Monday, March 10, 2008

Are anti-Iraq War Voices "Trashing the Troops"? Anything But.

A good friend of mine with differing political views recently voiced, and repeated, his exasperation with me and my fellow progressive/liberal types. "I'm tired of you all slamming the troops over there! I have friends in Iraq, and I'm sick of hearing them put down."

I was dumbfounded. It is of course true that during and even after the Viet Nam conflict, many war vets were treated terribly. A failure was made to separate the soldiers in that war from the national protest against the war itself. Tens of thousands of these vets ended up homeless in both a spiritual and literal sense.

But we all learned that lesson, and learned it well. From Hollywood portrayals (Forrest Gump, Platoon) to cultural reassessments across all political lines, America has become highly aware of the difference between policy (Bush's decision to invade Iraq, for instance) and the individual soldiers used to carry out that policy.

Let me illustrate by using Barack Obama's repeated statements regarding our military. I'm sure Hillary has also made them, but I chose Barack since he is the most consistently anti-Iraq War voice among the candidates today, and also is often called a liberal of liberals. He bluntly says:

"Keeping faith with those who serve must always be a core American value and a cornerstone of American patriotism. Because America's commitment to its servicemen and women begins at enlistment, and it must never end." - Barack Obama, Speech in Kansas City, MO, August 21, 2007

Meanwhile, conservatives seem to be the ones who are deaf about war veterans' needs once those vets return to this country. Our community, Jesus People USA, runs homeless shelters. And we've always known that war veterans (Viet Nam in particular) made up a disproportionate number of homeless men. Yet when John Edwards, then campaigning for President, made the statement that 200,000 veterans in America were out there homeless, sleeping under bridges, here is how Fox News' Bill O'Reilley responded, "The only thing sleeping under a bridge is that guy's [John Edwards'] brain":



Bill O'Reilly is the same guy who said "If you don't support the troops then shut up." If only he'd take his own advice!

So what are the facts on homeless vets? According to The National Alliance to End Homelessness:

  • In 2006, approximately 195,827 veterans were homeless on a given night—an increase of 0.8 percent from 194,254 in 2005. More veterans experience homeless over the course of the year. We estimate that 336,627 were homeless in 2006.
  • Veterans make up a disproportionate share of homeless people. They represent roughly 26 percent of homeless people, but only 11 percent of the civilian population 18 years and older. This is true despite the fact that veterans are better educated, more likely to be employed, and have a lower poverty rate than the general population.
  • A number of states, including Louisiana and California, had high rates of homeless veterans. In addition, the District of Columbia had a high rate of homelessness among veterans with approximately 7.5 percent of veterans experiencing homelessness.
  • We estimate that in 2005 approximately 44,000 to 64,000 veterans were chronically homeless (i.e., homeless for long periods or repeatedly and with a disability).

These facts might not impact the O'Reillys, Limbaughs, and Coulters of the world, but hopefully they do impact those of us without a million-dollar job shoveling horse manure into a microphone.

Further, while President Bush was pouring billions of dollars into the war in Iraq, veterans returning home from Iraq were often not being cared for properly. This eventually began to be addressed after journalists exposed the deteriorating hospitals run by the Veterans Administration, Walter Reed in particular.

Barack Obama again offers a very strong reaction, addressing Veterans Affairs concerns specifically in a well-developed position paper:

Barack Obama believes America has a sacred trust with our veterans. He is committed to creating a 21st Century Department of Veterans' Affairs that provides the care and benefits our nation's veterans deserve.
* Allow All Veterans Back into the VA: One of Obama's first acts will be reversing the 2003 ban on enrolling modest-income veterans, which has denied care to a million veterans.
* Strengthen VA Care: Obama will make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible. He will improve care for polytrauma vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging, and women's health.
* Combat Homelessness among Our Nation's Veterans: Obama will establish a national "zero tolerance" policy for veterans falling into homelessness by expanding proven programs and launching innovative services to prevent veterans from falling into homelessness.
* Fight Veterans Employment Discrimination: Obama will crack down on employers who commit job discrimination against guardsmen and reservists.
Nor does Barack Obama stop with veterans, but also he addresses soldiers in the field along with the overall set of issues dealing with America's military in the 21st Century.

