October 17, 2006

Is God Really Pro-War?

Memo To: Jerry Falwell, Liberty University
From: Don Emmerich
Re: Your support of the Iraq War

Mr. Falwell, I recently read an article you wrote for WorldNet Daily ("God is pro-war") in which you make various biblical arguments in favor of the war in Iraq. Although I do not question your moral integrity and good intentions, I feel that your arguments are deeply flawed. Please allow me the opportunity to explain.

In making your case for the Iraq War, you try to debunk the belief that Jesus was a pacifist. You do this by citing certain passages from the Book of Revelation in which Jesus is described as bearing a "sharp sword" and ruling nations with "a rod of iron." If I may be so blunt, Mr. Falwell, it seems to me that you’re confused here by the use of figurative language. Just as people today sometimes use figures of speech (e.g., "It’s raining cats and dogs outside"), they also used figures of speech in Jesus’ day. Yes, Revelation talks about a sharp sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth, but this is almost certainly not a literal sword but rather a symbolic reference to God’s judgment. The iron rod also seems to be symbolic, indicating that he will rule with great strength. And it’s not just me saying this, Mr. Falwell; the majority of scholars agree.

Jesus, Mr. Falwell, was certainly a pacifist. There are no biblical accounts of him using physical violence, even when he was being beaten to death by the Roman soldiers. And he repeatedly preached non-resistance. Although you referenced a passage talking about a figurative sword, you seemed to have forgotten a passage dealing with a real sword. I’m referring to John 18, where Peter draws his sword to protect Jesus from a group of soldiers. And what does Jesus do? He commands Peter to put the sword away.

You go on to talk about various times in the Old Testament when God ordered Israel to go to war against different nations. And I certainly don’t deny your interpretation of these passages. But I fail to see how they justify the Iraq War. God may have ordered Israel to fight the Philistines, but from that it certainly doesn’t follow that all acts of aggression are justified.

So when is war justified, Mr. Falwell? You seem to believe that war is justified when "God’s people" are "called to defend themselves." You also seem to believe that Americans are God’s people. If these premises are true, then it follows that America might have been justified in invading Iraq. But if I’m reading the New Testament correctly, it seems that all believers, regardless of their nationality, are God’s people. This means that neither Americas nor people of any other nationality can claim that to be God’s chosen people—for God has chosen those who believe in him, whether they are Americans or Europeans or Africans or, yes, even Iraqis.

You then attempt to justify the war by claiming that it is being fought to "defend innocent people" and that this goal is supported by Proverbs 21.15. Now I agree that defending innocent people is a worthy goal—but it’s for that very reason that I oppose the war. Did you know, Mr. Falwell, that the United States has killed far more Iraqi civilians than Saddam Hussein ever did? Did you know that the ten-year-long U.S.-led embargo against Iraq killed around 500,000 Iraqi children? Did you know that since March 2003, U.S. troops and bombs have killed over 30,000 Iraqi civilians? Did you know that many of the mass graves in Iraq contain men and women who were killed by the U.S. military?

Finally, you claim that the church has an obligation "to stop the spread of evil, even at the cost of human lives." The church is obligated to stop the spread of evil, even if this means killing people? That’s strange, Mr. Falwell, because I don’t see that principle anywhere in the New Testament. The New Testament writers tell us many things that the church is obligated to do—to proclaim the Gospel, to care for widows and orphans—but nowhere do I see an injunction to fight, let alone to kill.

I don’t doubt that you’re a well-intentioned man, but, if I may be so presumptuous, your essay seems far more influenced by The Weekly Standard than the New Testament. I suggest that you immerse yourself in the New Testament, that you learn from its wisdom. If you do, you’ll see a wonderful plan for human living, one that is, by any reasonable interpretation, completely antithetical to the Bush Doctrine of brutal, preemptive war.

October 10, 2006

On Being Cool

My whole life, people have always taken me to be a goody-goody. Let me define goody-goody; better than that, let me give you a few examples. Wally Cleaver is a goody-goody; Eddie Haskel is not. Garth Brooks, goody-goody; Snoop Dogg, not. Mighty Mouse, goody-goody; Crusty the Clown, not. You get the idea.

Now I’ve always hated this reputation. Yes, there are worse reputations to have—for example, that of being a cannibal; that’s one reputation that people will never be able to, y’know, digest. But still, I hate being viewed as a Wally Cleaver. Mainly because I’m not one. Yes, I’m clean-cut and well-mannered and lactose intolerant. But, unlike others think, that doesn’t mean I’m na├»ve and shallow. I’m complex and dark and, well, I support masturbation.

Anyway, a couple months ago, some partiers started working at my bank. And it just so happened that this was a time in my life when I desperately wanted to make it clear, to others and to myself, that I wasn’t a goody-goody. I wanted to change my rep. So what did I do? I started partying with the partiers.

