War and Peace: The Present Confusion Regarding Real Evil

John ArmstrongCurrent Affairs

I have noted, several times in my recent posts, that peace between nations and states does not come because “Christian peace activists” intervene to lead warriors, whether dictators or religious militants, to lay down their swords. I have been reflecting for the past three days on the tragic death this week of activist American Tom Fox, a Quaker. Cal Thomas has also been thinking about this death and makes the same point in his syndicated column today. Thomas writes that Fox’s death is actually “doubly tragic.” Not only was an innocent person, who was sincerely seeking to do good, murdered by Muslim terrorists but “the likelihood that the presence of Fox and his colleagues would change the attitude or behavior of their captors was zero to none.” It is to this second tragedy that I speak.

These American and European peace activists should be credited for their fervent desire to do good. They believe in their cause very sincerely. Their motives are not in question, at least to my mind. However, their understanding of the nature of human evil and of sin is highly questionable. Cal Thomas writes,"[The peace activists] believed their brand of Christianity would trump fanatical Muslims who regarded them as infidels and worthy of death meant Fox and the others would either be used for propaganda purposes by the enemies of freedom, or made to sacrifice their lives like animals on an ancient altar in the furtherance of the fanatic’s dream of a theocratic state. In this instance they were used for both.”

The arguments for peace protests, and non-violent Christian intervention aside, Jessica Phillips, spokeswoman for Christian Peacemakers Teams (of which Fox and three other captives in Iraq were members ), said, “We believe that the root cause of the abduction of our colleagues is the U.S.-and British-led invasion and occupation of Iraq" (italics mine). The root cause? Are you serious? Thomas notes that these peace teams almost never organized in the past to protest the regimes of men like Saddam Hussein. But when America goes to war, they are ready to go into high gear when it comes to blaming America for death and oppression.

Look, this war is not one that I wish to promote. The reasons for going in the first place, and for staying now and seeking to build a stable country, are all complicated. I am not a “fan” of war at all, especially of this war. Historians will debate this invasion for years to come. Christians honestly disagree about whether or not “just war” thinking was properly applied to this military effort. One thing is for sure, time will tell us much more than we know right now. Some are convinced the president is a liar. Others, some of his defenders, are uncritical hawks who endorse virtually everything America does in the world through its immense power. I am of the mind that there are no simple solutions in this matter, except in the minds of ideologues on the far left and the far right. My own view tends to change from day-to-day. I don’t have the facts or the Intel information to know what really goes on. I can either trust my leaders or oppose them. In a democracy we can vote and we can protest. I respect everyone who peacefully does both. But there is something in this peace protest that I do not admire at all, in fact I find it illogical and harmful.

Why must the Christian peace groups always resort to the “blame America first” approach that sees us as the real killers (the root cause) and Saddam Hussein, and evil people like him, as those we should leave alone while they butcher multitudes of their citizens? Just think of weapons of mass destruction and nerve gas and the Kurds and you get my picture! Where were these protestors back then?

Cal Thomas cites an alternative approach to this subject which comes from Charles M. Brown. Brown worked in homeless shelters operated by the liberal Catholic Worker activist movement. He went to Iraq in the late 1990s and concluded that “sanctions” not only failed but actually harmed the people of Iraq and thus continued to prop-up Saddam’s evil empire. When Brown went back to Iraq in the late 1990s, with a Chicago group called “Voices in the Wilderness,” he was told by the government that he could not speak about Saddam’s “horrendous human rights record, (his) involvement with weapons of mass destruction (or) the dictatorial nature of the regime. We were allowed to speak only of one thing: the deprivations suffered by ordinary Iraqis under the sanctions regime.” Brown tried to persuade his liberal team members that their “complicity and collaboration” with the abusive regime of Hussein damaged their Christian credibility. Brown finally resigned form the work when he saw that the approach they took actually harmed the very people they sought to help. His article “Confessions of an Anti-Sanctions Activist” appeared in the summer 2003 Middle East Quarterly. Cal Thomas suggests that it makes for sober reading for people who want to understand who the evil people really are and why being nice to them will never work. This type of Christian realism is what is missing in all of these liberal peace protests.

I wish that my more liberal Christian friends, who are so deeply committed to the modern peace movement, especially since the 1960s, would at least acknowledge what Brown acknoweldges so clearly. To continually suggest that America’s “evil” is equal to, or greater than, Saddam Hussein’s, is not only terrible logic but leads to more deaths and the spread of even greater evil. The desire for peace is truly commendable. Even the desire to protest bad public policy is part and parcel of seeking peace and preserving a strong democracy. But making America the moral equivalent of Saddam Hussein and Muslim terrorists convinces me that something is terribly wrong with such faulty thinking. Let’s keep debating this war but let’s not make Bush and America the moral equivalent of Saddam Hussein and the terrorists. People who hold these views are dangerous to my health. For that matter they are dangerous to your health too. There is nothing inherently Christian about this movement at all, other than the expression of a longing for peace that we should all nurture in prayer and personal response.