By S. Marianne Watts, OP “Changes”
We had our Veterans’ Day celebration recently and I was aware of my mixed feelings toward such memorials. Or the reason for them. There is no question that those who fought in our wars ought to be praised and thanked for their bravery and their sacrifice.
But the essential element is war, isn’t it? Aren’t we against war?
A member of the audience, a veteran, contrasted the low percentage of our country’s population now in the military with the healthy numbers in a former day. The veterans agreed that our present showing is a sad commentary.One veteran told the story of his cousin who served in WWII. During a surprise attack, the cousin played dead for about two hours. Then, when the enemy’s attention was elsewhere, he jumped up and killed 51 Germans. The veteran delivered that line with great pride. I had a hard time with it.
But a commentary on what? On our readiness for war? Is that a good thing?
Haven’t we always somehow admired war—in our songs, movies, books, parades?
What about the great wars of history and literature? The Trojan War described in The Iliad? Largely based on that epic and on The Odyssey, many classicists believe that the Battle and the Journey are the two seminal themes of life and that the ideal of humankind is the Hero. Where do I stand on that?
Did you learn in your early schooling (especially in Catholic schools) that the armies of the Crusades marched in a holy cause, to take back the Holy Land from Muslim control? (How much thought was given to the Muslim perspective of being slaughtered in this holy cause? Didn’t God include Muslims in humankind?)
Actually, Muslims acquitted themselves more than respectably among advanced cultures: The golden age of Muslim civilization (mid-7th to mid-13th century) represented the flowering of humankind in which, according to the Internet:
“. . . artists, engineers, scholars, poets, philosophers, geographers and traders in the Islamic world contributed to agriculture, the arts, economics, industry, law, literature, navigation, philosophy, sciences, sociology, and technology. . . . The Islamic empire was the first “truly universal civilization,” which brought together for the first time ‘peoples as diverse as the Chinese, the Indians, the people of the Middle East, North Africa, black Africans, and white Europeans.’ Many medieval Muslim thinkers pursued humanistic, rational and scientific discourses in their search for knowledge, meaning and values.”
And on and on. What ended this high point of human development in which “religious freedom, though society was still controlled under Islamic values, . . . [attracted] Muslim, Christian and Jewish intellectuals and thereby helped spawn the greatest period of philosophical creativity in the Middle Ages from the 8th to 13th centuries”? No one agrees on the actual cause of the decline, but everyone agrees that part of it was “foreign involvement by invading forces and colonial powers, including the 11th century Crusades.”
To open access to the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims is surely a noble motive, but to do so, as the popes of the time did, by unleashing enormous and destructive warfare, is so difficult to reconcile with the Gospel message.
Today many believe that ISIL, another face of Islam, is the Muslim answer to the Crusades.
In his book Mercy, Cardinal Kasper says of war: “In a violent and often evil world, it can be necessary, for the sake of peace, to constrain and suppress evil. In this sense, a war that aims to defend the peace can be justified . . . if, after other means are exhausted, it serves to defend fundamental human goods. . . and if there is the sound prospect that . . . pacification can be achieved.” He goes on to speak of war as a last resort and of “proportionality in the use of military means,” meaning avoidance of wholesale destruction even when we’re capable of it. (Especially when we’re capable of it.)
Cardinal Kasper much prefers the pursuit of a “just peace.”
Consider this: If peace ever comes about, will there be Veterans’ Day gatherings to honor those who worked for it? Or parades for those who didn’t kill anyone?