Mindful : War and Peace
For many in Australia war has not affected us at a personal level. It belongs in news reports or in the realm of history. It is something beyond our experience. War might dictate the pattern of life for millions but not for us.
Perhaps more than anything else, war is a reminder that there is something gravely wrong with our world. It is fitting that the redeemer of the world should be called the ‘Prince of Peace’ because the life to come - for those who love the Lord - will be characterised by unity, harmony and peace.
War has been part of human experience since people first formed alliances and fashioned themselves into nations.
War takes many shapes and is wrought for many reasons. Men take up arms in revenge, for greed, to achieve political goals, to obtain geographical advantage. Wars are fought for religious reasons, on ideological grounds, in self-defence and to protect the vulnerable.
The passage of time lends a sheen to military conflict and conquest that is perhaps unwarranted. The brilliant and triumphant Alexander the Great is remembered for his martial prowess and astonishing success and not in the light of those vanquished through his aggression. The colonising efforts of the British and the Western Europeans are often viewed in terms of navigation and trade rather than greed, invasion and oppression.
We seem to take a less romantic approach to modern conflicts however. The horror of trench warfare and the appalling loss of life during WWI overshadow the sunnier notions of glorious victory and derring-do.
In our modern age the technology that has enabled more efficient warfare is rightly viewed with suspicion and not straightforward scientific appreciation.
The 20th century will be remembered as an age of war. It played host to war at a global level not once, but twice. Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Americas and Europe have been riven by war over the last hundred years. The UN estimates that more than 110 million people have been killed in the wars of the 20th century. (1)
For the most part the 20th century featured international conflicts. However the last couple of decades saw a decrease in global battles and an increase in civil disputes. Unfortunately the internal nature of these wars did not imply a less bloody outcome. In 1994 approximately 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were killed in Rwanda within a period of months.
Recent year have seen a blurring of distinctions between combatants and civilians - this has had devastating consequences. In the final decade of the 20th century “two million children had been killed in armed conflicts, four to five million more had been disabled and more than twelve million had been made homeless.” (2)
War has already established itself as part of the 21st century. Conflict between Russia and Chechnya persists. The Democratic Republic of Congo is still at war. The Middle East continues to be plagued by acts of violence as Palestinians and Israelis engage in acts of terror and repression. Despite the skirmishes and assaults outright conventional war has been averted.
These clashes continue despite media disinterest and popular indifference, for it is the War on Terror that has claimed our attention. This phantom conflict, which began with the assaults on America on September 11, 2001, has seen two US-led wars. Both the attack on Afghanistan and subsequent overthrow of the Taliban and the invasion of Iraq are both regarded as part of this shadowy war.
Christians expressed a range of views in response to the war in Iraq. Some supported the action of the “Coalition of the Willing” but a vast number expressed doubt and even hostility towards the decision to wage war, particularly war without UN support.
The prevalence of this conflict in recent media reports, in international thought and in the minds of ordinary people has led me to devote this first issue of mindful to the topic of war. Our contributors range from those who have served their country during war to those who teach about war. The topics range from war in the Old Testament to the ethics of war.
It is of course scratching the surface of an endeavour that humans have been engaged in for thousands of years. But I hope this collection of articles will be useful in stretching our minds and broadening our horizons.
1. UN Press Release 1999, “Twentieth Century Wars dashed hopes of many for growth, prosperity, Observer Of Holy See tells First Committee” http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/1999/19991014.gadis3143.doc.html