Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
August 08, 2011 "Information Clearing House" -- Many of those preaching at American church services Sunday extolled as “heroes” the 30 American and 8 Afghan troops killed Saturday west of Kabul, when a helicopter on a night mission crashed, apparently after taking fire from Taliban forces. This week, the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) can be expected to beat a steady drumbeat of “they shall not have died in vain.”
But they did. I know it is a hard truth, but they did die in vain.
As in the past, churches across the country will keep praising the fallen troops for protecting “our way of life,” and few can demur, given the tragic circumstances.
But, sadly, such accolades are, at best, misguided — at worst, dishonest. Most preachers do not have a clue as to what U.S. forces are doing in Afghanistan and why. Many prefer not to think about it. There are some who do know better, but virtually all in that category eventually opt to punt.
Should we fault the preachers as they reach for words designed to give comfort to those in their congregations mourning the deaths of so many young troops? As hard as it might seem, I believe we can do no other than fault — and confront — them. However well meaning their intentions, their negligence and timidity in confronting basic war issues merely help to perpetuate unnecessary killing. It is high time to hold preachers accountable.
Ben Ferencz website: http://www.benferencz.org/
Ben Ferencz Interview: http://www.cbc.ca/video/news/audioplayer.html?clipid=1921021571
Benjamin Ferencz is a 92-year-old U.S. citizen and American combat soldier during World War II. He served as prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, where he tried many Nazi war criminals. The above link directs readers to a controversial 13-minute interview on CBC Radio Canada on Bin Laden's death, the Nuremberg principles, and the role of America. An excerpt from the interview:
Q: What should we have learned from Nuremberg that we still haven't learned"? His answer:
A: I'm afraid most of the lessons of Nuremberg have passed, unfortunately. The world has accepted them, but the U.S. seems reluctant to do so. The principal lesson we learned from Nuremberg is that a war of aggression -- that means, a war in violation of international law, in violation of the UN charter, and not in self-defense -- is the supreme international crime, because all the other crimes happen in war. And every leader who is responsible for planning and perpetrating that crime should be held to account in a court of law, and the law applies equally to everyone.
These lessons were hailed throughout the world -- I hailed them, I was involved in them -- and it saddens me to no end when Americans are asked: why don't you support the Nuremberg principles on aggression? And the response is: Nuremberg? That was then, this is now. Forget it.
The year begins with war.
Our bombs fall day and night,
Hour after hour, by death
Abroad appeasing wrath,
Folly, and greed at home.
Upon our giddy tower
We’d oversway the world.
Our hate comes down to kill
Those whom we do not see,
For we have given up
Our sight to those in power
And to machines, and now
Are blind to all the world.
This is a nation where
No lovely thing can last.
We trample, gouge, and blast;
The people leave the land;
The land flows to the sea.
Fine men and women die,
The fine old houses fall,
The fine old trees come down:
Highway and shopping mall
Still guarantee the right
And liberty to be
A peaceful murderer,
A murderous worshipper,
A slender glutton, or
A healthy whore. Forgiving
No enemy, forgiven
By none, we live the death
Of liberty become
What we have feared to be.
-Wendell Berry, 1991
Remarque was a German veteran of World War I. (He later became an American citizen.) Remarque published All Quiet On The Western Front in 1929. It sold two and half million copies in the first eighteen months. Some have describe it as the most honest account of war ever written. German soldiers would simply say of Remarque’s book, “So ist es gewsen!” (That’s the way it was!)
And if you ask me what this post has to do with Holy Week, I will simply answer, much!
Read it thoughtfully.
I have entitled this excerpt as…
The Children of Cain Have a Conversation Concerning the Legacy Bequeathed Them.
Thomas Merton: Peacemaker
I think that Thomas Merton could easily be called the greatest spiritual writer and spiritual master of the twentieth century in English speaking America. There is no other person who has such a profound influence on those writing on spiritual topics, not only on Catholics but non-Catholics, as Merton has.
