Peace on earth? The end of the Iraq war

SHANNON STAPLETON REUTERS A child gives the peace sign inside the Al-Zawraa Amusement Park in Baghdad December 2, 2011. The … Continued

SHANNON STAPLETON

REUTERS

A child gives the peace sign inside the Al-Zawraa Amusement Park in Baghdad December 2, 2011. The last 13,000 U.S. troops will pull out of Iraq by the end of the year.

“Peace on earth!” (Luke 2:14) heralded the angels, announcing the birth of Jesus. It is appropriate, in this Advent season, when Christians wait for the announcement of the birth of Jesus, that we also receive the formal announcement of the end of the Iraq war.

War itself is the real “War on Christmas.” War, that bloody, dangerous, and destructive human activity, is the real offense against Christmas, the celebration of the birth of the “Prince of Peace,” not the trivialities of how a religiously diverse society names the holidays. Pundits who use the term “war” to describe their cultural complaints should hang their heads in shame at comparing their grumbles to the sin of violence that is war.

If Jesus came heralded as bringing “Peace on earth,” then the Christian view should be that all war is an offense to God because all war destroys peace.

The Iraq war was a particular offense, however. The attack on Iraq was an example of unjust war, a war of choice that should never have been authorized and never been waged, has come to a quiet end. But the pain of loss, injury and destruction endures. The statistics on what the Iraq war cost are staggering. On the American side, there were 4, 486 casualties and 32, 226 seriously wounded. The seriously wounded may require care for the rest of their lives. The number of Iraqi deaths has been highly contested; the Web site “Iraq Body Count” indicates over 100,000. That we do not even have an accurate number on the deaths of Iraqis is itself chilling, and a testimony to the contempt for human life that war can bring about.

About $1 trillion U.S. taxpayer dollars have been authorized to be spent in Iraq through 2011. There’s also $9 billion of U.S. taxpayer money “lost and unaccounted for” in this conflict, much of it equipment including guns. Whom did we arm with these weapons? How will this waste fuel the next war? This is shameful.

But peace took another hit in the Iraq war. In addition to the loss of many lives, the appalling injuries, and the loss of taxpayer dollars that could have been funding schools and roads and job training at home, we lost something else. We lost our national soul.

The Iraq war is the war most infamous for the torture uncovered at the Abu Ghraib prison. In 2004, in the pages of The Chicago Tribune, I wrote, Can a nation lose its soul?
Coming to terms with the conscience of the United States and the torture of Iraqi prisoners. I argued that the “soul” should not just be understood as belonging to an individual, but that indeed whole nations can have souls. The soul is not a ‘ghost in the machine,’ but the relationship between your actions and your values. That’s why, when someone betrays their values, we say “he sold his soul.” “What does it profit someone to gain the whole world and lose their soul?” (Mark 8:36)


View Photo Gallery: The eight-year U.S. military operation in Iraq, now winding down with the withdrawal of the last U.S. forces, produced these enduring images.

We sold our national soul in the decision to torture. And it was a decision, not just some ‘bad apples’ acting out, as Jane Mayer so extensively documents in her book
The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals
.

This is why, of course, the Cheneys, both father and now daughter, work so hard to defend the practices of torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

I am glad, as I am sure all of the readers of On Faith are, to see the returning troops; it is poignant to see them hugging their families, relieved of this burden, finally at home. This is a good thing.

But we are far from peace on earth in this Christmas season. We are still at war in Afghanistan, and those who are tempted by the spectacle of war are again sabre rattling to bomb Iran and start another war.

In this Christmas season we are still far, much too far, from peace on earth. But in ending the Iraq war, we may have taken a step away from endless war. And God willing, let us repudiate the idea of “preemptive” war.

Now and always: Dona nobis pacem. Give us peace.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • WmarkW

    “Peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence of justice.” — MLK

    Until you explain why the Iraqis were better off being whisked away in the night by Saddam’s guards to face torture, and the Kurds should still be subjected to airstrikes, I won’t make any apologies for having liberated them from tyranny.

