I wasn’t able to get to this last week when it appeared (and I’ve been away from Internet access so I haven’t been able to get to much of anything the last few days), but I didn’t want it to slip by without notice. Seems the World Council of Churches held a “peace convocation” last week to mark the end of the Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence (I know, you probably missed it, but then so did Moammar Qaddafi, Bashir Assad, Hezbollah, the criminals running northern Sudan, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jung-il, the mullahs of Tehran, the generals of Burma, the Chinese Communist Party, and lots of other folks whose violence has escaped the WCC’s notice while it was hammering away at Israel and the United States). Anyway, the WCC put out a press release about the shindig, and there were a few things about it that struck me. It begins:
What does “God’s security” look like?
As a 10-year-old schoolgirl, on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., Setsuko Thurlow, then Nakamura, suddenly saw a brilliant bluish light flash outside her schoolroom window. “I remember the sensation of floating in the air. When I regained consciousness, in the total darkness and silence, I found myself in the rubble.”
She began to hear her classmates’ faint voices: “Mom, help me. Dad, help me.”
Thurlow is a “hibakusha,” a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, one of two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan by the United States toward the end of World War II. She is also a lifelong advocate against armaments.
Her vivid and painful memory washed over participants at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) May 23 in Kingston, Jamaica, on a day when a panel discussion explored the theme of Peace among the Peoples, examined critical concerns about obstructions to peace at the international level, and considered what real security looks like.
I would never want to minimize or take issue with the suffering of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They experienced something that no human being should ever have to undergo, and they stand as testimonies to man’s inhumanity to man. But when we start talking about security in the context of international relations (as opposed to personal security or individual conduct), we have to ask the question: where do Japan’s actions in starting and fighting World War II come into the equation? At the same time the WCC participants were shuddering at the memory of Hiroshima, should they not also have have taken some time to shudder over the rape of Nanking? Pearl Harbor? The Bataan Death March? Japanese medical experiments? The use of Korean and other Asian women as sex slaves? Where was their security? And might it be possible that a stronger international response to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, one that didn’t simply involve League of Nations resolutions and diplomatic tut-tutting, might have dissuaded Japan from continuing with its plans for conquest, plans that eventually led to the first and only use of atomic weapons? These questions lead directly to this:
Even though Thurlow’s presentation was a recorded video, as she was unable to attend the convocation in person, it remained a stark reminder of how recent the use of the atomic bomb really was. It was only a generation ago and since then the major world powers have developed and proliferated nuclear arsenals that are, at best, mutually destructive.
That is simply, totally, and willfully, ignorantly, wrong. The nuclear arsenals of the major world powers have not been “mutually destructive.” They have, in fact, likely prevented enormous destruction since 1945. I think it would have been a virtual certainty that the Soviet Union would have invaded and sought to forcibly impose friendly regimes in Western Europe within ten years of the surrender of Germany if it weren’t for the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Yes, that deterrent, and the Soviet nuclear forces, threatened mutual destruction, but that didn’t happen, now, did it?
Since the end of the Cold War, the world has become a more dangerous place, one where nuclear weapons are now in the hands of people who may turn out to be suicidal enough to use them. That means that we need to think long and hard about the ways that such weapons are deployed under new and potentially horrendous circumstances. But wishing them away, and acting as though the world would be a safer place if the relatively sane people disarmed and left the crazies in sole possession of nukes, is not the mark of a serious politics or ethics.
Governments tend to attempt to justify large-scale military action – at its worst, nuclear warfare – in the name of “security,” pointed out Dr Lisa Schirch, professor of peace-building at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., United States. She called into question what security should mean to Christians.
“Jesus doesn’t use the word ‘security.’ The language of the church is much more about justice and peace than about security,” she said.
That’s true. Jesus does not use the word “security.” And guess what? He also didn’t speak about international relations in a multilateral world (which makes sense since He lived in a world empire of then unprecedented scope and power). When He spoke of “justice and peace,” He was addressing the way His followers were supposed to live in every aspect of their lives. At no point does He address Augustus or Tiberius and tell him how they ought to run the Roman Empire.
“Security does not land in a helicopter.”
This is a favorite phrase of Dr. Schirch, whom I’ve quoted saying this before. Yet the truth is that security does land in a helicopter sometimes. The use of force sometimes does bring security–as well as peace and justice–in the face of evil. Just not when the United States or Israel employs such force. Keep in mind that the WCC is an organization that loves United Nations peacekeeping missions, and puts out pleas for support for them whenever they are authorized. Last time I checked, UN peacekeepers generally aren’t social workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, agronomists, etc. (which is not to say that there isn’t a place for any of them in the establishing and keeping of peace). Rather, the guys in the blue helmets tend to be [undermanned, underarmed, and undertrained] members of the armed forces of nations that volunteer them. Canada–hardly one of the world’s hegemonic powers–has been one of the countries most willing to see its military used in this way. I suppose they may all arrive on the scene, wherever it may be, in rowboats, gondolas, and minivans, but you’d better believe that they arrive with weapons in hand, and that the locals will welcome their presence, if they can keep their hands off the local women and children and actually do what they’ve been tasked to do.
So, the long and the short of it is that the WCC held confab at which it was agreed that everyone should be nice to everyone else, and that if they did God would be pleased. That’s a great sentiment, folks. Tell it to Bashir Assad or Kim Jung-il, and see what kind of reception you get.