Weeden Nichols reminded me of the phrase "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity" from the William Butler Yeats poem "The Second Coming." It was written just after World War I, during the rise of Adolph Hitler. Weeden, Hays, is a veteran of more than 30 years of service in both the Air Force and the Army, including Vietnam in mid-career.
Nichols was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on war and defense with me. We don't completely agree on everything, but having a respectful discussion is always good. Nichols had always considered himself a Christian, but never delved deeply into the implications of Christianity until after retiring from the Army.
He was particularly struck with "the peace traditions within Christianity."
From the start of his ministry, Jesus clearly stated one should respond to violence with love and kindness. One is to do good to one's enemies. At the conclusion of his earthly ministry, Jesus refused to defend himself or to permit his followers to defend him.
Jesus clearly taught non-violence. From this, Nichols understands that the "highest calling" of the Christian might be defenselessness. But the Christian remains imperfect. Nichols could not accept this fully, as he believes that neither God nor Jesus condemns true self-defense. He argues we have been "too well programmed to survival by our creator to believe that."
He concludes that the only just war is a war of self-defense, and there are moral restrictions even then. The war must not masquerade as defending the defenseless. Nichols steadfastly resists the idea of discretionary or pre-emptive wars, or the targeting or needless risking of non-combatants.
His definition of a just war troubles me. My belief is that a just war is one that uncompromisingly defends the defenseless. In both world wars, we were not involved until atrocities were committed against citizens of this country. We entered World War I when Germany began submarine warfare against civilian ships producing casualties among innocent passengers.
The unprovoked attack on our facilities at Pearl Harbor drove us to enter World War II. In both instances, a significant contributing factor was the death and destruction of civilians and their property by the Axis powers in Europe and, for World War II, the Pacific, Asia, Africa and Europe.
Having said this, the execution of war must be carefully considered and thoroughly planned. Part of this execution is the exposition and explanation of the causes for the war. Just because a war is just does not guarantee that the just will win. Examples of this are the Korean and Vietnam wars. In both instances the concept of "gradualism" ensured that we would not win.
To win wars, all the power possible must be used to overwhelm the enemy and end the war as quickly as possible. To start with a minimal force and gradually ramp up the combat strength is a recipe for an extended war if not outright defeat. The humane war is the short war. Nichols does not fully endorse this.
For a war to be just and successful, three conditions must be met. It must be justified by the actions of the aggressor, it must be executed with careful planning and the utmost force available, and there must be a strategic and logical plan for rehabilitation after the hostilities. Nichols is reluctant to fully endorse this.
In Iraq, there was ample justification in the facts that the truce ending hostilities in the Gulf War was repeatedly broken and 15 U.N. resolutions were ignored. In addition, Saddam Hussein repeatedly stated that he had weapons of mass destruction and demonstrated that he would use them against anyone who defied him, such as Kurds and Shiites in his own country. Sadly, the execution of the war and end game were badly neglected, although events seem, finally, to be on the right track. Again Nichols does not fully endorse these statements.
Nichols further stated, "I much appreciate the present idea that those who criticize a war in which the U.S. participates, should nevertheless support the troops. I have experienced the era when opposition to a war involved abuse of military personnel." I fully agree.
"When I returned from Vietnam on Christmas morning 1969," he said, "our planeload of soldiers had to wait for 45 minutes until a fat lieutenant colonel could arrive and tell us that, even though we would see indications to the contrary, our country nevertheless appreciated our contributions and sacrifices, In waiting the 45 minutes, I missed my airline connection and did not get home for Christmas with my wife and five small children. One more sacrifice."
While the war in Iraq has been a hot-button issue from the beginning, I have been dismayed by the vilification and denigration of President George Bush. Lies, distortions of the truth and personal attacks on anybody are never justified. Our president has made mistakes, but the only person who doesn't make mistakes is one who sits on his duff and does nothing. I am convinced that President Bush has done what he thought was best for the country and that President-elect Barack Obama will do likewise. I just hope the discussion about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and any future wars will be thoughtful and civil.
Delbert Marshall, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.