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Presented October 3, 2010, by Rev. Dr. Rob Manning
Listen to a recording of "Peace and Peacemaking in an age of Endless
34:03 minutes - 13.6 MB - Peace and Peacemaking in an age of Endless War .mp3 file.
Is Unitarian Universalism as a religious tradition a radical peace tradition, one that rejects violence and war in all forms, as do the Quakers, or the Mennonites or the Church of the Brethren? Or is Unitarian Universalism as a religious tradition part of what is called the Just War tradition, that heritage of critical reflection on war that defends the notion that individuals, societies, and religious communities can use their reason to establish criteria by which any and all wars can be judged as legitimate or illegitimate? This critical and rational religious tradition goes back at least to St. Augustine in the fourth century and runs through various Christian traditions, both Catholic and Protestant. If the most famous proponent of nonviolence and the rejection of all wars in the 20th century is Gandhi, perhaps the most famous proponent of Just War tradition in the 20th century is Reinhold Neibuhr, President Obama's favorite theologian. So the question is: is Unitarian Universalism as a contemporary religious denomination a radical peace tradition or a just war tradition? Are we as Unitarian Universalists inspired by Gandhi or Niebuhr?
The answer, of course, is obvious. Not either/or but both/and. Some UUs would be with Gandhi and some would be with Niebuhr. I wonder how our congregation would come down on that question? Would we have more people in the nonviolence, rejection of all wars position or more people in the just war tradition? It would be interesting to take a vote, and if we did we would certainly have people in both camps. Both are completely reasonable positions for UUs to assume, and this reasonable difference among us UUs is why we are talking this morning about the document called Creating Peace that was passed at the 2010 and not the 2009 General Assembly. The document presented last summer in 2009 was heavily oriented to the Gandhi-oppose all wars position and was not even voted on but was sent back to the committee for redrafting. The document that came back this summer and was approved by more than the necessary two-thirds of the voting members defends both positions as reasonable to UUs to take. It is carefully written to obtain the approval not only of the Gandhis among us but also of the Niebuhr Just War defenders. The document's third statement reads: "We all agree that our initial response to conflict should be the use of nonviolent methods. Yet we bear witness to the right of individuals and nations to defend themselves, and acknowledge our responsibility to be in solidarity with others in countering aggression. Many of us believe force is sometimes necessary as a last resort, while others of us believe in the consistent practice of nonviolence. " Bpth/And. The document also says that joining and being in the military is one of the ways UUs can live out their commitment to peacemaking.
So though this might disappoint the Gandhians among us, it seems clear that what has happened in this document is that the UUs have affirmed both positions, the Gandhian one of rejecting all war and violence and also the Just War position as legitimate ways of living out a commitment to peace. What else does this now approved document Creating Peace say to us? It gives us 3 specific ways of living out our commitment to peace: peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping.
Peacebuilding is the creation and support of institutions and structures that address the roots of conflict, including economic exploitation, political marginalization, the violation of human rights, and a lack of accountability to law. Peacemaking is the negotiation of equitable and sustainable peace agreements, mediation between hostile parties, and post-conflict rebuilding and reconciliation.
Peacekeeping is early intervention to prevent war, stop genocide, and monitor ceasefires. Peacekeeping creates the space for diplomatic efforts, humanitarian aid, and nonviolent conflict prevention through the protection of civilians and the disarmament and separation of those involved in violent conflict.
These three are somewhat artificial but still helpful terms in getting us to think about what a real commitment to peace would look like. Peacebuilding makes us reflect on the roots of conflict, the many situations that have existed and still exist that cause people and groups to do violence to each other. It calls us to remember and to support those organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that monitor and report on situations of injustice within and between societies that sow the seeds of future violence. Peacemaking causes us to reflect on the always ongoing efforts by people, nations, international organization to defuse and calm down violent situations and conflicts and try to bring understanding and even reconciliation between warring factions. Peacemaking calls on us to remember and to support those organizations like the United Nations that encourage negotiation rather than violence and provide the necessary forces to keep violent foes apart so that they don't do violence to one another. And peacekeeping encourages us to think about ways to actively prevent violence from happening in the first place and about ways to minimize violence when it starts to happen. Peacekeeping makes us think about the blue helmeted peacekeeping forces of the U.N. or NATO forces in Bosnia that arrive both in too few numbers and too late to really prevent violence or to establish a situation that is worthy of being called peace.
