Posted by Rick Chrisman
Jesus says in one of the Gospels, "The poor you always have with you." He might better have said, "War you always have with you." It would have been just as true, and more helpful. I wish he had. Heck, we would have been forewarned!
War is not just hell (as anyone could guess), it is persistent and pervasive in history. War, and its kissing cousins the police state and conformity, provide the violent with the means to get their way. Jesus repeatedly attacked the temptation to meet that violence with more violence when he said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you." To one philosopher, these preachments were the signs of a "slave religion." But they were Jesus' way of saying, violence is everywhere — beware of being sucked into it.
And here we are, sucked into violence big time. Not one but two wars, in two different countries, each eight and seven years long, and counting. 4747 and 2250 U.S. military deaths each, and counting (this number does not include stateside veteran deaths by suicide.) The wounded in Iraq, according to official counts, comes to 32,937, and counting. (Unofficial estimates put the number much higher). If these numbers seem only like abstractions to you, join the club. Try multiplying 40,000 times your brother or your sister.
And who can say for sure what the total number of civilian casualties in both countries might be? Imagine what living in a war zone that long would do to a society (examples are on display in the Wilson Chapel picture gallery). Likewise, do we ever contemplate what this is doing to American society?
Yes, as a nation, we have been totally sucked into violence and don't know it. It's not just a matter of our war policy. America bathes unaware in our own war culture. That is hard to see. What would you guess is the minimum daily dose of violence ingested by kids playing video games? What are all those cops and robbers on TV today doing but entertaining us and fighting proxy wars? We re-enact the immemorial battle between good and evil on screen and praise the successful hero. And how did he (she) win the day? Always, the violent bear it away.
This is wrong, and our attempts to hide from it proves the point. We ignore the violence and deny being at war because the soul recoils. War is inhumane — and inconvenient, to say the least. Its true costs must be buried, and we do a great job of that.
Isn't it time for the citizens to take charge, or is that just a daydream? The truth is, the U.S. citizenry has been de-clawed. And we are paying a huge, huge price for it. Great numbers voted in the 2008 national election, but it takes more than voting to effect change. You could say we need the spiritual equivalent of a full court press on our politics. In my Christmas dream, three ghosts confront and challenge me:
1. To acknowledge the costs. Sebastian Junger's book, "War" (recently made into a documentary film entitled "Restrepo"), urges us to reckon openly with the fact of our wars. "That evaluation, ongoing and unadulterated by politics, may be the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders." I ask, what public ritual could give appropriate expression to this on our campus?
2. To study war no more — study universal national service instead. Isn't it time we conceived a fairer recruitment policy? Shouldn't everyone have an opportunity to serve, whether it be in the military, the Peace Corps, inner city education, health services, etc.? Wouldn't that give everyone (particularly in your demographic) a greater stake in this country's policies? One Skidmore student sends me by e-mail her interviews of citizens who participated in universal service in her home country of Spain. I ask, can't we study up on this more?
3. To get religion — but be sure to make it a good one. A religion, any religion, is the practice of a discipline. It takes discipline to sacrifice violence. I say, let's practice.
Rick Chrisman is director of Religious and Spiritual Life, teaches occasionally in the Religion and Philosophy departments and suspects art is the one true religion.