On stopping Sauron

Winston Churchill is usually portrayed as one of the few people who recognised the evil potential of Adolf Hitler and was willing to go to war to stop him. The title of Kenneth Pollack’s book about Saddam Hussein, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, is no doubt an allusion to Churchill’s history of the decade before World War II, The Gathering Storm. Does the present crisis in Iraq require another Churchillian response? If you have seen The Two Towers, the latest movie instalment of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, you’ll remember it’s all about doves and hawks arguing over that dilemma: how best to stop Sauron, the evil Lord of Mordor?

Do we include ourselves, the goodies, in the ‘axis of evil’? It may be running right through our psyche. War is a force that gives us meaning is a good title for a book. Its author, Chris Hedges, obviously thought so. Hedges, a correspondent for the New York Times, has reported from Central America to the Balkans. His book describes the seductiveness of the myth of war and its nationalistic rhetoric, the intoxication of violence and his own disillusioning experience of its raw slaughter. He concludes that the only antidote to war is love and forgiveness; if hope is to be found, it is in the particular, small acts of tenderness and kindness he saw among the innocent victims of war’s devastation: ‘That’s what God gives us to fight back’.

My 88-year-old father has begun talking of his World War II experience, something he never used to do. I wouldn’t say it haunts him, but as he looks back, it seems his life is defined by those four years of battle in Syria, New Guinea and Borneo. ‘This is the day we landed at Balikpapan,’ he would say. ‘Today is the day Steve McKenzie was killed.’ He has never glorified war, and I can’t remember his ever marching on 25 April.

No-one wins in war. So what has theology to say to help us find a Christian position on it? The just war doctrine has been around a long time and gives a persuasive argument for force as a last resort. We live in a fallen world. History and war’s victims rightly condemn those who hesitate to help the innocent: I saw Elie Wiesel on TV recently discuss how Churchill and Roosevelt knew about the death camps, but did nothing directly and immediately to stop them.

Are pacifists naive and unrealistic, though courageous? Pacifism may have worked in democracies for Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but does it work against a Stalin or a Hitler?

The problem is Jesus—Jesus who must always be, for the Christian, the ultimate criterion for judging anything from the will of God to the will to war. Jesus’ naive and unrealistic path of non-violent resistance against ‘The Empire’ didn’t appear to work: he ended up dead, and the Romans kept oppressing, and were still there long after.

I still haven’t worked it out. But the way of Jesus haunts me. As we head out to war, no doubt to stop another Sauron, God will be looking upon us surely with a divine, familiar grief. 

Ormond Rush is President of St Paul’s Theological College, Banyo, Brisbane.

 

 

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