One night after work, we all went to a club. And everyone was drinking and having a good time and a coworker named Tina starting asking me questions about my sexual relationship with my wife. And I didn’t think much of it; y’know, she’d been drinking a little, was a little more loose-lipped than normal, no big deal, right?

The next Friday we all went to a bar. And it was real cool—I felt like I was in a Cheers episode or something. And I felt like one of the gang: F-in’ A, man! Y’know what I mean? And people started opening up, sharing funny memories. James, a bank officer, told of the time he lost his virginity: he was in Mexico, drunk, and his buddies paid for a prostitute. Then Tim started telling a story about how he once got sloshed at a party—and woke up the next morning with a girl in his bed, both of them soaked in his urine. Then everyone asked me for a crazy story; and, well, I couldn’t really compete.

A couple weekends later, I got invited to a party at my boss’s house. And everyone ended up playing beer-pong, which was kind of interesting but hardly the highlight of the evening. The highlight was…well, actually it’s kind of tough to say. There were just so many.

For example, there was the catfight between Jenny P. and Jenny H. No fists were thrown, just words, which proved to be worse. "At least I don’t need to go on a diet!" "At least I don’t have sex with every guy I meet!" "At least guys wanna have sex with me!" "At least I don’t have eighteen different STDs!" "At least I’m not forty pounds overweight!"

Later in the night, James, the bank officer, told another interesting story. No Mexican hookers this time. Just a vague memory of being "tea-bagged" in the forehead; someone later told me that this meant he inadvertently got a little too close to another man’s scrotum.

But the highlight of the night was probably the last event. After everyone was done playing beer-pong, they decided to play Truth or Dare. Except Truth or Dare turned into a game of I Dare So-and-So To Kiss So-and-So. For example, "I dare Gloria to kiss James." Before long, Gloria was kissing James, and then Gloria was kissing (make that, tonguing) Tim, and did I forget to mention that Gloria is married to Rick, but no matter because Rick was soon kissing (make that, tonguing) Justine, and then Gloria was kissing Jenny H., and then Jenny H. was kissing (or maybe tonguing) Jenny P., and then…

If we were in the Old Testament, sulfur would undoubtedly have been raining down upon us. But God was merciful and I was able to flee Sodom. At one point during the drive home, I adjusted my rearview mirror and my peripheral vision turned to a pillar of salt. But I made it home. And once there I thought it would be a good time to reevaluate my life.

And I realized that cool people tend to be, well, pathetic. Now I still stand by my earlier statement: I’m not Wally Cleaver. And anyone who takes the chance to get to know me can testify to this. But there are worse things to be. For example, I’d sure rather be Wally Cleaver than Wilt Chamberlain. Aside from, of course, Wilt’s superior basketball skills. And I‘d rather be Wally Cleaver than some bozo who, when he stands before God one day, won’t be able to say that he kept even one of the commandments. "Not one?" I imagine God saying. "There’s ten of them, you know. Ten! I knew some of them would trip you up, but every one? For crying out loud, you’re worse than the Different Strokes cast!"

[I’d like to apologize to my readers for the last joke. I admit that it's out-dated. And, given the death of Kimberly in 1999, perhaps a bit distasteful.]

October 3, 2006

"You don't know what you're talking about"

[This article was originally posted on another site; the "last blog" of which I speak does not refer to the last blog on the present site.]

My last blog stirred a fiery reaction in a fellow blogger. This blogger, who is a veteran of the Iraq War, felt my comments about the war revealed that I didn’t know what I was talking about and have been brainwashed by the media. I certainly appreciate this young man’s comments, not to mention his evident passion, but I am unconvinced by his arguments. In what follows, I argue against three of his claims.

Claim #1: The war has made Iraq safer: "I had my face and hands kissed by elderly Iraqis who thanked us for coming in to their neighborhoods and putting a stop to death squads and kidnapping rings."

Iraq may be safer for some people, but certainly not for others.

Death squads still reign supreme in Iraq, although the roles have reversed and the Shi’ites are now the perpetrators and Sunnis the victims. Here’s how a Washington Post editorial described the situation on December 4, 2005:

"Of all the bloodshed in Iraq, none may be more disturbing than the campaign of torture and murder being conducted by U.S.-trained government police forces. Reports last week in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times chronicled how Iraqi Interior Ministry commando and police units have been infiltrated by two Shiite militias, which have been conducting ethnic cleansing and rounding up Sunnis suspected of supporting the insurgency. Hundreds of bodies have been appearing along roadsides and in garbage dumps, some with acid burns or with holes drilled in them."

