The financial cost of America’s wars is certainly relevant. In today’s dollars:
The American Civil War cost the nation about $100 billion, the first Gulf War cost more than $116 billion.World War I and Korea both cost slightly more than $380 billion. The Vietnam War cost more than $843 billion, the War in Afghanistan more than $900 billion, and the Iraq War more than $1 trillion.World War II was the most costly at more than $4.6 trillion dollars. Of course, the true cost is money not spent to fight ignorance, poverty and disease.
Finally, we ought to pay attention the time we have lost to war. The Civil War lasted four years, as did World War II. Vietnam lasted 14 years, and the war in Afghanistan has already lasted more than 18 years. If you are an American born after September 11, 2001, you have not known a single day of peace in your entire life.
I have concentrated on what war has cost the United States. World-wide the price is much higher. During the last 3,400 years of recorded history, the world has enjoyed only 268 years of peace. In the same way, 405,000 U.S. soldiers died during World War II, but there were more than 60 million confirmed deaths around the world. In the same way, 383 American soldiers were killed in the first Gulf War, but the Iraqis lost more than 100,000 soldiers and many civilians besides.
In light of these terrible facts, we might reasonably ask, “Is there any hope for peace?: Isaiah the prophet held out a slim hope. In Chapter 9 of the book that bears his name, he prophesied the birth of a special child saying:
6 For to us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulders, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.
Christians believe that Isaiah somehow spoke of the birth of a very special child born hundreds of years later, in Bethlehem of Judah, during the time of Caesar Augustus, when Herod was the King of Israel. This Child, Jesus of Nazareth, grew to be a great man. He said he was a king, but he also said that his kingdom was not of this world. He said he came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. The Gospels tell us that, in direct fulfillment of a prophesy by Zechariah, Jesus entered Jerusalem in majestic humility, on a colt the foal of an ass. His disciples celebrated this triumphal entry and hailed him as the king predicted by the prophet; but the vast majority of Jews still rejected him, and in less than a week, the temple authorities handed Jesus over to Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. Acting against his better judgement, Pilate had Jesus scourged and crucified.
Of course, the gospels agree that this was not the end of the Jesus story. The third day after his death, Jesus rose again from the dead. The Risen Jesus showed himself alive to his disciples by many proofs, then, according to the creed, “he ascended into heaven, where he is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
The New Testament says that Christ who first came to us in humility will someday return in power and glory, his true identity known not just to a select few disciples but to all of creation. In Revelation 19:11 and following, St. John the Divine uses poetry to describes the scene saying:
I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war… the name by which he is called is The Word of God…on his robe and on his thigh a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
When Jesus Christ appears in glory, he will purge the world of all evil, and establish all that is good and right and true, forever. Then the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and God will wipe every tear from every eye, and war and death will be no more.
There are some devout and good Christians who say that this vision of Justice and peace, which comes at the end of history as we know it, is the best that we can hope for. Others, equally devout, say that it is all that we can hope for. It is certainly the best that we can hope for, but is it all we can hope for? Is there not another hope?
I think there is another. In Isaiah chapter 42, the prophet promised that God’s Servant would come among us to bring justice to the nations. Isaiah said that God’s Servant would accomplish this justice not by force of arms, but by his teaching. And in his teaching, he would not even cry out, or lift up his voice so that it is heard in the streets. In other words, it will start small and grow to gigantic proportions. Perhaps it will grow, from generation to generation?
At any rate, Isaiah’s prophecy is a wonderful description of the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus taught with an authority that no other prophet ever possessed, before or since. He taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those that despitefully use us. He said that if anyone strikes us on the right cheek, we should turn to him the other also. Jesus put the ultimate seal upon his teaching when he was led before Pontius Pilate. The Scripture says, “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he open(ed) not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him.” As Jesus was dying, he looked down from his cross upon those who crucified him, and upon those who despised and rejected him, and said,“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Jesus is the greatest teacher the world has ever known, but few people want to follow the teaching of Jesus about non-violence. This is especially true of American men. We were raised by our mothers to love and worship Jesus, but we were taught by our father’s to idolized John Wayne. We may not strike our enemies first, but when we are struck, our first thought is to strike back.
