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Truth, wisdom, love

A threefold method of thinking about the war with Iraq

Issue: "Iraq: After the rout," April 26, 2003

IN THE BASEMENT OF THE WHITE HOUSE IS A FOUR-room complex called the Situation Room, born in the Bay of Pigs crisis when President Kennedy needed a lot of information, needed it fast, and needed it thorough. Judging from the ambivalence over war I still sense in my microcosm at the cafŽ, I say we need a Situation Room too, and the following three people in it.

Normative Man is first. He should come with a dog-eared Bible and the expertise of Levites, who "read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading" (Nehemiah 8:8).

He should have answers to questions as basic as "Who is God?" "What is His character?" (Psalm 45:7). "What is His feeling about oppression?" (Exodus 22:21). "What is the duty of the stronger to the weaker?" (Proverbs 3:27). "Does the parable of the Good Samaritan apply?" "Does God oppose all war?" "Is war the proper business of nations?" (Deuteronomy 20; Mark 12:17; Luke 3:14; 14:31; Romans 13). "How can the 'fruit of the Spirit' (Galatians 5) guide our conduct even in warfare?" (e.g., "patience"-12 years and multiple Resolutions; "gentleness"-avoiding civilian casualties).

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Normative man will exposit divine justum bellum, to which all subsequent theories of "just war"-from Augustine to Aquinas to Grotius to the Nuremberg and United Nations Charters-owe their debt. "What kind of warfare does God hate?" Answer: That which is gleeful in terror (Ezekiel 36:2, 5), ruthless (Ezekiel 28:7; 31:12; 32:12; Habakkuk 1:6-11; Nahum 3:19), proud (Ezekiel 31:10), harboring ancient hostility (Ezekiel 35:5), loving bloodshed (Ezekiel 35:6), showing no mercy (Isaiah 47:6; Jeremiah 50:42), not acknowledging God (Isaiah 47:8; Ezekiel 29:9). N.M. will remind us of the divine Warrior's charge to rulers: "O King of Judah ... : Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed" (Jeremiah 22:2-3).

Situational Man, the second of our triumvirate, says thank you for the norms and starts gathering the data that the norms will illuminate. He knows the Bible is not a textbook of rules but an embedded history, so his work deals in analogy and extrapolation. He pores over UN Security Council Resolutions 661, 678, 687, 688, 986, 1441, and every relevant fact from the 1958 coup of Abd al-Karim Qasim, to Anfal, to the KDP, to UNMOVIC, to UN Charter Article 51. Does the Iraqi situation fit the criteria of a biblically "just war"? he asks.

The ultimate answer to every question under the sun about "How did this happen?" is, of course, "God's will," but S.M. ferrets out secondary causes. The dog-eared book under his arm is Bernard Lewis's What Went Wrong?, whence he gleans the tale of a culture in free-fall since the Renaissance, "the deteriorating imbalance between Islam and the Western world," and how "what was once a mighty civilization has indeed fallen low." What fearsome impact on the psyche of a people might we expect from this?

Ah, but here is where Existential Man steps in. Call him "embedded man"; he asks personal questions. He speaks from conscience, always careful to check conscience against Norm (as Norm in turn checks conscience for clues he may have missed). He may rebuke generals betimes, as when chiding their surprise at the depth of the Middle East's humiliation, and at the power of jealousy (Song of Solomon 8:6b), and the extent of total depravity (Ecclesiastes 5:8; Jeremiah 17:9)-which they should have learned at the feet of Normative Man. He searches out the question of why an oppressed people do not forthwith shake off oppression when the chance arises. Perhaps he will remind us of Moses' own astonishment when his overtures of liberation were rebuffed (Acts 7:25-27). E.M. is our man for such conundrums as the "Stockholm Syndrome" and why Patty Hearst took sides with her S.L.A. abusers.

Not admitted to the Situation Room will be writers of songs like Lenny Kravitz's "We Want Peace" (no kidding) and other purveyors of prattling platitudes like "Peace is patriotic" and bumper-sticker babble like "War is not the answer," who should be tarred and feathered for obscuring understanding with ad hominem arguments. Also banished should be kindergarten pacifism based on the presumption of the possibility of the imminent eradication of all evil and every obstacle to human happiness, if we only find the right foreign policy.

"Nothing is worth one human life" is a sentiment to be respectfully handled and wept over. It is profound materialism, the unspeakable cry of the heart that "all there is is what we see." One would be right to cling so desperately if it were so, to "eat and drink for tomorrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15). The remedy here is gospel with wisdom and love, our threefold method in perfection.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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