The Common Good

The Lessons of War

Sojomail - March 26, 2003

Quote of the Week J.R.R. Tolkien: Good and evil
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: The lessons of war
Culture Watch Singer Garth Hewitt: "Not in my name"
Biz Ethics Business and war: Ex-peace activists face their ideals
Religion and Politics The philosopher of Islamic terror
By the Numbers The religious demographics of Iraq
Soul Works Meister Eckhart: The trouble with being thick-skinned
Faith in Public Life Rose Marie Berger: What happens if we are all artists?
Iraq Journal War report from peacemaker team in Baghdad
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply
Web Scene Iraqi civilian body count | Anti-war movement guide | De-motivate yourself

Extract from a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher:

10 April 1944

I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment: the millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days - quite apart from torture, pain, death, bereavement, injustice. If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapor, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens! And the products of it all will be mainly evil - historically considered. But the historic version is, of course, not the only one. All things and all deeds have a value in themselves, apart from their "causes" and "effects." No man can estimate what is really happening sub specie aeternitatis. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labors with vast power and perpetual success - in vain: preparing always the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.

- from "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien"

The lessons of war
by Jim Wallis

The American-led war with Iraq has begun. Over the past six months, tens of millions of people, including church bodies and leaders from all over the world, undertook a powerful campaign to stop this war and offered serious alternatives to confront the real threats posed by Saddam Hussein. But now the fighting and killing has begun. As I write, the early American military confidence has run into serious Iraqi resistance and casualties are mounting, both civilian and military. It is not too early to begin to assess the lessons of war.

1. Nobody should be surprised that a vastly superior American fighting force will vanquish a vastly inferior Iraqi army. But one of America's worst characteristics is hoping that success wipes away all the moral questions. In the long run, it won't. War is always ugly and this one will be too.

Go to "Not a just or moral war":

2. Modern warfare has caused many more civilian casualties than military. Smart bombs are never as perfect as boasted, and not all Iraqis may want to be "liberated" by an American occupation. Above all, we must remember that "collateral damage" is never collateral to the families and loved ones of those killed in war. Don't accept the first reports on casualties from governments (on either side) or "embedded" journalists, many of whom now sound more like cheerleaders than reporters. Be sure that technology will not ultimately usurp theology or morality. Find alternative sources for information (Sojomail can help you). Watch and wait for the real story.

For an independent database of civilian casualties in Iraq, go to:

3. Humanitarian aid must never be co-opted by the military as "force enhancement," as the U.S. secretary of defense now terms it. Assistance to the victims of war must never become another arm of military power, but instead is the painful task to be taken on after the destruction of war. Many predict that the aftermath of this war could be far more dangerous and costly in human terms than the military campaign. Listen to the non-governmental relief organizations as we move forward.

To support Iraqi civilians through humanitarian organizations that have refused to participate in U.S. government "force enhancement" policies, go to:

4. If an evil, dangerous, and unpopular regime does collapse quickly, that is not an endorsement of war as the answer, but a sign that a better way to resolve the threat might well have been possible. The best wisdom of most all church leaders, former Nobel Peace laureates, and a majority of international political figures and diplomats around the world was that alternatives to a full-scale military assault on Iraq were not adequately tried, and that this was not a war of last resort.

Go to the 6-Point Plan for Defeating Saddam Hussein Without War:

5. A pre-emptive war of choice, rather than of necessity, fought against overwhelming world opinion and United Nations disapproval will not create an atmosphere of cooperation for post-war reconstruction nor, most significantly, for the crucial international collaboration needed to defeat the real threats of terrorism.

6. A new world order based on unilateral rather than multilateral action, military power over international law, and the sole decisions of the world's last remaining superpower over the deliberations of the community of nations will not create a framework the world can or should trust for peace.

7. Unresolved injustices like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, feudal Arab regimes protected by oil, and globalization policies that systematically give advantage to wealthy nations over poor countries and people remain root causes of violence and will not be overcome by the imposition of American military superiority.

Go to "A World at Odds: Crisis in the Middle East":

8. Dissent in a time of war is not only Christian, it is also patriotic. A long and honorable record of opposition to war in church tradition and American history puts dissent in the mainstream of Christian life and American citizenship. Rather than acquiesce with the start of war, prayerful and thoughtful dissent will become more important that ever.

