Sunday, September 23, 2007

Questions from "The War"

I'm just beginning the new Ken Burns saga on PBS. (How nerdy is it to have opening night stenciled on my calender for over three months?) I'm sure I'll have a lot of questions which arise from this journey. Here's my first one.

One of the featured veterans describes himself as raised in a Christian home. He said that he struggled over the question of whether he should join the army before 1941 because he was taught "that it was wrong to kill." He lived on one of the Pacific island's attacked early by Japanese war planes. A friend was horrifically killed in front of him. As the plane cleared away from the blast, the veteran said "I could see the pilot smiling and then I didn't have any trouble killing Japs . . . It was my job to kill as many as I could a day."

Leaving aside the whole fighting a just war philosophy (which I'm pretty sure WWII neatly qualifies into), is the veterans response truly "Christian?" It's a natural human response, but aren't we called to go beyond revenge killing? Christ's urge to forgive our enemies also happens to apply to those who directly kill, even our dearest friends.

I'm not for one second suggesting that as a Christian nation we should not have gone to war against the Japanese, or Axis powers. It just troubles me in this individual story that a Christian boy who struggled with his conscious against killing had one horrific act of sin done to a dear friend, and this suddenly "flipped a switch" which powered his to feed his revenge for four years of fighting.

My husband's suggestion is that the boy's parents stressed "Don't kill" but didn't explain "why." Some examples of the "whys" would include, Christ admonishes us to be the peace we seek in the world, we must master our emotions for revenge, and the familiar line "turn the other cheek." Any killing in the army service of a just war should be done with great regret and be motivated from love rather than hate. (This is sort of hard to qualify, but makes sense to me intuitively as a mother. I'm extremely strict with an abrupt & immediate discipline with my older children when one of them does something dangerous around the baby. My motivation is never out of hatred of the offending party, but rather out of concern for a helpless newborn.)

Does this line of thought makes sense to you? Or is it too Ghandish to be Catholic? What would your thought process be as a Catholic before signing up to fight in a war? Has anyone faced this issue directly with the Iraq War?


  1. I subscribe to the "momma bear" viewpoint of war and interior outlook. "I love my cubs and am angry with you wolves because you want to hurt them." I think it was Chesterton that said a soldier should fight because he loves what is behind him as opposed to hating what is in front of him. I think an interesting movie for this is "The Patriot." Mel is haunted by his past experience in war of revenge and then starts to go down that path again; but his younger sons are fighting for "the Cause" and he has this interior struggle and shift of intentions as the war progresses.

    One last thought...Anger need not be bad. It's one of our natural emotions like all the rest God has given us- it just has to move us to right action (our intellect and will are the guides). A momma bear appears much more "angry" than "loving" when she is fighting off the wolf-pack.

  2. Killing for most of us is an abstraction.

    For the fellow with a gun in his hand and a charging enemy in front of him, it is a simple reality. Most soldiers experience moral clarity while fighting. The moral questioning comes before and after.