Frankly, I advise anyone with the mistaken idea that Barack Obama or the Democratic Party is soft on the military to read the above links, as well as do a little digging on line of your own. (I may be a bit left of, or outside of, the Democrats on some issues dealing with what N. T. Wright calls "Empire." But that's another subject.)

Don't expect good information from Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, or their lesser clones. These individuals (Limbaugh and O'Reilly in particular) have shown contempt for the homeless. Those homeless military men (and now, with Iraq, homeless women vets as well) get no helping hand from those who bray most loudly that we "should support our troops." Let that knowledge guide our further consumption of their "facts."

The above is not an appeal to join up with the Democratic Party or with Barack Obama. It is merely a plea to at least argue on reasonable grounds when discussing political differences. The idea that liberals hate our soldiers is an idea so completely without merit or logic it beggars the imagination. What liberals hate is sending our soldiers into a conflict we have no business fighting in and which only a series of lies ever allowed in the first place. Our soldiers today are in harm's way because our current administration insisted, against all evidence or reason, upon placing them there. Even a good conservative can admit as much. Some have.

-=-

And one more video, where a bunch of those non-existent homeless vets (men and women) go to pay a visit to Bill O'Reilly at FOXNews:



I shouldn't have. But I did.

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7 comments:

@bdul muHib said...

I'm on the opposite side from you on this one, Jon. I've been appalled how it seems like the left has given in to the right's allegations during the Vietnam War. We have even people in church's referring to the "wounded warriors". There is this idea that they should be excused, and the blame lies solely with Bush for the war.

I say, NO! Yes, there is greater blame with Bush, but anyone who agrees to pick up arms to murder another human being, that person is to blame as well. Yes, its atrocious how our government focuses on minorities to put them on the front lines. Yes, its awful that many feel they have no other option. But they are still guilty of agreeing to kill others.

So I say, if there is a homeless vet, help him out just as you would any other homeless person. Do not mistreat them. But do not give them better treatment! If a man comes up to you asking for money, give it to them regardless of their past employment (or better yet, sit down with them and eat lunch). But the moment they ask for money because they were a vet, give them nothing. I am happy to help a murderer get on his feet, or eat at dinner with him, and be his friend. But in the name of God, I will not do so because he feels he deserves something extra because he is a murderer.

This war is wrong. The actions of the US soldiers (and al Qa'ida and Iraqi soldiers) are wrong. I am tired of never hearing anyone point out that troops are to be held culpable for their actions as well. War crimes do not exist, for the phrase is redundant- any action by any person in pursuit of war is inherently a crime against humanity.

Jon Trott said...

@bdul,

I was wondering if someone from a more pacifist camp would check in here. While I do deeply resonate with the need to discuss "Empire" (maybe once I've really digested N. T. Wright's and others' fuller comments on that topic), I also think that military power is a tragic necessity. How much power? Ah, there's the rub. That's where Empire comes in...

But when I assume, as I do, that military power of some sort is needed by a nation, I also assume that it would be hypocritical of me to call soldiers of ours murderers. The difference is not all that large between a soldier and a policeman, at least theoretically.

When you stick a soldier into a manifestly unjust war, that soldier is faced with a very difficult position. He/she can attempt to be as just and compassionate as is possible in the fog of war, but he/she cannot realistically be expected to always sort out just what a "just war" vs. an "unjust war" is. I believe in these situations as a believer, a soldier must act in accord with her/his conscience, in good faith.

It is too simplistic to me to say no war is just, or more accurately, no war is more just than not fighting that war would be. World War II, as the oft-cited example, is a war which if we had not fought it would have meant not 6 million, but probably virtually every Jew in Europe anywhere, would have been gassed. (Even as it was, the fascists did a demonically thorough job before the Allies stopped them.)

All of that said, I know the horrors of modern war during WWII weren't only about the gas chambers. The mutual madness of bombing civilian populations, perhaps begun by Germany but perfected by the Allies over Dresden and the Americans over Nagasaki and Hiroshimi, remains an indelible stain on the concept of "just war."

