taking the words of Jesus seriously

It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.

When I was a kid, my favorite activity, by far, was playing war. On rainy days I, sometimes with friends, but mostly alone, would set up elaborate battle scenes with toy tanks, trucks and hundreds of small rubber soldiers.

On nice days my friends and I would chase and ‘shoot’ each other through the local woods.

In toy stores, army toys were the only toys I would look at.

My dad had been a World War II veteran (101st and 82nd Airborne) and my greatest delight was going through his war mementoes.

My favorite stores were the many local military surplus stores where I bought an endless supply of military jackets, fatigues, survival tools and food and even a well-used World War I bayonet.

Growing up near two major military bases, with lots of woods around and with a constant diet of war movies and TV shows was little-boy heaven.

Virtually all of the adult men in my life were veterans, and all the young boys waited breathlessly for their turn.

The opportunity to be trained (and paid!) for travelling around the world, blow things up, get dirty and invade or sneak into enemy territory and, perhaps loot or steal anything we could was the ultimate little boy’s or young man’s fantasy.

The fact that many of my neighbors (and fathers of my friends) came home with exotic looking wives only added to the glamour.

These were ‘real men’ with scars, treasures and stories any boy could only dream of.

As I was growing up, I went to school, put away my toys, and became a teacher.

I put war games and military fantasies behind me.

In my classes, I sometimes have a theme of the week.

One week the theme was ‘fun’. I asked my students to analyze, consider and write about their definitions of fun.

One twenty-one year old young man excitedly told the class “I know what fun is; it’s anything stupid and dangerous”.

In a single phrase, this young man summed up the unifying theme, the driving organizational force of almost every young man.

This phrase also captured the historically, psychologically and emotionally irresistible hunger for war.

What, on any level, could be more destructive, pointless and foolish than war?

And yet war never seems to lose – or even lessen – its appeal.

Every generation want to believe that its war really means something, its war will be the final war, that its war, finally, will make a difference.

I have worked with, and talked with many veterans of combat, and they all tell me the same thing.

Combat is not about some grand philosophy, a strategic maneuver or even patriotism.

Actual combat is about survival – of one’s self or the unit.

Anything else is a needless abstraction, a luxury for those light years away at some desk, coffee shop or suburban couch.

And combat, that surreal, vivid swirl of threat, blood, survival and camaraderie is absolutely addicting.

And, like any addiction, ‘normal’ life seems shallow and shadowy – and especially given the high suicide rate among veterans – apparently not worth holding onto.

It takes super-human courage to go into combat.

But that adrenaline-driven surge can be all-consuming, leaving little energy, vision or compassion for the routine demands of daily life.

Many veterans crave the adrenaline rush that defined who they were and made them feel most alive and they live in a state of hyper-arousal that makes them a constant threat to themselves and anyone around them.

Combat is drug as fierce and addictive as any narcotic, and withdrawal from it can be just as searing.

War is, perhaps, like many aspects of life; if only we had someone who would return from the dead and tell us what it really meant.

But we all know, deep in our souls, that we would never believe them anyway.

Perhaps there is no possible cure for blood-lust except physical and moral exhaustion. Even a spiritual ‘cure’ seems delusional.

War would end if the dead could return.
Stanley Baldwin

As much as I find violent video games appalling, mind-numbing and dehumanizing, perhaps, like pornography, they inure us against the real thing.

For better or worse, young men are primed, biologically, socially, sometimes patriotically (and many times cynically) for war.

As long as killing for a cause is more appealing than living for one and as long as war is marketed – and believed to be – the ultimate adventure-filled, action-packed, male-bonding experience, we will always be pulled into its irresistible hypnotic gaze.

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.

About The Author


Faith is not a formula. And I wouldn't even use the word 'relationship' - and probably not the metaphor of 'a journey'. The older I get, the more it seems that faith is a process - a determined focus on listening to the eternal, sifting out the noise and distractions and becoming closer with each breath and each word, to the fullness - and emptiness - of the pulse, hand and purpose of our Creator, which, ultimately brings us where we belong. I'm a teacher and writer, which really means that I am a listener and I share what I see and hear.

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