Our good friends Alex and Margaret have three sons in the army. Eventually all three will have served in Iraq. We live near Fort Riley and know many military families. I have soldiers and their spouses in my classes. I have good working relations with two chaplains. Recently I met my brother-in-law’s son-in-law (I’m not sure there’s a term to describe how he’s related to me), who is in the army and between tours of Iraq. I told him I appreciate his service to our country.

Beyond that I don’t know how best to “support our troops.” Two pieces I read this week disturb me. The first is from General William Odom who says the only realistic way to support our troops now is to bring them home. General Odom says the army is at the breaking point:

No U.S. forces have ever been compelled to stay in sustained combat conditions for as long as the Army units have in Iraq. In World War II, soldiers were considered combat-exhausted after about 180 days in the line.”

For more of General Odom’s comments, go to

How Does the Holy Spirit Lead Us in Time of War?

If we believed in the divine right of kings, the answer would be easy: God speaks to us through our divinely anointed leader. In a democracy, it is more complicated.

Christians believe God speaks through the Bible. For three hundred years, most Christians took this to mean abstaining from carrying a sword into war. (See previous posts, including “Inquisition” and “Semper Ref.”)

A more nuanced interpretation by St. Augustine led to the doctrine of the just war. Christians were now allowed to participate in wars that met the qualifications of just authority, just cause, just means, and so forth.

But in a democracy, how does a Christian nation decide when to go to war (or to put it more accurately, how do Christians in any nation decide when it is just to support a proposed war?) How do we discern the leading of the Holy Spirit? There is a tradition that God sometimes speaks or leads through the consensus of the faithful.

The second disturbing article is by Charles Marsh in the Boston Globe. He states that before the war, the universal consensus of nearly all our Christian brothers and sisters around the world was against the war in Iraq.

From Pentecostals in Brazil to the Christian Councils of Ghana, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East to the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, from Pope John Paul II to the The Waldensian Reformed Church of Italy and the Christian Conference of Asia, the voices of our brothers and sisters in the global ecumenical church spoke in unison.

Mr. Marsh also relates an interesting personal experience:

Sometime after Operation Iraqi Freedom began, I made a remarkable discovery. I had gone to one of my local Christian bookstores to find a Bible for my goddaughter. On a whim, I also decided to look for a Holy Spirit lapel pin, in the symbolic shape of a dove, the kind that had always been easy to find in the display case in the front. Many people in my church and in the places where I traveled had been wearing the American flag on their lapel for months now. It seemed like a pretty good time for Christians to put the Spirit back on.

But the doves were nowhere in sight. In the place near the front where I once would have found them, I was greeted instead by a full assortment of patriotic accessories – red-white-and-blue ties, bandanas, buttons, handkerchiefs, “I support our troops” ribbons, “God Bless America” gear, and an extraordinary cross and flag button with the two images interlocked. I felt slightly panicked by the new arrangement. I asked the clerk behind the counter where the doves had gone. The man’s response was jarring, although the remark might well be remembered as an apt theological summation of our present religious age. “They’re in the back with the other discounted items,” he said, nodding in that direction.

(For more, see:

What Can Be Done Now?

I don’t know. Will more Iraqi citizens die if we abandon them? Will the whole region descend into a blood bath? Or will the citizens of Iraq turn against Al Qaeda and drive them out? I don’t know.

One Response

  1. I wish all my fellow Americans had the opportunity to live abroad for a while, to share the sobering experience of seeing the US through others’ eyes. The view from here is not flattering, and these people are our allies.

    A regular part of my expatriate experience is listening to CNN International every day. Based in London, their reporting includes input from CNN bureaus around the world, including the US. But they are clearly not controlled by American biases.

    When I do get back home to the States, I am reminded how different the international coverage is, especially on the Iraq war. In general, American news coverage seems watered down, and real news is drowned out by silliness, like hype over “American Idol” and “Survivor,” and whatever is going on with Paris Hilton.

    Unlike CNN US (and the other network news shows I have seen in the States), on CNN International the Iraq war is front and center every day. There is a lot of coverage of Iraqi civilian casualties, and the daily reminders that the insurgency is not going away. Here, we are reminded that pretty much the only people who refuse to speak of a “Civil War” in Iraq are the American Administration, and their military commanders (official US military doctrine would prohibit us from taking sides in a civil war, so we call it something else).

    It is too easy for Americans to shrug off the unflattering opinions of the Europeans. I understand that it has become an American sport to bash the French (and others), who refused to get involved in the Iraq war. But perhaps if we had honestly listened to our European allies in the first place, we would not be bogged down in the quagmire of Iraq, a no-win situation largely of our own making.

    There is no good way out now. After the ill-advised decision to invade Iraq in the first place, the war has been so badly mishandled that there appears to be no solution. The “Troop Surge” isn’t making any appreciable difference. Our troops are stretched too thin, tours of duty get longer and are repeated too often, replacements are too few and too little trained and ill equipped– it looks impossible. We can hardly call flag waving and patriotic slogans “supporting our troops” when the realities on the ground are so grim.

    The Maliki government gets weaker by the day. The question here is not about bench marks, but how long before that government falls. Al Qaeda is more than happy to take advantage of the mess. Iran appears to be meddling in Iraq with impunity. Syria only pays lip service to policing its border with Iraq to stop the flow of men and materielle.

    Meanwhile, our near-total focus on Iraq has distracted us from what was our legitimate post 9-11 concern, that is Afghanistan. Bin Laden is still at large. The Taliban is growing stronger again, becoming a real threat in the Afghani border region of Pakistan. Al Qaeda is reportedly also operating there. Our Pakistani “allies” are either unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

    I suggest that the best way to support our troops now is tell the truth–we screwed up–and bring them home. It appears to me that without some dramatic change, it won’t matter whether we stay or pull out. The civil war is happening in spite of us. Al Qaeda is operating in spite of our efforts. Unfortunately for all involved, so far the only “dramatic changes” have been negative.

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