Can a just war be fought using modern weapons? No. And this is where I find myself in a terrible place of ambiguity. Do I actively support our expanding our military, as even Barack Obama wants us to do? Why or why not? Or, do I take a pragmatic view, that some political realities on this fallen planet are basically unchangeable, and that we will always have to maintain and be willing to use our vast storehouse of human and inanimate weaponry?

I wish I could spell it all out neatly. But I can't. What I do know, however, is that I cannot call a soldier a murderer for fighting in a war... even an unjust war. Can that soldier's own conviction lead him or her to stop fighting in an unjust war? Yes. But then... that is *their* story rather than mine.

@bdul muHib said...

I'm rather surprised by your response, Jon. Since its beginning Jepusa's been strong on the Pacifism side. jt was one of the bits that made Jepusa liberal. Has that changed, or is there diversity in opinion there on that matter now?

You're right, the theoretical difference between a policeman and a soldier is small- in a place like LA or Chicago. But if you have the rule of law, then there is more justice in the actions of the police officer. And the difference dramatically increases if you compare it to traditional bobbies, or police officers in Morocco, or many other countries where the policemen don't carry guns.

Yes, it is hard to sort out ethics in war. But we can expect a soldier to do so because he is first a human, with the responisiblity of determining good from evil, for he has the knowledge of both. That means first off embracing nonviolence, but if not, following Just War Theory, which manifestly this war in Iraq is not part of. But ultimately, all Just War becomes just, war. We see this slipperly slope from the apologies for WWII devolving into Vietnam, and now in Iraq.

There were very few who tried nonviolent action in WWII, on the German side or the Allied side. When they did (Denmark), it worked. Imaginative non-violent action works. Violence never does, for one side always loses.

I support the Light leading each person, and that I should not try to force another into my morality. Although adultery is wrong, prostitution should't be illegal, even in New York. But when it comes to infringing on the rights of another, this changes. Even the libertarians agree. War is the ultimate infringement on the rights of others. And it always infringes most on the women and children who do not do the fighting.

What if they gave a war and nobody came? What if every American soldier had told George II, "No. I will fight no more forever." ? They bear as much guilt as does the man who started this war.

Jon Trott said...

@bdul wrote:

I'm rather surprised by your response, Jon. Since its beginning Jepusa's been strong on the Pacifism side. jt was one of the bits that made Jepusa liberal. Has that changed, or is there diversity in opinion there on that matter now?

Actually, that isn't true. We have never taken a stand as a community on pacifism. In fact, unlike some of the communities we admire, we often do not take "official" stands on all sorts of political / social issues. A few we do, but carefully.

What moved us inexorably in a liberal direction was, and is, the obvious bias Jesus has toward the poor, the prisoner, the marginalized. This took on flesh for us via homelessness in our neighborhood.

When Ronald Reagan (for whom quite a few of us voted that first time due to the abortion issue) took over, we saw for the first time in Uptown huge numbers of entire families on the streets. It was a shocking reality check. And when developers sided with the then-alderman (whom we'd also voted for) to displace Cambodian Refugees from their homes, along with many, many others of our neighbors, we turned on that alderman and were the difference in electing Helen Shiller -- a progressive -- to the 46th Ward Aldermanic seat.

Other things did help. An article I wrote on nuclear weapons for Cornerstone magazine led to us becoming involved with Reba Place Fellowship and others in protesting the sales of arms to three/fourths world countries. We/they protested at an "Arms Bazaar" near O'Hare Airport in the 80s. Yet we never followed Reba and other communities with more Anabaptist roots into pacifism. Some members of JPUSA are pacifists. As a community, however, we have no official stance. And I would hazard a guess that more of us than not hold to some version of 'just war' theory.

You're right, the theoretical difference between a policeman and a soldier is small- in a place like LA or Chicago. But if you have the rule of law, then there is more justice in the actions of the police officer. And the difference dramatically increases if you compare it to traditional bobbies, or police officers in Morocco, or many other countries where the policemen don't carry guns.

Well, now you are talking about HOW a war is conducted... esp. by this country, who currently allows only "embedded" reporters to cover our military adventures, thus allowing all sorts of evils to occur without coverage or exposure. I will join you in critiquing American ideas of what a 'just war' is. But I can't go all the way to "hard pacifism," the idea that all wars at all times are wrong and a Christian cannot support or/and fight in any war.

