I approach this Memorial Day with several thoughts on my mind, some precipitated by a bumper sticker one of my housemates has put on his car. It reads, “War is a defeat for humanity”–Pope John Paul II.
I don’t much care for such bumper stickers. I fear the pacifism such stickers seem to support, for pacifism has killed more people than it has saved, and probably cost the world more human lives than any war. In fact, as the ranks of pacifists have grown in Western society, there has been an increase in needless bloodshed, not a lessening of it. In part, it’s just simple psychology; bullies are at their worst when no one stands up to them. And so we can thank pacifism for the 30-50 million dead in the years of Mao’s Communist China. The deaths and casual imprisonments continue today. Russia too, under Stalin can claim 12-18 million murdered and millions more sent to gulags. The blood of those dead belongs (in part) on the hands of those who argued for peace, when war would have been less costly.
So I return to that bumper sticker, and I wonder if many of the people who own them have any real understanding of psychology, human history, or even the quoted statement within its original context. I think it more likely they are merely distorting it to suit their own ends. The sentence from John Paul II that immediately precedes the one appearing on the sticker is “War is not always inevitable.”
Certainly we should strive always to resolve situations without recourse to war, but as JP II’s statement implies, sometimes, war IS inevitable. It is not only inevitable, but also a lesser defeat than the alternative–“peaceful” life under a brutal tyrant. Sensible, peace-loving folk recognize the sometime necessity of armed conflict on Memorial Day, when we honor the soldiers’ sacrifice and courage won for us lives free from brutal oppression. Lives in which we, unlike the Afghanis under the Taliban, can dance and play music without fear of being imprisoned, can worship as we please, and are allowed to educate our daughters without fear of torture or public execution.
On this day, we remember the thousands of soldiers who fought–and continue to fight in Iraq–for the right of humanity to live free from despots like Saddam, who killed between two and four million, and tortured a million more. Those soldiers have witnessed truly to that highest of Gospel ideals, and shown what our Lord described when he said, “No greater love is there than this; to lay down one’s life for a friend.”