…So I’m Kind of a Pacifist
I say kind of because I’m very inconsistent. On the one hand I enjoy movies about famous wars or war heroes (Gladiator, The Patriot, We Were Soldiers, Saving Private Ryan), I like some violent video games (Halo, Call of Duty), and I have complete respect for those who are willing to support their country and subject themselves to the terrors of war. Yet, I can’t help but feel like the ethics of Jesus are incompatible with war. Now, to be clear, this post is not a rant about why Christians should not be in the military (although I have a lot of Anabaptistic leanings that is not one of them), nor is it a post of logical or biblical reasons against war. Rather, I want to share some of the emotional tension that I have about war as fought by the youth and the poor, as well as war in contrast to the eschatological peace that all creation is moving towards.
The Youth & The Poor
One medium that has influenced me greatly over the years is metal music. For all its aggressive energy, the genre of metal possesses many anti-war voices. Two songs in particular have always stuck out to me (Warning: Some of the Links to the songs contain lyrics that your Mother won’t appreciate).
Soldier boy made of clay now an empty shell
Twenty-one, only son, but he served us well
Bred to kill, not to care, do just as we say
Finished here, greeting Death, he’s yours to take away
The lines are obviously very chilling, but the most distrubing line is yelled at the close of the song’s bridge section, “I was born for dying!” Sadly, I am reminded of this song whenever I see images of the 20 year old boys who commit themselves to war.
The second song that has always stuck with me is System Of A Down’s B. Y. O. B. from the album, Mezmerize, released in 2005. Although I should note that I don’t really like this song, or the band for that matter, the lyrics have continued to haunt me since the first time I heard the song. In the chorus, Serj Tankian sings:
Everybody going to the party have a real good time
Dancing in the desert blowing up the sunshine
The “party” in this song is metaphor for the War in Iraq. The nomenclature B.Y.O.B. (as the party animals know) is an acronym for ‘Bring Your Own Beer.’ Yet, here in the analogy one doesn’t bring beer to the party, one brings ‘bombs.’
The most direct and haunting question that the song poses comes from the song’s bridge:
Why don’t princes fight the war, why do they always send the poor?
This line is a refrain in my mind when I think about the political power plays at work in any war. The poor teenage male who cannot afford to attend college, or feels that he cannot progress up the socio-economic ladder, is more likely to find the armed forces attractive than his peers (not to over-generalize). This concept of the poor fighting a prince’s war disturbs me.
The Eschatological Peace of God
About a month ago I went to Cincinnati, OH for vacation. At the Union Terminal in Downtown Cincinnati I attended the Cincinnati History Museum. At one point in the display a banner hung above the area designated for the city’s participation in various American war efforts, which read, “Plowshares into Swords.” When I first saw the banner I was completely stunned. I honestly stopped walking and stood in shock at the horrific choice of imagery. Of course, the imagery was meant to convey that an agricultural society had taken up the call to arms on behalf of her nation. Yet I simply could not ignore the biblical allusion. Israel’s prophets spoke of a future age when God would restore his people. Descriptions of this era are poetically imaginative and are meant to evoke longing for the consummation of God’s promises. The entrance of sin into the world brought all sorts of evils, including hostility. The hostile relationship between man and beast will one day be reconciled (e.g. lions will lay down with lambs; cf. Isa 11.6-9), as well as the hostility that humanity has with itself. Thus, one of the images of the restoration of the created order is the removal of sin. The prophets declared that pruning hooks would be turned into plowshares (Isa 2.4; Mic 4.3). Vessels designed for warfare would be changed into vessels of agriculture; implying that this era will be one of fertility and abundance, but furthermore it conveys that the utensils that brought about destruction will one day aid in helping others. This is quite the reversal! The imagery is beautiful and I have long found this to be one of my favorite prophetic images. So naturally, when I saw the banner in the Cincinnati History Museum it deeply disturbed me. The goal of salvation history is the undoing of injustice and the climatic establishment of God’s just and righteous rule over all creation. To that end we should certainly strive for justice in this present evil age, but I still can’t reconcile war with my emotions. Like I said, I’m inconsistent. Yet, through the prophetic words of Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, I’d like to ask by way of conclusion, “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?”