Yes, it is hard to sort out ethics in war. But we can expect a soldier to do so because he is first a human, with the responisiblity of determining good from evil, for he has the knowledge of both. That means first off embracing nonviolence, but if not, following Just War Theory, which manifestly this war in Iraq is not part of. But ultimately, all Just War becomes just, war. We see this slipperly slope from the apologies for WWII devolving into Vietnam, and now in Iraq.

mmm... Too doctrinaire for me. Too rigid. I do believe there is a ton of room to move leftward from the normal American ideas about war. And I do believe a Christian should *not* glorify something as horrible in effects as a war. There is nothing lovely about war, as any war vet will tell you. But I just can't go with you to a place where I say war is never *necessary*. I wish I could. There is something far more comforting about certainty than uncertainty.

There were very few who tried nonviolent action in WWII, on the German side or the Allied side. When they did (Denmark), it worked. Imaginative non-violent action works. Violence never does, for one side always loses.

Non-violent resistance in Germany ended with the deaths of the non-violent. Read about the White Rose and such movements. One of Ron Sider's least convincing books -- and I love Ron Sider -- was the one he did on pacifism. I was astonished at the (gulp, okay I will say it) naivety he exhibited there. Sometimes evil does require a physical, forceful, even violent response. I'm not claiming my way is easier than yours (I think it is harder). But I am suggesting it has more resonance with what is as well as what should be...

I support the Light leading each person, and that I should not try to force another into my morality. Although adultery is wrong, prostitution should't be illegal, even in New York. But when it comes to infringing on the rights of another, this changes. Even the libertarians agree. War is the ultimate infringement on the rights of others. And it always infringes most on the women and children who do not do the fighting.

I agree with the above. But that doesn't rule out war; it merely describes why no sane person will advocate war when *any* other reasonable option is available. Again, there is war, and then there is Bush's War (Aaargh!)

What if they gave a war and nobody came? What if every American soldier had told George II, "No. I will fight no more forever." ? They bear as much guilt as does the man who started this war.

Whoa. The soldiers bear as much guilt as George Bush?! Even you must have to admit that is over the top... I hope? Bush knowingly lied, as did Rumsfeld, as did Condi Rice... about this war. The women and men fighting this war believe they are acting for our country, for the good of both America and Iraq. They lied to no one, and in fact are involved in this war as an act of (misplaced or not) citizenship and pledged duty. How is that sinful? And how on earth does that compare with George W. Bush's war on Iraq, itself a subset of his overall war on freedom?

No, I hate war, and I hate this war and the lies we were fed to create it. I've read (and printed here) Mark Twain's "War Prayer." I get it! But what I don't at all resonate with is the idea that we need to blame the soldiers for our President's War. The soldiers are acting out of their sense of duty -- a calling as they see it -- to their community, their nation. I will never blame them. I will try to rescue them from the horrors of this manifestly unjust war.

@bdul muHib said...

Now hold up there, Jon. Of course there was never an official stance, because in the JM we really didn't go in for official stances in general. But I was there at the beginning of Jepusa. Okay, not cognitively aware. But I'm intimately aquainted with people who were :-) I know the general feeling of the Discipleship School and JP Milwaukee was towards pacifism. Or perhaps, just as genetic drift occurs within the bottleneck of a speciation event, those who broke off to form what later became Jesus People USA were less enthralled in general with the idea of pacifism?

Secondly, I don't think there can be different versions of Just War Theory. It's a theological concept that has been honed down through the centuries, entailing specific actions in the prelude to war and during war. Bush et.al. have tried to distort this, claiming there war is just, but again, this is a slippery slope. You either follow the precepts of Just War Theory or you don't. There have been many attempts in US history to argue that our many wars have been just and fit Just War Theory, by basically stating that we're going to change or remove certain elements of the Theory. If we do that, we've stripped the meaning from the idea to such an extent that we're no longer talking about the same thing.

