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Issue Date:  August 11, 2006

Violence is a false redeemer

War transmutes everything: reason, logic, those who wage it, pay for it, justify it.

It creates its own reason far beyond the bounds of common sense.

And so it was one recent morning that we read that the United States was rushing an order of precision-guided bombs -- as if someone had put a rush on an order of shoes or new furniture -- to Israel. The bombs, in fact, were part of a larger weapons procurement package. There were already scheduled to be shipped in the coming months. But there was now a war on, so the order had to be expedited.

They were, one presumes, headed quickly to the battlefield. To Israeli planes that were bombing sites in Lebanon. The bombing was going on, of course, even as U.S. forces were running a shuttle service between Beirut and Cyprus for Americans who wanted to leave an area that might come under attack by American-made bombs, particularly those that turned out to be less than precise.

All of that was occurring at the same time that other U.S. soldiers were dropping off the first supplies to aid in a humanitarian effort that was being led by the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to a U.S. Marine Corps news release. It seemed a strange use of resources, given that significant areas of Lebanon were undergoing severe, if involuntary, deconstruction.

So, we were rushing new and better bombs to Israel with which to attack Lebanon, but working furiously to get Americans out of the way of the new bombs while also working furiously to ameliorate any damage the bombs might do. While all of that was going on, President Bush resisted calls for an immediate cease-fire but, having supplied new and better bombs, kept urging “restraint.”

Marine Brig. Gen. Carl B. Jensen, commander of the troops doing the evacuating, saw the silver lining. “We’ve got some awfully tired soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines out here,” he was quoted in that same release. “But, I’ll tell you what, it’s hard to get really tired in this business, because this is all about Americans helping Americans, and it gives you such a great feeling,” Jensen said. “This is, in fact, a labor of love.”

War, indeed, has its own logic.

* * *

Whatever the vicissitudes of war in this latest round of insanity in the Middle East, the saddest fact is that the ones most affected on both sides of the border -- the Israelis who constantly take cover from Hezbollah missiles, and the Lebanese left to fear an Israeli air strike -- are civilians. It is overwhelmingly kids and noncombatants who so far have paid the price. Some may bristle at the equation of the destruction by a self-described terrorist group such as Hezbollah with the destruction wreaked by the sovereign state of Israel. But is there room for the kind of pragmatism that understands that every missile lobbed into northern Israel and every new dead or maimed Israeli civilian assures that this war will go on and that Israeli enmity toward the Arab world will deepen? Isn’t it clear that every Israeli strike in Lebanon that produces more innocent death and the destruction of infrastructure is seeding the next generation of hatred and the next mob shouting, “Death to Israel!”

It is a grand display of a seemingly endless exercise in what Walter Wink, the Protestant theologian, calls “the myth of redemptive violence.”

* * *

We appear to be engaging the myth to an extreme degree in Iraq. Remember when the talk was of redemption? How, with our bombs and military might, we would save the Iraqi people, get the oil flowing again and set the country on the way to becoming a beacon of democracy in the Middle East? What is at work now, in the chaos and relentless violence, in the abandoned construction projects, the unfinished schools and hospitals, the tangle of corruption and misspent money, is more than ineptitude and bad planning. It is what happens when the myth of redemptive violence shows itself for what it really is. And that is why the moral authority is draining out of our words as fast as blood from another victim of suicide bombings. That is why it is hideously ironic when the United States attempts to take the moral high ground and seeks “restraint” or places a demand before “our partners” to work out a plan for a lasting cease-fire.

The myth of redemptive violence, writes Wink in The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, “speaks for God; it does not listen for God to speak. It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own; it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical judgment by God. It misappropriates the language, symbols and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it embraces God in order to prevent change. Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations but a tribal god worshiped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey but the fortress; its symbol is not the cross but the crosshairs of a gun. Its offer is not forgiveness but victory. … It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous.

“And it is immensely popular.”

It is difficult to be the shining city on the hill when so much of our effort and treasury and youth is mired in blood-soaked sand.

National Catholic Reporter, August 11, 2006

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