughts, but apparently I’ve become a link blogger, and it turns out that my previous incarnation as someone who wrote things has remarked on the subject. Remembering Differently says much what I would want to say:

Remembrance Day is a day where we’re supposed to remember, but only in a certain way. We are only to remember the war dead as heroes, not as victims or suckers or murderers or villains. We are only to remember the wars in which they were murdered in as honourable, particularly WWII–the only war of the last century where a decent rhetorical case can be made to name it an honourable war. And of course, we are only to remember those killed on our side.

There’s also a good bit about the shift from celebrating the ceasing of hostilities under Armistice Day to honouring veterans in Remembrance Day. And Today I Remember is a set of alternate remembrances:

Today I remember all those who have been murdered for the crime of being born on the wrong side of arbitrarily drawn lines on maps.

I’m grateful for the cosmic luck of the draw where I live in a place and time where I haven’t experienced the horrors of war, and I recognize what an exception that is in human history, up to and including today.2 The best way we can honour the war dead is to stop adding to their number. I truly hope that we one day beat our swords in ploughshares.3

  1. If I’m honest with myself, there’s also always the part of me that would prefer to be liked and disingenuous, rather than forthright and disliked. 
  2. I could be accused of being something akin to a fair-weather pacifist, and the accusation would have its merits. But I am also a Mennonite, a people who have paid a price for their commitment to following Jesus in the way of nonviolence. 
  3. Cool biblical imagery aside, I wonder what we could do with the implements of war in a world without war? Bombers? Tanks? Predator drones? How could we turn these things to constructive use? I hope we get the chance. 

Remembering Differently

Remembrance Day is a day where we’re supposed to remember, but only in a certain way. We are only to remember the war dead as heroes, not as victims or suckers or murderers or villains. We are only to remember the wars in which they were murdered in as honourable, particularly WWII–the only war of the last century where a decent rhetorical case can be made to name it an honourable war.1 And of course, we are only to remember those killed on our side.

An especially fickle thing about Remembrance Day is that it evolved from Armistice Day, which was instituted to specifically remember the anniversary of the ceasing of hostilities in WWI, that Great War after which the thought of war ever occurring again was horrifying and, many hoped, unthinkable. But as the horror of WWI faded, Armistice Day evolved from a remembering of the ceasing of war to remembering and honouring veterans, leading it to be renamed in most places to Memorial Day or Veterans Day. The Canadian War Museum says the following about the rebranding in 1931:

The term ‘Remembrance Day’ placed the emphasis squarely upon memory – and by extension upon the soldiers whose deaths were being remembered – rather than upon the Armistice, a political achievement in which rank-and-file soldiers were not directly involved.

As the focus shifts from remembering the end of war to remembering the sacrifice of veterans, we are remembering in such a way that no longer questions war. The focus on the supposed honour of the soldiers’ sacrifice makes the question “what if those soldiers were just wastefully murdered as pawns of the powerful?” seem distasteful. Dissent is quelled before it has a chance to form.

Today, I remember differently. I remember that what we call Remembrance Day now once soberly remembered the ceasing of what was hopefully called The War to End All Wars. I remember that Jesus Christ was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and that talk of the sacrifice of soldiers and their blood shed for us is part of the rival religion of the state, always demanding the blood of its children. I remember that love is stronger than hatred, hope stronger than fear, light than darkness. I remember into the future—this might be called hope—the end of war.

  1. Although I wonder what German, Italian and Japanese people remember on Remembrance Day? Losing? 

Hauerwas on Hope & Peace

Here’s another (long) quote from Stanley Hauerwas, this time from his book A Community of Character:

The Kantian-inspired attempt to make justice integral to the alleged rational and universal requirement to respect all persons as ends in themselves is a noble endeavor. Indeed, such a vision, I suspect, draws its inspiration from the Christian hope of the realization of a kingdom where peace and not war will characterize the relation between peoples and nations. But for Christians such a kingdom remains an eschatological hope that cannot be made present by heightening the status of human rationality. From the Christian perspective, Kant’s account of the universal requirements of reason is a secularized version of Christian hope. Kant sought to make Christian hope into a necessary condition for rational living, but in the process hope is trivialized, for if the kingdom can be based on or come from within humankind, then there is no reason to hope. Kant’s hope is one that no longer knows how to be patient in the face of the dividedness of the world and in desperation seeks peace by making God’s Kingdom a human possibility. Yet peace, Christians believe, cannot be founded on false accounts of our rational powers but depends on our learning to acknowledge God’s lordship over all life. The Christian commitment to peace is based not on the inherent value of life, but on the conviction that war cannot be consistent with the Kingdom we have only begun to experience through the work of Christ and his continuing power in the church.

It must be admitted that to stake one’s life on such a view is indeed dangerous. For there are many who claim their convictions to be true and assume that those who do not hold similar beliefs should be forced to do so. They are even willing to kill in defense of what they hold dear. To abandon the attempt to develop a “universal” ethic, as I have done, therefore appears as an act of despair, as we are left at the mercy of our enemies.

The Christian, however, does not claim that the world is safe but only that it is under God’s lordship. Christian confidence in God’s lordship provides the church with the power to exist amid the diversity of this world, trusting that the truth “will out” without resorting to coercion and violence for self-protection or to secure adherents. Therefore the non-resistant character of Christian community, which is often sadly absent, is a crucial mark of the power of the Christian story to form a people in a manner appropriate to the character of God’s providential rule of the world.

Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, 100-1.

Today I Remember

Today I remember all those who have met senseless and violent ends at the hands of those who signed up for honour and esteem in the eyes of their countrymen.

Today I remember all those who have been murdered for the crime of being born on the wrong side of arbitrarily drawn lines on maps.

Today I remember that “serving your country” is a necessary euphemism, since the more accurate “joining an organization that intimidates and kills people from other countries” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Today I remember that we still cling to the idea that it is honourable rather than barbarous to enlist in an organization whose purpose is to extort and possibly murder those who are weaker than you.

Today I remember that many men and women in the armed services must cling to the idea that their brand of inhumanity is officially sanctioned and honoured in order to sleep at night. I feel pity for their plight.

Today I remember that the future peace of God has broken into the present in Christ, meaning that we can hope for a future where the armies of the earth shall be no more. There will be no more war, nor instruments of war. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.