Go to "An Urgent Appeal to the Churches":

9. The churches have demonstrated the most remarkable unity in our history in opposition to a war, even before the war with Iraq started. In the eleventh hour, the American churches didn't just say "no" to war, but offered compelling and credible alternatives that were seriously considered by many political leaders around the world, but not by our own government. An American president who increasingly uses the language of Christian faith refused even to meet with American church leaders for discernment and prayer as he made momentous decisions to go to war. The American churches are now in deep solidarity with the worldwide Body of Christ, and may have to choose between their Christian alliances and the demands and policies of their own government. We must learn to be Christians first and Americans second.

Go to "Seeing the Faith of the Enemy":

10. The onset of war with Iraq does not demonstrate the failure of the peace movement, but rather the failure of democracy. Tens of millions of people around the world have become engaged in active citizenship against the policies of pre-emptive war for resolving the greatest threats to peace and security. It is time to build on that movement, rather than withdraw from collective action. We must learn the differences between grief and despair, between lament and languishing, between hope and hostility. We are stronger now, not weaker. Our action has just begun.

Go to the Guardian's "Anti-war list" at:,12809,884056,00.html

A personal note: On the brink of war, my wife Joy and I had a new baby. A little boy surprised us three and a half weeks early. We found ourselves in the middle of efforts to prevent war even in the labor and delivery room. Our healthy new child came into the world as our nation went to war. Amid the shock of war, we experienced the awe of new life. And during the first week of war, we have been deeply engaged as parents in the things that such new life requires. It has been deeply nourishing to our spirits - a divine intervention in a terrible time, a celebration in the midst of mourning, a blessing in the face of violence and destruction, and a joy in the middle of sorrow. Our new baby has taught me the importance of being nurtured by hope in times like these.

I encourage each of us to look to those things, those relationships, and those practices, signs, wonders, and affirmations of life that we so deeply need at a time like this. I urge us all to remember that what we can do in the next few weeks of war will likely be less than we will be able to do in the months and years that lie directly ahead to help our nation develop a truly new "world perspective," as Martin Luther King Jr. said. So let us take care of ourselves, take care of each other, and carefully nourish the hope within us that God's purposes in this world will not go unfulfilled.

As it became apparent that the U.S. government was on an unswerving course toward war with Iraq, leading Christian theologians and ethicists convened by George Hunsinger of Princeton Theological Seminary made the following appeal to the churches to respond with prophetic opposition, excerpted below. Find the full text and add your endorsement at:


We are Christians, clergy and laity, from Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Historic Peace Church communities. After careful consideration and prayer, as citizens who love our country, we have come to painful conclusions.

We believe that U.S. war against Iraq is unjust and immoral. As a "pre-emptive" attack unprecedented in our history, it dishonors our nation, disregards morality, and violates international law. Citizens of good will are thrown into a crisis of conscience by our government's initiation of this war.

THEREFORE, in so grave a situation, we issue the following appeal:

- We appeal to all Christians: Put your faith in Jesus Christ above your loyalty to the nation, because today faith demands a higher loyalty, and patriotism means dissent.

- We call upon all churches and all individual Christians to refuse their consent to this war. We call them to nonviolent resistance, rejecting actions that violate moral law.

- We urge all U.S. military personnel, especially those who are Christians, to conscientious objection - to refuse to participate in this immoral war.

- We commit ourselves to a renewed discipline of prayer, fasting, and meditation on God's Word. A dedicated spirituality will be needed by all who are led to faithful obedience.

- We welcome support from all peoples of faith and conscience who wish to uphold us in making this appeal to the churches.

- Finally, we pledge allegiance to our country and to every noble ideal for which it stands. Upholding it where it is right, we must oppose it with deep regret, for its own sake and the sake of the world, where it goes so grievously wrong.


Read the full text and add your endorsement to this appeal at:

Not in my name
by Garth Hewitt, U.K.-based singer/songwriter

Not in my name, not in my name When you go to war - it's not in my name When the bombers are bombing, and the innocent slain I want you to know it's not in my name

World leaders are thinking the answers can come In the power of violence from the tank and the gun In bombing the people with rockets and planes But I want them to know it's not in my name

Not in my name...

They say we'll stop the terror by going to war And we'll terrorize terrorists until there's no more But dealing with the causes would be the better way And until we do, it's not in my name

Whatever happened to international law Sharon ignores it, yet we support him more Saddam ignores and we say he must pay But until we deal fairly it's not in my name.

