If abortion kills children, what does war do to them?

Dear Joel,

I appreciate your empathy for a pro-life position–and your willingness to hold pro-life Christians to a fully pro-life position. “Birth to natural death” means nothing if Christians can find a way to excuse every war that their leaders bring to them.

To your well-made point that it’s not pro-life to advocate nuclear war, I’ll add a few more:

If you believe that abortion is wrong because it kills innocent people, you should oppose war, too, because most of the people killed in war are also innocent. Even with our most precise drone technology, we kill a lot of people we’re not aiming for. 

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Above, the face of a Pakistani girl whose family was killed in a 2010 US drone strike, as seen from above. If you think that doctors who perform abortions are doing evil, what do you think that drone operators are doing?

If you believe that abortion hurts women, you should oppose war because it hurts women, too. Women are injured when rape is used as a weapon in war, and they die in attacks that kill civilians. The UN estimates that 86% of refugees fleeing violence in South Sudan are women and children. But it’s not just “bad guys” who hurt women. The international system of US bases feeds prostitution that harms women and children.

If you believe that women who have abortions are seeking an easy-way-out from a problem of their own making, see if you can tell me why we entered the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, or any war of the twenty-first century. Also, tell me how much military budget you are willing to cut to put toward efforts that are more likely to work than war. War isn’t just a moral failing–it’s a practical one. 

If you think that abortion is a sign of a self-centered culture that hates children and God, don’t say that the military protects people or that war is holy. Just admit it: you don’t love women and children. You love power over others.

Rebecca

 

 

War is not inevitable

Dear Rebecca:

Speaking of the way Americans are sold wars of choice as no choice at all:

While the Kim regime is technically a Communist government, the ideology that governs North Korea is known as “Juche” (or, more technically, “neojuche revivalism”). The official state ideology is a mixture of Marxism and ultra-nationalism. Juche is dangerous because it is infused with the historical Korean concept of “songun,” or “military-first,” and it channels all state resources into the North Korean military—specifically its nuclear program.

Juche is not a self-defensive ideology. Rather, it is a militaristic and offensive belief system. If the North gets a fully functional nuclear arsenal, they will use those weapons to strike at their American, South Korean, and Japanese enemies.

Get that: If North Korea gets the right combination of nukes and missiles, it will definitely attack the United States. Which leads to the inevitable conclusion: “Given these facts, why should we waste precious time on negotiations that will only empower the North and weaken the rest of us? We should be preparing for conflict on the peninsula, not begging the North to take more handouts from us as they build better nuclear weapons.”

But there’s plenty of reason not to believe that North Korea will automatically strike the United States if it’s capable.

Here’s why. If North Korea launched nukes at America, America would launch its nukes at North Korea. Everybody knows this. The North Koreans know this. This is not in doubt. It is difficult to establish one’s dominance over a continental peninsula if you, along with the peninsula, are smoking, radioactive ash.

As NBC News reports: “The country says it wants a nuclear bomb because it saw what happened when Iraq and Libya surrendered their weapons of mass destruction: their regimes were toppled by Western-backed interventions. It wants to stop others, namely the administration of President Donald Trump, from toppling its totalitarian regime.”

The North Korean regime is awful. But that penchant for self-preservation means it’s unlikely to start a war that will end with its destruction.

Understand, there’s a long history of this. America’s hawks warned that Iran’s mullahs had a messianic ideology that would cause them to lash out with nuclear weapons once they were capable; we invaded Iraq because we didn’t want Saddam Hussein to prove he had weapons “in the form of a mushroom cloud.

The essential idea is always that nations unfriendly to the United States are so irrational, care so little for their own survival, that they’re willing to commit civilizational suicide via a nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies. But it hasn’t happened yet.

So when hawks make that case, make them prove it. Point out that history hasn’t worked out that way so far. Point out that we’ve invaded a country to no good end because of similar thought processes. But never merely accept that we have to choose war. It’s not inevitable, no matter how much hawks sell it as such.

Sincerely, Joel

Can You Be a Pacifist Without Religion? (Maybe.)

Rebecca:

Great post. You’ve touched on an area where my agnostic side and my Mennonite side clash in a fairly thorough way.

While I was still (for lack of a better word) churched, I found Mennonite pacifism relatively easy to adopt. My logic went something like this.

  • God is the God of eternity.
  • Any losses you suffer in this life are thus short-term in nature.
  • Ultimately, through faith in God, Good wins out over Evil.
  • Taking up arms, then, would have a couple of effects: It would hurt our witness — hard to convert the mind and soul of somebody you are killing — and it betrayed a lack of faith in God to win the ultimate victory.

Now? I really don’t know if there is God, or if it’s in the nature of God to win out over evil as I define and perceive it. Which leads me to wonder if it’s not the right thing now and again to pick up a gun and kill a bad guy — for the greater good.

But that withdrawal from total pacifism is kind of theoretical. In practice — and as in many other things — you can take the boy out of the church, but it’s not easy to take the church out of the buy. In practice, I’m pretty dovish.

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Some of that’s a result of being American, I guess, where we tend to exalt violence as a solution to many of our problems. Our popular entertainment is soaked in blood, our president wants to gut the State Department while putting even more money into a cash-rich defense department, and we no longer talk about the use of nuclear weapons as an event to be ardently avoided. Any small pacifism is an important counterweight in a society where violence seems to be the only hammer and every problem — no matter its nature — looks like a nail.

I’m also dovish because as a practical matter, war doesn’t seem to work that often. I thought we were justified, for example, going to war against the Taliban back after 9/11. But we’re still in Afghanistan. I’m not certain the country isn’t worse for it, or that we’re safer from terrorism as a result.

Really, there aren’t many wars — the ones fought in my lifetime — that didn’t seem to cause as much trouble as they mitigated. Afghanistan is a tar pit. Iraq is beset with terrorists. Libya, where we “led from behind” still ended up a mess. War rarely fixes problems and often expands the suffering that was already present.

So even though I’m not strictly pacifist these days, pacifism still informs my outlook.

Violence is easier than pacifism, because pacifism requires patience. Violence provides immediate feedback: Pull a trigger, watch a body drop. Push a button, watch the explosion. But those bodies, those explosions, aren’t necessarily solutions — though they’re often mistaken for such. Pacifism doesn’t provide that kind of immediate gratification, and never will, which is one reason it’s doomed to forever be a minority position.

In our private talk, you said you thought there was an atheist defense of pacifism. I think that’s right. If you’re an atheist and you snuff out a life — even if there’s a good reason — that’s a life forever ended: No chance to change, no chance at redemption. Even the least spiritual among us recognize an elemental difference between “alive” and “not.” There are few good reasons for erasing that distinction.

On the other hand, I can’t swear that there are no good reasons for it, either.

Back to your initial question though: Is self-defense a “sacred” right for Christians?

I keep coming back to this:

51At this, one of Jesus’ companions drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52“Put your sword back in its place, Jesus said to him. “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.53Are you not aware that I can call on My Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?…

If Jesus is God, and we’re not allowed to use violence to defend God — nevermind the fact that we actually do — then what excuse do we have? It’s the Mennonite in me speaking, but gun-toting Christians confuse me.

— Joel