Lawrence Cunningham, Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton p.183
With Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton (1915-1968) personified the potential of the Catholic peace tradition in America. Merton stands out as one of the most brilliant peacemakers in the entire Catholic tradition.
Ronald Musto, The Catholic Peace Tradition p. 249
Merton never fully embraced pacifism. Like Thomas More and Erasmus, he believed in the theoretical applicability of the just war. Yet, like the Renaissance Humanists, he looked at the horrors of contemporary warfare and concluded that the just war theory was irrelevant in practice. He was, in fact, one of the first “nuclear pacifists”.
Ronald Musto, The Catholic Peace Tradition p. 250
I Merton: War and Peace
On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of great war, and down in the shadow of some mountains on the border of Spain, I came into the world.
Merton, indeed, came into the world ‘in a year of great war’. WW I dominated Europe when Merton was born, he lived through the carnage of WW II, the Korean War, McCarthy-Cold War years and the emergence and devastating nature of the Vietnam War. Merton’s social conscience became more public with the civil rights movement in the late 1950s, the nuclear threat, the rise of ecological consciousness and much American domestic violence in the 1950s-1960s. In short, Merton lived through a period in 20th century history in which war and violence were the order of the day, and he sought, through a variety of means, to be a moderate and peacemaking voice and presence. How did Merton become the significant peacemaker that he did, and what was Merton’s understanding of peacemaking? This short paper will, in a suggestive and historic way, answer these questions.
“In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” (You can find the original interview here).
I frankly have trouble understanding how a follower of Jesus could find himself unable to worship a guy he could “beat up” when he already crucified him. I also fail to see what is so worshipful about someone carrying a sword with “a commitment make someone bleed.” But this aside, I’m not at all surprised Driscoll believes the book of Revelation portrays Jesus as a “prize fighter.” This violent picture of Jesus, rooted in a literalistic interpretation of Revelation, is very common among conservative Christians, made especially popular by the remarkably violent Left Behind series.
Karl Jersák, Paměti [Memories] (Bohemia, 1954, William Jersak’s collection in Sulejovice) cited in Edita Štěříková, Země Otců [Land of our Fathers] (Prague: The Society of Exiles in Prague, 1995), 110-113. Translated by Lloyd Jersak.
On February 1, 1803, the first Czech colonists settled in Zelov. Fourteen farmers came from Tábor and thirteen joined them from Erdmansdorf. Among them was Jan Jersák and Jan Stehlík. Eleven families came from Sophienthal and Bachowitz: one of these was also a Jan Jersák and another was a Jiří (George) Jersák.
From 1803-1804, eight of their newborn children were baptized.
Beside the landowners, there were also some poor families who came with the colonists to help with labour. Most of the land was sandy and unproductive, but they began to grow flax. They formed a local government and in 1807, they established a Czech school.
In the same year (1807) the French war entered Zelov life. In June, the boundary was pushed back from the Prussian kingdom. Overnight, the colonists found themselves under new Warsaw governorship. The former Prussian privileges were now overlooked and the Zelov population was forced into labour, building roads and bridges.
The Czechs hoped in a Russian victory. Eventually, their wish was fulfilled. After the end of the war, they became subject to the Russian Czar. Within thirty years of the founding of Zelov (by June 1, 1830) there were 149 properties listed in settlement.
What has been told later about this period, Karl Jersák, the Zelov chronicler and re-immigrant of Nejdku, records in his memoirs:
This year I read the ultimate summer read, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. But I’m a slow reader, so I got started in April--But I finished before the end of summer. I read the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The translation is so good that I seldom noticed that it was a translation. The conversation flows smoothly, for the most part, although there are occasional awkward expressions, mostly in the speech of Pierre, that left me wondering if this awkwardness is something reflected in the Russian original--after all, Pierre is an awkward character. Some of the descriptive passages, however, especially the battle scenes, have such vivid force that several pages seemed to disappear and I saw only the image created in my mind.
