News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: War with Iraq: wrestling with peace or indifference

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–By 1941 the echo of goose-stepping storm troopers marching beneath the banner of a dictator was a familiar sound in all of continental Europe.

With the borders of the Third Reich secured — as much by appeasement and capitulation as by conquest — Hitler began his systematic destruction of the Jews and the looting of Europe’s finest antiquities.

Fearful that the Allies would encroach upon his prize, the dictator frantically pursued the development of a super-weapon — one that would stop the Allied push and demonstrate the superiority of Aryan science.

At the helm of Hitler’s nuclear program was Werner Heisenberg. When Hitler was defeated and fell on his own sword rather than into Soviet hands, Heisenberg quickly claimed that while he had assisted Hitler with the research and development of a nuclear reactor, he had purposely delayed the production of an atomic bomb.

Heisenberg said that he questioned the morality of using such a device.

Heisenberg’s claim was refuted in letters released by the family of his one-time Danish mentor, Neils Bohr, on Feb. 5, 2002. Bohr, who never published the letters written between 1957-62, said Hitler’s appetite for conquest was unquenchable and that he was rushing headlong toward atomic destruction.

Bohr, who fled Denmark for the United States with his own atomic calculations in hand, worked on the Manhattan Project to produce the first working atomic bomb.

In 1981 Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, fearful that Saddam Hussein would be capable of fielding a weapon of mass destruction within five to 10 years, ordered the Israeli Defense Forces to bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. Ironically, the reactor was constructed with French assistance.

The raid was completed in less than two minutes, but it wrestled Hussein’s finger away from the “little red button” that might have initiated doomsday in the Middle East.

In his biography of Begin, Amos Permuletter wrote that Begin was motivated to act by fear. “For Begin, a survivor of the Holocaust, Hussein was Hitler, and the Osirak reactor was a technologically advanced version of the final solution.”

The IDF proclaims today that, at least for a time, “the atomic genie of Baghdad was put back in his bottle.”

A vastly different picture emerged in 1998. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a discussion on nuclear nonproliferation that the “genie cannot be put back in the bottle.” The world, Annan said, could not tolerate further nuclear tests or additional weaponization of nuclear material. In the same year, Iraq kicked U.N. weapons inspectors to the curb.

After President Bush’s address to the U.N. Sept. 12, the moral paupers of Baghdad seemed suddenly to embrace the authority of the U.N. and decided to readmit weapons inspectors. The world (read France, Russia and China) heralded a new era of international cooperation.

However, former chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler, and Khidhir Hamza, once Hussein’s nuclear guru, said that Iraq was hiding its nuclear research and would shortly obtain their prize WMD. Meanwhile, the rest of the world whines and whimpers that Iraq is a sovereign nation, that it should not be attacked and that diplomacy will work if given enough time.

Iraq’s WMD program must be put to bed permanently or the march of storm troopers will become a familiar refrain once again.

Christians in the United States have been wrestling with the idea of war in Iraq. Evangelical leaders have sent Bush letters that both condemn and support war. Some conjure images, and rightly so, of the annihilation of Israel. Others hope that the good in Hussein might prevail, though we have yet to see any good in him.

Part of the difficulty of developing a Christian position on war is that there is no one position on war in Scripture. For 20 centuries, Christians have wrestled with Scriptures that neither condemn nor justify war in all cases. Southern Baptist ethicist T.B. Maston wrote in 1957 that what one finds about war in the Bible “depends largely on what one wants to find.”

Some Christians find pacifistic teachings. Jesus, they note, told his disciples in Matthew 5:39 to “turn the other cheek.” He certainly did, but he was hardly referring to the diplomacy of nations. Others claim that the apostle Paul in Romans 13 demanded that Christians submit to the government and be willing to fight whenever and wherever the government demands. Paul did write of submission but not of abdicating the Christian conscience.

Most Christians walk the narrow road between pacifism and a nationalistic Gott mit Uns (God with us) complex.

War should always be the last course of action between nations. Christians should not defer from their role in waging peace, nor should they revel in saber rattling. Should war occur, it must be justified as defensive (this does not necessarily exclude pre-emption), proportional to the threat and noncombatants should be guaranteed immunity.

It appears in the case of Iraq that the world has exhausted all of its options for peace. There appears to be no other course of action than a just, and yes, defensive pre-emptive war. Sometimes what is most distasteful is necessary to defend civilization. Countless boys died in Europe and the Pacific to show us that 60 years ago. The opposite of war now is not peace, but indifference.
Tomlin is news director at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

    About the Author

  • Gregory Tomlin