In 1983, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to observe a day of prayer for world peace on the first Sunday of August beginning the next year. That day corresponds to the nearest Sunday to the anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945?the first and next-to-last use of such a weapon. Choosing this date is based on similar reasoning to the choice, for an emphasis on the sanctity of human life, of the nearest Sunday (in January) to the date of the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Many of those who advocated for the August date opposed the January date. Most convention watchers noted in the choice of the August date a not-so-subtle criticism of America’s decision to use nuclear weapons to end our war with Japan.
To be sure, the devastation brought by a single weapon changed the way the world thought about war for the next 44 years. I’d argue, though, that war was not made more horrible by the introduction of nuclear weapons into the world. Neither were the facile arguments of pacifists made more compelling.
Southern Baptists don’t observe as many emphasis Sundays as we once did and I’ve not heard any mention of the Day of Prayer for World Peace in decades. Still, as we approach the anniversary of this decisive air raid, I think of war and peace. As someone who remembers practicing air raid drills (remember the Soviets?) as an elementary student in the 1960s, August 6 marked a defining day for my generation. It’s a good day to think about the morality of devastating conflict.
Only a person who’s been to war or had it brought to his own doorstep could be more convinced than I that war is horrible. Immeasurable tons of precious, carefully made equipment decays at the bottom of the world’s oceans. One nation sacrificed its resources to innovate weapons and equipment while another sacrificed its own to destroy them. Of course, that equipment is accompanied wherever it lays by the young men trained to operate this marvelous machinery. Farmland and cities around the world rest atop fields where soldiers and civilians suffered in service to one cause or another. In some countries, nearly a whole generation of young men was erased by world conflicts of the 20th century. This century’s loss, as well as that of previous ages was always accompanied by disease, famine, brutality, and lifelong sorrow that magnified the tragedy.
It is not humanistic, merely human, to detest this blight that drags humanity back 2.99 steps for every three we take forward. The destruction of wealth and the loss of human potential is always to be dreaded.
But the pacifist response to human conflict has little to offer. We may uplift Gandhi or one of his disciples as an example of a better way that oppressed people might respond to violence. But this kind of non-violent resistance is often parasitic. Gandhi resisted a British empire with a tradition of justice and law. If he’d taken his protest to Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union or the killing fields of Cambodia, or even Tiananmen Square in China, he’d have never been famous. The pacifist believes that anything, everything is better than war.
I still think war is better than enslavement. Notice that it is exceptional that a free nation would go to war with another free nation. There is an aspect of tyranny and conquest on the part of at least one combatant when war breaks out. Our current war on terror is unusual in human history because our enemy is not definable as a particular nation or government. But the goal of our enemy seems to be the establishment of a tyrannical and worldwide Muslim caliphate. The Cold War of the last century involved the attempt by another tyrannical system to establish a worldwide workers’ “paradise.” That Cold War was only cold politically; hundreds of thousands were killed during the 40-year hostilities. Is it a mercy, a series of noble sacrifices, to effectively resist such cruel attempts to coerce even the consciences of men and women?
Any response to the reality of evil in the world and the tendency of evil men to suppress freedom must protect the innocent from the oppressor. Most who believe that non-violent solutions are the only options open to Christians seem willing to accept corporate oppression when push inevitably comes to shove. In God’s rule of Israel he used warriors like Gideon, Samson, and Deborah to protect the nation from its oppressors. During the era of the kings, he used the nation’s army. Pacifists tend to dismiss most Old Testament history, preferring to put words in Jesus’ mouth. In the same way, Romans 13:3-4 becomes a saying of Paul rather than the word of God. Notice even in the Gospels that John the Baptist had no criticism of the career choice of the soldiers who came to him, only demanding that they be just and content with their wages. Neither did Jesus condemn the centurion who came to him on behalf of his sick servant. Peter did not rebuke Cornelius for being a soldier. Perhaps these are arguments from silence to some degree but the more explicit sayings of Scripture are rejected just as easily by those whose hermeneutic is based mostly on a political agenda. </o: