Make Peace – Not War
The pictures of suffering and dying men, women and children in Syria as a result of a chemical weapons attack have sickened and troubled many throughout the world. And yet there seems to be much hypocrisy also. It is true that the use of chemical weapons was outlawed after and because of the trench warfare horrors of the 1st World War. The use of nuclear weapons is not unlawful as such however and there are many conventional weapons with the capacity to inflict death and injury on a large scale which are not legally prohibited. However the reasons chemical weapons are illegal throughout the world is because they do not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants in any struggle and because they can be used specifically against civilian populations including children to dreadful effect. They also cause severe human suffering before and alongside death. They are disproportionately effective is being able to obliterate human life on a large scale without causing collateral damage to property and without risk to those activating this kind of warfare.
That the Syrians should be using these weapons should not surprise us. In the ancient world Assyria was the most feared of empires because of their manifest cruelty to defeated peoples and nations. They made an art of torture and slow death for their enemies and they recorded their inhumanities in histories and on stone tablets which still exist today. Among their niche inflictions were staking out and scraping the skins off the backs, impaling on stakes, mutilation, cutting off ears, noses and lips, eye gouging, burning teenage children alive and parading captured nobility around wearing necklaces made out of the heads of their kings and queens. When it comes to cruelty, Syria has long history. The willingness to actually plan, manage and engineer human suffering is what sets apart chemical warfare.
The Bible tells us of the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the ancient Assyrians which took place in 701BC. The new Assyrian king, Sennacherib, marched against Judah, as Isaiah had prophesied (7:17-20), and took all the defended cities. King Hezekiah begged Sennacherib to cease from the destruction of his tiny kingdom, offering to pay any amount which Sennacherib demanded. Hezekiah 'gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house'. But Sennacherib sent an army to Jerusalem, demanding unconditional surrender and threatened to kill any who opposed him. Isaiah knew that Judah's hope in its resistance against Assyrian plans to carry them away captive was not in any military or political power, because he said that God had raised up Assyria for the purpose of punishing His people for their wickedness (Isa.10:5-7). There is no power against God. The high-water mark of Assyria was prophesied to be when it reached the "neck" of the nation of Israelites (Isa.8:7-8). Isaiah saw Assyrian hands around the neck of his people when he saw Assyrian tents pitched around the city of Jerusalem. And he knew that deliverance was just outside the gates. The Assyrian general with the name of Sennacherib, mocked the God which Hezekiah was telling the people to trust..' Has any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? . . . Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’
On the night which followed, 185,000 Assyrian soldiers fell dead in the Assyrian camp, as the Bible says, 'the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria'. The eventual collapse of the Assyrian empire was inevitable. Sennacherib departed and returned to Nineveh, where he was murdered by two of his own sons 'as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god'. Scholars suggest that an outbreak of cholera may have caused the deaths of the Assyrian army. It is suggested also that King Hezekiah had poisoned the wells outside Jerusalem. The point in the Bible is of course that the people of God survived this invasion by the cruel Assyrians, not by their own military victory but by divine intervention on their side. Agnostics and atheists scoff at this logic. However, during the 2nd World War when Hitler had Britain at his mercy, he unaccountably turned his attentions away from this country to Russia. That fateful decision and his defeat in Russia was the turning point of the war which led to Germany’s defeat. Why did Hitler change his mind? No-one will ever know. How many people in Britain were praying to God for deliverance. Millions. Scepticism makes no connection. Faith has its answers.
The history of the 20th century shows us much larger scale genocide than in Syria in Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany and particularly his treatment of Jews and Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Reliable estimates tell us that 70,000,000 at least of humanity thus perished and that is not counting all the other losses of the 2nd World War or of the 1st. Why then should the recent deaths of 1429 if that is the correct figure cause us so much difficulty today? It becomes not about the deaths themselves but about global politics, the power of nations and the characters and personalities of world leaders. And that is how all wars begin.
