"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Everlasting Memory!

On this Remembrance Day (as Her Britannic Majesty's Canadian Dominion calls it) or Veterans Day (as the American Republic styles it), our thoughts turn to those who have lost their lives in the many heinous conflicts of the last 100 years especially, beginning with World War I, on which myriad histories have been written, but some of the best that I have read include John Keegan, The First World War (Vintage, 2000); Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History (1994); and, of course, Winston Churchill's six-volume history-cum-memoir, The World Crisis, 1911-1918, of which one of his detractors rather archly said that "Winston has written an enormous book about himself and called it The World Crisis." Arthur Balfour, sometime British prime minister and sometime nemesis of Churchill, said of The World Crisis that he was reading Churchill's "autobiography disguised as a history of the universe."

Another fascinating study, about one of the bloodiest and most baffling of battles, is that of Christopher Duffy, Through German Eyes: The British & The Somme 1916 (Phoenix Press, 2007).

Duffy unearthed from Bavarian military archives German views of the British, whom many Germans held in condescending contempt as the "poor little men of a diseased civilization." Time and again, in the amusing records Duffy found, the German interrogators, confronted with British prisoners of war, could not believe that the former might lose the war to the latter's army of men of "crooked legs, rickety, alcoholic, degnerate, ill-bred, and poor to the last degree."

Centuries before the chimes of Big Ben in August 1914 signaled the commencement of hostilities between Britain and Germany, and so unleashed the one event that arguably more than any other shaped the rest of the century, many Christians had set themselves to asking if and when, and under which circumstances, lethal force might be used, or at least tolerated, by Christians. That gave rise to what came, in the West, to be known as the Just War tradition, of which today James Turner Johnson is perhaps the leading scholar in several books, including Ethics and the Use of Force (Justice, International Law and Global Security, Ashgate, 2011); Morality and Contemporary Warfare (Yale, 2001); Can Modern War be Just? (Yale, 1986); and Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War: A Moral and Historical Inquiry (Princeton, 1984). Others who have thought deeply about these issues, and helped Christians to do so today, include Michael Walzer, Just And Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations (Basic, 2006); and Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War Theory (Readings in Social and Political Theory) (NYU, 1991).

Much of the Just War tradition is traced back, of course, to Augustine of Hippo (on whom the study by John Mark Mattox, St. Augustine and the Theory of Just War [Continuum, 2009] is the most recent). Many Eastern Christians have felt uneasy about Augustine for many reasons, some serious and some not--as I noted before. But whatever you think of him and his influence, it cannot be denied that Augustine gave rise to a very long, serious trajectory of intellectual work thinking through the hard problems of war and peace. Not as much work has been done in an Eastern Christian context, though Alexander Webster's two books, The Pacifist Option: The Moral Argument Against War in Eastern Orthodox Theology (ISP, 1999); and Virtue Of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West (2007) are notable exceptions.

Now, however, we have a very welcome new contribution to the discussion, published in September of this year: Hildo Bos and Jim Forest, For the Peace from Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism (ORI, 2011).

About this book, the publisher tells us:
Since the early days of the Church, Christians have struggled to come to terms with Christ's words of peace and His example of peace. In Christ's life, as recorded in the New Testament, it is striking that He neither killed anyone nor summoned any of His disciples to kill. Indeed, the final miracle Christ performed before His execution was to heal an enemy's wound, an injury caused by the Apostle Peter in an attempt to defend his master. Yet, in the course of more than twenty centuries of Christian history, we see Christians often involved in war and, in surveying the calendar of saints, find not only those who refused to take part in war but also those who served in the military, though no one has been canonized due to his skill as a soldier. Besides the millions of Christians who have fought in armies, often against fellow Christians, we also find many priests, bishops and theologians who have advocated war and blessed its weapons. Our subject is an urgent one. Many people today live either near conflict areas or are directly touched by war or in areas where terrorist actions may suddenly occur. Everyone on the planet is in some way affected by wars in progress or wars in the making as well as the consequences of wars in the past. Every day thousands of Christians struggle in thought and prayer with some of the most difficult of questions: May I fight injustice by violent methods? Am I allowed to kill in combat? Are there limits on what I can do in the defense of my country? Am I as a Christian allowed to disobey demands that I believe are unjust or violate the Gospel? When the demands of my country seem at odds with the demands of the Kingdom of God, how do I respond to this conflict? Rarely do we find easy answers to these and similar questions.
Those of us in the Orthodox Christian tradition search for help in Holy Scripture, the canons provided to us by ecumenical councils, the witness of the saints, the writing of the Fathers of the Church as well as theologians of recent times. Imitation of saintly forebears alone, however, will not solve our problems. Different eras have adopted different attitudes. Also many of today's problems never existed before, not least the changed character of war in an era of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and mass propaganda. Yet knowledge of the thought and action undertaken by the Orthodox Churches on the issues of war and peace in recent decades surely can help us find ways out of the dead ends that many communities are experiencing today. This is the aim of this book.

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