Defeating Our Enemies

Although I am convicted of the truth of nonviolent and pacifistic approaches to everything, suppose for a moment, that we’ll grant that there are enemies out there that must be defeated by force. This enables us to look at the logic of violence from this angle: what if we did, indeed, defeat all of our enemies? What if we had succeeded in neutralizing (read: killing) every single enemy of ours?

What in the hell (that we had created) would we then do with ourselves? Would we know who we are without an enemy?

More importantly, why do we ever even imagine that this is possible? I think that I’d have to kill every last person on the planet to meet this goal. And then kill myself, since I find it very hard to stand myself sometimes.

I think if you really follow the logic of war, that the complete annihilation of the human race is the only way to “win” against all of our enemies. Jesus is sounding more and more realistic all the time:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28)

21 responses to “Defeating Our Enemies”

  1. You’ve misunderstood the military option- we don’t kill all our enemies; just enough to nullify them and cower the rest. Unfortunately we are going up against people who think nothing of dying and use weaponary that doesn’t require a large support infrastructure.

    However it does work- the civilian population tends to get sick of the bloodshed rather quickly. American military forces show a surprising good ability to not get themselves killed (only 3000 casulties so far), reducing the outcry at home.

    Basically it comes down to the fact that if you aren’t willing to fight, die and kill someone else who is will rule over you. Pacificism doesn’t work- passive resistance only becomes an option when a society is pasifistic and gets itself overrun.

    We don’t need enemies to know who we are. We need enemies only to know whom to kill.

  2. Samuel Skinner: Well, I’m not going to wade too deeply into this one, as I find every presupposition that you’re working with flawed. War is a reality yes, but that does not make it necessary. Thank God for the Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King Jr.’s of the world who have shown that nonviolent resistance (which is not the same thing as pacifism) is indeed a viable option to expose and overcome practices of domination by sheer brute force.

  3. Uh, social Darwinism would be insisting war is necesary to improve the human race.

    I believe war is necesary to kill people. Specifically the people who want to kill you. Knock it if you wish, but it works.

    MLK had to use nonviolent resistance- blacks were a minority, unarmed and with a just cause. It is worth noting that Emancipation was achieved by force of arms.

    Ghandis system managed to lead to the break up of India into two rival states, India and Pakistan. Also it only worked because the British ran out of money (I’m not kidding- decolonization happened due to increasing world opinion pressure and the increasing bill due to unrest, a cost the war weary British couldn’t pay).

    Nonviolent Resistance doesn’t work except under limited circumstances. For example, see what happened to the Jews. It wouldn’t have worked in Nam, Afghanistan, North Korea, Sov Union… Saying that it is a viable alternative to sheer brute force ignores the reason why brute force works- it makes living people dead.

  4. Samuel Skinner: War (and attitudes such as yours) certainly works. It works to ensure a steady supply of people who want to kill you.

  5. Lets look at it this way- there are people who want to kill us in the world. They will try to kill us. If we don’t prepare to stop them we will die. This applies equally well to today, as well as the first wars, the world wars and a spate in between. While not all wars are good causes (the majority aren’t), there are more than enough where there is an aggresor. What do you plan on doing in a situation like that? Roll over and die? The sickly defeatist talk prevades Europe (which is the reason I try to be as bombastic as possible- moving radical as far as possible so moderates look more attractive).

    War kills people. It can be pointless and brutal. But if you aren’t willing to defend yourself the results can be worse. A big reason Europe fell to the Nazis is because no one was willing to stop them.

    As for me being a Christian… that is funny. Very funny… well, no… could be a Dominist or Christian Nationalist. No Flyer I’m an atheist.

  6. Well there’s the problem Mr. Skinner, your tradition (nationalism, etc..) has its bottom lines: survival, perhaps even wealth. But my tradition tells me 2 things that are relevant here; they are bottom lines for me and mine,

    1. We will all be killed in the end

    2. Being faithful to my tradition is more important than being successful. This in fact is success in the eyes of my tradition.

    So not to nullify the conversation but it seems clear to me that Mr. Skinner has no reason to hold a Christian pacifist stance (not being a Christian himself) and Flyer and Wiebe have no reason to hold a nationalist/survivalist position (not being themselves of the religion of the nation state)

    We imitate that which we love and serve.

  7. I was basically going to leave this one alone at this point, but thanks Joel for introducing a new angle that I think sheds some light on the situation. We imitate that which we love, indeed.

  8. I don’t see this as having to do with ‘nationalism.’ This is simply about law and order. If we must “love our enemies,” does that mean we should abolish the police force? Should SWAT teams show up at riots and hostage scenarios prepared to hand out daisies, hugs, and copies of the gospel of John? If Israel fired its army and threw all its weapons into the sea, do you honestly think militant Palestinians would do nothing? How effective will the UN and the AU be in Darfur without guns? Acknowledging the justification of war does not automatically make one a nationalist. Nor does it suddenly mean that, by default, one supports the war in Iraq or our current administration (admittedly not something you said, but something which I presume you might be inclined to think).