Jesus did not completely rule out striking back. Did you notice how he said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”? The late William Barclay observes that if someone strikes us on the right cheek, he strikes us with the left hand. For most people, that is the weak hand. That kind of strike is not meant to maim or kill, it is meant to shame. Jesus said we should accept the shame. However, it is at least an open question as to weather he would have us stand idly by while we ourselves, or the the people we care about are victimized, terrorized and even slaughtered.
According to “Just war theory” that dates back at least to St. Augustine, war is not always the worst option. Sometimes, whether as individuals or as nations, our responsibilities to ourselves, to those we love, to our fellow citizens, and to our fellow human beings, demand we strike back. When we do so, we seek to bring the atrocities of war to a quick end, and to prevent an undesirable outcomes, such as one people forcing its rule on another.
Thus, when an outlaw invades a church, and seeks to threaten and kill its people, it is right that the other members of that church rise up to strike that person down. (If I know this church, many of you are prepared to do just that!) In the same way, when an outlaw nation invades another nation, and seeks to threaten and kill its people, it is right for the other nations of the world to strike that nation down.
I should put-in a disclaimer here. I have never gone to war, but I am not a pacifists. My draft number was 27, but by the time I was commissioned an an Officer of Marines in 1971, the war in Vietnam was effectively over for the Marines. However, I did train as an infantry officer, and I deployed twice with the 3rd battalion 6th Marines as a part of Battalion Landing Team 3/6. Later, I served as the Officer in Charge of the 8th Marines Regimental Field Skill Training Unit. In that role I was responsible for training several battalions of young Marines fresh from Paris Island for service in the fleet, including as members of other battalion landing teams.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I felt we had to go to war in Afghanistan. Indeed, when they used a battalion landing team from the 3rd battalion 6th Marines at Camp Rhino as bait to draw out the terrorist, I found myself foolishly wishing I was there. I thought the war against the terrorist in Afghanistan had to be fought. However, as a member of the Interprovincial Faith and Order Commission, I spoke out against going to War in Iraq. I did so not just because I doubted Saddam possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” but because I was and continue to be against the doctrine of striking our enemies before our enemies can strike us. If a nation strikes first, any nation, it gives up the solace of the Just War Theory. That nation becomes the aggressor, and squanders the last hope of a peaceful solution to a political problem.
In the same way, I am against the assassination of a foreign national by drone, even if that person is a proven terrorist. If the person is bad enough, I would prefer that we go after that person with boots on the ground, and bring them before the bar of justice. Many soldiers and Marines would volunteer to do this. In this way, we do not make the terrorist leader a martyr. Let me explain.
According to Greek legend the Hydra was a many headed monster. If you cut off one head, two grew in its place. Likewise, in the Bible, the beast of Revelation that comes up out of the sea has 10 horns and seven heads. Terrorism is like these multi-headed beasts. There is no one head, no one indispensable leader. Rather there is one indispensable idea that is served by all the terrorist in the movement. If we cut off the head of one leader, another leader will take his place, and the number of terrorists will be multiplied as other who are already sympathetic to the movement rally to the one indispensable idea.
Now where are we today, as a nation? I think we were wrong in assassinating Suleiman. I would say two things about that: 1) I will not allow my patriotism to be challenged because I say it. 2) I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I do urge all of you to weigh both sides of the argument, for and against. Leaving aside the question of Ukrainian Flight 752, grudgingly, I think that Iran occupied the moral high ground by making the same kind of measured response against the U.S. bases in Iraq that we ourselves have hitherto made. At this juncture, I am thankful that no U.S. soldiers or citizens were killed, and I am grateful that both sides seem to be standing down. Though I think President Trump was wrong in striking down Suleiman by drone, I commend President Trump for accepting the slap on the right cheek by Iran.(* See Note Below) I am quite sure that the president knew the Iranians used their weak hand, when they could have done more. Of course, he could have done much more.
More than anything else, I pray that out world we might rediscover the teaching of the Jesus before we have broken the last bruised reed of hope for a lasting peace, and quenched the last barely burning wick of faith in one another that would make that peace possible.
It has been said that when we pray, “Lord, make the world a better place,” we must also pray, “and let it begin with me.” In the same way, nations that seek to make the world a better place, must be prepared to say, “It has begun with our nation.” This strategy will be costly, but it is the same costly strategy of sacrifice practiced by Jesus himself, when he loved us and gave himself for us on the cross.
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.
*(Note): About a week after this sermon was preached, the Ayatollah Khomeini said that Iran had given the U.S. “a lap in the face.” He knew it was no more.