  • persiflage

    Mark, how many wars have you fought in? I have only one to my credit, and that war was a total waste of 55,000 American lives, and the lives of about 1 milion or so Vietnamese. And who’s in charge today after our 10 year occupation of South Vietnam?

    Iraq mirrors Vietnam on a smaller scale – but the financial cost of Iraq and Afghanistan is verging on 3 trillion dollars and has tanked our own economy in the process. Defense contractors did very well though, and even now no one wants to see the Defense budget take a hit……….mostly the GOP of course. I suppose they’re taking a pretty hard look at Iran about now.

    Give Iraq 5 years, and you’ll have Muslim fundamentalists in charge – you won’t recognize it, unless you happen to glance over at Iran by way of comparison. This fundamentalist takeover is happening rather quickly in Egypt and Libya, as we’ve all noticed.

    Apparently you bought the Bush fallback position – whoops! No WMDs – how about a little democracy then? That always sells well back home ……..

    We made Saddam, but apparently we apparently couldn’t take him out without decimating the country in order to do so, when his megalomania ran amuck just before the relatively limited and very brief Desert Storm action.

    All in all, there is no good excuse for invading Iraq – unless we are making a total committment to take out every totalitiarian dictator that floats to the surface of every non-democratic third world country. Nope, didn’t think so………..

  • plattitudes

    The idea that if Christ brought peace He would have abhorred war is too simplistic–as most Christians have already figured out. Yes, Christ brought peace, but not as those who have never read the Bible expect. In his own Words “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

    If we were relying on Him to bring peace (meaning an end to all war) to the world, every war since about 34 AD would cast doubt on His ability. But He brings peace to us individually. allowing us to find solace in troubled times, or even times of war.

    As with any time you quote something, please keep it in context.

  • IHate66

    One wonders if this writer is actually a Christian because she sure doesn’t know her Bible or her doctrine. Yes, Jesus will bring perfect peace during the Millenium but, unfortunately, until then, the earth is ruled by sinful people. They will shout, “peace, peace…but there is not peace.”

    Man will never bring peace to this earth, although I agree that Christians should be a peaceful people.

  • persiflage

    Christians have always been among the planet’s most violent people – right now, they’re running about neck and neck with the Muslims for most violent religion ever. Theists have easily murdered as many humans as non-theists……..again, it’s hard to know who holds the actual record.

    What we can further surmise is that humans (particularly the male of the species) are made for war – men don’t seem to mind war, and history is never any kind of teacher when it comes to conflict.

    It’s the aftermath of war that’s hell on earth. I personally know many men that count their wartime experiences as the absolute highlight of their lives – because they survived it.

  • persiflage

    Scott, you’re a total coward, admit it. Other people will always fight your wars for you. I have a hunch you were about 5 years old during the Vietnam conflict – and know absolutely nothing about it. 10 years in country and 55,000 dead Americans, and we ‘just about had the war won’. Now that is some seriously demented hubris.

    What a raging idiot you are, Scott. BTW, John Kerry was a highly decorated war hero that eventually discovered the futility of war.
    But that is something you will never know.

    His Swiftboating by Karl Rove was some of the most treacherous, immoral politics ever waged – some folks probably would have left Rove in a dumpster behind the Pentagon had he done it to them,

    But some people never learn – John McCain spent 5 years as a POW in Vietnam and still wants to wage war with Iran.

    Really Scott, you’ll still be an adolescent at the age of 65………..

  • ThomasBaum

    ScottinVA

    Do you know why Ho Chi Minh asked Russia and China for help in the first place?

    Can you answer a question, do you have any idea why a “freedom loving country” such as the United States would be so much against the people of Vietnam having a free country after World War II when Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam free, I think it was on September 1, 1946?

    We took away their freedom by rearming and refinancing the French after World War II.

    Do you realize that they were one of our allies in that part of the world against the Japanese?

    And as far as winning that war, we would have never won that war unless we would have taken some of the advise of some of those in charge and killed every last man, woman and child.

    Do you realize that some wanted to use nukes over there?

    I wish the Vietnamese the best, I was over there and I was treated very well and I thank God that I was able to meet some of them on their turf.

  • persiflage

    Scott, you’re a total coward, admit it. I have a hunch you were about 5 years old during the Vietnam conflict – and know absolutely nothing about it. 10 years in country and 55,000 dead Americans, and we ‘just about had the war won’. Now that is some seriously demented hubris.

    What a raging idiot you are, Scott. BTW, John Kerry was a highly decorated war hero that eventually discovered the futility of war.
    But that is something you will never know.

    His Swiftboating by Karl Rove was some of the most treacherous, immoral politics ever waged – some folks probably would have left Rove in a dumpster behind the Pentagon had he done it to them,

    But some people never learn – John McCain spent 5 years as a POW in Vietnam and still wants to wage war with Iran.

    Really Scott, you’ll still be an adolescent at the age of 65………..

  • persiflage

    T. Baum, you have it exactly right. After 100 years of French domination, the North Vietnamese under Ho Chi MInh would never have been defeated until every last man, woman, and child was dead.

    South Vietnam and it’s government was totally corrupt, as often seems to be the case with our preferred allies. I worked with ARVN soldiers that later disappeared because they’d been outed as Viet Cong…….and yet, they were perfectly friendly to Americans.

    Unfortunately, the North Vietnamese was said to have purged the ranks of the Viet Cong along with other dissenters in the South after the massive takeover post-1975,

    It was a strange war, and one that the USA never should have fought…….I’d like to return one day myself.

  • ccnl1

    Continued from above:

    18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

    19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

    20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

    21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

    22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) – Hena Akhter’s last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh’s Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

    23) “October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began. “

  • tony55398

    From the death of Abel to the child dying from malnutrician. Peace is more then the lack of war.

  • persiflage

    Scott, your grasp of history and of human nature is pitiful. I suppose that’s the natural result of attending a theological college – was it Bob Jones or Liberty U?

    Protestants haven’t been around as long as Catholics, but they’ve still got plenty of blood on their hands…….however, since they kill out of righteousness, it’s not really murder, it’s justifiable homicide. I think this is the distinction you’re trying to make in your own feeble way. Or did I get that wrong?

    You seem to like the idea of Americans sticking around Iraq and killing off the opposition to our recently imposed ‘democratic’ way of life, so how does that make you superior to the people actually doing the killing? Have you ever killed anyone? Didn’t think so…

    Followers of Christ have killed folks from every ethnic, racial, and religious persuasion under the sun, not just other Christians by any measure. Protestants were responsible for the majority of causalties in all of our modern-day wars, starting with the Civil War on (that one killed 600,000 Americans all by itself). Stalin’s purges and HItler’s genocide were not acts of war, but the acts of madmen – their religious affiliations or lack therof had little to do with it. Mao similarly killed millions of his own countrymen in the same fashion.

    The point being, religious people kill with as much impunity as so-called atheists……….I see absolutely no difference at all. Don’t make me google the statistics.

  • WinstonDixon

    Amerikans show no signs of regaining their sanity. They’re still having hallucinations of weapons of mass destruction and hallucinations about how they did the Iraqi people a great favor by invading and occupying their country and unleashing death and destruction on it in order to get rid of one man.

    Here’s a reality check for all those still hallucinating about the great “gift” they gave the Iraqi people out of the barrel of a gun, in the immortal words of Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi:

    “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!”

  • AgentFoxMulder

    “All war destroys peace.” The absence of war is peace? So, there is peace and joy on one extreme, then varying degrees of freedom, joy and merriment on up through varying degrees of oppression and suffering with peace being removed only when war is begun? That sounds like a dictator’s dreams come true.

    I wonder if the Iraqi’s they feel like they have peace on Earth now that American troops are leaving a void to be filled by Iran. I wonder why the Libyans decided to wage war, abandoning the state of peace they were enjoying under their dictator Gadhafi?

    Does the Cold War count as a time of peaceful relations with the Soviets, since we weren’t firing bullets and missiles (at least not officially) at each other? Does a war of words count as effectively canceling out peace?

    Should we be willing to endure all manner of oppression and suffering and regard it as a “peaceful life”, avoiding at all cost the dreaded “peace destroying” war which might in the end relieve future oppression and suffering?

    As far a $1 Trillion dollars spent on the Iraq war throughout it’s 9 years, Our country spent nearly that much ($800 Billion plus) in 2009 alone just to bailout Wall Street and stimulate the economy. But I digress.

    Then there are the theological implications of the writers exegesis. She forgot to mention the book of the Revelation, where all the nations gather to wage war against Christ. Only when the war is ended by Christ’s victory do we have actual peace, at least for 1,000 years with lasting peace arriving only after that when the adversary (Satan) is thrown into the Lake of Fire.

    Fox

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Wow, you said that much better and more concisely than I did.

    Fox

  • ThomasBaum

    You wrote, “You also don’t make a distinction between Christians who follow the Bible and religious people of any philosophy.”

    If one were to really “follow the bible” then they would not follow the bible but at least attempt to follow Jesus because that is what Jesus said in the bible.

    As far as following the bible, whose interpretation?

    Some people claim that the bible is the word of God whereas the bible claims that the Word of God became Flesh and it does say WORD, singular, and that Word is Love since God is not a loving God but is a BEING OF PURE LOVE.

    PURE LOVE can either caress or burn, something to think about.

    Jesus sure did know what He was talking about when He spoke of what came out of the human heart.

  • ThomasBaum

    Islam did not rise from Judaism and/or Christianity.

    You wrote, “Most Americans are fanatical adherents of the Jewish Sect of Christianity whose teachings originate in the greatest propaganda book ever written to promote Jewish racial superiority, the Bible”

    The bible does not “promote Jewish racial superiority” and for that matter it does not promote the Jews as a race.

    The bible flat out states the the Jews are a People, the Chosen People just because some, which seems to include you, take that as meaning that the Jews are better, does not make it so.

    The bible doesn’t say that the Jews are superior, just that they are Chosen and these two terms (superior and Chosen) are not synonyms.

  • persiflage

    Personally, I believe Saddam could have been assassinated any old time between 1990 – 2003, thus completely avoiding the war in Iraq. There were reasons why this was not attempted.

    We failed at assassinating Castro, and based on these several embarrassing failures by the CIA, it had become illegal to assassinate heads of state by the time Saddam’s turn came around.

    So I suppose invading Iraq and the subsequent death and suffering of 100,000 Iraqi citizens was a better alternative. After all, Saddam finally got what was coming to him……….but at what price?

    Too bad we didn’t do it on the cheap, like we did in Egypt and Libya…….but by the time of the invasion, it had become a ‘nation-building’ adventure. We have been even less successful at establishing democracy in Afghanistan – the sooner we depart that wasteland the better.

    Now that it’s become quite clear that Pakistan has been playing both ends against the middle with their ongoing, covert support of the Taliban, it’s anyone’s guess where that will take us in the future.

    America and it’s leaders seem to completely lack any kind of long range vision, much less the ability to predict almost inevitable outcomes based on past history and experience. I suppose they are not alone in this…….and this doesn’t speak well of the evolutionary potential for the human race in general.

  • persiflage

    ‘These were not the acts of madmen; they were the calculated genocide of those who refused their anti-christian philosophies. You would be first in line to imprison and even execute me if you had the authority — history shows that to be so.’

    More faux paranoia from the religious right – I wouldn’t bother to imprison you, you’re already in a jail of your own making.

    The Protestants slaughtered the First Americans by the millions for their land right here in the USA – see Manifest Destiny and the great American land grab.

