In a recent edition of The Stanford Daily, Rev. Geoff Browning wrote an interesting article on peace in the Christian tradition. I say “interesting” because it contained several glaring misconceptions of what the Christian view of peace actually is. As a fellow Christian, I too feel obliged to expose the false notions of war and peace that are widespread around campus.
First, it must be noted that Browning chose to take one errant soldier, whose horrific actions of rape and murder were undoubtedly immoral, to represent the entire military. This certainly does not support his claim that “we must dehumanize the enemy in order to go to war and in order to kill.” In fact, that bold statement, when given only a little thought, appears quite ridiculous indeed. Violence does not require the dehumanization of the aggressor. Browning’s argument assumes that acts of violence must always be committed for their own sake. Christians believe that, since every person possesses intrinsic human dignity, one should never inflict violence upon a person for violence’s sake. However, despite what Rev. Browning would have us think, Christian tradition does not maintain that all acts of violence necessarily take this nature.
To emphasize my point I shall take an extreme example of a father who, when faced with an evil aggressor who will torture and kill his wife and children, uses violent force to defend his family. Surely the father isn’t dehumanizing the aggressor; rather the aggressor has effectively “dehumanized himself.” Moreover, Christians believe that the father is morally obliged to utilize violence for the sake of protecting his family. Similarly, soldiers are forced by their obligation to protect the freedom of the nation’s citizenry to fight against any enemy who would actively seek to destroy it.
Regrettably, Browning seems ignorant (or at least does not acknowledge) the rich tradition of just war theory in Christian literature, a tradition that reaches back at least to St. Augustine. The Bible is a prime example of Christian literature which refutes Rev. Browning’s claims. Jesus Christ used violence when he “entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers…” (Matt. 21:12). Surely, then, the title “Prince of Peace” means something more than sheer pacifism. Indeed, Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Christians understand that the true conception of peace is not compromising with evil in order to avoid conflict. Jesus’s conception of peace is incompatible with enslavement, oppression, etc. Take World War II, for example. We had to fight for true peace, which was incompatible with what the Nazis were doing to the Jews.
The soldiers who serve in our military are true heroes. They are willing to fight for us, to sacrifice friends and family and suffer the horrors of war so that we may live a life of freedom and comfort, blessings we all too often take for granted. They are willing to give their lives for us, even if they go unthanked by ungrateful citizens. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”, Christ tells us (John 15:13). We must not be too quick to criticize the military or what it stands for, though, like all human institutions, it has its faults. We owe these men and women the great honor and support they deserve.