Surely the document Creating Peace is correct in stating that to live out our commitment to peace we have to think about our commitment to all three: peacebuilding, peacemaking, and peacekeeping. But what does the document say about our situation today? About the war against Iraq? About the war in Afghanistan? About the war on terrorism?
This document does not specifically mention any war and does not include the words Iraq, Afghanistan, or terrorism. This might be a disappointment to many UUs, though it makes statements that it is reasonable to believe refer to the Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan and/or the war on terror. Each person has to decide for him or herself if these statements are strong enough or too strong. First off, the document uses the word repudiate, which is certainly a strong word: "We repudiate aggressive and preventive wars. . ." This statement certainly seems to refer to the Iraq War, which was certainly promoted directly as a preventive war to prevent Sadam Hussein from using his terrible WMD on us and on our allies. Does this phrase "aggressive and preventive wars" refer also to the war in Afghanistan? The document doesn't say and leaves it up to each person to decide for him or herself if that war would fit into that category. The document also says "We repudiate unilateral interventions." This seems to be another direct reference to the Iraq War, which was done unilaterally despite the fact that the UN refused to support it. Again, it is questionable whether this condemnation of unilateral interventions applies to the Afghanistan war. The document says that we repudiate also extended military occupations. . ." Certainly Iraq and Afghanistan could be included here since they are both extended military occupations. We have now withdrawn our forces from Iraq after 7 years of occupation, of course leaving behind only??? 50,000 troops and we now have more troops in Afghanistan than we have ever had and have occupied Afghanistan for ten years with no end in sight. Does this part of the document repudiate both the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan? That may well be. It's important to quote the exact wording here of this document that was voted on and passed by the UUA this summer: "We repudiate unilateral interventions and extended military occupations as dangerous new forms of imperialism." That may well be the most critical sentence in the entire document, critical as in criticizing the current state of affairs and critical as in crucial, and bears repeating. Do you agree with it? Would you have voted for the document with this statement in it? "We repudiate unilateral interventions and extended military occupations as dangerous new forms of imperialism."
Was the Iraq War and the extended occupation of Iraq a dangerous new form of imperialism? Probably most of us and most UUs would say yes, and even Barack Obama would agree with that. But is the extended military occupation of Afghanistan, now longer in duration and with more of our troops than in Iraq, is that too "a dangerous new form of imperialism"? Certainly some of us, maybe even most of us, would say it is. But many people, and some of them surely are UUs, in explaining our long and increasing occupation of Afghanistan would go back to the concept of creating peace, about peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping. Some would say that what we are doing in Afghanistan is trying to establish the conditions for peace so that the Afghan people will not be threatened and dominated by the Taliban and by Al Quaeda and so that Al Quaeda will not have a safe haven from which to threaten the peace of all societies. Some of those people who would make that argument and talk about Afghanistan as a long peacebuilding, peacemaking, and peacekeeping mission would be our soldiers risking their lives over there, and some of those soldiers are themselves UUs. Certainly one of the people who would make that argument is that Niebuhrian believer in Just War, the one who lives in the White House.
So here we are, we UUs, or we Americans, in the fall of 2010. We look back at all that has happened or that we have done since September 11th. After such folly, what wisdom? If all we had to deal with right now, in the present, was the terrible recent past, if all we had was a rear view mirror with the long tragedy of the Iraq War in it, then at least we could have the heavy and sad satisfaction of agreeing on the painful wisdom that we repudiate what we did, that we now know that that unilateral intervention and extended military intervention that was sold to us was actually a new form of imperialism. But we don't even have that because we do not have only a rear view mirror. We have the present view, with 130,00 troops currently occupying in Afghanistan, with 20 body bags of our soldiers just last week and how many this week and countless civilian deaths and so many times our military has had to apologize for bombing the wrong targets and killing the wrong people and what we see now right in front of us and not just in the rear view mirror looks so much like we have lived through for so long already and this present view of what we see now looks like it is going to last a long, long time.