Third, I don't think noting the qualitative difference between police officers who don't carry guns and soldiers amounts to talking of how war is conducted. Soldiers can't conduct a war without guns. Maybe theoretically they can, with sound weapons or something SciFi, but its never been done. Policeman can, have, and do their work without guns- without killing people.

I disagree with you that way of being willing to fight war is harder than pacifism. Imaginative non-violent action is incredibly difficult. Our natural instinct within our species (and all others) is self-preservation, and to attack, and to kill. We do what comes naturally when we do. Jesus came for something different. To rise above the way we were formed. Pacifism first off requires imagination (if its too be successful), and secondly requires forgiveness (if it's too be Biblical). I know you know how difficult forgiveness is. True Christian pacifism begins with the idea that there is that of God in my enemy, and I need to search for Jesus within him, and love him as God's representative here on Earth.

I disagree with you too that the White Rose and other movements were unsuccessful. I want to thank you for reminding me of those, as I've seen the movie, but had forgotten it. But success in nonviolence is defined by standing up and through your witness, your martyrdom, convincing others. Even when unsuccessful though in terms of stopping deaths, again, war always loses- it always causes deaths. Nonviolent action many times succeeds- many more times than the popular press is willing to reveal, as Dan Buttry convincingly showed in his book. But still, times like the White Rose was a small group, and therefore its impact was limited. What happened in Denmark that I mentioned was much more widespread, and therefore much more effective.

Yes, you're right. Bush bears more guilt overall, for he lied. But I was referring only to the guilt of killing, and not clear when I said that. Bush holds more guilt for starting this war, but the act of killing another human is shared both by the command-in-chief and by those he commands.

You ask how, if a soldier lied to no one, is doing an act of citizenship and pledged duty, how that can be sinful. I remind you of Herod making a promise to his stepdaughter, and then keeping it. Some promises shouldn't be kept. And when citizenship breaches into patriotism, for a Christian, they have left the path, they have missed the mark, and have committed idolatry by putting the state ahead of Christ.

With all that you've said, how do you deal with Jesus clear words to turn the other cheek, give unto Ceasar, and love your enemy? For a time, C.S. Lewis convinced me to reject pacifism. It was a two-week lapse in high school. He stated that we are told to love our enemies as ourselves. But then, he said, I don't always love myself. That was his defense of the Christian's right to war. It took me awhile to realize how twisted that logic was. For the answer is not, I don't love myself, so therefore I am excused from loving my enemy. For Jesus didn't say, "Treat your enemy as yourself." The command remains to love. The correct action, when we are confronted with the truth that we don't love ourselves or our enemy, is to begin loving ourselves, by learning to love our enemy.

Jon Trott said...

@abdul,

I strongly suspect you have that bit of history wrong, not just on JPUSA (where I'm sure of myself) but even on JP Milwaukee. The Jesus movement (w/ the possible exception of the Berkeley Christian Coalition, which was the most intellectual of the main groups I know of), was nearly apolitical. Over time, the massive majority of that movement became drawn into the Christian Right, for a variety of reasons (some more understandable than others to this leftie).

Oh, and though they weren't strictly speaking "Jesus People" (I think they'd have cringed if called that), Jim Wallis and his Chicago Post-American (later our collectively beloved "Sojourners" community and mag based in D. C.) were certainly intellectually rooted, and pacifist (at least I think they were!).

I guess the obvious authority re JP Milwaukee would be your parents, as far as asking what ministry policy / comprehension was of "pacifism" vs. "just war" theology. Maybe you could interview them for your website, not only on that but on "politics" within that Jesus movement, period. My own suspicion is that they would say the Jesus people were peace-loving people, in keeping with their subcultural roots. But they wouldn't have said "Oh, yeah, we're pacifists." They might have, and in fact DID in one of the early JP Milwaukee Street Levels, say in a phototoon featuring my present wife, "We worship the Prince of Peace!" The point of that phototoon's caption was that the war in Viet Nam wasn't the important thing: Jesus was.

That matches what I always have thought the focus was back then; on Jesus Himself, relating to Him and telling others about Him with conversion in mind. That was cutting-edge stuff in those heady days... and really up until Jonestown happened, at which point street witnessing became very unacceptable to most people. Such is my amateur (but somewhat accurate) account of what I've seen and thought about Jesus People (as a national movement and as Jesus People USA, this local contingent in Chicago to which I've belonged all these years).