Yet it must be possible to solve some problems without recourse to violence. The UN is supposed to do that but it is slow and cumbersome and bureaucratic. As usual, America wants to act more quickly and more decisively. But violent dictators are particularly difficult to deal with since they do not respect reason or humanity. Hitler was not properly confronted early enough to prevent the 2nd World War. No-one foresaw the scale of what actually then happened. Ten and a half years ago the Iraq War began and one of the reasons was that the Americans thought that Saddam Hussein was potentially another Hitler. I remember saying in a sermon here at that time that we would not know for ten years whether or not the Iraq war was justified. There are very few people today (excepting Tony Blair and probably George Bush) who think that the Iraq War achieved what it was intended to achieve other than eliminating Saddam Hussein and his sick, violent, sadistic and psychopathic heir apparent son Uday and his brother and nephew also. What no-one knows is what would the world be like if Saddam had remained in power. He was as cruel to his own people as Bashar Assad and guilty of similar atrocities. He was building rockets to attack Israel. He might have waged another war against Iran thus neutralising Iran’s threat to Israel and the west. No-one thinks that the world is not a better place without Saddam Hussein.
George Bush thought that the Iraqis given a chance could and would govern themselves well. He respected Iraqi culture, education and achievements and recognised their extended professional classes, academics and scientists. What neither he nor his advisers understood was the generations old visceral sectarian hatreds of Sunni and Shi’a within Islam. Saddam contained these by ruthless power. Unleashed, they have prevented Iraq becoming the rational democracy that the Americans thought it could become. It might now be agreed that Bashar Assad is a terrible dictator worthy of removal as early as possible. But no-one now thinks that peace and stability will follow. He has also contained Islamic violence by repression. The people’s rebellion has unleashed its cruel forces and he has responded in kind and scope. Western leaders seem naïve and constantly taken by surprise as events twist and turn in unpredictable ways. Our Christian inspired simplicities are lost in the abyss of middle east politics and centuries of violent confrontation. We will never stop Muslims killing each other. It is their way of life. It always has been and as long as Islam exists it will continue to be. Why does the great Muslim world not deal with Assad? Why is it left to Christian inspired America to bear the burden again? Islam’s implacable foe – the great satan rides to the rescue of the weak and downtrodden again? Only to engender more hatred over the years to come, no doubt. America is safeguarding its own global power and its own global interests as well as expressing humanitarian sentiment.
Does it need to be this way? Is it not possible for the UN however pedantically to be given time to deal with Syria? Would it not be better to ask Russia to take a leading role in trying to solve the problem? Why has Putin not already done so? He could become a world hero if he acted. Why don’t the Americans seek Russia’s direct help? Why don’t all world leaders demand a peaceful solution? Bashar Assad and his brother Maher could one day appear before the International Criminal Court as other dictators have done.
It is the ongoing suffering that makes the difference. Standing by and watching the playground bully hurt and injure and murder more children and get away with it is deemed unacceptable. Non-violence is no quick solution to such uncompromising cruelty. Bullies always respond to doses of their own medicine.
Jesus offers us a standard to judge by and an aspiration to peace. He offers us an example of the power of non-violent love and peace. He is the Prince of Peace and because of Him we have hope that violence can end. Christianity has been a restraining influence on human violence for nearly 2000 years. Christianity is not free of violence and it has been used to justify violence as in the 2nd World War. Our own nuclear submarines are blessed by chaplains. We live in a dangerous world. We cannot underestimate the hatred that the Muslim world bears against us and America even more so. We are fortunate that at this time in history America still has enough power to protect us. We live by America’s peace. We are saved by America’s force of arms. Make peace – not war is the ideal we pray for and aspire to. But until Jesus Christ is accepted as Prince of Peace and His way and example adopted by many more, it will be fighting and war and bombs and guns and bloodshed. But the power of prayer and the love of God is the greater power. If humanity would grasp it these spiritual things, the world might one day be at peace.