Who would Jesus conduct "limited air strikes" on?
If the French Press Agency is right, the Vatican has now given its support to American "limited" air strikes to "save Yazidis and Christians" threatened by the armed forces of ISIS who have militarily conquered parts of Northern Iraq.
As a Catholic, I am officially going on record to disagree with the Vatican if this is true.
I am not opposed to American air strikes because military operations like this can produce consequences that are worse than those they claim they aim to solve . . . at least I am not opposed on this basis because I am a Christian. It is true. Nothing like American bombs dropped in the the Middle East (a Eurocentric name for the region) is so likely to provoke the Law of Unintended Consequences. Can I give an example? Only in retrospect, because the thing about unintended consequences for things that are being done now is they are unpredictable. That means they happen, but they can't be predicted. But, as I say, this is not a Christian objection. This is a perfectly reasonable objection from non-Christians. Unpredictability is not a fact of life that is monopolized by Christians. So this is not why I disagree with the Vatican.
The disingenuous nature of the new public boilerplate language that says "Yazidis and Christians" or "religious minorities," to deflect attention from the fact that -- for many Christians -- this became a crisis worthy of air strikes because Christians are being targeted by ISIS? No, this is not my objection to Vatican support for air strikes, though for discerning Christians and non-Christians alike, it is pretty apparent that this crisis -- and it is a humanitarian crisis -- is not one about which we were as equivocal or tepid as we are about the humanitarian crises of Syrians, Sudanese, Congolese, or Palestinians (some of whom are Christians). Of course, Christians should be engaged when they see fellow Christians who are being persecuted; but the attempts, direct and oblique, to evade the accusation of Christian chauvinism by pretending our concern was aroused by the persecution of "religious minorities" raises a question about the consistency of the Vatican's sudden apparent embrace of the F-16 fighter-bomber and Joint Direct Attack Munitions. This is a legitimate criticism from Christians and non-Christians alike; but it is not the basis of my opposition to the Vatican's support for American air strikes against ISIS.
My argument with the Vatican is not my argument that "just war" is not possible in the modern era; even though that is an intramural debate among Christians (though "just war" theory has been tortured by secular authorities, especially in the United States, into a justificatory checklist for war propagandists). It is true that the bursting radii, weapons' standoff, munition velocities, terminal ballistics, infrastructure targeting, and necessary acceptance of "collateral damage" in modern war are all counter to the "just war" principles of discrimination and proportionality; but even that is not the basis of my disagreement with the Vatican. I can and have argued that "just" war is not possible in the modern
epoch; but that leaves the door open to a hypothetical discussion about
"what if" some warmaking power could achieve proportionality and
discrimination. If the US had magic weapons that could seek out and kill only the culpable (they like to claim they do, but they do not), I would still disagree with the Vatican.
I am not disagreeing because the Vatican is itself implicated as the historical agent of the Crusades, of violent anti-Muslimism (and violent anti-Semitism). I am not disagreeing with the Vatican because the Vatican ought to be in a constant state of repentance and contrition about our history. We all should. We have all been the suffering body of Christ, but we have also all been those who crucified that same body. I am not disagreeing with this violent history of Christendom, that constantinian heresy that poisoned us for centuries (and that drives people away from the church to this day). We are a sinful church; and I am a sinful man. I won't throw those stones to justify my belief that this pronouncement of support for air strikes is wrong. I take communion in a Catholic church; and I love the liturgy. I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
And that is my objection.
ISIS is a horror story. I am simultaneously horrified by their cruelties and aware that I am not one of those who is suffering those cruelties. I find the idea of air strikes to relieve that suffering -- even for a moment -- incredibly tempting, even though I am more aware than most of the fictional nature of the "surgical" strike. I spent more than two decades in the war business and ought to know better; but the other thing about being in that business (and about living in a militarized culture) is that people (I) internalize a predisposition to violence because one thing violence does . . . it changes thing fast. To a degree, and in some circumstances, violence works. We know this from swatting an unruly child's behind, from watching television and films, from our own avoidance of situations where we were on the wrong end of violence, and -- for some of us who participated directly in war (or perhaps policing) -- from seeing how a living man can frighten us, and how the fear disappears when that frightening man is dead.
I was trained so well as a sniper that I became a trainer of other snipers. You can't make that experience, the repetition, the body memories of punching out X's at the known-distance range at 800 yards with your .308, the familiarity with the weapons, the memory of the human body and how it collapses (nothing as dramatic as those springboard stunts that Hollywood likes) when it is "neutralized" in that instant when high-velocity ammunition does its nanosecond of anatomical Armageddon. So when I am particularly outraged, by a story about sex trafficking, about soldiers killing children, about cops shooting unarmed teenagers, even by the cynical manipulations of propagandists and politicians, I am subject to fantasies that come, unbidden, that involve my old Remington 700. Don't call the men in the white coats on me; and don't put me on a watchlist. I do not have a rifle any more. I don't shoot any more. I will not even fight back if someone attacks me (though I might flee). I am a pacifist, committed, sworn off of violence before my Creator. What I am saying is that I understand that impulse. Deep down, I do. I know how challenging it has been for other Christians, who are pacifists because they are Christians, to hang onto that eschatological hope that underwrites our refusal to raise our hands (or, by proxy, the hand of our nation) against others . . . no matter what. ISIS is a challenge to us.
Temptation is temptation because it is tempting. It is easy to refuse a temptation that has not been inflamed.
(Need I even mention that killing is a special temptation to males? We boys love war toys.)
But we are followers of Jesus, who told the Tempter "no" when power was offered; and who himself was tortured to death without resisting. When his own disciple came to his aid with the sword, Jesus rebuked him.
Jesus might weep at the horrors in Iraq (and elsewhere) right now; but Jesus -- I just cannot fathom it -- would not tell the Navy to latch the JDAMs under the wings of the F-16. That's the world telling us to do that. That's the Tempter.
Jesus was not crowned in a palace hall, with the soldiers attending, dressed and covered in their polished uniforms. He was crowned with thorns in mockery, became our sovereign on a cross in a field of fly-swarming corpses; and the soldiers? They gambled for his clothes.
He will come again in glory. . .
I believe that. If I didn't, I would say, "Bombs away!" Because if I didn't believe that, I would be telling myself, "We have to do something!" Kill the enemies! But I do not live in an unredeemed world.
. . . to judge the living and the dead.
That is why I disagree with the Vatican. Jesus never ever said, "Kill the wicked to protect the innocent." Never. Not once. He did say, however, to love the enemy and pray for him. He did say that He would be back, with the only justice that can be truly just. We are living between Pentecost and Parousia. God's reign has been established on the cross. If Christ is our sovereign, really, then we may live among a world still in rebellion, with their war planes and bombs and assault rifles and their hatred, with the ability to inflict suffering, terrible suffering; but we are called to trust (radically!) in His promises, even to eschewing self-defense, and embody that holy reign for all to see.
We are not Patton, but Perpetua.