Monthly Archives: January 2011

How Should a Pacifist View World War II?

Ted Grimsrud—January 21, 2011

In my writing project, The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy, I take an approach that might seem a bit paradoxical. I am a deeply committed pacifist. Had I been a young adult in 1941, I would have refused to participate in that war no matter how “necessary” or “justifiable” it might have seemed. Yet in The Long Shadow, I develop my argument using pragmatic reasoning, including direct use of just war criteria.

As it turns out, at the same time I have been working on this World War II project, I have put the finishing touches on a couple of essays that spell out in some detail my pacifist convictions: “Christian Pacifism in Brief” and “Core Convictions for Engaged Pacifism” (these both may be found here). So, I remain as committed to pacifism as ever. So, why would pacifism not play a central role in my writing on World War II? Why would I work mostly within an ethical framework (the just war tradition) that I seemingly do not affirm myself?

Problematizing easy assumptions about World War II

Partly, my decision to use just war rationality has to do with the intended audience for The Long Shadow. I do not seek to present a logically airtight argument that will persuade those who reject pacifism. But I also do not seek simply to remind pacifists of why we continue to reject warfare. Certainly, I hope those who reject pacifism will nonetheless read this book and be persuaded by it to change their mind—and I do hope to offer comfort and courage for pacifists. Most directly, though, I write to those troubled with contemporary American militarism and who wonder about World War II. I hope to problematize easy assumptions about World War II’s status as the war that shows war can be a morally appropriate choice, operating within the moral framework of a typical American. If pacifism is to enter the picture in this discussion, I intend for it to enter as a conclusion, not as a pre-requisite for being part of the conversation. Continue reading

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Is Karl Barth Good for Mennonites?—part two

[This is the second of a two-part post—the first part, posted 1/9/11 is here.]

In raising the question, “is Karl Barth good for Mennonites?”, I am trying to be a little playful. I have several friends, as I have mentioned, who are clearly fine Mennonites and also quite favorably inclined towards Karl Barth’s theology. So, in a genuine sense, this question has been answered in the affirmative already.

And there is also a genuine sense in which I am one of the last people who has any business saying who or what is “good for Mennonites.” I retain several important affiliations with Mennonite institutions (church member, ordained minister, college professor), but I have never been in a position to serve as any kind of gate-keeper or boundary definer. I am sure I am further from playing any such role all the time.

However, I do have a serious intent in raising the question. Perhaps if I switch to the less institutionally or ethnically linked term “Anabaptist” I can better get at my interests in writing about Karl Barth. Part of my question is what kind of theology should present-day Anabaptists be trying to articulate (on this question, I have actually written a couple of books and posted several essays [here and here] at my Peace Theology website). And the question after that is how positive a contribution would paying close attention to Karl Barth’s theology make to said articulation.

As I mentioned in my first post, I ask this question about Barth and our theology with genuine sincerity. I have numerous reasons (touched on in that post) for being favorably inclined toward Barth as a theologian and as a human being. But I also have some questions. And so I intend to read the entire Church Dogmatics over the next two years and grapple with my questions about Barth’s thought.

Continue reading

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Is Karl Barth Good for Mennonites?—part one

[This is the first of a two-part post—the second part, posted 1/13/11 is here.]

It seems that everywhere I turn in my theological life, I see Karl Barth. I’m not quite old enough to remember when the great Swiss Protestant theologian died (December 10, 1968, the same day as Thomas Merton). That is, I was alive and sentient in 1968, but as a 14-year old I just didn’t have any contact at all with theology.

Since I discovered theology in the mid-1970s, though, Barth has loomed large. And in the past 35 years his presence seems only to have grown. In recent years, especially, I have friends and acquaintances, even relatives, by the dozen it seems, who are enamored with the thinker many would argue was the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century. I guess if Barth truly were the greatest, it would not  be surprising that many would be enamored with his theology!

