Phil Haslanger: It's not enough to oppose bombing Syria

2013-09-07T04:35:00Z Phil Haslanger: It's not enough to oppose bombing SyriaPHIL HASLANGER | local columnist
September 07, 2013 4:35 am  • 

There’s a catch phrase that comes to the fore when people start looking for religious reasons not to enter a war like the one now raging in Syria: “Who would Jesus bomb?”

Jesus would not have bombed anyone, of course. Bombs were not weapons of choice in his day. But the cruelty of war was no stranger to his era. The Romans could be every bit as cruel as Syria’s Bashar Assad. They executed dissidents like Jesus himself with ease. They leveled the city of Jerusalem.

But if it is hard to imagine Jesus targeting a cruise missile aimed at another nation, it is not hard to image him encouraging his followers to stand with those who are most vulnerable, to seek ways to defend others from cruelty, to come to the aid of those refugees displaced by war. The question is how best to do that.

Yes, it is horrifying to look at what Assad has done to the people in his country. But then that is the nature of war. As William Tecumseh Sherman wrote to the leaders of Atlanta in 1864 as he led the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War on a scorched earth march across the South, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.”

The civil war raging in Syria is deeply rooted in ethnic and religious divisions among the people there. It has pitted very bad actors against other very bad actors. Citizens are being caught in the crossfire, 100,000 Syrians killed since the war began, nearly 1,500 killed last month in the sarin gas attack that is now at the center of the debate. Some 2 million have fled as refugees to adjoining nations.

And now Syria lives with the threat of missiles raining down out of the sky launched from U.S. ships. Yes, the missiles may be intended for military targets, but missiles are not foolproof. They miss targets, they kill civilians. And, in this case, they may well just escalate the hell in which the people of Syria are living.

Modern warfare now makes it easy to kill from a distance. The promise of “no U.S. boots on the ground” in Syria reduces the risks to our military men and women, but ratchets up the violence for those living in that devastated land. It makes killing antiseptic.

When people respond to violence with more violence, they keep that cycle of retribution spinning higher and higher. Oh, just a few well-placed missiles will teach Assad a lesson and he’ll ramp down his attacks, the argument goes. Really?

As we become involved once more in escalating violence in response to violence, what does that do to America? Where does it leave us as a people?

For those who embrace the message of Jesus, it takes more than blithely saying Jesus would not launch a cruise missile. It takes a commitment to seek creative ways to change the calculus of war and to embrace those who suffer its consequences. It takes continued international efforts to isolate those whose brutality knows no bounds and to get aid to those driven into exile.

That’s not what is in the measure moving through Congress. That is where the world needs to put its energies.

Phil Haslanger is pastor of Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. 1blueheron
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    1blueheron - September 09, 2013 9:58 pm
    Jesus said, "love your enemies." The GOP is living by "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." As the Affordable Health Care Act rolls out, lower rates are being discovered. It's onto the next obstruction. If Assad can make Obama look bad, the GOP will ally themselves with him - as they are this minute on FOX. Now the buzz is Alquida is the opposition to Assad. Alquida - the USA created it under Reagan in Afghanistan. They are the all-purpose enemy for every situation. The problem with the GOP opposition is that it is purely political, and unethical. We need the facts on the ground - not obstructionism applied in the use of the dictator Assad for the purpose of Obama hate.
  2. jon
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    jon - September 08, 2013 7:50 pm
    Between 2000 and 2008, especially in 07 & 08, thousands protested against war and the administration pursuing war. The press covered it daily, unable to get enough of Cindy Sheehan. Well, at least until she started challenging for a Dem Congressional seat in California. Then, as if by magic, all the protests and all the anti-war news coverage stopped on the very day that Obama was declared winner of his first term.

    So where are all those who opposed the war then? I did see a couple lonely "code Pink" people out last week, but they were not getting the love from the press that they did in 08.

    So how much of the opposition to war among demonstrators and the press was real? How much just to elect Obama? Is anyone trying to hold him to his campaign promises?
  3. 1blueheron
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    1blueheron - September 07, 2013 9:42 pm
    It's easier said than done to escape the Iraq war prism when viewing the war in Syria, especially when you live with the austerity measures used from its deficit by the GOP to cut into the livelihood of working people, and people in need of jobs. "War is a racket" - Mark Twain - also echos in the minds of citizens. The missing and unaccounted $846 billion, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, thousands of American lives, and veteran suicides from PTSD, has severely damaged the trust between citizens and national leadership when it comes to engaging another conflict in the Middle East. Given the divisive climate in Washington, add to this, more energy going into making President Obama look bad, than considering any humanitarian concerns about the use of chemical weapons used on citizens by Assad, and we are left with Obama, not Assad, as the political target of the day. In this age of satellite technology one would think that we would get some pictures of the situation in Syria on chemical weapons. The media managed to concoct all types of pictures of the so-called WMD's to get us into Iraq. Perhaps our corporate shadow government does not see a big enough profit off the conflict in Syria. And what to make of the Israeli silence on Syria - again in our media. So many things to overcome in order to get a more accurate picture of what the facts are on the ground.
  4. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - September 07, 2013 4:43 pm
    You purport to know what President Reagan would have done, but your little fantasy scenario does not comport at all with what he actually did do right next door in Lebanon:

