Skipping sacrifice to score at war is stupid
At White House press briefings recent presidents chose not to verbally duke it out with Helen Thomas. She throws heavy punches grilling our nation’s commanders in chief. Thomas ranks as the grand matriarch of the White House press corps. She guns down presidents by firing tough questions at them.Thomas recently wrote a tribute after the April death of William Sloane Coffin, former Yale chaplain, preacher in Manhattan’s Riverside Church and Vietnam War peace activist. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel lamented, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” Thomas keens a similar dirge, wondering where today are the William Sloane Coffins who fight warring presidents. They have disappeared among contemporary silent clergy. She writes a tribute to Coffin, befuddled why “three years into the war against Iraq, the silence of the clergy is deafening, despite U.S. abuse of prisoners at Abu Graib and a reported American policy of shipping detainees to secret prisons abroad where, presumably, they can be tortured.”Thomas judges clergy for retiring their protest voices. They “seem to be in the same boat as the news media and most members of Congress: They are victims of the post-Sept. 11 syndrome that equates any criticism of U.S. policy with lack of patriotism.”I played two parts of the colonial preacher Jonathan Edwards and Helen Thomas at General Assembly, the highest ruling body among Presbyterians when they met in June down South. Edwards, banished to the Massachusetts frontier in the 1700s before becoming president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), from the pulpit often applied biblical truth to the wars with American Indians and French mercenaries.I asked General Assembly delegates why interpreting the war in Iraq from biblical perspectives was virtually nil among preachers. A preacher said the war stirred up complications with which his parishioners did not want to deal in worship. They came to hear of Jesus and his love. Another preacher admitted he begged off on the war because it would cause controversy. His worshippers had enough ruckuses to deal with in their personal lives without debating the war.Then one of life’s veterans spoke. She remembered other wars. She reminded me of a steel magnolia, a Southern belle who didn’t crack under adversity. She knew how to deal with terror. She said that the reason preachers duck the war is because war makes people sacrifice. We don’t like a gospel of sacrifice. Neither does out nation want to hear of it. So we send a trained, paid army to march in war while most of our citizens day by day are untouched by it. She told us how under Franklin Roosevelt he challenged our citizens to sacrifice. They rose to the president’s manifesto and won against Nazi terror.This woman asked the same question Jesus posed and President George W. Bush initially ducked when he swooped on an aircraft carrier in battle gear, announcing “Mission Accomplished.” Count the cost, declared Jesus. Upfront, level with people about sacrifice. Don’t fancy that war is cheap, victory is easy and, because we are on freedom’s side, our citizens don’t need to travel a narrow road. “What king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?” Luke 14:31.Our president now admits the U.S. will employ troops in Iraq long after he leaves office. He has often described the war as an interminable hard push, not for the faint of heart. What he doesn’t mention is personal sacrifice across the board. We are trying to win this war against terrorists without drafting all citizens to belt tighten.Yes, we do make adjustments when traveling by car. We moan at the gas pump about prices out of control. We double up when doing errands. But, aside from stratospheric prices at the pump, how do we really sacrifice in war?The steel magnolia at General Assembly remembered another time. In a Fireside Chat after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt on Dec. 9, 1941, didn’t candy-coat the hardships American citizens must endure to beat back Nazi terror. “Yes, we shall have to give up many things entirely,” FDR warned. He didn’t bite his lip, holding back on using the word “sacrifice.” FDR listed hardships citizens must endure. Freedom sometimes can’t survive without sacrificial citizens rallying to its defense. Regarding sacrifice, FDR asserted, “It is not correct to use that word. The United States does not consider it a sacrifice to do all one can, to give one’s best to our nation, when the nation is fighting for its life and future life.” Never is it a “sacrifice” to serve in our nation’s military, “to pay more taxes, to buy more bonds, to forego extra profits, to work longer or harder…. Rather it is a privilege.”Americans like the steel magnolia sat near their radios. They felt like children with their presidential father giving a dose of hard medicine for their good. Americans did not shy from sacrifice. They stepped up to it in World War II.Dorothy Cameron Voelz from Chicago on Sept. 15, 1942, responded to another Fireside Chat: “Go ahead – tax us, take our cars for as long as they are needed, tax our payrolls, take bonds out of them, take the married men, or the 18-year-old, or both! You won’t hear any squawks, at least so few of them that no one will really listen. We’re behind you in anything you see fit to do – we want to get it over with! We are willing – nay – eager to sacrifice for good things.””Battles,” FDR insisted in a Sept. 7, 1942, Fireside Chat, “are not won by soldiers or sailors who think first of their own personal safety. And wars are not won by people who are concerned primarily with their own comfort, their own convenience, their own pocketbooks.” Relentless sacrifice wins legitimate war on terrorists. The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado
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