Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Armistice Day

November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which fought the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

- Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
Vonnegut has a point, I think. Armistice Day was about peace. It was about no longer engaging in violence. Veterans' Day is about soldiers, and so ends up being about war. I recognize that many soldiers are brave and honor their country with their service. And yet many others shame their country with unnecessary acts of brutality. War itself is as often about conquest as about protection.

Sacred means Godly, being worthy of religious veneration. Neither war nor warriors are sacred, no more than community organizers or Christian Peacemakers are sacred. At best, war is a necessary evil. War does not stop being evil even when it seems necessary.

On the other hand, peace is sacred. God's will is for us to live peaceably with each other. And we used to have a holiday that was all about peace, not war.


Pastor Mike said...

I agree: Peace is sacred. I do think, though, that military is much more then a necessary evil. My friend, there are some things and with some people that there can be no peace. You cannot have peace or be at peace with people like Stalin or Hitler. Peace with certain regimes or ideologies means capitulation. At times, you can only have peace by standing against advancing evil. Those men and women who sacrifice for you to have that peace are sacred.

Dan S said...

Mike, you seem to be making the argument that violence can be sacred. Isn't that a bit sacrilegious, given Jesus' pacifism?

When people feel justified by God to engage in violence, restraint is lifted. Historically, holy wars have been far more brutal than nation-state wars.

War is evil. You can argue that it may be necessary at times, but that doesn't make it a good thing, even when the object is to remove an evil. Since there's always evil in the world, that would justify constant war.

Pastor Mike said...

Dan, as to sacrilegious, the God of the New Testament is the same God of the Old Testament. You find war in the latter. Furthermore, New Testament teaching doesn’t forbid war. John the Baptist did not tell the soldiers not to fight…he said to be content with their wages and not to intimidate civilians. Jesus commented how great a Centurion's faith was. And that came out of the Centurion's reflection of his military service.

Second, I would argue that those wars under the banner of atheism were far more brutal and bloody…but that’s irrelevant, all war is brutal. But you miss my point. There are times where another wages war (an evil) against you. Sometimes you got two choices: surrender (and with that, I assure you, there is no peace) or, second, fight. The latter cannot be deemed evil for it seeks a greater purpose: Peace.

Finally, as to justifying war under God’s banner: I agree with you. I think its dangerous to say that this is what God wants. I think its much better to look for God’s direction. If we can talk, talk. Sometimes, talk wont work. Here's a quote for you, "Peace in our times." I'm sure you know it. War was the answer. War brought a later peace. War ultimately saved lives.

Dan S said...

Pacifism isn't about capitulation, it's about non-violent resistance.

We can argue all day long about whether a particular war is justified or not (for instance, wouldn't Iraqi resistance to a foreign power that invaded their country for geopolitical gain meet your criteria above?).

But that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying war is a bad thing, even when we are able to justify it. You can argue that it is the least bad solution in an impossible situation, but it's effects are still devastating, and it is repaying evil with evil, even if the purpose is peace.

War is not sacred - it is an immoral means that every so often has decent motivations behind it.

brownie the vet said...

In contrast, I believe that honoring and remembering those who served their country, alive or dead, past or present can be sacred. (There is no greater love than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends. -J.C.) And it would be well for us to remember it is not the soldiers who start wars, but politicians.

BTW, My co-workers today honored and thanked me for my service today in a special gathering. I usually don't get mushy about such stuff, but I must say I felt something really nice. Perhaps it was sacred.

Dan S said...

I'm glad they honored you Brownie. I honor you too.

But I do draw the line at calling it sacred, because to me it implies that a soldier's task is from God, which is a dangerous, slippery slope.

I'd like to call an Armistice to this discussion, but I guess that's as naive as opposing war. :)

Fingtree said...