That was almost a year ago, but anyone who follows the news knows that the situation has not improved:

"Iraqi Hospitals Are War’s New ‘Killing Fields’" (Washington Post, August 30, 2006)

"Death Squads Strike Iraq Hard" (Associated Press, September 13, 2006)

"Death Squads Target the Iraqi Next Door" (Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2006)

Like Sunnis, members of many non-Muslim religions enjoyed relative peace under Saddam’s secular regime. And like Sunnis, these groups have been severely persecuted since the U.S. invasion. The Christian and Other Religions Endowment reports that over 200,000 non-Muslims have fled Iraq since 2003. Iraqi Christians have been especially targeted: many have been kidnapped, many murdered, and many have seen their churches bombed and businesses shut down (The State Department, "International Religious Freedom Report 2006").

Iraq is not safer today than it was three years ago. Iraq is a nightmare; the country is a bloodbath on the brink of civil war. The violence has been so horrible that in the last seven months alone 240,000 Iraqis have registered as refugees. Just yesterday, police in Baghdad found the bodies of 40 people, "bound, tortured and murdered" (Reuters, "Quarter million Iraqis flee sectarian violence," September 28, 2006).

Even Ayad Allawi, the first prime minister of the new Iraqi government, stated that human rights abuses have not improved since the invasion. According to Allawi, "People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse. It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things" (The Observer, "Abuse worse than under Saddam, says Iraqi leader," November 27, 2005).

Claim #2: Saddam isn’t a great guy: "According to you, Saddam was a great guy, no way akin to Stalin or Hitler. Ask the people of Birjinni in the Kurdish part of Iraq if Saddam was such a great guy."

In this instance, my fellow blogger has made a straw-man argument, pure and simple. He claims that I believe Saddam was a great guy and then goes on to show that Saddam in fact wasn’t a great guy. Well, I never, ever said this, and I never would. In fact, in a blog dated July 30, 2006, I called Saddam "a cold-blooded murderer who deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law."

Claim #3: Iraq was a threat: "Ask Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait whether or not they thought Saddam was a threat. You don't know what you're talking about. …The reason we invaded was…because Saddam had the capability of supplying terrorists with more sophisticated weaponry."

It is my belief that, even if Saddam had WMDs, he was not a threat—not to the Middle East and not to the United States. This belief hinges on a thesis made by Ivan Eland and Bernard Gourley of the Cato Institute (Policy Analysis No. 464, December 17, 2002). According to this thesis, Saddam was rational, rational in the sense that social scientists use the term, rational meaning that he always strived to maximize his own good. And, as his past actions revealed, Saddam believed his greatest good to be his own physical and political survival.

Given that Saddam was a rational agent who placed supreme importance on his own survival, it follows that the United States could have kept him in check. How? By merely making it clear to Saddam that any act of aggression would have resulted in the end of his reign. In other words, we could have prevented him from attacking other countries and from aiding anti-American terrorists by merely making it clear that doing so would have led to his destruction.

There are perhaps two main objections to this thesis, both of which I’ll now address.

Objection #1: Given Saddam’s history for invading other countries, how can you say that a mere U.S. threat would have prevented him from future aggression?

Yes, Saddam twice invaded other countries (Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990). But both of these invasions, although not moral, were certainly rational.

The invasion of Iran was rational because Saddam believed he would have the support of the international community, which was leery of the new fundamentalist Iranian government. And Saddam was right. Not only did the UN turn a blind eye to Iran’s plight, but the United States came to Saddam’s aid and supported Iraq diplomatically, financially, and militarily.

The invasion of Kuwait was rational because Saddam had good reasons to believe that the U.S. would again turn a blind eye to this act of aggression. On July 25, 1990, after Saddam had already positioned large numbers of troops and artillery near the Iraq-Kuwait border and just eight days before the invasion, he met with U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie. Transcripts of the meeting reveal that Glaspie took a conciliatory tone with Saddam; she never stated or even implied that the U.S. would intervene if Iraq invaded Kuwait, and at one point she even said that "we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait" (New York Times, September 23, 1990). On July 31, just two days before the invasion, John Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, testified before Congress that "…the United States has no commitment to defend Kuwait and the U.S. has no intention of defending Kuwait if attacked by Iraq" (House Foreign Affairs Committee, 1990, Developments in the Middle East, p. 6).

Objection #2: Given that Saddam has used chemical weapons in the past, how can you say that a mere U.S. threat would have prevented him from using WMDs in the future or at least giving them to anti-American terrorists?

Yes, Saddam used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War. But this was a rational use, given that, as we just saw, he had no reason to believe it would incur the wrath of the Western world.

Saddam also had chemical weapons during the Persian Gulf War, but he never used them against the United States. Why? Because he knew that the results would be devastating, as the U.S. warned that such an attack would result in a nuclear counter-attack.

In conclusion, Saddam was not a threat to the Middle East. After the Persian Gulf War, he knew that he could ill afford to ever again invade another country.

And Saddam was certainly not a threat to the United States. It seems highly unlikely that he would have ever given WMDs to anti-American terrorists, as he knew that the United States would have quickly ended his reign had it been proved or even suspected that the WMDs had come from his government.