  9. My guess at Skinner’s ‘tradition’ is unimportant, a.k.a. where I said “nationalism,’ you may say “insert tradition here.” My point is and was that we are formed by our tradition (those convictions and communities which we hold to be authoritative) and in this discussion I understand why there are different conclusions being drawn: we come from very different traditions.

    I believe in a God who saves, not a God who gives me the job to save.

    He operates the saving by force, not the usual kind of force, but by a resistance of nonviolence.

    by this kind of real death and real resurrection, he shows me how i and the community that believes in him are to respond to power which abuses.

    I DON’T mean:

    laying down to die.


    being a doormat for powerful evils to wipe their feet on.

    but what I believe in is a fighting which not only desires my liberation but that of my opponent as well (because I agree with many that the oppressor is often more ‘bound’ by their evil than then the oppressed is.) I don’t believe this to be an end in itself but the imitation of the on I have pledged my life and death to.

  10. Hey Joel, its your ol’ chum and former roomie here again.

    I’m not sure how pragmatic much of this nonviolent rhetoric is in actual real-life sceneries. Aspiring for the ‘liberation’ of our opponent is indeed a noble pursuit. However, such aspirations would have done nothing for the city of London against the Luftwaffe other than ensure the quick deaths of most of its inhabitants and ensure that the cities of Glasgow, Birmingham, and Kent become the next Dachou, Auschwitz, and Belzec. Loving your enemy is a great ideal (and one which, by the way. I suggest was intended to be understood on a domestic level, not a national/political one), but when the enemy is bombing London (for example), the responsible thing to do is simply to shoot down the damn planes. There is no love, glory, or legitimate spiritual satisfaction in letting hundreds of thousands of innocent people die.

  11. hey jonathan!

    I hope you are well, Kate and I might move to Edinburgh for uni. We should email.

    So, to this discussion. I wonder if you are, perhaps, responding to the nonviolent position as you have encountered it in the past. I wonder about this because,

    1. I never stated what ‘should’ be the action of a secular government like WWII Britain, just what those of us should do who claim to imitate Jesus.

    2. You seem to be assuming, against my own words, that I do mean “laying down and dying.” In fact, I see Christian non-violence in the way of Jesus as extremely force-filled (though little praticed in this way).

    3. I am by no means saying violent defense is not effective, just that perhaps for a person committed first and foremost to the Christian tradition, it is not faithful, nor a faithful witness to the world.

    4. In regard to your last example, and this is an interesting angle of discussion for me, perhaps I would agree in that moment to shoot down the plane, but that does not mean that it would not be sin.

  12. Are you going to the University of Edinburgh? Matt B. is too, right? Why the Hell is everyone coming now that I’m no longer in Scotland!? What do you intend to study? Or perhaps I should ask what does Katie intend to study? (Sorry Mr. Wiebe for spamming your blog with personal letters).

    With regard to article #2, I equate pacifism with nonviolence, and I don’t see any other way to practice either than to simply be…well…entirely nonviolent. When bombs are falling over London, the distinction between nonviolence and “laying down and dying” is infinitesimally small. I don’t think there is one. Do bear in mind that Neville Chamberlain (much to the detriment of his historical legacy) did all that he could to peacefully negotiate with Hitler. In the end, he negotiated away a good hunk of Europe…and Hitler blitzed the Sceptred Isle anyway (a real bugger, hey?).

    With regard to article #1, I’m not sure how we can compartmentalize secular government vs. God-fearing Christians, since Christians comprise much of the demographic of Western governments. Furthermore, when secular governments issue a draft, suddenly the Christian 18-35 year old male becomes directly involved. He must decide if the war is just and respond accordingly. If the war is just, he should go. (I’m afraid, in the absence of the Vatican and the Holy See, Protestants are at a bit of a disadvantage here since at this point such a decision becomes maddeningly subjective)

    Re: #3 and #4, for the life of me I cannot see how legitimate use of force (ie. self defense or the defense of another who desperately requires it) is irresponsible. Or for that matter, how manning the trigger of an anti-aircraft gun to protect a city is a “sin” whilst at the same time (as you quite rightfully agree) it is clearly the responsible thing to do. I also do not think it is a sin for police to use guns. Nor is it a sin for police to fire them (at people, that is). And in fact, when I’m in Detroit, I sure hope they DO carry guns.

    Incidentally, I still am interested if anyone could possibly just show me what the proper non-violent response would look like in practice in any of the scenarios I mentioned in the posts above. Those were not simply rhetorical questions…I’m genuinely interested.

    We should be having this discussion over a pint.