I can’t say I ever drank deeply from the wells of Barth. However, unlike some of my other theological friends, I have not reacted negatively to what I have read of his or learned about his thought either. In fact, I have for the past 35 years wanted to read more Barth and learn more about his thought because he has always seemed interesting—at times due to who was critiquing him, at times due to who was praising him. But I haven’t quite taken the plunge and really sat down with Barth.

Just recently, for several reasons, I am realizing that if I am going to try to come to terms with Karl Barth’s theology I had better get going. Probably the strongest catalyst for this realization has been my awareness of the attraction many Mennonite thinkers have for Barth. So, that leads to wanting to try to answer the question I ask in the title of this post: “Is Karl Barth good for Mennonites?” Continue reading

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The Long Shadow—World War II’s Moral Legacy (08. No to the War)

[I am posting rough drafts of the chapters from a book I am writing about World War II and its moral legacy. My hope in posting these chapters is that I might receive helpful counsel. So, please, read the chapters and let me know what you think. All comments, questions, and challenges are welcome and will be most useful as I revise the chapters this winter and spring.]

8. No to the War

Ted Grimsrud—January 7, 2011

The roots of war resistance

From colonial times, the population of North American has always included significant numbers of people who by conviction believed they could not participate in war. These pacifists varied in how they believed those convictions should be applied to public policy, some actively engaged in seeking for governments to repudiate warfare, others focusing their energies primarily on encouraging those within their own faith communities refusing to participate.

Pacifism established itself in the North American colonies when the British government granted William Penn, a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), a charter to establish the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682. The Friends emerged as a distinct movement in Britain in the mid-1650s under the leadership of George Fox. Fox combined a close adherence to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount with a mystical sense of the presence of God’s Spirit in the believer’s heart, in the hearts of all other human beings, and in the broader creation.

The combination of placing the highest priority on the message of Jesus with the belief in the active work of the Spirit throughout the world, inspired many Friends to affirm at the core of their faith the belief that all human relationships should be characterized by compassion, respect, and mutuality. This belief led them to repudiate warfare as a legitimate way for human beings to settle their differences.

In its early years, the colony of Pennsylvania operated under the leadership of people who were part of the Society of Friends. The colony sought to establish peaceable relationships with the Natives who were living within its borders. The colony also saw itself as a haven for other religious dissenters who shared similar values as the Friends, thereby becoming a pioneering political community that practiced genuine religious freedom and did not center its policies around the sword. Continue reading

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The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (07. Full Spectrum Dominance)

[I am posting rough drafts of the chapters from a book I am writing about World War II and its moral legacy. My hope in posting these chapters is that I might receive helpful counsel. So, please, read the chapters and let me know what you think. All comments, questions, and challenges are welcome and will be most useful as I revise the chapters this winter and spring.]

7. Full Spectrum Dominance

Ted Grimsrud—January 4, 2011

The Cold War ends

On a sunny spring day, April 1992, I biked to work as usual. Along the bike path in west Eugene, Oregon, I suddenly stopped and paid attention to what I was feeling. I realized a weight of anxiety I had lived with going back to the civil defense drills of my early childhood, was gone. At times I had been quite self-conscious about this anxiety, but mostly it was simply a part of life, something always there but usually in the background.

This new sense of relief almost overwhelmed me. As I stopped my bike and simply reveled in it, I reflected how I never actually thought this day would come. All through the 1980s, with the Reagan arms buildup and rhetoric about the Soviet Union as the evil empire, the Contra War in Nicaragua, talk of an impending bloodbath in South Africa that could turn nuclear, the squashing of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, to imagine that in the early months of 1992 we’d see the end of the Cold War and the end of apartheid—essentially achieved nonviolently—seemed like pure fantasy.