And in our present still filled with war and violence we UUs have come together and agreed on a statement about creating peace. Some who voted for it believe that our continuing occupation of Afghanistan is a dangerous new form of imperialism; others would certainly say that the buildup of troops in Afghanistan is the difficult work we have to do to live out our commitment to peace. Both are reasonable positions; both are held by UUs. I don't know which one you agree with or which one is right. Either way, the fact is that we UUs come together, approve a document about the importance of creating peace through peacebilding, peacemaking, and peacekeeping, all this happens now, when peace seems to be impossible, something we just talk about as a theoretical possibility, and when this war that is constantly before us, this Afghanistan war become Iraq war and now Afghanistan war again seems to be forever.
Forever. Dexter Filkens' book on our military interventions into Afghanistan and Iraq has this terrible title The Forever War. As we read this statement about creating peace in 2010 we also have to wonder. We know we want peace; we want to do peacebuilding, and peacemaking, and peacekeeping. And there was a time not so long ago, in our own lives, after the collapse of communism, when peace seemed to be happening, to be on the horizon. How did we move from a time that seemed so promising to this time now of endless war? How did we get here? How did we end up in a war that never ends, in a war that seems to contest or refute the very concept of an end? How do we defeat Muslim extremism and fanaticism when in every country we invade or bomb by drones, every bomb we drop, every person we kill by mistake, only makes more people hate us and want to kill and attack us? Even if we could destroy all Taliban and Al Quaeda in Afghanistan, they would just reestablish themselves in Pakistan or somewhere else, in greater numbers, with greater fanaticism and desire to destroy. Our own actions have constantly given an ever growing group of extremists more reasons to hate us and want to kill us. Winning this war is an illusion. Wisdom consists not in winning it but in preventing it from starting in the first place.
Which of course takes us back to creating peace, to really creating peace in the ways that military interventions and bombs cannot ever do, to peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping. Yes, of course we have to choose peace, vote for it. We have to commit ourselves to peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping, but even as we do this now, in 2010, with varying shades of enthusiasm, we cannot help thinking that perhaps we missed our chance. Perhaps an idealistic and superficial perspective would say "oh no, it is never too late for peace." But a more coldly realistic perspective might say that in certain situations there are just certain times that are crucial and if you screw them up that's it. You have to face the consequences. Sometimes, in some situations, it's just true what Kierkegaard said: "What the moment has denied, eternity will never give back." Peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping, certainly all three, but the time for all 3 was years ago, years even before 9/11, when we first realized that the injustices within Islamic societies in the Middle East were becoming seeds of hatred, extremism, violence, and war that would all be brought to our own front door eventually. When Osama bin Laden and Al Quaeda quite openly on TV interviews swore holy war against all Americans, when he attacked two of our embassies in Africa in 1998 and had training camps for extremists in Afghanistan, that was the time not just for intelligently guided missiles but for intelligent and critical reflection about ourselves and about the unjust situations we have helped create that becomes the seeds of violence that is the work of peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping.
Creating peace, a statement about peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping, a statement proposed for us to think about in 2010. Sure, vote for it, but even as we do, as we think about peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping, we think about time when we really should have done peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping. We can imagine a world without September 11th and without the continuing violence and hatred that has ensued from it, a world without the war in Iraq, without the war in Afghanistan, if only we'd been wiser and more committed to creating peace. We really want to live in that world but we can't. "What the moment has denied, eternity will never give back."
Now, in 2010, in the midst of the Afghanistan war that seems forever, we have a document called Creating Peace. It talks about peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping. We should vote for it but we cannot help thinking that it just might be too late.
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.