Duke Divinity prof. discusses war, peace
    November 19 2009 by Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — The following is an edited interview with Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, conducted by Kevin Eckstrom, a writer with Religious News Service.)

    DURHAM — Remember that book, How to Make Friends and Influence People? Let’s just say that Duke University ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has been hugely influential, but that doesn’t mean his salty tongue has made him a lot of friends along the way.

    Hauerwas, a self-described Christian pacifist, is an expert on just war theory. As Hauerwas sees it, not only did Iraq and Afghanistan fail to meet the criteria of a just war, but neither did World War II. Now, as the Obama administration weighs its options in Afghanistan, Hauerwas remains decidedly pessimistic not only about American prospects, but also American morality.

    RNS photo courtesy of Duke Divinity School

    Ethicist Stanley Hauerwaus is an expert on just war theory and believes Christians have been too passive about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Hauerwas, 69, talked about his view on war and peace, his dismal assessment about the state of America’s churches, and why President Obama isn’t likely to come calling. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

    Q: What should President Obama do about Afghanistan?

    A: Afghanistan was understood to be part of the war against terror, and that was a decisive mistake because as soon as you said we are at war, you gave Osama bin Laden what he wanted — he became a warrior, and not just a murderer. I would be much happier with a whole reconsideration of our involvement there — not as a war, but as a police function, and how the police might intervene to arrest bin Laden.

    I know that sounds utopian, but just try thinking you’re going to win a war in Afghanistan. I can’t imagine anything more utopian than that. Ask the British. Ask the Russians. It’s never going to happen.

    Q: With seven years of hindsight, was Afghanistan ever a just war?

    A: Afghanistan has the possibility of being limited in a way that might make it a bit more justifiable, but it’s still not clear what we’re fighting for. It’s so deeply ambiguous that it’s hard to fit into just war criteria. The very idea that you begin to assess the justness of a war after the war is already going to happen, I’m sorry, it’s already too late.

    Q: How would you assess the church’s response to the Iraq war?

    A: Awful. Christians — and it started with Sept. 11, as soon as we said we are at war — Christians said “that’s us.” We never asked the hard questions about the war on terror, and that is, I think, why Iraq happened. It has everything to do with the inability to distinguish between the Christian “we” and the American “we.”

    Q: So does the church need a service of repentance?

    A: The church has lost its ability to be a disciplined community because we’re now, religiously, in a buyer’s market. Christianity has to bill itself as very good for your self-realization, and that’s killing us because we’re not very good for your self-realization. We’re good for your salvation, which is not the same thing. Hopefully God is making sure that we’re not going to survive in the position we’re currently in.

    Q: What kinds of questions should be we asking now about Afghanistan?

    A: We need to ask them to tell us the truth. Tell us that we’re engaged in an unwinnable business here, but we have these kinds of political stakes and we want to achieve those, and people are going to die for ambiguous political ends. Just tell us the truth.

    Q: What should be the church’s role in the debate over Afghanistan?

    A: Let’s start with people in our congregations who are connected with the military, and ask them how they can justify that. Let’s start there. I have high regard for people in the military, but very seldom are they asked to justify what they’re doing.

    Q: So every Christian is called to be a pacifist?

    A: Yes, absolutely.

    Q: So how do you respond to people who say that’s unrealistic?

    A: Try lifelong monogamous fidelity in marriage. Do you think that’s realistic? Yet we do it. I’m not terribly cowed by the charge of being unrealistic.

    Q: If Obama were to call you for advice on Afghanistan, what would you say?

    A: I’d say you have to tell the American some really hard truths, namely that the war on terror was a mistake and we’ve got to start, as Americans, learning to live in a world that we don’t control. That’s not going to make you very popular.

    Q: So you’d be politically toxic to the president of the United States?

    A: Yeah, I would be. Just like (former Obama pastor) Jeremiah Wright. I hope I’m absolutely as toxic as Jeremiah Wright.

    Q: Why?

    A: Because I think what I’m saying is what Christians should be saying.

    Q: The hard truths?

    A: Absolutely.

    11/19/2009 4:36:00 AM by Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service | with 8 comments

Bryan Ezell
Norm, I don't know if you oppose or reject the ideas of this man or not, thats your business. But why don't you also post someone who supports military action to defend our national interest.
11/23/2009 12:26:31 PM

Good point, Tim. One of the things about Augustine's "Just War Theory" that too many forget is that it is just a theory by an early saint and is not gospel. Too often it has been used to "justify" Christian support of war and not used to facilitate introspective examination that would help Christians discern whether a particular war can be justified.
11/23/2009 8:00:38 AM

Tim Marsh

There is a difference between saying whether or not the United States should have fought WWII and whether WWII met the church's traditional understanding of Just War Theory. Hauerwas is arguing for the latter point. When you read true Just War Theory it is more "pie in the sky" than pacifism. In the days of swords or muskets and bayonettes, with battles in open fields, just war theory might work. However, since the invention of the machine gun, I am not so sure any war could ever meet the church's just war theory.

All of this is to say that the United States' "justification" for conflict in the many wars has rarely met the church's criteria for "just war." I imagine that few Christians are familiar with just war.

"Just sayin'"
11/20/2009 11:46:45 PM

Gene Scarborough
Thanks for this wise article. Anyone who experienced Viet Nam with a draft card in his pocket should know the wisdom of this man.

Why do Americans think we must have a hand in every nation around the world? Do we not know we are despised just because of our medling?

If Iraqui/Afghanistani troops were patroling our streets right now, would we be happy?

If their helocopters had turned our relatives into mush on a bridge, would we not want to get even?

What about those "peripheral damage" reports from bombs dropped? In plan language that means we killed innocent civilians who all have relatives hating us now!

We are so "wise" to provide unexploded warheads which can be easily turned into roadside bombs! The Weapons of Mass Destruction were not in Iraq--until we provided them in weapons depots and unexploded bombs!

We are so almighty wise and worthy of running this world--when we can't even pass Healthcare!

How many billions, if applied to cancer, greenhouse emissions, or our own failed economy, might just help the taxpayer who provided it?
11/20/2009 9:13:17 PM

I love these warmongering fundies.
11/19/2009 10:18:31 PM

Bryan, We offer these perspectives to show there are thoughtful Christians who twist the prizm slightly and see a different colored light. And, to remind us all that people who claim the name of Christ in their identity too easily embrace a military solution to protect national interests the Prince of Peace likely cares little about.
11/19/2009 2:26:26 PM

Bryan Ezell
Liberal propaganda! why do you even print this nonsense.
11/19/2009 1:28:37 PM

Brent Hobbs
I'd refer anyone interested to C. S. Lewis' chapter "Why I Am Not a Pacifist" in his book [i]The Weight of Glory.[/i]

Those who support any of these wars should never say, "All Christians should support these wars." Neither should those who oppose them try and make it sound like there's some kind of Christian imperative to oppose them.

In my opinion, someone who questions the rightness of fighting World War II has pretty much disqualified himself from speaking on the subject at all. In Lewis' words (though from a different context), "If a man's mind is open on such matters, at least let his mouth be shut."
11/19/2009 12:51:03 PM

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