• The cost of war . . .

    Or rather, the cost of putting our hope in a vengeful God - who our governments apparently believe is only able to resolve the world’s problems through perpetrating even greater horrors on an infinitely more massive scale . . .

    The awful events of terrorist attacks on Paris last Friday in addition to an almost completely unpublicised, but hardly less devastating, attack the day before on Beirut, (see here) brought back to mind my visit to the 9/11 memorial museum in New York earlier this year. Here were my reflections afterwards:

    On 5th May 2015, I visited the museum commemorating the 9/11 disaster in New York. In a deeply shocking tragic event that was immediately publicised the world over (made possible through the miracles of modern media), not far short of 3,000 lives were lost.

    13.5 years later, a glittering new building has replaced the twin towers, known locally as The Freedom Tower. Also an amazing memorial park exuding a peaceful atmosphere has been created on the site of the twin towers. And a very impressive memorial museum has been built.

    The events of 9/11 were truly terrible and rightly will never be forgotten. However, when I stand back to try and gain a sense of perspective, I have to ask myself whether we have ever stopped to soberly consider the catastrophe the western world has wrought upon the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq and further afield, and the ongoing terrible consequences of our taking retaliative action against the terrorists. The effects are likely to go on having devastating consequences for generations to come. Worst of all, in my view, is the way we have been “justifying” (in our own eyes) the staggering loss of life at our hands and the eye-watering cost of our endeavours in this surely spurious adventure, by supposedly pursuing a “war on terror”, whatever that means! It all sounds very grandiose, but it has surely turned out to be a meaningless justification for indiscriminate war-mongering against an undefined enemy, resulting in a staggering numbers of casualties. And far from our becoming the great victors who have ended a war against terrorism, we have merely escalated the conflict exponentially, as last week’s events only serve to illustrate.

    Following 9/11, the cost of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are estimated at 225,000 lives, displacing a number of people equivalent to the entire population of London, and up to $4 trillion in U.S. spending alone, according to a new report (when I researched it last May) by scholars with the Eisenhower Research Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

    Can we be surprised that many in the Muslim world believe our ‘Christian’ world to be ‘the great Satan’?!

    No less extraordinary is the fact that we could have ever imagine our actions could be justified – in any way at all – according to so-called “Christian” principles. Where is the evidence of our belief in the message of the Prince of Peace? The One who brought Good News for all of mankind? When our actions have caused, in terms of loss of life alone, at a conservative estimate, not twice the number of casualties, not three times the number - but at least 75 times the loss of life on 9/11?!

    And who is putting up the money for, and building, the memorials to the 225,000 people whose lives have been lost, with every person’s name reverently recorded? How many of us in the West are mourning the loss of life or the wrecked families and orphaned children in consequence? Who is paying compensation to the 7.8 million Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani refugees displaced by the wars, according to those International Studies?

    If, as western nations, we were to stop and think about it, how could we ever begin to show our repentance for such atrocities perpetrated in the name of so-called Christian countries? Sadly there is little sign of there being any will (at government level anyway) to show repentance. Quite the contrary in fact: the sabre-rattling goes on and on; the manufacture and stockpiling of weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, continue to escalate everywhere, with Saudi Arabia now determining to become a nuclear power.

    To the Islamic world, I would want to confess that our so-called Christian nations have betrayed the teachings of Christ, in whom we profess to believe, to a degree so monstrous that I could not even begin to imagine them finding it in their hearts to forgive us.

    Jesus taught (Matthew 5), “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, reward evil with good”. How could we ever imagine ourselves to remotely be in touch with this Christian teaching when we have behaved on an infinitely more monstrous scale than the 9/11 terrorists, through our own retaliative actions. And let us not delude ourselves further into fantasising that Osama Bin Laden’s plots against the West were somehow maliciously and capriciously motivated by our peaceful actions in the past. Or even our myopic indifference. 2000 years of Christian history right up to the present day is littered with violence, wars and war-mongering posturing, and many middle eastern countries have suffered at our hands especially.

    As Christians we claim to put our faith and trust in the great Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, claiming him as our Lord and Saviour. Yet in real life we spurn his message, preferring to worship the same vengeful God that some Muslims apparently worship; we betray the reality, no doubt inadvertently, that we share the same core beliefs – that violent actions can only be “resolved” by employing the use of infinitely greater violence. We’ve heard of the way of the Cross and we claim that we are moved by the story of Jesus laying his life down for the world; we even claim we have been “converted” or “saved” by putting our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord. But in fact we have not put our trust in Jesus Christ at all. We have actually put our trust in a God of War who takes revenge without end.

    Jesus also said, (Matt 5:13) “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

    As things stand, we surely deserve what is coming to us.

    Yet, as happened in most of the former communist bloc countries in the recent past (1989), and in India coming out from oppressive British rule, thanks to the visionary leadership and policy of Mahatma Gandhi of non-violent opposition, a ground-swell of non-violent resistance to government policies today might yet begin to change things for the better in the course of time.

    In his book “The Bad Christian’s Manifesto”, author Dave Tomlinson records that “For more than forty years Gandhi spent two hours each day in meditation . . . Much of the time was spent in silence, but he always read from the Sermon on the Mount . . . For Gandhi, the Sermon on the Mount was the core of Christ’s teaching. He said it went straight to his heart, filling him with bliss, and quenching the agony of his soul. He also thought it held the keys for creating a better future for India and the world.”

    We cannot afford to wait for another great visionary such as Mahatma Gandhi to be raised up. Nor do we need to. We’ve had Jesus’ teaching fro 2000 years now. Instead, let us get on with praying now – to the God of infinite grace and mercy, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Prince of Peace – that we can embrace Jesus’ teaching not merely in word but also in deed, and with all our hearts. Let us hope that our prayers and intercessions will not come too late.

    Jeremy Marks

    16th November 2015

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