Westmont Magazine A Campus Conversation: The Westmont Campus Considers
Why I Support the Liberation of Iraq
by Professor Bill Nelson
First, we are enforcing U.N. resolutions. In response to those who claimed we were rushing to war, President Bush pointed out, “The world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy.” We have not initiated a war; Saddam Hussein did when he invaded Kuwait in 1990. After we drove out the Iraqis, there was no peace treaty. A ceasefire was implemented on the condition that Saddam Hussein destroy his weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He failed to do so. Since then more than a dozen U.N. resolutions have been passed. The last, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted unanimously in November 2002, instructed Saddam Hussein to destroy all WMD immediately or face serious consequences.
He did not comply. It became clear that he would not disarm unless forced to do so. I agree with President Bush that we did not need another U.N. Resolution. “This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will,” he said. The U.N. is impotent; it lacks the power and the will to enforce its own demands.
Second, we are acting in self-defense. This is a matter of national security. Not only does Saddam Hussein possess chemical and biological agents, but he started a program to develop nuclear weapons as well. Our government claims it has evidence that links Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
The war cost Iraqi civilian casualties and the lives of some Americans. But I believe we have saved the lives of many more innocent men, women, and children from terrorist attacks in the future. This is one criterion of a just war. I believe this was a just war and that we did not need the permission of the United Nations to use our forces to defend our people.
Third, we have liberated the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein was a brutally oppressive dictator who tortured and murdered any who opposed him. He killed as many as 100,000 Iraqi Kurds in 1987-88. In Halabja alone, he murdered 5,000 Kurds with nerve gas in 1988. In 1991, when coalition forces defeated him, some of the Shiites in the south revolted against his repressive regime. He put down the uprising with mass executions. During the recent fighting, we saw numerous Iraqi atrocities: using a hospital as a base of operations, setting up artillery in residential areas, parading on camera, torturing, and executing POWs, using human shields, shooting those who wish to surrender, shooting civilians who tried to flee the fighting, and feigning surrender with a white flag but then opening fire.
“We have a moral obligation to intervene where evil is in control. Today, that place is Iraq,” Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace laureate and Holocaust survivor, has said. I agree. As Christians, we should be active in helping the oppressed go free (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18-19).
This war is not about oil; it will cost us much more than any benefit we might gain from the ability to buy oil from Iraq. We left the Kuwaiti oil fields in the hands of the Kuwaitis in 1991, and we will do the same in Iraq. They will be able to sell oil to anyone they want at any price they choose.
Fourth, our military action will prevent Saddam Hussein from threatening other nations in the region. He fought a costly war with Iran from 1980-88 during which he killed 20,000 Iranians with mustard and nerve gases. In 1990 he invaded Kuwait, executing thousands of Kuwaitis. He fired scud missiles at Israel in 1991 even though it was not part of the conflict. He also supports terrorist organizations in Israel by paying money to the families of suicide bombers.
The recent past shows that only military intervention stopped bloodshed in the Balkans and destroyed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Had the international community intervened in Rwanda, more than 800,000 men, women and children would not have perished. Had Europe’s great powers intervened against Adolf Hitler’s aggressive ambitions in 1938 instead of appeasing him in Munich, humanity would have been spared the unprecedented horrors of World War II.
Fifth, this conflict may result in more freedom, peace, and security, and less terrorism. Certain pundits predicted that our military action in 1991 would lead to strong Muslim reactions and increased terrorism. They were wrong. In that part of the world, strength is respected while weakness is exploited. After 9/11 the Arab press criticized the United States and warned us not to invade Afghanistan. If we had followed that advice I believe we would have seen more terrorist attacks.
The only democracy in the Middle East is Israel. We hope to establish a representative government in Iraq that will have a positive influence on its neighbors. One of the reasons people join terrorist organizations is that they live under oppressive regimes. If other Muslim states can see that it is in their best interests to foster human rights and basic freedoms, we might see more openness in their societies, greater political stability, and less terrorism.
Sixth, sometimes it is necessary to use force. We use diplomacy as long as we can; our military is a last resort. Pacifism is not an option for me. If we had not had a strong military during World War II it is likely we would have fallen under the control of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Freedom has a price.
Pacifists enjoy the freedoms that others secure with their blood. “Turning the other cheek” has to do with interpersonal relations and the way in which Christians refuse to retaliate against their persecutors. It does not have to do with international relations. It worked well in the Roman Empire when it was illegal to be a Christian.