  13. I agree with you…..that we should be discussing this over a sweet point of Guiness (oh that would be great!)

    in regard to #2

    Just as one may be violent in many different ways and to different levels of ‘success,’ so the argument goes, may non-violence. Thus it is an unrealistic abstraction when you say, ” I equate pacifism with nonviolence, and I don’t see any other way to practice either than to simply be…well…entirely nonviolent.” Non-violence and Pacifism have many different proponents coming from many different angles just as there are many different theorists when it comes to the practice of violence.
    The other point to make is regarding your assertion that “When bombs are falling over London, the distinction between nonviolence and “laying down and dying” is infinitesimally small.” This may be true at the chronological point at which you make your example. But it would be less and less true the more time you have to strategize, to organize. This is true for violence as much as it is for non-violence, strategy contributes to the chance of success. While you say that Chamberlain “negotiated,” I very much doubt that he employed what are commonly known as non-violent resistance strategies in any significant way. (see for examples of this, see especially berlin, norway, and Czechoslovakia)
    I absolutely agree with you (as far as I understand) on your response to point #1: that Christians in the West are both Western and Christian and that the two cannot be compartmentalized; I agree. I also agree that “when secular governments issue a draft… the Christian 18-35 year old male becomes directly involved. He must decide if the war is just and respond accordingly.” This is the point where, as you said, the Christian’s community (local church, holy see, etc..) would inform him as to the nature of the conflict. You said, “if the war is just, he should go.” But whose version of justice are you here referring to? And on which basis do you claim it’s superiority over the ‘justice’ exhibited in life of Jesus? This is the point where the Church must say, “we witness to a different reality, the kingdom of God, where peace and justice are accomplished not by violence but by sacrifice and then by resurrection.” Without this, without the Christian story, the Christian witness is easily reduced to whatever the individual wants it to be (which in the affluent West is usually something which involves us avoiding death).
    In regard to point #3 and #4, I never said violent action as defense was ‘irresponsible’ but I said that it was perhaps not faithful. It should be clear that I am not referring to a ‘universal human ethic’ to which all should adhere but to a ‘Christian ethic.’ We have historical reason to believe that police can function quite well without guns (bobbies in the U.K.) and while perhaps Detroit at this time cannot ‘responsibly’ remove guns from their police force, there are creative and positive and responsible directions to work towards which might make ‘bobbies’ a possibility in the U.S.

  14. I don’t claim any form of justice to be superior to Biblical justice. Romans 13:3-5 makes a clear case for the legitimate use of justice via the sword (the kind of sword that kills people, I would think). This, coupled with the recurrent theme throughout the entirety of the Bible re: helping the helpless, doing justice, and responsible stewardship of the earth and of posterity certainly provides sufficient justification for firing an anti-aircraft gun at bombers strafing the city of London. The “just war” doctrine, in a nutshell, states that if a people are in grave danger, they have the right to defend themselves providing that the probable outcome of the endeavor will not lead to as much or greater death than would be caused otherwise. (The Vatican’s Just War doctrine, I would have to say, is among the more airtight doctrines of a faith which is admittedly problematic at times). Scriptures set a precedent for responsible governments to administer justice. Allowing the leveling of a city on the basis of our not wanting break the sixth commandment by firing on a crew of Luftwaffe bomber pilots is a gross misapplication of the Bible, and one which would lead to the deaths of many innocents. You make a good point re: time to “strategize and organize.” If by that you mean simply to expend all efforts to work toward peaceful solutions, then you are certainly correct. But if that fails, and it sometimes does, then in the moment of grave danger (ie. bombs are in the midst of being dropped) the time for stalwart nonviolence is over.

    I do find it odd that you shy away from a universal ethic, and I’m not sure I understand why you do. Is it possible that an immediate application of total nonviolence (the police throws away all its guns) is such an inapplicable ideal that it is necessary to differentiate between what is moral for believers and what is moral for non-believers? Would it be moral for a non-believer to fire an anti-aircraft gun but a sin for a Christian to do the same? (on a very minor note, I’m quite sure that the lads of Scotland Yard carry and indeed use guns)

    Most importantly and on this I must suggest that your not providing a direct answer was the crucial and intolerable defect of your previous post, so again I ask: what do you plan to study in Edinburgh?

  15. Since we are encroaching upon the 20th post, I wonder if we should simply extend a cordial invitation to Mr. Wiebe himself to have the final word on this discussion, and thenceforth simply agree to disagree. Unless of course, you don’t mind continuing this discussion here. I could go either way at this point.

  16. (PS. I must say, Mr. Wiebe, I did, in fact, have the audacity to write Mr. Wink and I’m afraid he never wrote back!) [I don’t hold that against you. Great blog. Keep it up.]

  17. Jonathan: Thank you for the courtesy. I have not minded particularly, as you lads were having a civil, productive dialogue that I enjoyed but did not feel the need to enter into.

    That’s too bad that Wink didn’t write you back. I’m sure you had some interesting questions to ask him.

    As for last words, I’m going to simply say that, I’m happy to have seen such a relatively peaceable (but still plenty conflictual) dialogue on issues of Christianity and war. Feel free to continue if the Spirit moves you.

  18. I am fine with either as well; I have been enjoying immensely the conversation and the challenge. There’s nothing like a good argument! Thank you Jon for your intelligent engagement and thank you matt for your hospitality.

    One important note: I do feel like we have only started to touch the important issues and the points at which we begin to able to hear and understand each other; I am usually uncomfortable with the idea that this much work is needed to communicate, but in this case I believe it has been and will continue to be, worth it: more talking! (preferably in pubs!)

    Thanks again.

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