As part of the centenary of Lev Tolstoy’s death, I was been asked to reflect on Tolstoy and the Mennonites. Levi Miller wrote a fine article on the Tolstoy-Mennonite connection twelve years ago, reviewing those Mennonite leaders in Russia and America who interacted with Tolstoy’s work. My article will rather compare and contrast the roots and reasons of Mennonite and Tolstoyan communalism and nonviolence.
Mennonite and Tolstoyan Communalism
1. New Testament foundations: We necessarily begin by considering the New Testament teachings that inspired both movements. Both the early Anabaptists and the Tolstoyans looked to the New Testament for their communalism and nonviolence, but as we shall see, for quite different reasons.
Lev Tolstoy, one of Russia's greatest authors and peace advocates, passed away one century ago. A four-time Nobel nominee, Tolstoy was known through his literature and activism as a proponent of nonviolence and communalism; a critic of militarism and hierarchy; and is regarded by some as the father of Christian anarchism. He was also an inspiration and guide for a young Gandhi, with whom he corresponded regularly and shared a common commitment to actually living the Way of the Sermon on the Mount.
Tolstoy's life work has recently been commemorated in a variety of mediums, including the acclaimed film, The Last Train Station. His remarkable contributions to literature and society were also celebrated on Sept. 22 at the University of the Fraser Valley Tolstoy Symposium. The day was initiated by Professor Ron Dart (see photo with Tolstoy) and facilitated by Scott Fast (both serving in UFV's philosophy and political science dept).
War and Peace (1869) is the Mount Everest of all novels, and Anna Karenina (1877) and Resurrection (1899) stand tall and stately within the towering Himalayan peaks of world literature. It is 100 years this year since Lev Tolstoy died (1910-2010), and many is the event that is being put on to celebrate the life of this literary genius and prophetic visionary. Tolstoy is very much a man for all seasons, and the perennial themes he grappled with in his novels, short stories, plays and parables are as relevant today as they were when written and published.
There is little doubt that one of the finest short stories that Tolstoy wrote in his latter years was Hadji Murad (viewable online). Hadji Murad was written between 1896-1904, and published after Tolstoy had died in 1912. The tale told is probing, evocative and apt. We often hear in the news about the clash between the Russian state and the Muslim Chechens and Grozny. The Chechens are viewed as the terrorists and the Russians the law abiding citizens. The contemporary clash between Russia and the Chechens has a much longer history, of course, and Hadji Murad tells part of that older tale. The young Tolstoy was in the Russian army in the 1850s when the Russian state and military had launched a campaign to colonize, dominate and control the Muslim Chechens. Needless to say, such an aggressive stance by the Russians created much opposition and resistance by the Chechens. The conflict led to the deaths of many lives, and one of the leading Muslim liberation fighters was Hadji Murad. It would have been natural for Tolstoy, as a Russian, to view Murad as a terrorist. But, did he? Murad led many attacks on the Russians, won many a campaign and was a living myth and legend to the Russians. He was the Osama Bin Laden of the time. The Russians hunted him down like a fox, and any true and patriotic Russian was expected to see Murad as a Muslim terrorist in the same way the West views the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.Tolstoy was never, though, an uncritical or patriotic Russian.
Last week I spent three unforgettable days with my family in Cambodia. There we saw signs of Jesus’ Kingdom shining in a land still under the shadow of death. I now find myself thinking daily what it would look like for the light of Christ to shine even stronger there and here-- so people can really see it.
Gracie and I were invited by Servants of Asia’s Urban Poor—a team of people from New Zealand, the Philippines, Australia, Japan and Canada called to live and minister in slum communities in Phnom Penh. The first day I led a short retreat for the staff and Gracie and I prayed for each of them. We visited some of the families in their homes amidst the squalor of the slum communities where they are seeking to live humbly among the poorest of the poor, bringing Jesus’ light.
Aksionov was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of fun, and very fond of singing. When quite a young man he had been given to drink, and was riotous when he had had too much; but after he married he gave up drinking, except now and then.
One summer Aksionov was going to the Nizhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his family, his wife said to him, "Ivan Dmitrich, do not start to-day; I have had a bad dream about you."