"(for instance, wouldn't Iraqi resistance to a foreign power that invaded their country for geopolitical gain meet your criteria above?)".
Yes Dan, that does meet the criteria! If Canada invaded the USA because they deemed George Bush evil, there are many who would resist. Especially when it's your family or friends who are accidentally innocent victims to the occupation.
Kurt Vonnegut was a great writer (my favorite) and a great American. His voice is missed in these times.
Although violence is usually a weak answer to any problem, it can be and has been used with intentions that can be justified. Like blowing up abortion clinics for instance.

Pastor Mike said...

Non-violent resistance is activism, not pacifism. I agree that we could argue all day long on whether or not a war is justified…that’s why it’s a good idea to try to find out God’s will in the situation. Finally, if it is God’s will that one goes to war…then by my theological perspective, it cant be evil.

Fingtree said...

"Finally, if it is God’s will that one goes to war…then by my theological perspective, it cant be evil".

How is your perspective any different than that of the Muslim Jihad?

Pastor Mike said...

…and, non-violent resistance only works in a system where one can appeal to justice. It would not have worked against Hitler.

Thanks for the conversation. I do enjoy your site.

Pastor Mike said...


I hope and pray that the diff is that I'm right.

brownie said...

"War is an extension of politics by other means."

-Von Clauswitz

Dan S said...

Non violent resistance is both pacifism and activism. Pacifism does not mean passive.

Pastor Mike said...

Semantics. Either way, it doesn’t work in all situations. Furthermore, if aggressive resistance is called for to save lives and passivity will cost lives, it would be downright evil not to go to war.

Dan S said...

War always costs lives, and there's never any guarantee it will save lives.

mennomom said...

I'm not going to add to the discussion except to say that, if we believe that Jesus is/was God Incarnate, war is not the will of God - period. I really have a problem with those who pull verses out of the Bible and out of historical context to prove their point. History is full of wackos and evil people who did/do just that to justify horrible things, or any "good" that may have coincidentally or providentially occurred after the fact. I really wanted to respond to the piece about Armistice Day. I remember very well observing it in Canada during the 1950's - we called it Remembrance Day. In the weeks before kids were encouraged to sell poppies (fake) to wear on the day to honour the soldiers who had died in World Wars I & II. The day before we always had a solemn assembly at school - the mood was like you would find at a funeral. Someone always sang or recited Canadian John McCrae's "In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row that mark our place .... "www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/inflanders.htm The last lines always bothered me a little...."Take up our quarrel with the foe. To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high... ". Even as a child I knew that war was wrong, because people killed other people. One of my classmates had a different last name from her parents, and I always wondered why. One day she told me "My real dad was killed in the war, and I never knew him, but I carry his name." Several of my teachers had fought in Europe in World War II, and even from most of them I sensed a great sadness when it came to talk of war. There was no patriotic flag waving hoopla, but rather the idea that we must do all we can to prevent war before it ever starts, because there are no winners - only great losses on all sides. There was no talk of "They fought and died so we could be free, or have peace...." That seems to be a peculiarly USA line/lie that's been told so often by the generals and politicians that many take it as truth. So for me, taking up the torch came to mean working for peace. And Christians "take up the quarrel with the foe" by putting on God's armour of truth, goodness, peace....Ephesians 6.

Dan S said...

Thanks Mennonmom - that's a great story.

Pastor Mike said...

“if we believe that Jesus is/was God Incarnate, war is not the will of God. - period. I really have a problem with those who pull verses out of the Bible and out of historical context to prove their point.”

Really. Which passage was taken out context? Did “your” Jesus disapprove to the wars that God called Israel to in the Old Testament? How do you interpret the verse that says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow? Was there a battle in heaven when God the father called Israel to war? When Gideon was told to go to battle, was the theophany out of His mind? (a theophany is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ in the Old Testament)

I agree, I got a real problem with people who read stuff into the bible that’s not there. It’s called isogeses…and you my lady have done just that.

I do believe in personal non-violent resistance to win others to Jesus Christ. But a passive response to people like Hitler is atrocious. If a self-proclaimed Christian stood up and tried killing Muslims and tried to bring the “final solution” to them, I would stand against it because its wrong. If I still served in the Marines, I would die if need be. And I assure you, I do believe that Jesus is God Incarnate.