    And before that, the Catholic Spaniards killed off the indigenous peoples of Central and South America, raping and pillaging as they went – all for the lust for gold (and they took sadistic pleasure in murder and mayhem).

    Christians are Christians – there is no real, fundamental difference. Belief in the resurrection is the central point to all of Christianity. However, many Catholics fully believe that Protestants are phonies and pretenders to the one true faith. And they do have a point………..the Catholics were there first. It took a single cranky Catholic priest to start the entire Protestant Reformation.

    Scott, more reading for you just below on Stalin’s starvation pogroms of the Ukraine……..and the Protestant British doing the same thing to the Irish Catholics by way of the Great Famine. The Protestants have been killing the Catholics in Ireland since the days of Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell………

    Evangelicals seem to be the least informed of any of the Christian denominations – because they only believe what they want to believe. Two things I know about beliefs 1) they’re all acquired 2) they’re subject to change with new information.

    Beliefs are really nothing to base a life on………..unless you’re prepared to change and alter beliefs as time goes on. Everything changes.

    Many religious folks are deluded into thinking that their truths are reflective of the absolute, fixed, and unchanging truth, Nothing could be furth

  • ccnl1

    “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends.” (Surah 5:51)

    “Believers, when you encounter the infidels on the march, do not turn your backs to them in flight. If anyone on that day turns his back to them, except it be for tactical reasons…he shall incur the wrath of God and Hell shall be his home…” (Surah 8:12-)

    “Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God’s religion shall reign supreme.” (Surah 8:36-)

    “…make war on the leaders of unbelief…Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them…” (Surah 9:12-)

    “Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]…until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.” (Surah 9:27-)

    “It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith [Islam] to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters [non-Muslims] may dislike it.” (Surah 9:31-)

    “If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men.” (Surah 9:37-)

    “Prophet make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home.” (Surah 9:73)

    “Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them.” (Surah 9:121-)

    “Say: ‘Praise be to God who has never begotten a son; who has no partner in His Kingdom…” (Surah 17:111)

    “‘How shall I bear a child,’ she [Mary] answered, ‘when I am a virgin…?’ ‘Such is the will of the Lord,’ he replied. ‘That is no difficult thing for Him…God forbid that He [God[ Himself should beget a son!…Those who say: ‘The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,’ preach a monstrous falsehood…” (Surah 19:12-, 29-, 88)

    “Fight for the cause of God with the devotion due to Him…He has given you the name of Muslims…” (Surah 22:78-)

    “Blessed are the believers…who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)…These are the heirs of Paradise…

  • ccnl1

    Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends.” (Surah 5:51)

    “Believers, when you encounter the infidels on the march, do not turn your backs to them in flight. If anyone on that day turns his back to them, except it be for tactical reasons…he shall incur the wrath of God and Hell shall be his home…” (Surah 8:12-)

    “Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God’s religion shall reign supreme.” (Surah 8:36-)

    “…make war on the leaders of unbelief…Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them…” (Surah 9:12-)

    “Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]…until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.” (Surah 9:27-)

    “It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith [Islam] to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters [non-Muslims] may dislike it.” (Surah 9:31-)

    “If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men.” (Surah 9:37-)

    “Prophet make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home.” (Surah 9:73)

    “Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them.” (Surah 9:121-)

    “Say: ‘Praise be to God who has never begotten a son; who has no partner in His Kingdom…” (Surah 17:111)

    “‘How shall I bear a child,’ she [Mary] answered, ‘when I am a virgin…?’ ‘Such is the will of the Lord,’ he replied. ‘That is no difficult thing for Him…God forbid that He [God[ Himself should beget a son!…Those who say: ‘The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,’ preach a monstrous falsehood…” (Surah 19:12-, 29-, 88)

    “Fight for the cause of God with the devotion due to Him…He has given you the name of Muslims…” (Surah 22:78-)

    “Blessed are the believers…who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)…These are th

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