Aksionov laughed, and said, "You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on a spree."
His wife replied: "I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad dream. I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite grey."
For the Common Good
We are Jews, Christians and Muslims.
And we are friends.
We seek to follow our respective religions faithfully.
We do not believe all religions are the same.
We recognize the reality of our religious differences.
But we are friends.
We are devout in our faith and respectful of our friendship.
Our faith and friendship need not be mutually exclusive.
We recognize that we share common space—the common space of a shared planet.
For the sake of the common good we seek common ground.
We do not share a common faith, but we share a common humanity.
In our different religions we do not practice the same rituals or pray the same prayers.
But in our shared humanity we hold to a common dream: Shalom, Salaam, Peace.
We hold to the dream that our children may play in peace without fear of violence.
We pledge not to hate.
We pledge not to dehumanize others.
We pledge to do no harm in the name of God.
As individuals we do not compromise the truth claims of our respective religions—
But we will not use truth claims to fuel hate or justify violence.
We will practice our respective faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam.
But we believe our faith can be practiced in the way of peace—
We believe our faith truly practiced need never be at odds with humanitarian ideals.
Our religions share a complex and intertwined history—
A history of interaction that has too often been tumultuous and bloody.
We believe there must be a better way and we seek that better way.
The way of peace.
We are Jews, Christians and Muslims.
And we are friends.
We seek common ground for the common good.
Shalom, Salaam, Peace.
I write this as a reflection on Eric Janzen’s “Prophetic Culture of the Kingdom” (part 4).
In pondering your well-thought, well-stated articles on the Kingdom of God, part 4 gave me pause to consider your admittedly biblical use of military and imperial metaphors.
Re: military metaphors, you describe Christians as living ‘upon a spiritual battleground where a very real battle is underway.’ You continue,
The kingdom of heaven opposes the kingdom of darkness and opposes the powers of this world that do not worship Jesus as their lord, their savior, or their king... We are the presence of the kingdom wherever we gather and we are to express that presence on the battleground.
All of this is familiar territory to Biblicists who read about spiritual battles, armies, and weapons in New Testament passages like Eph.6, 2 Tim. 2, Rev. 19, etc. And of course, you acknowledge that while this battle is ‘real,’ it is also ‘spiritual.’ The weapons of our warfare are not the literal weapons of the world (swords, scuds, and lawsuits); they are metaphors for the Christian practices of love (as you explained), forgiveness (Rom. 12), and prayer (2 Cor. 10). In other words, the military metaphors are not merely spiritual counterparts to the physical realities. They also function ironically. Christ did not simply talk about overpowering evil forces by means of more lethal, spiritual ammo. He calls his followers to disavow violence, harm, hatred, and force altogether. Our new weapons are upside down kingdom traits like meekness, mercy, and mourning. An entirely new set of actions is called for: turning the other cheek to the enemy that strikes you; blessing the enemy that curses you; praying for the enemy that abuses you. These aren’t just spiritual symbols … it’s irony, virtually sarcasm if we’re talking about ‘armor.’ The disciples eventually got that.
Book Reviews by Brad Jersak
E. Jane Doering and Eric O. Springsted, The Christian Platonism of Simone Weil (Notre Dame: UND Press, 2004.
Alan Mendelson, Exiles from Nowhere: The Jews and the Canadian Elite (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2008).
In reviewing these two scholarly gems, I read them from a particular perspective. I am at the fledgling stage of George P. Grant research, with a special interest in enucleating the animating core of his life as a contemplative theologian and Canadian ‘prophet.’ One cannot hope to understand Grant’s work as a philosopher, political scientist and activist apart from the context of his Weilian Christian Platonism, for in his spiritual journey out of the dark cave of modernity (think Plato), Simone Weil was truly his ‘Diotima.’ Further, Grant’s emergence as one of Canada’s preeminent thinkers must be understood in light of his progressivist liberal pedigree. From that point of view, a book of essays on Weil’s Christian Platonism and a history that situates him among Canada’s intellectual elite are must-reads.