“Peace on earth!” (Luke 2:14) heralded the angels, announcing the birth of Jesus. It is appropriate, in this Advent season, when Christians wait for the announcement of the birth of Jesus, that we also receive the formal announcement of the end of the Iraq war.
War itself is the real “War on Christmas.” War, that bloody, dangerous, and destructive human activity, is the real offense against Christmas, the celebration of the birth of the “Prince of Peace,” not the trivialities of how a religiously diverse society names the holidays. Pundits who use the term “war” to describe their cultural complaints should hang their heads in shame at comparing their grumbles to the sin of violence that is war.
If Jesus came heralded as bringing “Peace on earth,” then the Christian view should be that all war is an offense to God because all war destroys peace.
The Iraq war was a particular offense, however. The attack on Iraq was an example of unjust war, a war of choice that should never have been authorized and never been waged, has come to a quiet end. But the pain of loss, injury and destruction endures. The statistics on what the Iraq war cost are staggering. On the American side, there were 4, 486 casualties and 32, 226 seriously wounded. The seriously wounded may require care for the rest of their lives. The number of Iraqi deaths has been highly contested; the Web site “Iraq Body Count” indicates over 100,000. That we do not even have an accurate number on the deaths of Iraqis is itself chilling, and a testimony to the contempt for human life that war can bring about.
About $1 trillion U.S. taxpayer dollars have been authorized to be spent in Iraq through 2011. There’s also $9 billion of U.S. taxpayer money “lost and unaccounted for” in this conflict, much of it equipment including guns. Whom did we arm with these weapons? How will this waste fuel the next war? This is shameful.
But peace took another hit in the Iraq war. In addition to the loss of many lives, the appalling injuries, and the loss of taxpayer dollars that could have been funding schools and roads and job training at home, we lost something else. We lost our national soul.
The Iraq war is the war most infamous for the torture uncovered at the Abu Ghraib prison. In 2004, in the pages of The Chicago Tribune, I wrote, Can a nation lose its soul? Coming to terms with the conscience of the United States and the torture of Iraqi prisoners. I argued that the “soul” should not just be understood as belonging to an individual, but that indeed whole nations can have souls. The soul is not a ‘ghost in the machine,’ but the relationship between your actions and your values. That’s why, when someone betrays their values, we say “he sold his soul.” “What does it profit someone to gain the whole world and lose their soul?” (Mark 8:36)
We sold our national soul in the decision to torture. And it was a decision, not just some ‘bad apples’ acting out, as Jane Mayer so extensively documents in her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals .
This is why, of course, the Cheneys, both father and now daughter, work so hard to defend the practices of torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
I am glad, as I am sure all of the readers of On Faith are, to see the returning troops; it is poignant to see them hugging their families, relieved of this burden, finally at home. This is a good thing.
But we are far from peace on earth in this Christmas season. We are still at war in Afghanistan, and those who are tempted by the spectacle of war are again sabre rattling to bomb Iran and start another war.
In this Christmas season we are still far, much too far, from peace on earth. But in ending the Iraq war, we may have taken a step away from endless war. And God willing, let us repudiate the idea of “preemptive” war.
Now and always: Dona nobis pacem. Give us peace.