Thoughts on War and Peace

Firefighters regularly go door to door or to community events to talk to people about fire safety and to install smoke detectors. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

Police officers go out to schools and community events to explain the laws and educate people about them. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

Search and rescue professionals go out and teach kids and adults how not to get lost or get hurt. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

Emergency room doctors go out and speak to the public about the dangers of drunk driving. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

So why is it so weird in our culture that a soldier might to out and promote peace in the hopes of having to do their job less often? Why do we assume that if one is in the business of war, they are pro-war and anti-peace. No one accuses the fire fighter of being pro-fire or the doctor of being pro-injury.

I easily admit there are folks in the military who are pro-war. Often on some quest to prove their toughness, avenge a perceived wrong, or simply to see if they can do it. There are those in all these fields who have a misguided desire for hero status.

Case in point #1, a reserve soldier I know recently said on social media in response to someone commenting about concealed carry laws: “I don’t carry a gun because I want to shoot people. That’s crazy. I carry a gun so I have the option of protecting myself, my family or the weak and innocent from the forces of evil.” Admittedly, I’m not sure how much “evil” lives in his small rural Midwestern town.

Case in point #2, a police officer I know who has a hard time walking away from his job. When he is off duty he still reads emails and listens to his radio and then laments that he wasn’t there “on that bust” or “on that call.” As opposed to lamenting that it had to happen in the first place and spending his free time trying to keep it from happening.

But the folks with this pro-hero mentality aren’t all or even most of the people I’ve encountered. The problem is, we let them dominate the conversation. We in the military and first responder community let those folks get away with spouting off those things. And then we begin to think that we are the minority. And then we start to think that those of us who are perfectly happy only having to use our skills as a last resort are the few and far between. We aren’t. We are the silent majority.

That impacts how other people see us outside of our agency as well. The military is the worst about it because so many veterans claim to speak for the the entire military and say absurdly pro-war things. The the anti-war veterans remain quiet. Or worse yet, some of the biggest pro-peace, anti-war advocates I know, are veterans but don’t mention their veteran status and don’t include it in their biographical info. Because they too have succumb to this idea of thinking they are a minority. And they think it will detract from their message.

We need to change this thinking. We need more military leaders who say “this war isn’t a good idea” to the President, Congress, and public. We need more military folks invested, passionate, trained, and leading in the peace process. How do you expect to establish peace with a bunch of folks that only know war and don’t see peace as part of their job? The principles of establishing a lasting peace have to be part of the conduct of war not the opposite of it.

“Good policing” can not be based on the number of arrests. It has to be based on the lack of crime.

“Good war” can not be based on the number of kills. It has to be based on the lasting peace.

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Praying for God’s Will: Baseball, Elections, Oxymorons

There it was on my Facebook wall. A post from a friend the night of the election proclaiming that they were “praying this election goes in God’s favor.” It was one of the most theologically oxymoronic things I had seen in awhile. Keep in mind this is the same friend who having lost their job a few months before had proclaimed it to be “all part of God’s plan.”

So if God has a plan, and God is the almighty, all-powerful deity that you believe him to be, why pray that things go God’s way? Won’t God just do them the way he wants to? This is one of the many confusing things of popular Christianity that makes my head hurt in observing it. Either God has a plan or God answers prayers. Am I to believe that God sometimes changes his plans based on prayers? If so, it would seem rather arbitrary as to when he chooses to change his plans. I can already hear my pop Christian friends say “But that is the mystery of God that we can’t comprehend.”

Unless you are a Chicago Cubs fan. Cubs fans get the mystery. The Cubs recent World Series win was the sort of thing that inspires legends and movies. Cubs fans around the world apparently prayed that this would be the year and God apparently heard those prayers. Apparently the Cleveland Indians fans just don’t pray enough.