Take it for what it is…

Fingtree said...

Nice story Mennomom. Please tell Canadians to invade and occupy our country :-)

PG said...

Oh what the heck I might as well chime in here, too, although this is an argument I stopped participating in decades ago. It is not a winnable argument, but it's kind of nice to see it being re-hashed again here, especially between my friends PM and Dan.

PM has an investment in his position, because he has served as a Marine. It would be very hard to re-orient his thinking to one of nonviolent resistance.

I don't try to convert people who have been in the military; I feel sorry for them, I deeply grieve for them, for having been given the tools and the knowledge of killing. They must forever cling to their reasons and their rationalizations for this knowledge and, in many cases, the actions that they carried out for these beliefs. Society at large glorifies battle and war in order to justify the actions and the woeful losses of life and limb. Talking about Hitler at this late date is moot. We just don't know; we weren't there. The wonderful book Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker reveals the many efforts by pacifists during Hitler's time and how indeed things might have been turned without resorting to the horrible war. Read this book. The leaderes of England and the U.S. don't seem so glorious in retrospect, all things considered.

There are sacrifices suffered by those who practice nonviolence. Just as people of the military do, people of nonviolence also may die and suffer for their convictions.

But what is often overlooked and hidden within history are the great successes of nonviolence. We could begin with Martin Luther King, Jr. and what great things he accomplished. We know he practiced nonviolence as a tactic, because he said so. I believe Jesus was a pacifist as well, someone who did not and would not practice violence.

There are documented seeds of nonviolence even in the revolutions of America, France, Russia, China, and Vietnam, and in our actions today.

Given the acceleration of violence and hatred -- and the soaring recruitment for Al-Qaeda -- that the war in Iraq has created, it would to me seem obvious that violence begets more violence.

There is no excuse for saying that there have always been wars and there will always be wars. Some people will refuse to participate in war and violence. They should have a day to be honored as well.

Dan S said...

MLK is such a great example, as was Gandhi. Were they any less effective because they were spiritual leaders instead of military leaders? If they had decided on military solutions to their predicaments, would we even know about them today? Perhaps, as terrorists, because they would have lost, and history is written by the victors.

Pastor Mike said...


Aaron Lehman said...

I love these back and forth sessions, because each gets to use the same arguments that have been used for too many years. Here are my favorites: There was no more worthy cause than fighting the Roman Empire and Jesus chose the way of the cross instead. I don't know what God has commanded the nation of Israel to do in terms of war and I don't really care - Jesus commanded those in the Kingdom of God to love their enemies and return good for evil. He even called for us to take up our cross and follow him. Further, if there is such a great evil in the world that it requires death, then I have no qualms about once again relying on God to defeat that evil through love, even love that leads to one's own death. On to my second favorite topic: Does anyone bother to read an entire history book??? Sure, we defeated Hitler and stopped him from enslaving most of Europe and butchering whole peoples. That was easy. All we had to do was agree to let the communists have most of Europe and look the other way while they went about killing people. Then we spent 50 years "defeating" communism by running rough-shod over most of the third-world, using their lives instead of our own. That worked well, cause after travelling around most of the globe over the last 10 years, I don't see any signs of residual hatred toward us. I mean, our troops stationed in their countries, our policy leading to their deaths - how could that lead to anything other than love for us??? In summation - any war or violence can be used to defeat a great evil, provided that we don't keep reading long enough to realize that in defeating our current favorite "evil", we have created our next "evil" that we will need to defeat.

Dan S said...

Preach it, Brother Lehman!

brownie said...

Ignoring for a second the morality aspect...

I've noticed that non-violent leaders like King and Ghandi were successful at bringing about change, yes, but with a social agenda, an internal agenda, NOT as solutions to international squabbles.

PG said...

Of course, Jesus's efforts were worldwide. And aren't we living in a global village these days? Whatever happened to the "uno mundo" concept?

PG said...


I have no idea what to make of this.