War—What Is It Good For?   2 comments

For many years now my favorite film has been “Titus”, Julie Taymor’s stylized 1999 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, starring Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Harry Lennix, and Alan Cumming. The play chronicles the cycle of violence between a few Roman families as they exact revenge for every incidence of bloodshed they have inflicted upon one another.

(I don’t necessarily recommend the film: though it has stunning visual imagery and outstanding acting—most notably from Lennix, whose Aaron the Moor is one of the richest and most soulful villains in screen history—it is difficult to watch. The violence is heavily stylized, much of it occurs offscreen, and Taymor is miraculously restrained in her use of stage blood. But it nevertheless renders a brutal emotional toll. If you have a trigger about any kind of violence, this film will likely set it off).

What I particularly appreciate about “Titus” is the eloquence with which it portrays the futility of this violent cycle. When one tribe sets out for revenge, the cycle can’t end until every participant and standby is dead.

Last night, on the eve of the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, President Obama took to the airwaves to announce a plan to attack ISIS. Ostensibly this is less about revenge and more about preventing ISIS from continuing its swath of violence across the Middle East. And yet it begs the question: how successful can violence be in ending violence?

For months politicians and pundits on the political Right (and some on the Left) have been goading the President into this action, calling for him to exhibit “strong leadership,” by which they seem to mean issuing threats and then carrying them out. Are we really hoping for our nation’s leader to share the defining characteristic of playground bullies and mafia bosses?

For well over a decade we have been using violence in the Middle East, ostensibly in the name of stopping violence. The results are two dubious puppet states continually besieged by terrorism, hundreds of thousands of people dead—many of them innocent, many of them children—and no less hostility towards our nation.

A lesson that the United Kingdom has never properly learned is that brutal attempts at quashing rebellion actually foster more rebellion than they quash. Every Irish child who saw his parents suffer under English oppression became more inclined to join the IRA. It seems likely that the ranks of ISIS and other such organizations include many young people who have seen their families mowed down by American drone strikes. It seems likely that our bombs create at least as many terrorists as they kill.

I want an end to the violence of ISIS, and I don’t claim to have a solution for that. But I am confident that the solution is NOT: more violence. I want an end, too, to the violence of the United States. The model of “strong leadership” I would recommend is that of the Prince of Peace, the man who admonished us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. Beginning from a place of seeing our enemies as human, as children of God like ourselves, seems to me a far better way to bring forth a safer world.

Posted 11 September 2014 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

2 responses to “War—What Is It Good For?

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  1. Very well-said, and I agree wholly. (Alright, almost wholly!) I think we will have reached true enlightenment as a species only after we begin to recognize and assert effective long-term approaches to reducing the memory of violence—by not producing those memories in the first place.

  2. Thanks, Doug. Your comment is well said, too.

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