Of course, as events proved over time, the commitment of American policymakers to “full spectrum dominance” throughout the world, militarily and economically, managed to transform this moment of relief and hope into deepened anxiety and insecurity. For that brief moment in 1992, though, the basic story I have recounted that began with American entry into World War II, an extraordinarily discouraging story, came to an unexpected (and largely undeserved, on the American side) moment of possibility, where the ideals of the Atlantic Charter actually seemed achievable. Continue reading

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The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (6. The Cold War)

[I am posting rough drafts of the chapters from a book I am writing about World War II and its moral legacy. My hope in posting these chapters is that I might receive helpful counsel. So, please, read the chapters and let me know what you think. All comments, questions, and challenges are welcome and will be most useful as I revise the chapters this winter and spring.]

6. The Cold War

Ted Grimsrud—January 3, 2011

Korea

A crucial step in the American acceleration of the arms race came when the United States decided to proceed full speed ahead in building and deploying hydrogen bombs, a tremendous enhancement of our nuclear weapons arsenal. Early on in the development of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nuclear physicists realized that they would capable of creating much more devastating types of bombs. However, priorities on speed required a focus on the less powerful bombs. After the Japanese surrendered, American leaders faced the question of whether they would proceed with further development of this new kind of bomb.

Most of the top physicists opposed such development. However, by now the momentum toward American world domination and the militarization of foreign policy moved swiftly, greatly enhanced by the demonization of the Soviet Union. The Truman Doctrine provided a rationale for intensifying the Cold War.

After the Soviets successfully tested their first nuclear bombs in 1949, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the federal agency charged with overseeing the American nuclear weapons program, strongly recommended that the U.S. step back from the brink of an accelerated arms race and decide not to develop the hydrogen bomb. The AEC’s General Advisory Committee, made up of several of the top physicists who had been involved in the Manhattan Project, issued a report with unanimous assent saying no to the hydrogen bomb: “There is no limit to the explosive power of the bomb except that imposed by the requirements of delivery. The weapon would have an explosive effect some hundreds of times that of present [atomic] bombs. It is clear that the use of this weapon would bring about the destruction of innumerable lives; it is not a weapon which can be used exclusively for the destruction of material installations of military or semi-military purposes. Its use therefore carries much further than the atomic bomb itself the policy of exterminating civilian populations.”[1]

The AEC itself voted to affirm the recommendation of its advisory committee and passed the recommendation along to President Truman. Tragically, Truman chose to refuse to accept this decision by the AEC. He formed a new committee made up of AEC chair, David Lilienthal, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, and Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Johnson, echoing the commitments of the Pentagon now for full speed ahead on weapon development, strongly supported proceeding with the hydrogen bomb, while Lilienthal represented the AEC position. Continue reading

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The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (5. Pax Americana)

[I am posting rough drafts of the chapters from a book I am writing about World War II and its moral legacy. My hope in posting these chapters is that I might receive helpful counsel. So, please, read the chapters and let me know what you think. All comments, questions, and challenges are welcome and will be most useful as I revise the chapters this winter and spring.]

5. Pax Americana

Ted Grimsrud—January 1, 2011

What kind of peace?

Following the unveiling of the horrible destructiveness of nuclear weapons on civilian populations, the Allies had achieved their goal of unconditional surrender from the Axis powers. When the Japanese gave up the fight in August 1945, the United States stood as the world’s one great global power.

The Soviets had the powerful Red Army and the capability to impose their will on the nations they occupied. However, the war to the death with Germany had left tens of millions Soviets dead and countless more wounded and displaced. The main cities had been devastated. You could call the Soviet Union battered but unbowed, but the emphasis would have to be placed on the “battered.”

The British Empire remained intact, for the time being. But clearly it was near the end of the line. Though suffering significantly less damage, both in terms of lost lives and devastated infrastructure, than the War’s other main belligerents (with the crucial exception of the United States), Britain was exhausted, tremendously weakened, headed for a major decline. The Britons would seek to remain active in international affairs, and for the immediate future desperately intent on sustaining a rapidly disintegrating empire. However, clearly by 1945, Britain was essentially a junior partner to the one unambiguously victorious power to emerge from the War, the United States of America. Continue reading

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