But what if the law is on my side, as it is today? If a thug comes to my door and wants to rape or murder one of my daughters, should I offer him my other daughter also? Or should I act to defend them, with force if necessary? I think I would be justified in using violence to stop him. At the least I would be justified in calling the police who are armed and might justly and scripturally use deadly force (Romans13:1-4).
I respect the right of Americans to be pacifists. As a member of the military, I am willing to give my life to defend the rights of those who are opposed to such defense.
But we should remember the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Although he was a committed pacifist, he was willing to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler (which unfortunately failed). He never argued that this would have been a good deed. On the contrary, he considered it murder, but the lesser of two evils. That is, it would be a worse sin for him to allow Hitler to go on murdering millions of people if it was in his power to stop it. There is room for debate in the current situation, but I believe the above principle applies to Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
Excerpted from an article in the April 1, 2003, Horizon. A professor of Old Testament at Westmont, the author is also a chaplain and major in the California Air National Guard.
A Candid Defense
by Professor Jonathan Wilson
Gospel pacifism bears witness to the fact that Christians follow a Messiah who was crucified. Jesus Christ could have called upon his Father to rescue him and destroy his enemies, but instead he died at our hands. His death and resurrection exposes the reign of sin for what it is — an alien power and enemy that rules over humankind by lies and deceit. The Apostle Paul calls death “the last enemy” (I Corinthians 15). When we think we can make this enemy our tool or even our friend to do our bidding, we have bought the lie. When we take up death as a weapon against others, we are in that very act defeated by our greatest enemy, death. The good news of Jesus Christ is that his death has conquered death.
Gospel pacifism recognizes that when the gospel claims us, our identity as followers of Jesus Christ subordinates and transforms (but does not eradicate) all other sources of our identity: national, racial, linguistic, sexual, and so on. The apostle Paul practiced this. Although he enjoins obedience to the rulers (Romans 13), he did not allow his identity as a Roman citizen to silence his witness to Jesus Christ — even to the point that he was jailed and almost certainly executed by Rome for his disobedience.
To be clear: we Christians may not do as Americans something that we must not do as Christians. At our present time in history, we have been so formed by the collusion of the church with America that we find it difficult to distinguish between Christian and national identity, and even harder to subordinate our national identity to our identity in Christ.
Gospel pacifism believes that the primary agent of God’s work in the world is the church, not the nation. The church as the community of disciples is called to bear witness to the one hope that we have: Jesus Christ. Most of the debates about war, even in the church, are about what the United States should do. This is natural for those whose identity is primarily found in their allegiance to a nation-state. But for Christians, our debate should be primarily about what the church should be doing. Today more than ever the church is the global people of God: trans-national, trans-racial, trans-linguistic. More Christians live now in the southern hemisphere than in the northern hemisphere. As strange as it may seem, this gathering of people from every tribe and tongue and nation is what Christians believe God is doing in the world. Our inability to recognize and act upon this is a major tragedy for which the church will be judged.
Gospel pacifism argues that to the extent that followers of Jesus Christ follow the way of death and act primarily out of their national, racial, and cultural identity, the church has compromised its mission, corrupted its life and abandoned its witness. In this case, God’s judgment looms over the church in the West and elsewhere. For most people in the world, the United States of America is a Christian nation. And when we advertise the Christian faith of our president and others in the government, we reinforce that perception of America as Christian. So the war in Iraq appears to be (and in many ways is) a war fought by Christians against Muslims. If there is no other Christian voice or action, then the cause of the gospel among the nations — Muslims included — could be significantly compromised for 50 years or more.
So this particular form of Christian pacifism calls for the church to seek its own course of action in resisting evil non-violently. Followers of Jesus Christ who are also Americans will act in ways that seek to represent faithfully the gospel apart from the work of this nation-state. We will do this not because we deny the existence of evil or the claims of justice but because we have been claimed by the good news of another Kingdom.
Gospel pacifism is not the liberal, optimistic humanistic pacifism. It admits the deep presence of sin expressed through violence and sees the evil present throughout our world. Only Christ’s return will bring our warfare and violence to an end. In the meantime, we who long for his return must witness as faithfully as we can to that hope we have in Christ. Without that witness, the world sees no other reality than the kingdom of sin and death, and this world appears to be all that there is. The only hope in this world is to be better at dealing out death than anyone else; the only hope of this world is the coming of Christ. Our call is not to be effective by the standards of this world but faithful witnesses to another reality.
However, it doesn’t make sense for America to be pacifist. This nation-state exists partly through violence and the threat of violence. By God’s grace, America does many good things, and we should be grateful for them. But as soon as we make America the topic we are discussing and the central agent in history, warfare and violence are going to make sense. But that doesn’t mean the warfare and violence escape God’s judgment. Remember, God regularly used the ambitions and violence of the empires in the Old Testament, but God still judged them for their violence and injustice. So pacifism makes sense for Christians who live in America only when we allow the gospel to transform our national identity and make the church the primary agent of God’s work in history.