Put down your weapons and ask the question why People are so desperate they're prepared to die Take time to listen to other people's pain And until you do, it's not in my name.

Could it be the arms trade, could it be the oil That fuels our desire to kill and to spoil While the planet's in peril, you want financial gain That's why I say not in my name

Call me old-fashioned, call me naive But it's something to do with what I believe Those that live by the sword will die by it too I think that's true, so it's not in my name

Download "Not in my name" now in mp3 format (2.4Mb):

Words and music by Garth Hewitt.

(c) Chain of Love Music

Business and war: Ex-peace activists face their ideals
by Benjamin Pimentel

One employee took a call from a defense contractor who had a question. The employee said, "I'm sorry. I don't believe in what you do, and I can't answer your question," then hung up.

"All of a sudden, we found ourselves getting orders from these people we had just been protesting," [David Wilner, founder of Wind River Systems] said. "We were always torn between the economic realities and the moral issues. I always wished we were a Ben and Jerry kind of company in an innocuous industry where you can take a moral stand."

The financial pressures of the tech industry eventually prevailed, and the company did do more business with the defense establishment.

To read the entire feature, go to:

The philosopher of Islamic terror
by Paul Berman

The roots of al Qaeda are not in poverty or in anti- Americanism but in Sayyid Qutb's ideas about how Christianity went wrong and how martyrdom could change the world.


To anyone who has looked closely enough, al Qaeda and its sister organizations plainly enjoy yet another strength, arguably the greatest strength of all, something truly imposing - though in the Western press this final strength has received very little attention. Bin Laden is a Saudi plutocrat with Yemeni ancestors, and most of the suicide warriors of Sept. 11 were likewise Saudis, and the provenance of those people has focused everyone's attention on the Arabian peninsula. But al Qaeda has broader roots. The organization was created in the late 1980s by an affiliation of three armed factions - bin Laden's circle of "Afghan" Arabs, together with two factions from Egypt, the Islamic Group and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the latter led by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's top theoretician. The Egyptian factions emerged from an older current, a school of thought from within Egypt's fundamentalist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the 1950s and '60s. And at the heart of that single school of thought stood, until his execution in 1966, a philosopher named Sayyid Qutb - the intellectual hero of every one of the groups that eventually went into al Qaeda, their Karl Marx (to put it that way), their guide.

To read about Qutb and his influence in the Islamic world, go to [free registration required]:

The religious demographics of Iraq

Of Iraq's nearly 23 million people, about 18 million are ethnic Arabs and most of the rest are Kurds. In religious terms, roughly 15 million are Shiite Muslims, and the remaining 8 million mostly are Sunni Muslims.

*Sources: CIA World Factbook

To see a religious map of Iraq, link to:

The trouble with being thick skinned

A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don't know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox's or a bear's, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.

- Meister Eckhart

What happens if we are all artists?
by Rose Marie Berger

In the 1940s, French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil wrote, "Art has no immediate future because all art is collective, and there is no more collective life (there are only dead collections of people) and also because of the breaking of the true pact between body and soul." I opened Sojourners' National Roundtable on Faith, Art, and Social Activism on March 7 by recalling Weil's words because the artists, activists, and theologians who gathered for the day were everything but a "dead collection of people."

Read more about Sojourners' National Roundtable at:

War report from the peacemaker team in Baghdad
by April Hurley
Christian Peacemaker Teams

Baghdad, March 24, 2003

[Iraqi families have] rage and opinions.... How can I explain reasons to them? They know that Bush's administration is interested in oil control and that they have no interest in democracy for these people. Why don't Americans know this? Why did we elect this man without human feelings, they ask.

It's not easy being an American in a Baghdad emergency room seeing victims and their families. I wish that George Bush was here with his answers to their outrage.

To read more of Hurley's report from Baghdad, link to:


Dave Westman writes from Upper Arlington, Ohio:

Yesterday [March 19] I spent a one-hour stop in D.C., making connections at Dulles on a long day trip from Columbus to Buffalo. Last evening, as my last flight departed for home and I rested my head against the cabin wall to nap, I found myself again praying - for our president and government, for the world situation, for God's intervention. Very quickly, a vivid picture formed in my mind - whether a "vision" or just a sleepy- headed dream, God used it to give me a very clear sensation of being part of something much, much larger than my own individual prayers - of being joined together with God's people in Washington, our country, and across the world, praying for peace, praying that He alone be exalted. As it turns out, this occurred very close to the time the first bombs were dropped.

