Thursday, August 07, 2014

Whatever Happened to "Unconditional Surrender?"

General Sherman had it spot on. "War is hell." For Christians, war is a difficult, difficult subject, and has been the object of theological debate for eons. For many, it is hard to reconcile the teachings of the Lord Jesus with waging war, even in its most justifiable cases in self-defense and never for conquest. I personally do not believe that the Lord Jesus or Scripture teaches complete pacifism—quite the contrary. Romans 13, among other Scriptures, spells out the duty of a legitimate God-ordained government to protect its people and "restrain evildoers."

Christians beginning with Augustine have tried to develop a "Just War Doctrine." I think it's agreed today in most circles that no Christian should ever want to engage in a war of conquest, or to have indiscriminate killing of civilians if it can be avoided at all. Yet reality is that we live in a fallen world, and there are evil people out there, led by evil leaders with evil on their minds. We like to try to separate out the people of a nation from its leadership, and to be sure, there have been—and are—dictatorships where people have little choice. In other times, evil leaders and their actions have been applauded by the majority of the populace. It is then when ugly consequences begin showing themselves.

Since World War II, Western nations including America seem to be gripped with this notion that war can be conducted with fits and starts and limits. Fought within Marquess of Queensberry rules. That might well be the case in an ideal situation, when everyone respects the rules. But I must emphasize again—we live in a fallen world with fallen human beings, and very evil people heading up national governments and organizations with political power over many lives. Perhaps the issue of war and war's conduct needs to be re-examined, and to we need to determine whether the former American method of conducting a war is as evil as it's made out to be. And let's be frank, America these days (and much of the world) is imposing a double standard on Israel that I doubt it would impose on itself if America endured the level of attacks that Israel has endured since 1948.

Israel is my example for this post because it is illustrative, and it needs to be compared with what the Allied Powers did in both World Wars. Israel typically shows great restraint, and even with that restraint, much of the world clucks its collective tongue in outrage. But is that fair? World War I was horrific and shocked the world with its carnage. World War II also had horrible carnage, plus the introduction of a new horror—the atomic bomb. It was now possible to wipe out an entire city with one bomb. Truly, truly horrible. Israel didn't do it, either.

As horrible as the wars were, the American objective at one time was to WIN wars, and the condition for ending wars consisted of two words: "Unconditional Surrender." It was understood at the time, and in general throughout military history, that to bring a war to a true conclusion, you had to thoroughly destroy the enemy's war-making capability, and you also had to break the morale of a populace that was supportive of the war effort. It sounds brutal, and it is. But is the alternative any more humane? Endless war that drags on and on and on, body counts that go higher and higher and higher, only now they're not attracting much notice because they're in smaller, more manageable numbers. Conflicts that are never settled at the post-war conference table, with a lasting peace that follows. We don't seem to have that any longer. You see, we're in a "new kind of war." Not sure I buy it.

The situation in Israel, Gaza, the Middle East etc. is a lot more difficult because it's largely driven by religious fanaticism and anti-Semitism. From a biblical perspective, the case could be made that the demonic is involved. How else to describe such a mindless hate so deep that militants are willing to sacrifice children for propaganda purposes? How else to describe a hate so deep that the civilian population cheers when a rocket is launched and children get killed on the other side as a result? America got a dose of this hatred on 9/11, when people across these regions cheered at the fall of the Twin Towers.

A "traditional" American response to the threat posed by these extremist militants would be that they must be defeated in no uncertain terms. Underscore the term "defeated." The militants' war-making capacity must be removed, and the price of launching continued attacks needs to be made too high to be acceptable. Yes, it sounds brutal. But there is a price for evil actions, and sometimes the price is very, very high. Now, this "traditional" response from America's past would have a very difficult time flying today in our current body politic, or on the world stage. I am not immune to how thinking on this subject has changed. I wrestle. Even as I write these words, I waver. I want to do what is right, have a right worldview, and advocate for what is right, true, and just. Yet I realize that I live in a world where all is NOT right. It all goes back to the Fall of Man.

My stomach turns just thinking about it all. We have thousands of years of human history, and there have been numerous wars since the Fall of Man. Peace never lasts very long on the planet. Even the best of human governments wrestle with these very questions, and continue to wrestle with them. We should shrink from evil and brutality. Yet Scripture recognizes the inherent sin nature in man, and ordains human government to restrain evil. God-ordained government is empowered with the sword for that very purpose. Scripture itself is filled with horrific battles where the human cost was high, and in every battle, evil was ultimately at the root of it.

Evil in this fallen world will never be completely gone until the Lord Himself returns. In the meantime, His life-changing Gospel is the only hope for true peace that we have. Not everyone will turn to God and believe the Gospel, or live by it. There will still be evil people, evil rulers, and nations given over to evil eager to destroy another people. Evil must be restrained, and yes, defeated whenever possible. The other option is to surrender, lie down, and let yourselves be destroyed or overrun. Life "under this sun."

In the end, I know that evil cannot be appeased. Both World Wars should have taught us this. But even as we strive to check and restrain evil, we had best make certain we are not becoming the evil we are fighting.

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