Gospel pacifism doesn’t lead to more deaths than war; it challenges us to think about how we die and whether we kill. We all die; the death rate is 100 percent. What do we think the greatest power in the universe is? Do we worship the God of Life or the God of Death?
Gospel pacifism is not passive; it is active peace-making. It resists evil actively and non-violently. It is engaged in making peace, not passively withdrawing from war. Followers of Jesus Christ should be right in the midst of conflicts bearing witness to and working for God’s reconciliation. And that’s why many Christians can be found working non-violently toward peace and justice in the most violent places in the world.
Gospel pacifists believe we are all dependent upon the grace of God. As believers in that God, we must live in such a way that we bear witness to the good news of God’s love for all in Jesus Christ. That love is faithfully embodied in non-violent resistance to evil.
Excerpted from an article in the March 25, 2003, Horizon. A professor of theology at Westmont, the author is under contract to write a book on gospel pacifism for Jossey-Bass.
Between the Bookends: Some Reflections on Iraq
by Professor Russell W. Howell
‘Odds are that within 10 years the United States will face the prospects of another big war. By that time you will find yourselves in positions of leadership, so it is imperative that during your Westmont years you educate yourselves on a wide range of topics.” Thus I began my presentation at Westmont’s town hall meeting, calling our students to do some serious analysis regarding the question of pacifism. I mentioned several books for their consideration, including a just war treatise (“War and the Christian Conscience” by Paul Ramsey) and a pacifist apology (“Against the Nations” by Stanley Hauerwas).
I belong to the just war camp. Briefly, I view Romans 13:1-7 as teaching that the state is God’s agent for good, and that it rightly brings force (“the sword”) to bear on those who practice evil. Although pacifism is a respected tradition in the history of Christian thought, I find that many of its proponents argue by expanding calls for personal restraint (as in Romans 12) into maxims for governmental practice. But individual ethics are differentiated from corporate ethics in the New Testament, such as commands not to judge another brother as a matter of personal practice (Matthew 7:1- 5) versus opposite commands given in the context of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17). In a similar way, I think Romans 13 balances Romans 12.
So Christians may participate in a government’s military efforts (as did Cornelius the centurion, a devout man who feared God, Acts 10:2), but they must do so cautiously, for Revelation 13 (where a ruler or government embodies evil) stands as a chilling and contrasting bookend to Romans 13 (where governments are dubbed ministers of God). The key question for me, then — which became difficult to answer — was whether the U.S. decision to invade Iraq was just. Let’s examine some of the standard criteria delineated by just war theorists.
Is the cause just? Well, was U.S. policy driven by a desire to control Iraqi oil? No. Ten years from now the United States will get its oil from Iraq as it currently does from Kuwait — by buying it, and at market prices. The United States gave two principal arguments for going to war: the Iraqi government was badly mistreating its own people and had brutalized them in the past with weapons of mass destruction (WMD); Iraq, by continuing to possess WMD, was disobeying U.N. resolutions, and its links to terrorist organizations posed a serious threat to the United States. I think Colin Powell’s U.N. presentation in February gave sufficient grounds for Iraqi deceit. Evidence for terrorist links was less compelling. Two months after the war, the brutality of the Iraqi government appears to have been worse than advertised. What about the WMD? Did the United States lie about or hype their existence so as to sell the war to the American people? No. Germany itself, although opposed to the war, stipulated that WMD existed, and the convergence of intelligence sources drawing the same conclusion was overwhelming. Why have WMD not yet been found? Of course, some have already been found. Two months after the 1991 war the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated that Iraq had no nuclear capability. One month later a defector alerted them to a huge dual-use factory designed to produce nuclear weapons. A similar scenario may play out today. When a nation is intent on hiding things, it will do so effectively.
Is war the last resort? Many argued that, despite 12 years of Iraqi duplicity, the United States should give weapons inspectors more time, claiming that now their process was effective and would eventually succeed. Of course, Iraqi cooperation was due to the presence of U.S. military. What would happen when the military pulled out? Probably the same thing that happened when weapons inspectors monitored Germany after World War I. They found an incredible amount of munitions and destroyed them. But they couldn’t destroy German militarism. Thwarting agreements, Germany secretly trained its troops in Russia. Ironically, restrictions placed on the size of the German military gave impetus to their development of the Blitzkrieg tactic. When a nation is intent on arming itself, it will do so effectively.
