What You are Getting Into
“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” – Isaiah 2:4
Last month, four American soldiers died, ambushed on a routine mission in Niger. Three were white. One was black. Some accounts say he was left on the field, alive, for hours.
When President Trump called the grieving widow of the black soldier, he ruined the condolences he was offering by adding, callously, “he knew what he was getting into.”
Today is Veteran’s Day, the day when we remember all those who have served in our armed forces. We remember their bravery in the face of violence and death–and we also remember their very natural fears of getting wounded, dying, or having to kill others. We remember their commitment to do hard things, and we also remember their uneasiness about the morality of some of the hard things they are called to do. We remember their sacrifices: leaving home, spouse, sick parents, young children, for months or years at a time; and we remember their understandable longing to have their deployment just be over. It’s complicated, folks.
Today in particular I remember: a dear young friend, a woman married to a woman pastor, a brave and badass military intelligence officer who is utterly committed to the soldiers under her command. I also remember a dear older friend who, coming home from Vietnam, had to hide in the jungles of Hawaii for months in recovery from PTSD so he wouldn’t kill himself. I remember another pastor friend, himself a conscientious objector in Vietnam, whose son left music school to enlist in the army two months before September 11 happened. Too late, he realized he was being trained to kill other human beings, and filed for CO status himself.
Isaiah’s famous passage, lauded by hippies everywhere, suggests that war is something we don’t know how to do it intuitively. We have to learn it.
How many soldiers truly understand what they are getting into before they enlist? With the casualty rate currently hovering at about .1% of enlisted soldiers, perhaps La David Johnson (say his name) did the calculus on the likelihood of his surviving and thriving back home, a young black man, versus letting the Army give him educational and travel opportunities.
What if we were to invest, as a nation and as churches within it, in giving young people good and compelling adventures in service, bravery and commitment that study peace instead of war?
God, we’re still praying for the swordless day when we can study war no more. Help us answer this prayer ourselves. Amen.