By Monte Sahlin
Using gas on families and children (or even organized, professional troops) puts the so-called president of Syria in a class of criminals who have committed the worst crimes; crimes against humanity. It is my prayer that he will one day stand before the International Criminal Court and spend the rest of his life in prison. The fact that a man trained as a physician, who presumably took the usual oath, is guilty of this is particularly disturbing.
But does this justify the unleashing of firearms and missles, unless it were for the specific purpose of making an arrest or destroying the stockpiles yet unused? (If the news media reports are to be believed, it is the largest such on the globe right now.) If ever "just war" theory made sense, this is surely one instance, no matter how much it troubles my conscience. How could so many Americans, particularly those who have been criticizing the president for months about not taking a sufficiently hard line on such matters, now suddenly develop a reason to hold off? This has to be one of the most blatently political and hypcritical moments in the history of the United States Congress. Frankly, the entire lower house should be abolished as being of insufficient character or intellect to be worth the millions of dollars it costs to maintain it!
What is the moral path here? Should one maintain a basic position against all military action, no matter the specific context? If the criminal element that controls the Syrian government gets away with this, it may end all of the generations of effort to develop some rules of war, some standards of decency even when the peace cannot be maintained. It is one thing for a lawless group in the depths of the Congo rain forests or rural Cambodia to behave in such horrible fashion until neighboring armies can get to them, but Syria is an ancient nation long visible on the world scene. It is defying a universal decision made in the 1920s, nearly a century ago.
One of the reasons that something like this could happen may well be a sense that there are no cops. Back in the Cold War, it was likely that one side or the other would bring an end to such nonsense quickly and quietly because they did not want the stupidity of some little dictator to upset the balance of power that was more important to them. Now that we have only one credible world power, then the politics change and there seems to be a vast crowd who would like to see the big power somehow weakened just to increase their own little advantage. If President Obama had simply dispatched a blow to Syria before there was much debate, would it have given everyone a sense that the police are still on duty and they had better stay close to the rules? Would peace have been preserved longer and therefore justified the limited warfare involved?
Is the widespread moral fragmentation and failure of character in virtually every country's political elite visible in the last few days truly an invitation down the slippery slope to World War III? Or, does it give peace a chance? We are clearly in a new moral universe. How should Christian pacifists relate to "low-grade warefare" of the type that is currently widespread and so different from what we grew up with in World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and even the Bush Wars in Iraq? Are incidents like Rwanda a matter of moral ambituity or moral failure of a massive order?
Mankind has invented nothing worse than war. It is all of the evil things about humanity unleashed. We now have a more slippery kind of war, but does that make any less terrible? How did we get twisted into situations where pacifists are marching to protect horrible little tyrants who gas women and children by the thousands? Have we come to the point that if we are serious about peace we must establish in the United Nations an armed police force? Or, allow the United States military to take on that additional mission?
You may think I am hiding an answer somewhere to all my questions; that in the end I will come down one place or another. Think again! I don't know the answer and that is the most disturbing thing about this whole experience of the last 10 days. I feel like my moral compass is spinning in freeflow near the magnetic pole. Things seemed clearer once upon a time. Even my prayers bring no quiet to my heart.