Friday, January 1, 2010

My Kind Of Church Music - War, Edwin Starr

War, what is it good for? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

I was challenged by BB when I titled my post yesterday "Who Says Nonviolence Doesn't Work?" The questioner says that UUs are practical people and want evidence. I don't mind discussing this question further if it is being asked in good faith, but I am suspicious. And so I turned the question around and asked myself, "Does war work?" And the same corollary questions could be asked, for who, when, and to what purpose, etc.

Edwin Starr sang his own answer to the question War what is it good for? during the Viet Nam era. His sung answer, "Absolutely nothing!" Turns out Edwin was quite right and history is vindicating his judgement. Too bad 58,000 young Americans had to die and millions of Viet Namese.

What exactly were Johnson, McNamara, Westmoreland, et al. trying to accomplish? Nobody knows. What are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. trying to accomplish? The goal posts were constantly changed. What is Obama, Gates, et al. trying to accomplish? Damned if anybody can actually say. It seems that there are no more than 100 Al-Queda in the country and it doesn't take 150,000 American troops to catch 100 "terrorists" does it? Seems like dropping an atomic bomb on a mosquito.

So I think the better question is "What is war for?" If practicality is the litmus test in these contemporary times, Edwin Starr has it right, "Absolutely nothing!"


  1. Was the American Revolutionary War for nothing David?

    How about the American Civil War?

    Being Canadian and all I will graciously grant that the War of 1812 was for "nothing". :-)

  2. This is one of the reasons my boyfriend Joe left the RCC. He felt a moral duty to give back to the nation that had nurtured him and gifted him with freedom and certain rights as a citizen, so he enlisted in the Army (he was a combat engineer). He knew that men like him stood between this nation and her Constitution and the rights it grants us, and any who would harm us and take that away from us.

    Problem is, sometimes that demands lethal force. But the 10 Commandments says "Thou shalt not kill." And that's where he had his crisis of faith. A soldier's job is to kill or facilitate killing. The Army chaplain was not able to help him come to a satisfactory resolution on this question, so he left the RCC and eventually became the Asatru man that he is, walking with the Scandinavian old Gods as he does.

    Had he not had an accident with some explosives which cut his military career short, he would have retired from the Army just a few years ago.

    I have to admit - sometimes among UUs, both he & I feel like veterans are looked upon as little better than paid thugs, and we wonder if UUs just don't value the sacrifice our veterans make. It's an odd feeling.

  3. I agree with David - no surprise there since his post yesterday asked folks to read one of mine which was along the same theme.

    Robin, I am not sure why you asked your question but, for those who whould say that the American Revolution and the American Civil War were just and justified, I would ask them to consider:

    A. American Revolution: We won our independence from Great Britain through armed conflict. Most of the remainder of the British Empire, including Canada, won it peacefully. India, the "jewel in the British Imperial crown" won it through a non-violent revolution. Those examples are at least worth considering when asking ourselves if our armed rebellion was both justified and the only solution.

    B. American Civil War: This one is tougher. I will grant that in 1860 - 1861, matters had come to such a point that no one could find a solution other than a test of arms. But how we got to that point is another matter. As John Kennedy said when advocating peace, "Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again." In the more than two centuries of American slavery leading up to the Civil War, we could have solved the problem peacefully - war may have been inevitable in 1860 - 1861 but it was not in 1850, 1840, 1830, 1820,...,1607.

    So, summing up this point, I guess I would ask, when debating whether peace and non-violence are viable alternatives to war, those lessons of history that make the case for peace, which are many and diverse, be considered as well.

    Finally, regarding whether UU's value veterans' sacrifice - I sympathize with that odd feeling. I think it is fair to say that many don't value our sacrifice just as many do. As a veteran who has become a pacifist, I think we all need to work together to value what individuals do in good faith and good conscience. We can welcome veterans just as we can welcome those who passionately appeal for non-violence.

    At the same time, however, I really believe that we need to take a hard look at our UU values and principles and ask ourselves:

    "Can a religious community that values 'the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part...' continue to support (actively or through tacit acceptance) the continuation of war among mankind, especially when history demonstrates that there are viable alternatives?"

    Personally, I don't think we can.

    Thanks for reading and Happy New Year.

    Tom Beall

  4. One last point occurs to me on the issue of the American Revolution and the American Civil War.

    If we had not rebelled (and there were many colonial Americans who favored remaining within the British Empire), African American slavery most likely would have been outlawed in the South as it was in most of the remainder of the Empire in 1834 - without recourse to war.

    I suspect we would still be independent today - although without the brutal fact of the Civil War in our history and probably as a country with a character more like that of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

    Just something else to consider.

    Tom Beall

  5. Dear Tom:

    I agree with you 100%.

    The Revolutionary War was totally unnecessary. As you point out, Canada did it. India did it.

    Civil war was a total disaster. Let the freakin union separate. The south would have come around and begged to be let back into the union.

    History could have been much different and humankind much improved if different values had prevailed.

  6. Dear Tracie The Red:

    It seems like your boyfriend substituted one idolatry for another. These current wars which have included torture, extradordinary rendition, the elimination of habeas corpus, the surveillance on communications have deprived Americans of their consitutional rights not protected them. While your boyfriend's intentions may be pure and honorable, I can't see that he has done anything to protect my constitutional rights by his military service. The Iraqis and Afghanis have doing to threaten the consitution of the United States that I am aware of. So I don't understand this justification of militarism. It seems like manipulative rhetoric to me. A greater service might have been to protest the injustice and insanity and immorality of the "Bush doctrine" of pre-emptive war.

    The greatest saints of my lifetime have been the Berrigan brothers, Dorothy Day, and the liberal Catholic Social Justice advocates. Were that there were more of them. I also greatly admire the Peace practitioners of the Unitarian Universalist faith.

    The true warrior is not militaristic but spiritual and recognizes that the enemy is not them but us. Evil and injustice is in our own souls. Just close your eyes and sit quietyly for 10 minutes and watch the lust, emnity, jealousy, hatred, greed, gluttony cross through your mind.

    I am of a generation where those of us who protested the Viet Nam war and the draft went to jail, to Canada, to alternative service. We were vilified for our "peacenik" values and no we don't agree with those who would allow themselves to be used as tools of the plutocrats. Turns out that history is vindicating us and the war of my adolescence and young adulthood is a shame that no American wants to admit and repent of. Until we as Americans can face up to our sins and repent we will be doomed to repeat this horrid sin again and again because we have not learned anything about the ugliness and vengeance in our own hearts. American war making has nothing at all to do with the constitution or the rights we enjoy as Americans. This is merely a meme foisted on us by the plutocrats who would have naive people execute people who stand in their way to satisfy their greed and lust for power.

    I feel very sad that young people are manipulated to believe that in becoming militarisitc they are doing something honorable for their country. Nothing could be further from the truth. I respect their right to make that choice, but I do not feel grateful for their having made it because it is no service to me or my friends and family.

    Happy New Year.

  7. Your point about Canada and India is well taken Tom. As a Canadian I obviously *appreciate* the fact that we gained independence peacefully. My only point is that *some* good can and does come out of *some* wars, especially defensive wars such as the one that Canada fought against the U.S.A. in the early 1800's. Should England have invited Hitler for tea and sympathy for the Devil in 1940 after his Blitzkrieg tanks rolled over most of Europe? I think not. How *should* the U.S.A. have responded to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, or indeed the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

    Sometimes wars pretty much need to be fought whether we like it or not.