In Matthew 24:6 of the gospels Jesus had this to say about war. “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. Some have misunderstood this comment to mean that we should not care one way or another about war. I don’t think that is at all what He was saying. He was saying that war unfortunately was going to be an inevitability within the fallen human condition and was not something we should let derail us from our mission to reach the world with the gospel. And even if we personally can’t alter the course of world events, we certainly should care because we are concerned with right and wrong, and the sacredness of human life.
The fog of war is a phrase used today to describe the complexity of military conflicts, and given that, the difficulty of making the right decisions. It is often attributed to Carl von Clausewitz a Prussian Major General (1780-1831), but is in fact a paraphrase of what he said: ‘War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.’ I actually pity those political leaders who have to make the decisions of war today. Keeping the fog of war in mind, many of those decisions will be the wrong ones and they will live with the responsibility of sending brave young men to an unnecessary death. Some think George W Bush is a heartless warmonger. Opinions of the man aside, I can see in his face the pain that haunts him when he talks about the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. We in Canada can feel it as a nation every time one of our fallen soldiers returns from Afghanistan and makes the journey down the Highway of Heroes.
In 2004 Errol Morris produced an award-winning documentary about Robert S. McNamara entitled The Fog of War. McNamara was the president of Ford Motor Company when he was recruited by JFK to be his Secretary of Defense. He later served as Secretary of State during the Vietnam War. The documentary is a fascinating look at the then 85 year old’s introspections about war and the lessons we need to learn from it. One startling admission that McNamara made was in reference to the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of WWII (before his time). He said that if we had lost the war, those responsible for the attack would have needed to be tried for crimes against humanity.
The first of McNamara’s eleven lessons is maybe the most important. Empathize with your enemy. He gives the example of the Cuban Missile Crisis and describes how then ambassador to Moscow, Llewellyn Thompson, knew Khrushchev could save face by saying he saved Cuba from US attack. Later in the film, he explains how ignoring this lesson prolonged the Vietnam war – the North Vietnamese saw themselves in a Civil War and fighting for independence from enemies like China and the US as colonialists attempting domination, whereas they saw only the conflict in the light of the Cold War.
What, if any of this, relates to Middle East right now? The present situation in Libya is the one that gives me the most pause. I sincerely hope we do not find ourselves invading yet another Arab country. Firstly, I understand the political desire to prevent a possible genocide. But we must not forget that Al Qaida’s stated strategy is to lure the conflict on to Arab soil because they know that is a battle the West cannot win. Have we learned nothing from Afghanistan and Iraq not to mention the failed efforts of the 200 years of the Crusades (1095-1291)?
Secondly, and of utmost importance to many of us, every time we enter the Arab world militarily we set the work of the gospel back …who knows how many years. We repeatedly through history transgress McNamara’s lesson to empathize with your enemy. If you were to ask the average Arab what is the greatest evil committed by Christians today, they would answer, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. “What? ‘Christians’ didn’t invade Iraq!” They don’t know that. They do not know the difference between Christianity and The West, much like many of us don’t know the difference between an Arab and a Persian or Muslim and an Islamic fundamentalist. Why would they want to hear our message of the love of God after ‘WE’ just finished dropping bombs on their heads?
Having said all that, many times throughout history God has used geo-political events to pave the way for the gospel. Christianity is growing faster today in China than any other nation. The cause can be traced back not to a brilliant missions strategy on our part but to the Cultural Revolution that began in 1949. When Chairman Mao Tse Tung ushered in communism he unwittingly swept away the deeply held beliefs of Buddhism. When the cracks appeared in the fabric of communism, there was a great openness to the truths of the gospel with little resistance from Buddhism.
I cannot help but think that God may be using the events in the Middle East as an opportunity for the gospel to go forth in the Islamic world. As I said, we have not done a great job of reaching the region for Christ. There are 1.3 billion Muslims and few of them have ever heard the gospel. Whatever happens I know this for sure, that one day and maybe soon, we will get our chance. Jesus made this immutable declaration; This gospel of the kingdom will be preached to all nations and then the end will come.