I hope our (and all Christians') focus is still Jesus, even if our political understanding is more polished and nuanced today.

I not only don't agree with your formulation re Just War theory being either/or... on a very real level I think that abstractly attempting to create a "theory" about Just War is dubious.

This is a lousy analogy, but I could create a theory about how I would react if a stranger broke into my house and assaulted my wife. But if it really happened, that theory would likely be of only small help. Too many variable exist (what weapon does he have? could I overpower him or not without doing major damage? what is he after, my Kierkegaard collection or my wife's life?).

I can try to in general have principles in mind re what to do in case my wife is assaulted by a stranger in our home... but none of them will likely prepare me for actually doing it.

Of course, what I am suggesting above is that I can use personal force against another person if said person is assaulting me, my family, or arguably my neighbor. This is in some quantitative ways -- very important ways -- different than 21st century warfare. For one thing, I won't be using smart bombs on my/our attacker in our home. (Won't be using a gun, either, as we don't have one and aren't going to get one.) Even if I applied lethal force to protect my wife, killing the attacker, this parallel doesn't match well with lethal force which is diffuse (again, like a smart bomb) and/or applied without factual information (yesterday's accidental shooting of a young Iraqi girl by U. S. soldiers who thought her mother was signalling to an attacker).

So... I might be what one could call a "functional" pacifist, that is, unwilling to use the weaponry and/or tactics of our modern military. What I am not is an ideological pacifist, because it requires of me a very modernist, abstract approach to issues which to me require a softer post-modern, "concrete" approach (Gabriel Marcel's use of "concrete" is what I mean here).

Sorry this is again so long.

@bdul muHib said...

Well, yes, of course, in the sense that you're using the word political, that's true. We didn't do a lot of marches and such over political issues. But in the terms of the Politics of Jesus, we lived it. We marched for Jesus, not political issues.

But I'm not talking about politics. I'm talking about general feelings and beliefs. My parents would be the obvious authority, but since my dad's dealing with the probable imminent death of his wife at the moment, now's not the time to ask him. So let me say, pacifism so imbuded the ethos growing up that I can't remember a time when we didn't embrace pacifism. We didn't call it be its new-fangled terminology of Non-violent Action. We simply followed what we believed Jesus said.

However. It was certainly closely aligned with the general JM rejection of nationalism and patriotism, and even a healthy dose of anti-Americanism (which was actually unhealthy). That trend kept the JM being non-political, as you say, and not being drawn towards the political Left or Right. Sadly, after Jonestown and the JM fell apart (you guys being the notable exception, along with groups like Sojourners), I think many in the JM looked around, and couldn't find anything as verdent and zealous as what they'd been part of. Many left the faith. For those that remained, the closest thing was sadly the Religious Right, and so many morphed their beleifs, or were influenced, and hooked up with them. But this was after the movement had ended.

As to your analogy, this is exactly why Just War Theory is so important- and Theory and Practice of Nonviolence. We spend lots and lots of time training soldiers how to kill, including time spent remolding their pysches. And you know what? We do a good job. They kill well. It was found that in WWII, something like 3 in 4 soldiers wouldn't pull the trigger when given a gun. The army found they had a problem. In every war since, they've reduced that number, so now almost everyone shoots in war. How? By working on the psychology, training soldiers to be comfortable with killing.

If so much time is spent training in death, why not in life? This is what those who work on the theory and practice of nonviolence have now been saying for decades. You can't respond nonviolently to a guy invading your home and attacking your wife, if you haven't praticed. You certainly can't do it successfully, keeping everyone safe, if you haven't practiced. Successful nonviolence requires imagination if its going to work. That means contemplating what you will do, imaginging scenarios, considering possibilities, and preparing for the enventuality. It means adopting a psychology and a mindset that pursues nonviolence, and the good of the attacker, as the image of God.

You're right. General principles won't help, on their own. But they can become the foundation to articulating change, as one pursues a rewnewed mind that pursues peace, even in the most intimate of circumstances. Through theory and practice, the general becomes specific.