I also have a similar reaction when people pray for one side to be victorious in war. Or if they claim God is on one army’s side and not another. Given his 10 most revered commandments include that one about not killing, it seems unlikely that he would suddenly grant a group of people a free pass. (Although he himself seems rather reliant on the act. Then again, what parent hasn’t said “do as I say, not as I do.”)

So what is prayer? What good is there in asking that the odds, no matter how slim, go in your favor when you also believe that everything that happens is the will of God and done for a specific reason? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that. It makes no sense to me. There is a side of me that wants to believe that your God may occasionally grant such miracles to the most deserving. But if such a thing did happen, that “most deserving” would be the saints and top 1% of believers. Your momentary humbleness in the midst of a largely immodest and unrepentant life, seems a bit much to ask. In fact, it seems your God would be more willing to grant such things to those too humble to ask themselves or too busy living out their Christian values to take that moment to ask.

The problem is that logic loop in which prayer exists. When you pray for something, say a pony for instance, and you get a pony, then you are convinced of God’s favoritism towards you. When your prayer isn’t answered, you say it is part of some master plan and not some form of punishment. After all, God only punishes your enemies and non-Christians.

Having not asked that your God’s plan be changed in this election, I missed my chance to evaluate my status with your God. I’m left to believe that Trump must be part of your God’s plan. Or maybe America is just being punished. Or maybe, your God has nothing to do with elections. Just baseball.

Memorial Day: The Cost of War

There is a paradox between Unitarian Universalists and the military that may never be resolved. While there is both strong history of Unitarians and Universalists in the military, since becoming UUA there has been a cultural chasm that seems to have developed. There are a few of us sitting in the bottom of that chasm, existing somewhere between the two.

Memorial Day began in the United States after the Civil War as a means to recognize the sacrifice and high cost of war on both sides. It was not then a commercialized three-day weekend or nominally-patriotic outing to a park. Decoration Day, as it was often called back then, was practiced by laying flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers, even in places where the disdain for the issues of the war had been as high as Columbus, Mississippi. Various locations observed various dates, but it was Union Veterans themselves who argued for May 30th as the date, since it therefore didn’t coincide with any particular battle either won or loss. Because it was about recognizing the loss on both sides. It was about holding a place for death and loss and grieving.

Memorial Day is the time that we should recognize and consider the high cost of war. Not the billions of dollars spent but the number of priceless lives lost. The children who will grow up never knowing their parent. The mothers who will never see their children graduate college or start families. The brothers and sisters who will forever keep a picture on a mantel.

That cost of war is so high, that we cannot and should not go into it lightly. Memorial Day should not be practiced as a day of pride about military conquest or blanket glamorization of all military deaths, but as a day of remembrance about the cost of war. A day to recognize the price we pay as a people for the failures of our politicians. Failures for which they are rarely held accountable, but ones which every battlefield commander is judged by.

To those who want to advocate for a national day of recognition for all the civilians and non-combatants killed in war, I support you. To those who think more should be done to recognize the courage and impact of Conscientious Objectors, I agree as well and you have my vote. Conscientious Objection is as old as the first colonies in the US and is an important part of the American military and political landscape. But don’t let your desire for these things react to the blind nationalism and commercialism to which Memorial Day often succumbs. Allow yourself to recognize the cost of war paid by the blood of those who served, willfully or unwillfully, in the military.

We used to say in the military that “War is not about dying for your country. War is about making the other guy die for his.” US military deaths are not the price of “freedom.” They are the price of war. War in our country has rarely been about freedom. But war is always about death. Memorial Day is about those deaths and the legacy of pain and suffering they leave for the families, the friends, and the fellow soldiers. And no amount of patriotic, nationalistic, jingoism will ever fill the spaces left by those deaths.

There is no way to make you feel better about this.

There is no happy ending to this story.

But for this moment, sit in your gloominess and melancholy.

Know that hundreds of thousands of families, friends, and surviving veterans, live in this state on a regular basis, some for the rest of their lives.

This too is part of the cost of war.