For many of us living in the UK, war is at a distance – it is at a safe arm's reach. War doesn’t disturb our daily lives like for those living in Afghanistan. We may have the odd breaking news of rampant looting and arson attacks of unprecedented levels by many young peoples in their local communities. It is a far cry from having American and British soldiers occupy your land and bombing your country.
War is violent and terrible. In GCSE history as we surveyed the twentieth century it quickly slapped us in the face that this century was a bloody century. Two world wars, revolutions, genocide, Hiroshima, and thank God, the restraint of America and Russia in keeping their nuclear weapons inactive otherwise we may have witnessed multiple Hiroshimas.
War is pointlessly murderous as Joseph Persico, author of Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918 summarises the gruesome death toll of the First World War, noting that “Graveyards were the chief legacy of World War One”. The Second World War resulted in 50 million to over 70 million fatalities making the war the deadliest conflict in human history.
Looking back at the First World War, Winston Churchill would observe: “It was not until the dawn of the twentieth century of the Christian Era that war began to enter into its kingdom as the potential destroyer of the human race. The organization of mankind in the great states and empires, and the rise of nations to full collective consciousness, enabled enterprises of slaughter to be planned and executed upon a scale and with a perseverance never before imagined…” What is war good for?
Absolutely nothing. So goes the song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1969 and recorded by Edwin Starr made famous to my generation by Jackie Chan in Rush hour (see pic above). The song continues: there’s gotta be a better way, war has caused unrest among the younger generation, induction then destruction, who wants to die?
In the First World War those who died were the young men reducing the European forces largely to old men and young boys. An entire generation went missing. If this is the consequence of War, we are brought to reflect again on the words of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
Should we share Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s refrain that war is good for absolutely nothing?
As a Christian in their twenties, would you have engaged in the First Word War or in a Third World War should it ever come upon us? Is war absolutely good for nothing or is War sometimes the only means in stopping the spread and tyranny of evil?
Historically, individuals in church history have debated, developed and expanded different positions on war. Dr Steve P Sullivan summarises these different positions under three categories. They are activism, pacifism, and selectivism.
Activism believes a Christian is always right to participate in war. Since the government is ordained by God then the Christian is obligated to submit to his government and fight in war. The question of a “just war” is overlooked by this position.
Pacifism believes it is never right for a Christian to participate in War. The Christian pacifist believes that Christians are called to counteract this world’s war like tendencies by displaying the non-resistance, peace and love which Jesus Christ calls his followers to show towards their enemies and to those who oppress them.
The final position on war is selectivism. Selectivism believes a Christian is correct to participate in some wars. These wars are good for something; they will achieve a noble end. The “just war” position is another way of expressing this view.
As a Christian in their twenties, if you share Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong sentiment that war is good for absolutely nothing then you will be a pacifist. A Christian is never to participate in the war. You will side with the Christian church Father Tertullian when he writes about the incident when Peter cut off Malchus’ ear, that “Jesus cursed the works of the sword for ever after.”
A Christian selectivism may ask the Christian Pacifist the question asked by Matt Perman in his article Did Jesus teach pacifism: “Should the world have turned the other cheek to Hitler and tried to love him into surrender? When Osama Bin Laden ordered the attack on the World Trade Center, should The U.S. have responded by sending him the Sears Tower as well?” Or does Jesus allow a place for both loving our enemies and yet, in certain situations, using force to restrain life-threatening wickedness?
Francis Schaefer, a renowned Christian philosopher and theologian warns of the dangers of consistent pacifism. He writes, “to refuse to do what I can for those under the power of oppressors is nothing less than a failure of Christian love. It is to refuse to love my neighbour as myself.” He went on to say that was why he was not a pacifist: “pacifism in this poor world in which we live-this lost world – means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.”
War may be far from our British shores but if it does come and our generation is called into action, what will you do. Will you join the protest, knocking on the prime minister's door lamenting with the words ‘war, what is it good for, absolutely nothing?’ or will you weigh up the situation, pick up your weapons as an act of love for the service of justice and peace and embark on the journey of killing the tyranny of evil?