    1983 Oct. 23 — US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, bombed; 299 dead
    1984 Feb. 7 — US president orders withdrawal of all US troops from Lebanon
    1984 Feb. 26 — all US troops withdrawn
    1984 Mar. 31 — all allied troops withdrawn
  5. Mr_Deeks
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    Mr_Deeks - September 07, 2013 4:31 pm
    You are correct. President Reagan would have attacked within hours of the offense. Hours, not weeks. There would have been no effort TP politicize or hide behind congress. You are correct also when you assert that there is no comparison between Obama and Bush ( one or two).
  6. RIck Wayne
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    RIck Wayne - September 07, 2013 11:49 am
    I too feel the need to punish Assad -- his actions have been monstrous. The trouble is, missiles will only do it if we have up-to-the-minute intel on his location, and are willing to assassinate a head of state.

    If we don't kill him, then what effect will those missiles have? Will Assad be contrite? Will his supporters come to realize that they're backing a monster? Will it cause Assad to hesitate before ordering another sarin strike? (That's assuming he did so this time -- we haven't seen any evidence. We've heard from politicians who claim that the evidence is compelling, but as we learned a decade ago, and four decades before that, that is not the same thing at all.)

    I submit that 200 Tomahawks will do none of those things. Supporters' attitudes will harden. Assad himself isn't going to get a case of the regretfuls, nor will this inculcate a fear of future consequences. Massacring peaceful protestors -- that is not the action of a man too worried about blowback. He won't care if we kill soldiers, blow up C4I assets, wreck equipment. He is clearly willing to spend whatever it takes to stay in power. And sadly, he has support from the outside to help him do just that.

    From the inside, too. It baffles you and me -- why on earth would anyone fight for such evil? But Assad has plenty of support in-country, or else this civil war would be long since over.

    If the civil war hadn't crossed the line into senseless spasm, if Russia and Iran and Hezbollah weren't backing Assad...maybe a military strike would work. Maybe. But in the situation as it actually exists, the urge to Do Something has to be channeled into actions that will make things better, not worse.
  7. Jorge Montes
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    Jorge Montes - September 07, 2013 9:51 am
    "Modern warfare now makes it easy to kill from a distance. The promise of “no U.S. boots on the ground” in Syria reduces the risks to our military men and women, but ratchets up the violence for those living in that devastated land. It makes killing antiseptic."

    Read more:

    Thanks Phil for your powerful toughs.
  8. Nav
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    Nav - September 07, 2013 6:54 am
    We cannot, indeed we must not, view this situation from the prism of the Iraq war. The circumstances are different. The personalities are different. The priorities are different.

    President Obama has said very clearly that he is ONLY interested in limited strikes on Syria is a means of punishing Assad for having used chemical weapons. When President Bush started the Iraq war, he was not interested in punishing Saddam. He was interested in regime change and he made no bones about it.

    The personalities in this case are also different. In the Iraq war we had a President who had a macho and cowboy mindset. He didn't do much deliberation before taking us to one of the longest and most expensive wars in history. His justification for starting the war, as it turns out, was totally phony and he knew it. In this case, we have a President who is VERY reluctant to take military action UNLESS he feels it will impact US security at some point in the future. Don't we want a President like this?

    President Obama has made the case, and he will again make the case to the American people on Tuesday, that unless we punish Assad TODAY, he and other like minded leaders in the world will continue to do bad things in the future with impunity. Why WOULDN'T a leader when he knows no one will punish him? The problem in the future, however, may be much more complicated much more serious, that the United States may have to declare a full fledged war then. Is this what we want?

    I am very well aware that we are the ONLY nation that has used nuclear weapons that caused the death of hundreds of thousands of women, and some can argue that we look silly telling others not to use weapons of mass destruction. But is it possible that as a nation we learned from that event how horrific it is to kill innocent people and, therefore, can empathize with anyone who is the victim of such weapons of destruction?

    No, we cannot be the policeman of the world like we have been in the past. But we still live in a world where sometimes evil men will come to power and kill lot of innocent people. We can either pretend we don't see what is happening or the world, collectively. needs to deal with these bullies. If the world does not deal collectively with these bullies, then one nation has to use its force for the good.

    Our Conservative friends often cite President Reagan as their model. Do they think President Reagan would have ignored what is happening in Syria. Would they have opposed him if he decided to strike Syria on a limited basis as a punitive measure, The answer is NO to both of these questions.

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