Is success probable? This criterion concerned me the most. Success must be viewed long-term, including not only our future safety, but also a better-off Iraq, and in nation-building the United States has had mixed results at best. Will the new Iraqi government be better than the one we just eliminated? In my judgment, Hussein’s regime was so corrupt (hoarding wealth), had behaved so badly (Iran, Kuwait), and was so intent in continuing its evil ways, that I reluctantly answer this question in the affirmative.
On balance, I think the Bush administration made the right call, but the United States must now guard against failing to meet its responsibilities for “building the peace.” Governments can quickly change from Romans 13 to Revelation 13, and Christians must continually judge where in the spectrum between these two bookends their nation stands.
Howell, professor of mathematics, spoke at a campus forum April 2, 2003.
A Christian Consideration of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
by Professor Richard Cahill
The conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis is a complicated and touchy subject. Many Christians in North America believe that the modern state of Israel represents a fulfillment of biblical prophesy and that they should therefore support Israel. In my estimation, many Christians are rather uninformed about the history and the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This short article doesn’t permit discussion of these issues, so allow me to challenge a few popular misconceptions about the conflict and suggest further reading for those who are interested.
First, many people think the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs is ancient and religious in nature. This is simply not true. All over the Middle East, from Iraq to Morocco, including Palestine, Jews lived in peace and harmony with their Arab, Iranian and Turkish neighbors. They owned property, did business and shared holiday visits with their Muslim and Christian neighbors. An older Palestinian Christian woman I know grew up in Haifa (Israel/ Palestine) and remembers attending her Jewish neighbors’ weddings and bar mitzvahs.
The conflict between the Arabs began when Zionists (part of a secular national movement of European Jews) began to emigrate to Palestine to establish a Jewish nation. In 1900 the Jewish population of Palestine was about 5 percent. As European Jews began to emmigrate to Palestine, the local Christian and Muslim Arab population (and even some of the existing Jewish population) began to feel the squeeze of a national movement preparing to take over some territory. While religion plays an important role, the conflict is not primarily religious, but political, focusing on sovereignty over territory.
A second misconception is that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 was nothing short of a modern-day miracle. Early Israeli historical accounts and many Western reports of the war invoke the image of a small Israeli David who conquered a giant Arab Goliath. Actually, this was not the case. While the Zionists in Palestine were few relative to the Arabs (33 percent of the Palestinian population in 1947), especially compared to surrounding Arab nations and armies, the Arabs mustered and sent few troops. Even modern Israeli historians now testify to the superior numbers and weapons of the Zionists in 1947-49. Rest assured that the Zionists fought hard and bravely, but it was not a miraculous victory.
A third misconception is that the land promises in God’s covenant with Israel were unconditional. It is important to note that the vast majority of Israelis and politicians in Israel do not make a religious claim to the land. Again, Zionism was and remains primarily a secular movement. Nevertheless, this point is important to Christians who take God’s Word seriously. God’s covenant with Abraham is expressed in several places in Genesis 12-17 and includes promises of a great number of descendants, of a special relationship between God and the Children of Abraham, and of land.
But the promise is not an unconditional, eternal title deed. The land still belongs to God. “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants,” says the Lord (Lev. 25:23). Second, in several places in the Old Testament it is clear that in order to remain in the land, the ancient Israelites needed to live in a morally upright way. If they failed to meet God’s ethical standard, the Lord would “vomit” them out of the land. (Lev. 18: 24-30; compare Lev. 20: 22-26, Deut. 4:25-27, 4:40, 8:17-19). Israelites were also expected to respect the rights of non-Israelites living among them. Anyone, Christian or Jew, wishing to claim a biblical right to the land for the Jews must also hold the Jews to the ethical standards included in the biblical covenant. Many of the practices of the Jewish state today (political assassinations of untried suspects, torture, confinement without charges, collective punishment, home demolitions, violent assaults); do not live up to international standards, let alone biblical standards of justice (see the Israeli human rights watch group , www.btselem.org).
It is vitally important that Christians seek out biblical principles to guide their political opinions and be pro-human and pro-justice rather than pro-Arab or pro-Israeli. Understanding the injustices in this conflict requires careful reading and learning. While the Israeli and Zionist perspective is fairly widely portrayed in the U.S. media, I recommend the resources listed in the sidebar for Christians who wish to learn more about the issues.
An associate professor of history, Cahill spent eight years in the Middle East and led many study tours to Israel and the West Bank. He teaches a class on the Middle East conflict, and his video series with Colin Chapman on this subject is available through www.whosepromisedland.com.