Total War?

John Derbyshire of The Corner at National Review Online says this about war (the link is here. Since The Corner doesn’t have links to individual messages, you can find it at 10:32 a.m. on July 8, 2005):

Wars should be fought with the utmost ferocity, to the complete destruction and humiliation of the enemy, and without any regard to casualties among noncombatants in his territories. To fight a war in any other kind of way is to sow dragon’s teeth, as the second half of the 20th century illustrates. Yet such a war is impossible under present Western sensibilities. America has now been fighting the War on Terror for longer than we fought WW2 — yet we have not even captured Osama bin Laden!

I understand this purist view, though unlike Derb I don’t lament that we can’t pursue it. “Present Western sensibilities” are still influenced (though less than at other times) by Christianity. Though Derb’s war proposal might fit with Saul’s mission to smite the Amelekites, it’s a far cry from Jesus.

When, in recent history, has this kind of war been fought – and by whom? The Axis powers (at least Germany and Japan) fought this way, and in response the Allies tended in this direction. But that was a change in the American way. We certainly didn’t fight that way in our earlier wars (though there were instances during the Civil War, it was never the policy of the US government to fight this way).

IF we can come up with a Christian justification for war, it will not be a justification for this kind of war. The most positive Christian response to war (I don’t count the practice of “Christian” states and organizations since Constantine as seriously Christian) has been the Just War tradition. Its restriction that war must be not only defensive (which Derb would likely have no difficulty with) but proportional form absolute barriers to total war.

MORE: We preachers and church leaders sometimes lament that people don’t focus entirely in their life with God – when we mean something more like their life “with the church.” This kind of totalism sounds so spiritual – but so easily becomes misguided, just as the total war approach.

I will be at the front of the line to argue for the importance of the church and that church is part of what salvation is all about. But in itself it is not what salvation is all about. The life completely sold out and dedicated to God is not about God alone. Back in Genesis when God made Adam, their mutual relationship was perfect. But consider what God did. First God distracted Adam with work – naming and interacting with a bunch of animals. Then God took a more drastic step. Not only was the perfect relationship with God not enough, not only was the naming job not enough, but God own judgment was that Adam needed someone like him: an Eve. I believe that the salvation offered us in Jesus is a restoration of all the good of Edenic existence – except better, and that God wants that salvation to start now. If that is the case, a single minded focus on glorifying God will not lead to a one track mind or a totalizing way of life of absolute focus. God’s simply too big for any single activity of ours to be the complete fulfillment of his will.

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One Response to Total War?

  1. John says:

    The Corner does have permalinks. Click on the time-stamp at the end of each post. That’s it.

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