Battling for Peace and Healing War Wounded

As the prospect of war on Iraq continues, streets have been filled with millions of advocates for Peace. From Madrid to McAllen those who oppose war continue to make their voices heard above the cry for war. But even among various peace groups things sometime become fractious when civility is forgotten.

Recently a friend of mine, a former veteran who questions war with Iraq, expressed his concern for the future of public discourse should war come. He remembered how soldiers returning from Vietnam were publicly castigated and pilloried for their role in that war. Green recruits barely out of high school returned traumatized by their experiences to face a country that openly condemned them rather than giving them the hero's welcome that they expected.

This reaction to the war created wounds in many Americans that have not yet healed.

Politicians and policymakers decide when and if we go to war, while it is the young men and women in uniform who must carry out their orders. Leaders are clear in their message that those who serve in uniform are defenders of American freedoms and our way of life, even if we sometimes doubt their sincerity.

Our nation's warriors follow in the traditions that they feel to be just and honorable, as the armed forces of each country do. Soldiers and their families are told, and most believe, that they are fighting for peace and security; every bit as much as those who sing songs like "We Shall Overcome" and carry signs that read "Not in Our Name" or "Who Would Jesus Bomb?"

Each camp in this debate tries to wear the banner of moral certitude, and all invoke God to his or her side.

Little more than a century ago America was torn asunder in a great Civil War. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it tested whether this nation, or any nation dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal, could endure. The American family, brother against brother, fought a bloody battle that affected each home and ripped through the very soul of this country.

A peaceful outcome to that war wasn't certain. Battles and skirmishes continued even after the surrender at Appomattox. Then President Lincoln was assassinated.

Both Northern and Southern leaders saw certain calamity if moderating influences couldn't be restored in time. The horrors of the war, including the prospect of continued guerrilla warfare that could last for generations, were only avoided after people on both sides worked together to make the peace and chose courtesy and generosity rather than bitterness and wrath.

Since that time, Americans have participated in many armed conflicts all over the world with each generation re-learning the painful costs of aggression and defense and the arts of peacemaking and reconciliation.

Let there be no mistake about my position, I am completely opposed to war, including this proposed war on Iraq.

I returned from Iraq on January 28 after a very long, but fruitful, trip with the Christian Peacemaker Teams and Voices in the Wilderness two organizations of Americans who work towards peace in that country.

As I left Baghdad I wondered to myself, "why in a world of so much beauty do some people continue to work towards war?" I had been given the pleasure of learning about Iraq, of the misconceptions that we have about the situation over there, and couldn't (still can't) bring myself to believe that we would rain bombs down on these defenseless people.

Since our small group was in Iraq during Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday we held a vigil down by the Tigris river where we read selections from MLK's April 4, 1967 "Riverside Speech" opposing the Vietnam war.

In speaking about that war King said, "the world demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways." He spoke of Americans to be the first in creating, "a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concerns beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation."

King's prophetic words still ring true today.

As we continue this debate about the need for war - and especially if war does indeed come - let us work together to try and listen to each other's side. Even as we become immersed in the carnage of the aftermath of such a war, we must be civil to the returning soldiers remembering that they too will now be war's victims, both those with visible and hidden wounds.

If we are to replace violence, war, and injustice in the world with nonviolence, peace, and justice then we will need the energies and work of everyone's hands. To achieve these purposes we will need to avoid bitterness and contention and treat one another with true healing and respect.

Peace - Charlie



Charlie Jackson, founder of Texans for Peace, recently returned from his second trip to Iraq, undertaken through the Christian Peacemaker Teams organization of Chicago. He is a high-tech CEO and lives with his two sons in San Antonio.


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