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6/20/2014 4:34:00 PM
Crying for peace in a culture of war
Illustration shows 1960s bomb shelter
Illustration shows 1960s bomb shelter
Tom Sheridan


I was a war baby, a Cold War kid; I thrilled reading about Sabre jets mauling MiGs over Korea, spent part of the Vietnam War in uniform, lamented the unwise and unfounded attack on Iraq and prayed for a quicker end to our Afghanistan adventure.

There it is, one old guy's life history framed by human conflicts. It doesn't even mention the countless skirmishes, brushfire wars and other clashes around the globe over the years. Peace? Not so much.

I was less than 2 when WWII ended but still have the ration books issued to me. I won't forget -- ever -- huddling beneath my elementary school desk during the atomic bomb drills in which we were instructed to "duck and cover" to save ourselves from being blasted into nuclear smithereens. We didn't know then how fruitless that really would have been.

We're a pretty warlike culture. At least our frequent hostilities seem to give us the opportunity to cry out for peace with the hope that the current conflict, finally, will end war forever.

Except, it never does.

World War I was "the war to end all wars." World War II was no different. Ditto for every conflict before -- and since. Baby boomers sang with Bob Dylan and with Peter, Paul and Mary for peace in Vietnam. Today too many boomers, older but perhaps less wise, jockey for more war. Syria? Iran? Ukraine? The Cold War is over. Or is it?

Sometimes, our war-making takes on an almost religious fervor. Remember "Kill a commie for Christ"?

Despite that, faith pleads for peace. Popes and bishops decry battlefield violence and the fate of the refugees it creates.

"Where do wars ... come from," Pope Francis asked during a homily at morning Mass in late February. With characteristic bluntness, he said, "War, hatred and hard feelings, you don't buy them at a store; they are here in the heart. ... So many people are dying over a piece of land or because of ambition, hatred, racial jealousy," he said. "Passion brings us to war, to the spirit of the world."

Certainly, religion is no stranger to the passion of conflict. Popes have had armies. The Bible is full of battles, from Moses to the Romans. Still, modern warfare is much more destructive than a sword fight.

Wars happen because someone wants what someone else has. And that someone surely feels justified in going to war to get it. Japan attacked the United States mainly because it felt its energy resources were threatened. The Civil War erupted because the South believed its slave-driven economy was endangered.

Even so, our religious faith tells us that war must sometimes be tolerated. The catechism teaches a just war doctrine that acknowledges force may at times be needed to win peace. But war must not be an answer to a world leader's insult or a poke at our national pride. That's what diplomacy is for.

There is a difference, too, between those who would make war and those who must actually fight it, with bravery and honor. Old men are often too quick to send young men into mortal combat.

While our world echoes with the rattles of conflict and cries of the wounded, it remains faith's role to seek a better way. We have become used to not being moved by the lives lost to war, Pope Francis said in his homily: "It seems that the spirit of war has taken possession of us."

My lifetime has been a series of conflicts that have taken sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. God forbid my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will see the same.

In our shame, we still must shout, "Blessed are the peacemakers."



Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014
Article comment by: James Shand

It does not diminish the quoted message of Pope Francis to point out that it echoes almost precisely the opening lines of Chapter 4 of the Epistle of St. James.
Perhaps this should temper whatever hoped the writer here may hold that future generations of humans can expect anything different or better with regard to wars.




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