Sojourners continues to be a key voice calling us to prayer and action - individually and together as God's people. Thank you for your witness and your faithfulness!


Mike Florio writes from Yorktown, New York:

I think the major failing of the Bush administration is that they allowed themselves, rather pompously, to be perceived as not caring about finding creative, nonviolent solutions for dealing with Saddam Hussein. And if indeed the administration did seriously consider creative nonviolent solutions, they absolutely, miserably failed to convey that to the public, and adequately explain the reasons for rejecting such solutions. So, we are left wondering why violence was the 'obvious' answer to the question of how to prevent Saddam from supporting and promoting terrorist activity against us. Thus, President Bush becomes anything from a hero to a terrorist himself.

Basically, we are just left with deciding whether or not to trust that the president knows what he's doing, since he seems incapable of defending his position in concrete terms. Blind trust may be okay for smaller matters, but when it comes to war, the president needs to go the extra mile and try to help us come to the same conclusions he has. But by not doing this, people inevitably come to their own conclusions, and apparently the president doesn't care about that. Most people are not saying they can't be convinced that war is appropriate, they're simply saying "convince me!"


Victor Eremita writes from Copenhagen, New York:

In recent days, protestors have "made their voices heard" by blocking traffic and access to buildings that are almost entirely unrelated to the purpose of the protests. Ironically, these antagonistic protests, which lack the creativity necessary to gain significant public support, will only serve to make you "feel" more isolated and unheard. The reason for this is self-evident. Causing widespread frustration among common people is sure to persuade people to disassociate themselves from your position. Does anyone think abortion clinic bombers help the pro-life movement win votes? In the end the much- coveted publicity resulting from these events serves only to turn people against your position and cause the democratic vote to become even more lopsided. This is exactly the opposite effect that the civil rights movement had on our nation, due in no small degree to the thoughtful rhetoric and tactics of Dr. King and others. Your claim to stand in the persuasive legacy of Dr. King does not ring true.

As I listened to the recent Washington Mall protest, sponsored by A.N.S.W.E.R., I saw the spirit of the undemocratic left. Speaker after speaker at the rally repeated the mantra, "We will shut this country down [when the war begins]." This, to me, is a prime example of the most disconcerting aspect of the worldview that seems to be growing on the left. The threat to "shut this country down" is a terrorist threat that shows a loss of faith in the processes of democracy. If those leading antagonistic and unfocused protests could give their publicity machines a rest they would recognize the need to focus their protests on those with direct influence (for example, their representatives, senators, the White House, and Pentagon) and to do so in creative ways that maximize the possibility for public persuasion. They would realize that their current tactics and rhetoric are actually serving to strengthen the position of those to whom they are in opposition.


Steve Fouch writes from Medway, England:

In response to Mary Weidner's comments, can I pose some questions? My reading of scripture is somewhat limited, and my perspectives slanted by my Anglo- Saxon culture, so I must have missed the parts of the Bible that advocate liberal democracy, free market capitalism, and the indiscriminate use of tank shells in disposing of Palestinian terrorists.

I did once read something about God being unhappy that Israel wanted a king like other nations (I Samuel 8:10-19). I do also recall quite a few passages about displacing Philistines and Caananites from the Promised Land (e.g. Joshua chapter 1), but not much about the killing of Palestinian Christians (as well as Muslims and secularists) being God's will.

I do read God instructing Israel on how to conduct its wars (e.g. Numbers 31; quite brutal by modern standards - mass slaughter of both combatants and non-combatants was not only permitted, but some cases required), but it's there in the Bible. It was illegal to wear clothing made of two different fabrics (e.g. Leviticus 19:19). If we are going to quote scripture selectively, we must beware: The Bible can be used to justify anyone's position - liberal, dove, hawk, pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian.

Still, I am apparently an ignorant, bleeding heart liberal (and a Brit) who does not know his scripture, so I will say no more and keep my peace.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:

*Iraqi civilian body count

An update on civilian deaths in Iraq resulting directly from military actions by the U.S. and its allies in 2003. Link to:

*Anti-war movement guide

Valuable links to anti-war Web sites in the United Kingdom, North America, and elsewhere in the world are available at:,12809,884056,00.html

*De-motivate yourself

Whether you're a pessimist, underachiever, or a chronic failure, Demotivators will truly inspire you to new lows! Go now to:

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