Last night our President announced the inevitable: we'll remain active in the perpetual wars of the Middle East. In the past I've held strong opinions on this matter. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, after the horror of 09/11/2001, I fully supported President George W. Bush's agenda. When Iraq toppled, and it was evident that we were mislead about WMDs, skepticism toward our government became my working paradigm and I began to move toward a staunch pacifistic/anti-violence stance as a Christian (after reading some essays by the ethicist and theologian Stanley Hauerwas). I voted for Barack Obama primarily because he was the "anti-war candidate" that had a shot at the White House. Honestly, I'd vote for him again because I continue to believe he was a better decision that either John McCain or Mitt Romney. Although it is apparent that my youthful optimism was misguided about our President I will say that as "indecisive" as he has appeared recently at least he is calculated and he seems to be hesitant in comparison with someone like McCain. Now, my thinking has shifted again. My position on the these matters these days is simply this: weariness.
I spent about a year with a Mennonite Church and I left quite convinced that I have no idea what to say about these situations. Their confidence in the face of many ethical crises was both encouraging at times and troublesome. I was sad to realize that I wasn't as bold or settled on some matters as they and I wasn't able to make heads and tales out of our world when beginning first and foremost with the seemingly radical commitment to Jesus' teachings in the Gospels (which, to be fair to myself, I am not alone in falling short of that ideal since even Mennonites have commandments of Jesus that must be explained as not having direct applicability to the present, e.g., in my experience divorce, the amount of material possessions retained). It may be that the no compromise stance against any form of violence by the Mennonites is the correct one to take ideally. I won't deny that. I will deny that I can follow Jesus with complete conviction that this is true or with the confidence that if I was faced with say the choice between violently defending my family or pacifistically letting them be abused that I'd chose nonviolence. In fact, the opposite is true: I know I would use violence to defend those closest to me and that is why I know that my preaching of complete and uncompromised nonviolence is hypocritical. If I can't say I'd follow this path dogmatically how can I talk about why Blacks in Ferguson should be nonviolent, or the impoverished and oppressed in other parts of our country, or Syrians and Kurds in the Middle East? Maybe violence is always wrong and all we can do is drop to our knees to ask for forgiveness when we respond in the only way we know we can respond and still live with ourselves.
Even if I was completely convinced that I should live a pacifistic life there is a glaring problem: I'm (un)comfortable in suburbia. This would be like a teenager criticizing his divorcing aunt and uncle for being unfaithful to Jesus' ideals about marriage: sure, he has passages in the Bible, but he is an unmarried teenager who has no idea what it is like to apply Jesus' teachings on the matter to the real world. Likewise, I have no opportunity in the present to test how I'd respond to violence and I'm pretty sure that while I am not a gun owner, and while I try to be as nonaggressive and peaceful as possible, that if threatened, or even more important if my loved ones were threatened, I'd probably do what is necessary to protect them.
In the thirteen years since 09/11/2001 I went from hawkish youngster, to pacifistic twenty-something, to sorrowful and prayerful unsettled thirty-something. I don't like what I see in our world. I wish we weren't going to intensify our fight against ISIL, but I can't say I know that it is "wrong" or that if I were the President of the United States that I would make a different decision—remember, we created this mess with our idea of "democracy for all" when we are barely able to provide democracy for our own citizens, especially POC. I'd probably see Iraq as our doing and be unable to go to sleep knowing that I didn't use my military to stop or slow ISIL's march toward genocidal activity. Sadly, Jesus was right: we live and die by the sword, or, now, bomb. We may bomb ISIL now, and maybe the United States has no other realistic option, but that doesn't mean the radicals will disappear. Someone new will emerge, especially if the Middle East remains a place of hopelessness. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison.