20 Oct 2008

Stupid Wars

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Books, Contemporary Ethics, Kingdom, War -Peace


As one looks back over the millennia of human existence on the 3rd Rock from the Sun there are a couple of things that seemingly have always been there. There has always been family. There has always been religion. And there has always been war. It amazes me just how constant these features are in the human experience.

About two weeks ago I was in Borders with Rachael and Talya looking for the latest volume in the Eragon series and came across a book whose title and cover just caught my fancy … it was Ed Strosser & Michael Prince’s Stupid Wars: A Citizen’s Guide to Botched Putsches, Failed Coups, Inane Invasions & Ridiculous Revolutions. The German soldier on the front was in the same tradition as those dudes in a Guiness commercial. This book is a delight to read. The prose are fluid and digested with ease. As I finished the book I began to ask myself what are the stupidest wars that have been fought. There are so many and how to pick just the ones as the stupidest?? Now I agree with the authors and would list all in the book as “stupid” but how about stupidest? What would your list look like? Here is mine or at least some of them …

The Persian invasion of Greece (4th century BC) which ultimately lead to her complete destruction at the hands of Alexander the Great.

The Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire in the second century AD. Led to the conversion of Jerusalem into a center for Jupiter worship and Jews being literally banned from the city.

The Fourth Crusade of 1198 AD has got to be one of the stupidest episodes in recorded history. Supposedly to rescue the “holy land” from the infidel Muslims the Christians instead destroyed one of the jewels of the ancient world … Constantinople!

Leaping over hundreds of stupid wars we come to the 20th century. The stupid wars in the 20th century are legion. Some you are probably aware of and some you may not be.

How about the invasion/intervention of the United States of Russia in 1918. Now most Americans have never even heard of this but it happened nonetheless. The US participated in an abortive attempt to overthrow Lenin and the Communists. General William Graves, commander of the American forces, retired from the Army in 1928 and wrote a book damning the entire episode. He said, “I was in command of the United States troops sent to Siberia and, I must admit, I do not know what the United States was trying to accomplish by military intervention.” (for those looking for an introduction to this forgotten stupid war look into Robert J. Maddox’s “The Unknown War with Russia: Wilson’s Siberian Intervention”). It was interesting that the first time I ever heard of this war it was from … a Russian!

Hitler’s invasion of Russia in 1941 was incredibly stupid. The carnage of the Eastern Front is completely lost on most Westerners. Battles like Stalingrad and Kursk give a new definition to death. More soldiers died Kursk in a day than the Americans have lost in both Persian Gulf wars combined.

I know it will draw fire but I will mention it any way but the US invasion of Iraq was stupid. I opposed it before it happened but it has turned out to be a very dumb war.

It is important to make this observation, and we see its truth in the words quoted above from General Graves, the average soldier never fights a stupid war. The average soldier gets caught in a stupid war by even stupider politicians. Soldiers, like Graves, served someone elses policy. So I am not criticizing any soldier, sailor or airmen … but simply listing some of the stupidest wars in history in which thousands of soldiers and civilians have suffered and died … often because of an ego that a delusional politician had.

So what would be on your list …

Seeking Shalom,
Bobby V

44 Responses to “Stupid Wars”

  1. Tim Archer Says:

    I’m trying to think of a modern war that wasn’t a mistake…

  2. Duffer Dan Says:

    “Stupid” isn’t a word I’d use to modify “war.” As Tim just said, “tragic” fits along with “unConstitutional” — War of Northern Aggression; Vietnam; and most current one in Iraq.

  3. Jeanne Says:

    Ever heard of the War of Jenkins’ Ear? 1739. England vs Spain. Stupid.

    I don’t know the acceptable ratio of professional soldiers’ lives sacrificed : lives of innocent civilians saved, or how many innocent civilian deaths per capita put a war into the “unacceptable” column, but I know the War between the States made Lincoln– a “hick” president according to his detractors– very unpopular in his day, and in just one 3-day battle of that war (Gettysburg) there were over 50,000 casualties on both sides. Plenty of people called that war a mistake. And others pointed to some of Lincoln’s actions as being downright unconstitutional.

    Maybe the war wasn’t necessary. England managed to outlaw slavery through its Parliament. Meanwhile, “states’ rights” seems to be a non-issue for most people, who don’t even realize states have rights.

    But what if the war had not been fought? How many more years would our country have accepted slavery? Does the amount of people who die in a war matter more than any evil that might be fought against in deciding whether that war was “justified?”

    If you are faced with evil, do you first decide whether the battle will be easy before you decide whether to fight?

    Do you only fight in your own defense, or should you fight to protect others?

    As for Iraq, sure, I know there are those who accuse our leaders of making up imaginary WMD’s or invading for the sake of oil, but as I recall that country was ruled by a despot so evil he would run his enemies feet-first into a shredder just for fun. He was a mass murderer. He killed members of his own family. The United Nations considered him a threat to more than just his own country.

    Calling men (or women) to war is a dreadful thing. The outcome is never sure, and the consequences can be horrible. But calling a war “stupid” because it’s not neat and easy with some black-and-white purity about its inception– I don’t think that’s quite right.

  4. Joshua Jeffery Says:


    I’d say that U.S. Commodore/Solider of Fortune William Walker’s invasion of Nicaragua, and U.S. Commodore Corneilus Vanderbilt’s counter-invasion are one of the sorriest wars ever fought.

    Walker invaded and took over the government of Nicaragua for several reasons. One of those reasons was “Manifest Destiny.” He invaded Nicaragua in an attempt to expand the dominion of the United States, with the final goal of having Nicaragua admitted as a state of the Union.

    Vanderbilt invaded Nicaragua to oust Walker, because Walker was interfearing with a transportation company that Vanderbilt owned and operated in Nicaragua. Vanderbilt’s company helped transport men to California quickly for the gold rush.

    After Vanderbilt had outsed Walker, Walker again took a group to Nicaragua and again invaded and took over the country. This time, Vanderbilt ousted Walker with a group of U.S. Marines. Shortly thereafter he shut down his business because it had become unprofitable.

    There is a new book on this war Tycoon’s War: How Corneilus Vanderbilt Invaded a Country to Overthrow America’s Most Famous Military Adventurer.

    Source: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/News/register/Mar11_02/story8.html

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Tim you are probably correct about the majority of modern wars … and old ones too.

    Dan I agree that “tragic” is a most suitable word when connected to war.

    Jeanne yep heard of Jenkins’ Ear. I don’t know if I am “conservative” or “liberal” on the subject of war but it seems that no non-combatant death is in the acceptable column. As for the “Civil” War there are arguments that go round and round. Lincoln did use some sweeping power at times and yes England did dispense with slavery without bloodshed … before our civil war. It should have been banned in the Constitution but it was not.

    Saddam was evil no doubt…there are plenty of more tyrants too. But the fact remains that the Iraq war did not and does not met the traditional criteria of the “Just War” theory that has been used in Christian ethics for hundreds of years.

    Joshua, I was looking at Tycoon’s War the other day but have not read it yet.

    Bobby V

  6. Jeanne Says:

    Hmm. “Just War” theory says that to be a worthy endeavor, a war must satisfy these conditions:
    1.the damage inflicted by the aggressor… must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    3. there must be serious prospects of success;
    4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

    Sounds good– in theory. Unfortunately, these criteria are very subjective, and might not be positively determined at the outset of a conflict. Item #2, for example, might never be satisfied in the minds of some people. But history shows that appeasement does nothing to curb the appetites of a despot. Item #3should have given Winston Churchill reason to surrender when every country around him was either occupied or against him, and London was in ruins. Items 1 and 4 would be useless as criteria in a situation where the worst horrors occur in secret. How many people knew the full scope of Hitler’s atrocities until after the war?

    If we all were omniscient and as wise as God, choosing when and where to take a stand would be simple. But that’s not who we are. We can only do what we think is the right thing. We have no way of knowing the outcome of any conflict– or avoidance of conflict– until that outcome is already there.

  7. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    I just finished reading this book:

    Choosing Against War – A Christian View: “A Love Stronger Than Our Fears” By John D. Roth (2002)

    I HIGHLY recommend it. Even if you do not agree with the theology – it will make you think. It is also VERY well written – easy-to-read/everyday language.

    Personally – 911 brought about a spiritual mid-life crisis for me. Not the attack itself – but how I saw fellow Christians react to it.

    Since 911 – through further “open eyes” study of the Bible and the early Christians – I have embraced a pacifist* theology (Of course, I’m pretty much belittled in my congregation for growing in that theological direction. However, I think Lipscomb nailed it as he read the Bible in light of the American Civil War.)

    My sense on Just War theory – its just a way to justify war. I see little evidence of this Christian war practice prior to the merging of the church and empire under Constantine.

    Biblically – considering an upside down Kingdom mentality – We (Christians) are are never to repay evil with evil. War even waged for “just” reasons still appears evil to me. [2/3 of my library – 7’x 6′ of books – is military history]

    Again – this (Christian Pacifism)defies the logic of “the world” – but isn;t that the point…..of being Christ-like or his disciple?

    Interesting reading: look up Smedley Butler quotes – Career Marine 2 time Medal of Honor winner – check out his perspective on American Wars and war in general.

    [*Pacifist – does not mean “passive.” It refers to a “peace activist” or one who sekks/makes paeace – i.e Sermon on the Mount “peacemakers.”]


  8. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    It is late – forgive the spelling errors in the previous post 🙂


  9. nick gill Says:

    Ironic that Churchill is brought up. A fair examination of his role in both world wars has lead several to the conclusion that his legacy should bear much more responsibility for them than is popularly understood. Hitler’s audacity and the mythos surrounding the US’s entry into the war has shrouded the fact that Churchill and other British leaders made many decisions in the early decades of the 20th century that incited both conflicts and, in the end, destroyed the British Empire.

    How’s that for stupidity?

    What about America’s war in the Philippines? That was about as moronic a military conflict as was ever initiated.

    And leading a confederation of colonies in revolt over taxation while that very taxation is making many of your most popular citizens incredibly wealthy (through black-market profiteering) seems rather stupid.

    But at heart, we each must wrestle with the fact that while Jesus may indeed have been a pacifist, his daddy doesn’t seem to have been.

    in HIS love,

  10. David Says:

    Each of the crusades from the first (1099 AD) onward set the stage for a thousand years of mutual distrust between east and west. The west isn’t 100% to blame for everything that happened (as the various islamic tribes were often warlike before the crusades), but these wars in the name of religion qualify to me as the stupidest of all wars.

  11. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    Nick –
    I think you just hit it on the head –

    “But at heart, we each must wrestle with the fact that while Jesus may indeed have been a pacifist, his daddy doesn’t seem to have been.”

    Our call as christians is to be followers of Christ or “Christ-like.” If/when we, as Christians embrace, participate, orchestrate, or “cheer lead” for war, then we are being “God-like” – and that doesn’t seem to be our call/role in the world. I think being “God-like” or enforcing his will (or what we perceive – maybe mis-guidedly) on the world puts us in a “higher” theological position than we need to be in.

    Again – if we are to be Christ-like, we need to look to John 3:17 just as much as we look to John 3:16.

    In love,

  12. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    Just one additional thought regarding “just war theory” and “justice” –

    For Christian ethical consistency –

    Who do the vast majority of us (American Christians) advocate national wars in forgeign land based on “justice” – yet only a hanful of us will actually kill an abortion doctor?

    To protect the innocent lives of the unborn – wouldn’t it then be “just” (in god’s eyes) to kill those who would kill the innocent with no second thought?

    Is this difference based on “fear of imprisonment” or consequences only, or is there a Biblical principle that seperates killinf for country with killing to protect the yet-to-be-born?

    Just some thoughts…..I know I’ve hijacked us from the main question.

    IMO I think all wars fit in the stupid/tragic category. Vietnam is pretty big – considering the fact we signed on to Vietnamese election to be held in 1956 – then subverted those election because we knew the Vietnamese people wouldn’t vote the way we wanted them to. “We had to subvert democracy in order to save it.” (??????????) Today Vietnam is communist and we trade with them – what did those 57,000+ americans; larger numbers of vietnamese die for? What were all those life long wounds and missing limps go for? I”get it” – but at the same time – don’t really get it at all (even with the wisdom of that time).

    In Love,

  13. Jeanne Says:

    Sounds like most of you guys are saying that there is nothing worth going to war for– Wow. Do you really believe that?

    Do you really believe that mankind is called to stand by and watch while evildoers wreak havok throughout the world?

    You honestly think that God smiles when men use his son’s name in their refusal to fight against evil?


    Yes, I realize there have been wars fought even in the name of Christianity, with soldiers whose shields were adorned with a cross, which were at best misguided. I doubt that God smiled on that mess. But to assume that no war is worth fighting…

    If some thug were beating me up, and you happened to pass by, please tell me you would come to my defense and beat that guy up. Because I seriously doubt that my temple-fit Savior who found my worthless self worth dying for would simply stand by and beg the bully to stop.

  14. Royce Ogle Says:

    I find it interesting that I am sitting in my comfortable home in N E Louisiana, United States of America reading Christian’s views supporting passivism.

    There would be no United States of America if all of our ancesters had been opposed to war on any ground. Had our country adopted the political theory some of you seem to embrace we would likely be speaking German instead of English.

    It is very easy to be against all war when there is no conflict on our soil, you have money in the bank, the kids are healty, etc. I imagine many people changed their political views after Pear Harbor don’t you?


  15. Guy Gustafson Says:

    Really the stupidest wars are the ones fought within our homes and churches. They are the ones we can all stop… but we don’t, because of the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. We say “they should not have invaded, or gone to war with, or attacked such and such. But, we on a daily basis make those attacks on the ones near and sometimes dear to us. When we can stop the fighting between husband and wife, brother and sister, and congregation and congregation… then we can start talking about stopping global wars. Let’s do our part, maybe they will someday follow our example. In closing, I’m opposed to Chritians going to war, but I believe there always will be war… right up to The Day.

  16. DanO Says:

    For Royce:

    So,let’s see: Jesus had no money in the bank, unless you count Fishes Mouths Federal Savings, lived under occupation, died at the hand of occupiers… and preached just war theory…(?)

    Just a note. ‘Passivism’, if a word, is not what is being supported. It is pacifism. Perhaps not knowing the difference is part of the problem? Pacifism is neither passive or easy. Royce, what you describe as American life is passive materialism. And materialism becomes active when its ‘stuff’ is threatened. That is why we will fight for justice in lands rich with oil, but God help you if you live in Rwanda.

    I don’t think I have the faith or courage to be a pacifist. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” But to characterize ‘pacifism’ as naive or easy simply shows you have never met a pacifist, though perhaps you are surrounded by passivists’.

    Thanks for the post Bobby…

  17. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    Question for Royse (or anyone):

    Based on an honest read of Romans 13: 1-8(?) – weren’t the Founding Fathers (even in all their admitted political worldly wisdom) in rebellion against God when they fought the Revolutionary War and broke from the “authority” of England?

    Additionally, how does Rom. 13 apply to an Iraqi under Saddam Hussein vs. an American under the constitution? Is there American exceptionalism concerning Romans 13? Does Rom. 13 apply differently for those who are oppressed vs. those who are not?

    Personally I am thankful to live in this country and appreciate the freedoms that we have – I just think that God may be responsible for this and deserve the thanks. (But I could be theologically wrong here as well.) again – my trust (as a pacifist) is directly in god to protect me – “Trust in God not in horses and chariots” paraphrased from Proverbs and psalms – not sure exact chapter/verses.

    In Love,

  18. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    Jeanne –

    Another question to consider –

    Does God smile when his followers use evil to overcome evil?

    [Im straying from war here, but -In political campaigns (BOTH sides)is it ok for Christians to “bear false witness” if it is for the overall greater good? (I doubt if God smiles too much at how American presidential campaigns are run or how divisive they are to his body.)]

    Again – For Christians – Does the ends justify the means? Is it ok to use evil to overcome evil? According to Paul (and Jesus?) and other early Christians – the answer clearly is “no.”

    In love,

  19. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    The Jerusalem Bible reads, “Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force” (James 4.1-2)

    Thought I would just quote some scripture …

    Guy you are, of course, quite right.

    Jeanne the Just War theory was actually developed first by Augustine and then nuanced by Thomas Aquinas and it was the Christian “permission” to engage in warfare. Before the time of Augustine the universal position of the church was it was against the law of God for a Christian to kill even in the military. This is just a fact of history.

    This post was NOT written to promote Pacifism or critique it. But we often do engage in wars that having nothing to do with even the “permission” to engage in warfare.

    One can read KINGDOM COME for my own views on such matters …

    What ever ones position on those things we need love for all and respect for all even when we disagree.

  20. cwinwc Says:

    Interesting conversation.
    There is no doubt that some wars have been stupid and perhaps all wars have their level of stupidity.

    Nevertheless Jeannea and Royce have their points. The very fact that we can have this intellectual conversation about “war” in a country devoid of it, is a testament to the men and women who have protected this country in peacetime and war and especically to those who have paid the ultimate price with their lives.

    Where would we be now if when attacked at Pearl Harbor or 9/11, we had not defended ourselves and to a great degree, the Western World.

    I find it interesting that Jesus commends a Roman Centurion, a professional soldier who is occupying his homeland with having greater faith than anyone from Israel. He has the chance to say, “Sorry, but I don’t help guys who make war.”

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I agree with Bobby in that wars can be stupid. I disagree with the thought that there is never a time to stand up and defend yourself or your country from evil.

  21. Greetings From Tucson Says:

    Very interesting conversation today…
    A quote that is often attributed to Edmund Burke is “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
    I hate war. I believe there are some dumb wars. But, the caveat is also that sometimes war is necessary, and we need to be careful to support and differentiate those who fight in the war from those responsible for the war.
    Jeanne, I think that you should teach history next year when your kids go back to school.
    Has anyone else seen Charlie Wilson’s War? The movie was based on a supposedly true story about the first war in Afghanistan. Of course, Hollywood put their spin on it, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.
    – Sandy

  22. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    I am delighted by the conversation and encouraged by the “tone” of it so far. Again my hope was simply that some might find the book interesting and read it. I do not think the authors of STUPID WARS are pacifists.

    However, I will interact with the direction of some of the comments. It is SO easy to caricature an opposing point of view rather than actually deal with it. This happens a great deal with pacifism. As was pointed out to Royce who used the term “passivism,” which I will assume was simply a mistake, a misrepresentation of Pacifism. A Pacifist does not simply “do nothing.”

    I think the first step to any ethical decision is to ascertain as best as possible what the Scriptures teach on something. I have come to the conclusion that the New Testament teaches a non-violent ethic. Some will disagree with me and that is their right. But I do believe that that is what the NT teaches. Easy to do … no!

    I believe the NT teaches that Christians are part of a “new creation” or a “new humanity” and as such are “resident aliens” in the present fallen world. We are neither Jews or Greeks or Barbarians or in contemporary lingo we are not Russians, Germans, Japenese or Americans we are something quite different. We are the FUTURE ON DISPLAY. We are the beach head of the Kingdom of God. First Peter is loaded with this imagery and it actually undergirds a great deal of the NT.

    The early church, and this is a matter of historical record, was completely pacifistic. This was precisely the “issue” that many Romans had with early christians because they were thought to be “disloyal” to the Empire. Tertullian’s work shows this clearly.

    In our own restoration tradition, the Churches of Christ, were a Pacifist tradition and began to go through a transformation in the wake of World War I. Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, Moses Lard, David Lipscomb, James A. Harding, J. W. McGarvey, etc were all pacifists. I recommend googling Alexander Campbell’s “ADDRESS ON WAR” or David Lipscomb’s CIVIL GOVERNMENT to simply see “why” these men took the position they did. It is to easy to criticize but more difficult to understand.

    It is intersting that pacifists have lead the way in some major global change. Two that come to mind are Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. Ghandi directly roots his pacifism in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth (even though he was not a Christian this was what he thought the Sermon on the Mount taught). MLK Jr likewise believed non-violence was the only way to make lasting and positive change in segregation. So it is possible to address evil without war.

    To me what bothers me more than a person believing that war is possible in certain circumstances is the uncritical religious nationalism that pervades so much American evangelicalism … This I do believe is dangerous. If we have folks who actually (like Shaun Casey) a Just War advocate then this would be a major step forward to witnessing to the kingdom of God.

    Bobby V

  23. blogprophet Says:

    let’s see here…
    if war is categorically wrong, then we should have not rebelled from england, fought germany, etc.

    God doesn’t want us to live without religious and political freedoms, or under any govt besides a democracy, and he wants us to be materially blessed,

    therefore, war must be okay in some cases for a Christian

    logic sums it up, yep

  24. blogprophet Says:

    had to jump in, been reading the Myth of a Christian Nation by gregory boyd and loving it

    RE: the prayer post,
    albert lemmons was at my place a couple of weeks ago. great guy. he mentioned knowing you, I think I brought up your book while we were talking bible stuff

  25. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Just a few questions for the sake of playing devil’s advocate here …

    Where in the Bible is democracy ever even for a second envisioned? Paul said pray for kings. The government in Romans 12 and 13 being discussed was one that was headed by Nero who many believed to be a demon incarnate … I do not think Saddam Hussien was materially worse than Nero or Domition or (many others that can be listed …)

  26. Josh Says:

    I blogged a while back on Focus on the Family and their religious nationalism. I didn’t get around to doing it, but I have one of their audio records stating that God pretty much invented Democracy and that was his plan. I just dig that up and post it with commentary.

    I think part of the problem is that many Christians come to the question of whether or not war is ethical through pragmatism. Instead, Christians must come to answers about ethics theologically.

    I think this conversation shows just how much we have found ourselves embedded in our own culture.


  27. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    A couple “Stupid” War quotes/thoughts to ponder:

    “War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe,
    as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people.
    Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted
    for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.” -Smedley Butler – (one of only 2 Marines in the history of the Corp to win the Medal of Honor twice. Served from 1898-1931. ended his service at the rank of Major General – began as an enlisted man.)

    “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” – Smedley Butler

    “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National city Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested” – Smedley Butler

    Just a note – Butler was no Pacifist.

    “The powers in charge keep us in a perpetual state of fear keep us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant sums demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.” Douglas MacArthur (obviously toward the end of his life looking back at his career)

    “Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” – Herman Goering, German Nazi official, Hitler’s successor – at the Nuremburg Trials.

  28. Jeanne Says:

    I am truly sorry for Mr. Smedley Butler. Unfortunately, when idealist meets reality the result is usually complete disillusionment, which becomes cynicism. The former idealist protects himself by wrapping himself in a more “sophisticated” version of reality, i.e.,that it’s every man for himself and there is no honor, no altruism, nothing selfless in this world. Every man’s motives are assumed to be evil.

    I couldn’t live like that, myself.

    Of course there is nothing inherently Christian about democracy. Those Christians in the first chapters of Acts sounded downright communist (didn’t seem to work out in the long run, though.) The Greeks of the 6th century BC who are generally credited with the idea were certainly not Christian; it is even a matter of debate whether some of our country’s founding fathers, or the philosophers they based their ideas upon, would be considered “christian,” “deist,” or something else.

    But that’s not the issue. We don’t go to war with a country to change its system of government. Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea– they can be as communist as they like. Not my idea of a pleasant way of life, but I personally like my freedom. We don’t go to war to prevent religious persecution; Christians are legally or illegally martyred all over the world and we leave that in God’s hands. Certainly pacifism in the face of religious perscution is scriptural.

    Gandhi and King are great examples of pacifism. It must be noted, however, that their respective enemies– the British empire and the people/government of the United States– were capable of being shamed by non-violence into changing their behavior as well as their laws. Could this have worked for Adolf Hitler? Imagine the Jews holding a sit-in after Kristallnacht. Singing “We shall Overcome” on the train ride to Auschwitz. Don’t think so. Nor do I think Saddam Hussein would have been impressed by non-violent-protest. To truly evil men, non-violence is a laughable invitation to genocide.

    The question in this discussion seems to me to be, is war inherently stupid/wrong/evil? More to the point, is the war in which our country currently finds itself engaged evil?

    One thing impressed me early on in this war: while the “other side” was using civilians as human shields, recruiting women and children to be suicide bombers– yeah, I’d say that was evil– our government was working on ways to make weapons more precisely target the aggressors themselves. This was the very opposite of “WMD.”

    Of course not every difficult decision our leaders make has the intended outcome. But we shouldn’t the motives of our leaders are evil simply because we don’t agree with them.

  29. Keith Brenton Says:

    There was an outstanding debate-by-publication between Lee Camp and Rubel Shelly in New Wineskins a few years back:

    Just War – Quandary of Christian Conscience (Shelly)

    Pacifism – The Case for Christian Non-Violence (Camp)

    Lee Camp’s Response to Rubel Shelly

    Rubel Shelly’s Response to Lee Camp

    My thoughts: Any war that takes place without at least a prelude of diplomacy and negotiation, then attempts at economic and political persuasion/sanction with the cooperation of other free nations, is a stupid war.

    Sure, I know there is strategic advantage to a surprise first strike. I also understand that the resulting collateral damage can be devastating, leading to ruined relationships between peoples and races and nations that last for centuries.

    God directed Saul to completely obliterate the Amalekites. Jesus established a kingdom foothold during a Roman occupation with no more military casualties than the ear of a high priest’s servant – and He healed that. Yet Jesus and the Father are one, He says. And I believe Him.

    War and its conduct is a matter of discretion, not all-good or all-evil … which is why Bobby’s question is legitimate: Which are the stupid wars?

    That can include which ones were stupid from inception and which ones were stupid through execution.

    In my personal opinion, the war in Iraq as a response to the 9-11 attacks missed the target by hundreds of miles. If the invasion of Iraq had been “sold” to the American people and allies as a necessary response to an out-of-control despot destroying a minority ethnic group wholesale, I think the case could have been made easily and most Americans and allies would have climbed aboard the war-wagon. As it was, we were sold either inaccurate or falsified intelligence about military might and intent. Either way, that makes it a stupid war.

    Yet, once you’re in it, no amount of retrospective or latter-day wisdom can relieve you of the responsibility to do as well as you can by the citizens of the nation you have invaded, so my respect and admiration for the American and alliance troops who have done so knows no bounds.

  30. kingdomseeking Says:

    Is the goal of the Christian to protect another from injustice and prevent acts of injustice or is the goal to be faithful witnesses to the victory of God’s redemptive gospel? Disciples are called to love the enemy rather than destroy the enemy because it is that love that bears witness to God’s victory, the Lordship of Jesus, and the new kingdom world God is bringing about.
    Such witness does not passively do nothing about injustice, instead it acts in the ways that are consistant with the gospel it is bearing witness too. Such actions may include allowing a battered family to stay in one’s house in order to protect the family from the abuser. Or it may include standing in front of a tank with those who are unjustly being persecuted. But that is where faith through the avenue of prayer comes in. Such witness requires are complete trust (faith) that God is sovereign and act in favor of what is right when God chooses to act.
    This is precisely where I see most of us struggling. Can we trust in and wait upon God as Jesus did when he was being marched up to the place called Golgatha? In Acts 4.23-30, after Peter and John’s arrest and release, we do not find the church plotting away to overthrow their persecutors or planning some other way in which they might take charge of the situation themselves and right the wrong. Instead we find the church going to God in prayer asking for God to act. Acts 4.31 tells us that the church was filled with the Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. This is important for at least two reasons. First, the actions the church did make were only in response to and a result of the action that God took first. Secondly, the action the church took was ‘witness’ through the means of preaching, which reminds us of something very necessary when we encounter injustice — the preaching of God’s word. Preaching the gospel is still a very powerful weapon but it requires trust and dependence upon God as well.
    In the case of WWII and Nazi horror, the church was powerless because the major majority of professing Christians living in Germany had already sold themselves out to the nationalistic service of Nazi rule. How can the church bear faithful witness to the gospel when it is being seduced into slavery to the powers of this world (a critical question for Christians living in the USA)? As The result is that evil is given ground because the salt lost its saltiness.


    As for the US involvement in WWII as a response to the injustice of the Nazi regime… I have no doubt that there were many soldiers who believed they were fighting to stop the horrors of Nazi terror and even though I question the ethics of Christians participating in violence, I respect those soldiers who made the sacrifice for someone/something other than themselves. But the croonies in Washington DC did not get us involved in WWII because of the ongoing Holocaust. How long were the Nazis imprisoning and exterminating people before the US entered the war? Further more, if we were so concerned with injustice in Europe, why did we tolerate Russian Gulag? The politicians who got us in the war did so only when Germany and Japan became a threat to their own power. At the end of the day that is what all wars seem to be about… the preservation of power. What all the powers fail to realize is that Jesus Christ has been crucified and resurrect and now reigns as Lord, therefore all these powers are already standing in defeat.

    Grace and peace,


  31. Eric Hallett Says:

    What a fascinating discussion. Just to drop names, Shaun Casey came a visitin’ to our little ole’ congregation this past Sunday evening. Without knowing he was going to be there, I preached from Isaiah 40, spoke about the elections and read a prayer by Walter Brueggemann on the “Noise of Politics”. Funny how traditionally conservative Indiana has become a surprising battleground state in this election. BTW, how’s that for a war cliche? Politics as a battle!

    I do have to say that justifying war out of hand because we have perhaps, in some way, benefitted from past wars does not necessarily justify those wars. This is me playing Devil’s Advocate, but perhaps we shouldn’t have rebelled against England. Perhaps we shouldn’t have fought against Germany. That doesn’t diminish, in my mind, the sacrifices of those who struggled against evil at those times. And notice I said “we”. Polemics aside, I do indeed enjoy the benefits of this society based on the shed blood of too many young men and women rather than the shed blood of Christ.

    It does make me reflect on the complexity of situations that led-up to many wars. The nationalism and economic interests that played into WWI were a result (at the risk of oversimplifying) of placing Caesar before God. The uncharitable policies that were intended to punish Germany after that war were a direct cause of WWII. And there were many causes, to be sure, but “Christian Nations” throughout history sure seem to act in their own best worldly interests first.

    As for me, I’d rather stand for the cause of Christ than the cause of any nation. I am most certainly uncomfortable linking godliness to patriotism.

  32. David Says:

    Maybe it’s a bit late for this comment…but maybe since the direction of the comments has gone more towards patriotism and the quandry of submission to the powers that be vs. freedom maybe it would fit:

    Has anybody seen that Dave Miller DVD about ‘The Silencing of God’ in which ‘libruls’ and ACLU types are called out for their hating of America? The underlying theme of the DVD is that since America is so much less ‘Christian’ these days because of evil liberal judges, this is the reason we are going down the toilet.

    I’m not a big fan of Dave Miller and though I think he makes some good points about the intent of the founding fathers and how that is now being ignored, I wonder if his concern for a ‘Christian’ nation (and thus our willingness to fight wars to preserve a so-called Christian nation) has overwhelmed a desire to truly be followers of Christ and be willing to accept persecution for our faith.

    It seems to me that we have forgotten that the kingdom of heaven is not about eating and drinking but also not about political power and ‘rights’ as we define them in the constitution. Instead, a genuine focus on the true kingdom of God will lead us to not worry so much about what the supreme court is doing or about the direction of American culture, but instead will make us truly want to be salt and light regardless what others may say and do.

    And this well might make us pacifists, a despised minority in any age in which such political rights and ‘freedoms’ are at the forefront of public discussion.

    Anyway…I’d be curious if anybody has seen that DVD and their take on how it relates to this discussion.

  33. Jeanne Says:

    Haven’t seen the dvd, but it sounds interesting. I believe, though, that we should not confuse the question of participation in earthly military action with participation in the battles of the kingdom of heaven. The former is one that can be debated; the latter is pretty clear. Still, I do not see anything that specifically addresses the rightness or wrongness of military conflict in scripture. The very fact that men like Shelly and Camp can have a debate over this same issue, that Augustine and his group felt the need to set out “rules,” and that Christians can have opposing but equally passionate positions on the same question, suggests to me that there is no clear directive here.

    War is such a huge fact of life on this planet, you’d think God would have plainly yea’d or nayed our participation in it. (“Thou shalt not murder” doesn’t quite cut it, when he also authorizes the death penalty for various offenses.) But he doesn’t. Could it be that, just as he puts our leaders in authority over us– good and bad– he works through military action as well? He certainly did in the Hebrew Bible. And nothing can convince me, whatever our leaders’ motive were, that God did not use our military men to rescue the victims of the Holocaust. Just as men can be good leaders with plenty of flaws, so I believe a war can have a positive outcome, though never a perfect one.

    It is obvious that Jesus was not a man of the sword– other than a spiritual one; still, as has been noted, his words of condemnation were reserved for religious leaders who killed the soul, not military leaders. Do we assume that Jesus condemned participation in earthly war by default, because he was focused on his spiritual kingdom? We know “our battle is not against flesh and blood,” but does focusing on spiritual warfare necessarily preclude physical warfare?

    It would be nice if war were a cut-and-dried issue, if we could all confidently say either, “God condemns Christian participation in war” or “God blesses Christian participation in war.” Of course it seems counterintuitive that anything involving death could be blessed by God. Death is ugly, and it was not God’s will for his creation. But I believe the scriptures are very clear that God is more concerned with spiritual death than the physical. Kill the body, and God will raise it again; kill the spirit, and a child of God is lost for eternity. But Jesus’ death at the hand of his Enemy did wonderful things for us. As Christians, we know that laying down our lives for another is a good thing. Turning the other cheek is for when we ourselves are attacked; protecting others at the risk of their own lives is what our soldiers do every day. This to me is the definition of Christian participation in war.

    As much as we would wish it were, war itself seems no more prohibited in the Bible than many other far more trivial matters that we Christians debate over.

  34. kingdomseeking Says:

    I have watched some of the DVD but the basic thesis is one I disagree with. I won’t go into the reasons here (since I already made one long post) but not every person is convinced that the USA was founded upon and as a Christian nation. Though I appreciate the effort of Dave Miller to speak about something he apparently is passionate about, I am suspicious that such an effort will only further help nationalize a certain segment of Christians to a state agenda while also further polarizing a Christianity that is sadly already dividing along the lines of Democrat and Republican.

    Grace and peace,


  35. blogprophet Says:

    i never even opened the Silencing of God DVD, i meant to use it as a bad example in my sermon series but forgot

  36. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Greetings to all who have been well behaved in this discussion which is often overly “emotional.” Usually when the subject of peace/pacifism comes up Hitler immediately comes up, grandpa or brother also is not far behind (vets in WWII or in Iraq or Afganistan right now). First I remind everyone that that wasn’t the point of the original post. Second, though I have my views on the war/peace issue I have plenty of respect for those who have actually thought this through and landed in a different place.

    YET I think it is worth discussing and it is worth hashing out just how and why we arrive at an ethical decision. I do not believe pragmatism is the option. As for Hitler I recommend as brutally honest and will make you look in the mirror now matter where you come down:


    A most outstanding book. For those at PV I have it in my library for those else where it is on Amazon.

    Two more observations on regarding the Hebrew Bible and the other Jesus’ context. The Hebrew Bible is not a cart blanch endorsement of war or violence. Joshua is a unique book and I have not heard of any leader getting marching orders from Yahweh to be used as God’s instrument of judgment … We can discuss this in more detail if need be.

    Second, Jesus’ message was understood in the first centuries as quite “political.” To say that God is more interested in our “spiritual” as opposed to our “physical” well being is, in my opinion, very mistaken because it makes a claim that I do not believe scripture will sustain that our “spirit” is more valuable than our body. Jesus saves all of who we are not just an unseen part.

    For those unfamiliar with the history of Christian pacifism it usually comes as a shock just adamantly pacifist the early church was. Again this was rooted in the theology of the Kingdom of God which has all but disappeared in Churches of Christ …

    Well I will stop rambling here. I again think from an exegetical standpoint that there is not a verse in the NT that endorses violence. This is what I believe but I have not yet figured out how to LIVE it.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby V

  37. DanO Says:

    Thanks Bobby for allowing this discussion to take place. One of the important points that is often overlooked (at least for just war advocates) is to condemn wars that are not just. The allowance that some wars might possibly be just, does not mean that a just war has been waged or will be waged. It seems the book you mention is geared toward this oversight.

    I think that no war is truly just- that all are signs of our depravity, no matter how virtuous, brave and compassionate those who wage them might be. It is a another indication of how far we are from God’s ‘Shalom’ as you so often phrase it.

    As much as I like Clint Eastwood, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ does not refer to a revolver. And as ol’ Clint so eloquently appended his earlier in career in Unforgiven, redemptive violence is our American Myth, but it is finally and ultimately a false myth.

    (Dan from Folsom, PA)

  38. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    First, let me apologize for posting so many comments here as well as being responsible for adding and taking this into the “pacifist” discussion. However, this is an area that I have sincerely thought about and have studied over the fast few years. (Also – in full disclosure – while I’m convinced – thru recent study – pacifism is what Jesus taught, modeled, and expects us to follow….I have a huge collection and continue to collect military diecast aircraft. I struggle with this….Does my collecting glorify war and thus contradict my theological conclusions???)

    Additionally, I would not want to come off as “arguing” or fighting with fellow Christians over the idea of pacificm. (That would be pretty hypocritical. 🙂 “Fighting for pacifism.”) And, while I do passionately present the perspective – I am not trying to judge or come off as judging others who have come to a different theological conclusion.

    Having said that, I would like to continue and add more to this discussion – simply “presenting a perspective.”

    I can’t remember where I hear this said, but someone once said – “Its not about what you would give your life for, but what you are willing to kill for that matters.”

    So, the question for me becomes:

    What is scripturally ok for a Christian to kill for? (Actually take another life who was also created in the image of God.)

    Almost (every?) American war has been framed as “Fighting for our freedoms.” So, Is it ok for a Christian to kill another human being for his/her own freedom?

    I see this directly addressed in NT scripture regarding slavery. Slavery being the very essence of all individual freadoms being stripped away.

    In America, we see slavery as (probably) one of the worst evils imaginable. Yet in the NT – Christian slaves are told to obey their masters – even the most cruel – as if they were obeying the Lord. Runaway Christian slaves are told to go back to their slavemaster. Again, clearly according to the writers of the NT – slaves are not even to resist their evil masters – cetainly not rebel or kill for their personal freedom.

    I read that as clearly being against the Kingdom of God to kill for freedom. It is also a clear contradiction of the idea presented that – “(Political)freedom is God’s gift to the world.” [There is clearly a God given, Jesus paid for, freedom given in scripture – it just is not political in nature.]

    Additionally, I’m currently in the middle of a short book called –

    “You Shall Not Kill” or “You Shall Not Murder”? The Assault on a Biblical Text by Wilma Ann Baily

    Is their a translation issue here?

    For the Hebrew word translated: “kill” seems to be too broad in scope, while “murder” seems too narrow. (This based on the other 15(?) times that Hebrew word is used in the Bible.)

