Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thoughts on Peace and War

Jordan and I helped plant nearly 3,000 flags at a September 11 Memorial Site. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches tributes and services are being planned across the nation. The memorial we worked at spells out, if looked at from the air, "9-11 Never Forget" And we must not forget.

At the memorial service we will attend, it has been announced that we will sing "Let There Be Peace on Earth." Hardly surprising. It is one of the most popular songs about peace out there. It's even won awards. I grew up with that song -- singing it in school, at camp, at church-- and I loved it. The pretty tune drew me in and  I also loved the idea of working for peace. I even nearly joined a group dedicated to averting the threat of nuclear war by converting at least five percent more of the population to pacifism. I'd have to say that during that time, "Let there be Peace on Earth" was one of my favorite songs.

But I can't sing it anymore. Not the whole thing, anyway.

My problem is with the last verse:

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
In peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
(Sy Miller and Jill Jackson)

In part, I suppose, it's because of the promise. Promises -- "solemn vows" should not be made lightly. We should pay attention to what we are telling others, and God, when we sing. If I have made a vow to live in peace, I have broken it, in small ways, many times. We ought not to break promises.

But it's more that this isn't a promise I necessarily think everyone is called to keep. The last time I was in a group that was singing that song, I sang the beginning. But then I caught site of a former soldier, a young friend who served in Iraq because of 9/11. He wasn't singing. As I remembered the words to that last verse, I fell silent. Partly out of respect for the soldier. If you are in combat you can't be "living each moment in peace eternally". Not if you want to either do your job or survive. Of course, I don't know that that's why he wasn't singing. For all I know, he just didn't know the song. Secondly, because I wasn't sure I wanted to make that vow. While many things can be resolved peacefully, sometimes we are called to take a stand perhaps even to fight. I don't want to cast judgement on those who do sing that song. Peace is, after all a good thing and that song was written in the hope of bringing it about.

But .... I won't be singing it again. Because of the story above and also because of these other things I remember:

*My father was a soldier during Vietnam although he ran a base post office and was never sent overseas. But he was taught the same work of soldiering as everyone else in the army. He might have had to use that training had things been a bit different.

*A college literature professor was lecturing on "The Lord of the Rings." Speaking of the scene in which the Ents (tree shepherds) fight the orcs, he said "Some of you may be pacifists, but if you aren't rooting for the Ents in this scene, something's wrong." He's right.

*Jordan and two of his friends, a brother and sister, encountered a bully at a program this past summer. At first they ignored the bully and stayed out of her path. But one day, she started making fun of the brother after he got accidently knocked down in a game. She also pushed his sister out of the way, grabbed him, and started thumping on his chest in mock CPR. His sister removed the bully's hands from him. Then Jordan got in the bully's face and said, "Don't you push his sister away from him!" They came home and told me about the incident and Jordan said he was afraid he'd been rude. But my reaction was one of pride. Jordan and the sister had stood up to an injustice. Mind you these are homeschooled kids, they've never participated in an anti-bullying curriculum. But they have read countless books and Bible stories about people standing up for the underdog, protecting the innocent, fighting for what is right.

George Orwell says, "We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." ~George Orwell (It's often misquoted as "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.") Seems to me that we share some of the culpability when violence is done on our behalf.

I can get on board with the other song that will be sung at the memorial service: Dona Nobis Pacem ... Give us peace. A simple prayer and one that resonates down the ages. We all want peace, we all long for it. We want peace, both physical and spiritual, where we live. When we think of others, we want peace where they live. Some day we will beat our swords into plow shares and not learn war anymore. When God redeems the world he will strip it of violence and all believers will know an eternal peace.

Until then I leave you with this thought. I don't go along with everything John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) says in his writings, but this is a great quote.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

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