Some of those that work forces
Are the same that burn crosses

And now you do what they told ya

In a class called Faith & Culture, I learned how to interpret art. In many ways, what it really showed me was how to appreciate art. We observed paintings, sculptures, music, dance, and clips from several early films. One of these films was one from 1930 called, All Quiet on the Western Front. It is a film based on the events of WWI from the perspective of young, idealistic German men, who are encouraged to go and fight for the “fatherland.” In examining this early hallmark in cinematography, we, as a class, were to observe how the film illustrates the absurdity of war.

In the first scene we examined, the young men are sitting at desks while, just outside the windows of the school house, soldiers donning uniforms and rifles march through the city streets as crowds cheer for their heroes. It doesn’t take long before the students are jolted with excitement of becoming a soldier – a hero. They are sent off to fight for the fatherland.

They next scene picks up after they had been at war for several months. They were dirty, tired, some were insane, and others were dead. They were stuck in a dark bunker with rats and rations. The idea they once had about the glories of war had been long lost, and now they wait, terrified that they may be found, or that a bomb may land over the top of them. They are killing in the name of the fatherland when, in a turn of events, the main character comes face-to-face with his enemy – a boy about the same age as he. They look at each other for a moment, both sensing the reluctance of their decision to join the war, they decided to part ways. No words are spoken. Just a terrified meeting and a moment of solidarity.

By the end of the movie, the film’s main character has lost all his comrades from class, lived in a bunker for months on rations and without even so much as a glimpse at sunlight, and is now completely disillusioned with war and being a soldier.  He joined the fight for the glory of becoming a soldier and a hero. The irony is in the fact that he receives the glory he was looking for from the people at home, but it no longer has the appeal it was had. He now sees the absurdity of it all. He knows the absurdity of war, and of killing in the name of the fatherland.

In war, two people, sent by their respective governments, and for reasons unbeknownst to them, are commanded to kill one another. Men and Women are drafted into a violence they couldn’t imagine in their wildest of nightmares. They are forced to fight for a cause that benefits only those with power, because those with power have said so. Once they arrive at the battleground, hell is unleashed, and the worst of sins is committed in the name of a noble cause. They are taught to regard the enemy not as a brother or sister, not as son or daughter, not as mother or father, but merely as silhouettes – as targets. Their reasoning? If soldiers humanize the enemy, they would be less likely to kill them.

It is better that they pretend the enemy is simply a shadow standing in their way. This is the absurdity of war: one country’s young men and women are be sent to kill another country’s young men and women, who were sent to kill them, all because their respective countries have said that this is a good thing.

 It may be said that young American men and women are raised to believe that the United  States is the greatest of all nations. In order to preserve the traditions and heritage that make up the American identify, they are told to kill anyone who wishes to take that away in war. Sometimes, instead of encouraging enlistment, they draft them, making them fight for what the powerful people believe to be a worthy cause.

It may be said that young Iraqi men and women are raised to believe that Iraq is the greatest of all nations. In order to preserve the traditions and heritage that make up the Iraqi identity, they are told to kill anyone who wishes to take that away in war. Sometimes, instead of encouraging enlistment, they draft them, making them fight for what the powerful people believe to be a worthy cause.

…The names of these countries can be interchanged seamlessly. It illustrates the profound absurdity of it all…

In war, young people are called on to kill people who are merely guilty by association. Because of the misdeeds of a perpetrator, an entire country is subject to the wrath of those who were perpetrated against. They are called on to kill one another on behalf of a cause that those in power deem worthy of war. The absurdity of it all is that those powerful people will never know what it means to stand as a young person across battle lines from another young person whom they are supposed to kill.

The mission in war: preserve a nations power and authority. The way to go about preserving that power and authority: Kill the people your country tells you to kill, and trust that they know what they are doing.

What would happen if, when two militaries lined up for battle, instead of killing one another, they decide to share a meal with one another, or sing songs with one another, or play with one another, or maybe, pray with one another? Instead of preserving the power of their respective countries, they decide to love those whom their country has determined to be their enemies?

That is how Jesus loved. Those who were deemed his enemies (gentiles) by his people (Jews) were in fact his neighbors, while those who were his neighbors (Jews) were in fact his enemies. When he was told to slay the gentiles, he ate with them; when the Jews crucified him, he forgave them.

“You have heard it said, ‘love you neighbor, and hate you enemy’, but I tell you, love you your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

Jesus, Matthew 5:43,44

* Postscript: The problem in speaking against war is that it makes a person sound unbelievably arrogant. But that is the problem of making any moral claim — it makes you seem like you are the good one in a world of morally bankruptcy. Moreover, making suggestions concerning war as I have done here can seem to some that I am damning soldiers for things they may have done in war. I want to say that I do not think that soldiers are damned for the things they may have done in war. In fact, I think soldiers (on both sides of the battle lines) are the victims of war. It is people who command them to go to war who are guilty and who will be judged.