    Additionally – the English word “murder” is a legal term. If the modern argument is that its ok to kill as long as the killing is legal (NOT murder)- i.e. war, capital punishment, self-defense, etc. – then that brings up problems for a consistent Christian pro-life ethic. “Murder” is based on laws that change through time and culture vs. God’s law which would be constant.

    (I don’t belive this it is ok for a Christian to perform abortions – because I think we/Christians are called to a consistent value of life) However – if the legal term “murder” is used to define what kind of killing is “ok” for Christians, then a Christian could argue that “as long as abortion legal, then its ok for Christians to perform, participate in and or have abortions.” I know the first read of that will cause a “that’s a ridiculus argument” response – but based on translation, logic, consistency – it is just as valid as arguing that it is ok for Christians to kill in war because war is legal to participate in. Again – let me empasize “murder” is a LEGAL term – based on societal definitions. “Kill” is not a legal term.

    I think – based on scripture – AChristian should not participate in killing of any kind – i.e. abortion or war (Or capital punishment – based on Jesus and the woman caught in adultry as well as other scriptural reasons I won’t add because this comment it too lang anyway 🙂 )

    Additionally – there has been a historic evolution in American churches to accepting the “murder” translation over the “kill” translation in the commandment. “Murder” seems to be more widely accepted/embraced since WWI to the mid 1900’s by several American denominations. To me it seems to coincide with the emergence of our nation as a full-fledged superpower and the “threat” of Communism. As US national interests changed, so did the American Christian perspective on the “Thou shall not kill/murder” change to widen the definition of appropriate Christian killing.

    I would say – regarding war – even very intelligent, thoughtful, sincere, loving Christians can easily be blinded by nationalism. It took a long time for me to see the Bible/Jesus from a Kingdom of God perspective vs trying to fit my world view into scripture.

    (Are we supposed to simply have “faith in Christ” or are we supposed to have the “faith OF Christ”? to illustrate the difference – “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord…” vs. “Take up your cross and follow me.” The latter being the call for us to live the faith/example of Christ – including non-resistance.)

    Based on Mat. 5-8, didn’t Jesus call us to go above and beyond the OT/Ten commandments – For me, I just don’t understand how I could both “love my enemy” as I put a bullet through his forehead from long distance with a sniper rifle.

    Again – sorry for the long rant/perspective. Its just a topic I’m passionate about. AGAIN – I’m just presenting a theological perspective – not judging anyone. One day – hopefully – while we are all sitting at God’s feet – we can ask him to settle all this by telling us what he really intended.

    In love,

  39. Eric Hallett Says:

    Man, Doug, you took away my book recommendation. I had the honor to study Hebrew with Dr. Bailey at CTS. I am far from a Hebrew scholar, but that little book was quite accessible even to those with no knowledge of Hebrew despite the fact it is making a translation argument.

  40. Matthew Says:

    There has been a lot in the world and a lot in the church. Before we make fight, let’s make some sense of why we are fighting in the first place.

  41. postmodernpastor Says:

    yeah, but war can be good, war can be bad,
    what about the hearts of those men fighting the war??

  42. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    “postmodernpastor said…

    …what about the hearts of those men fighting the war??”

    I don’t think anyone here is about judging men/women who are soldiers. That is not our role – and is certainly WAY above my theological pay grade.

    Based on my reading of verteran accounts – I think those “hearts” are as varied/diverse as the bodies they are in.

    Here is a very interesting link/read. An open letter to Christian soldiers – from a 30 yr. veteran – self described as “one of those atheists in the foxholes” – who came to Christ after his service at age 56.

    Take the time to read it – it is a very interesting, well-thought-out perspective w/ solid theology.


    (I’d be very interested to here reactions to this open letter.)

    In love,

  43. lmouser Says:

    Very interesting subject with some great comments.

    Perhaps our frontier wars with the American Indian nations were about as stupid as it gets. Our nation decided it was our “manifest destiny” to annihilate, or basically imprison any Indian who resisted our advances to steal their land.

    I wonder how God will judge the Christian soldier who killed an American Indian that was defending his own country!

  44. Joshua L. Pappas Says:

    Phew, what a discussion. I am in the struggle of a lifetime with this issue. Not for my sake, I am resolutely unable to participate in war, and am teaching my sons that Christians do not participate in it.

    My problem is with self-defense. Right now I think your final decision about the war subject depends on what you decide about the Christian position on self-defense. I’ll write about it on my own blog when I’m ready, which may or may not be soon.

    However, I imagine I’ll end up right where Bobby and a few of you others is/are on the subject knowing how my progression of understanding has gone so far.

    If it’s ok to fight for your country, then it’s okay for them to fight for theirs too. Then it’s ok to kill brethren in Christ in favor of this world. That’s an inevitable ethical dilemma of approving of war–not to mention killing people we’re supposed to be saving.

    I don’t understand why people who are supposed to be dying every day are so concerned with killing to right wrongs that the Lord will eventually avenge in his own way/time.

    “We do not war according to the flesh” (2 Cor 10). Can we compartmentalize our Christian life to say: “This I do as part of my Christianity,” and “This I do not do as part of my Christianity”? If not, I don’t see how we can rightly make war the way the world does (i.e. through bloodshed).

    Anyway, on topic, perhaps the only wars that were not stupid in one or more ways were those commanded by God. I have no doubt that he uses wars today to accomplish his will, but as Sovereign of the Universe he has every right to use the evil that men do against them as he has the right to use the good for the good, and so on. God has always used what men do to bring about his ultimate will, and he has punished people for doing things that he used them to do. Lipscomb explains the inns and outs of this fact excellently in “Civil Government.”

    Love to you all! It’s good to discuss deep issues with people that love each other and have patience with each other.

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