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Pre-emptive War and False Security

Remarks to the Hudson-Mohawk, N.Y. chapter of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, November 16, 2006.

by Daniel Webster

"Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war fervour, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.... And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded with patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader, and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar." 

That quote was attributed William Shakespeare in “Julius Caesar.”  It started to make its way around the internet in December 2001.  For those of certain persuasion it sounded perfect.  Only one problem.  It does not appear in any Shakespearean work nor can you find it in Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” or any other work attributed to Julius Caesar.  Yet many have quoted it and attributed it as I might have.  Even Barbra Streisand used it at a Democratic fundraiser and later acknowledged she had been duped. 

Thus we see the problem with misleading or misguided information.  It can be embarrassing.  It can be mortifying.  Unfortunately, we now know it can be fatal. 

Pre-emptive war is all about information.  It is all about knowing who is going to kill you unless you can kill them first.  In the nuclear age, the consequences are horrific and unimaginable.  Yet that is where we find ourselves.  We are poised at the edge of a new era in international relations.  Or are we? 

Editor's Note: The Rev. Daniel Webster is  director of media services for the National Council of Churches. Before being ordained an Episcopal priest in 1996 in Salt Lake City, Webster spent 25 years in broadcast journalism. He was with NBC News for 12 years holding various positions, including west coast producer of NBC News Overnight in Burbank and Deputy Bureau Chief in Washington, D.C. He worked at local television stations in Nebraska, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, New York City and California in several positions including news director, anchor, reporter, producer and photographer. Before entering seminary in 1993 he spent three years with The Associated Press, Washington, D.C., creating a television marketing division. Before coming to the NCC, he was director of communication for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.

Now, I am not a historian of war.  Those experts are a few miles
south of here on the other side of the North River.  But like many Americans of a certain age I have heard the drums of war many times.  I have heard the
rationales from many political and military leaders who have sought
to justify their prosecution of this
or that war. 

How many times have we heard,
“If we don’t fight the terrorists over there we will have to fight them here.”  Is that really new? 
Didn’t we hear that a little over 50 years ago?  “If we don’t fight the communists in Korea we will
fight them here.”  Didn’t we hear
that 40 years ago?  “If we don’t
fight those commies in Vietnam we’ll be fighting them here.” 

Pre-emptive war follows the same logic as capital punishment.  If we kill the terrorists before they strike, there will be no terrorist attack.  If we put the murderer to death, eventually there will be no more murders.  But we know the death penalty has never been a deterrent to murder. 

One could argue that Korea and Vietnam were both pre-emptive wars of a certain kind.  We still had our oceans to protect us in those days.  We know that has changed.  Iraq was by anyone’s definition clearly a war to pre-empt the use of chemical, biological, nuclear weapons against our country.  And now we know there were no such weapons.  The information was flawed.  It was embarrassing, and mortifying, and fatal.  It has ended the lives of nearly 3,000 American service men and women.  It has ruined the future of many more families.  It has damaged or destroyed the future of nearly 20,000 who have returned alive but without body parts or souls missing. 

The fervour for war was there for the taking after the attacks of September 11.  Many young men and women signed up to protect our country.  They took an oath to defend us against enemies, foreign and domestic, and to obey the commander in chief.  While the words erroneously attributed to Shakespeare were likely drafted to address the commander in chief, the following words were spoken in another time, after another war. 

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."  

So said Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials following the defeat of the Third Reich and its National Socialist Party—the Nazis. 

This means our leaders bear and enormous responsibility to our young men and women in uniform.  They must not take advantage of their willingness to fight and to die for this country and its ideals. 

What of our country’s ideals?  Where are we, in today’s international community of countries?  There are few friends we can truly count on among the community of nations, except for the ones we have been buying. 

We have heard talk of a “coalition of the willing” coming together to fight our war in Iraq.  In most cases, it was the coalition of the bribed.  Recent news reports indicate billions of dollars of U.S. made weapons have been sold to countries—countries we previously would not have sold weapons to—because they have helped us in the so-called, “war on terror.” 

Countries like Pakistan, India and Indonesia, used to be barred from such weapons purchases.  No longer.  We are expanding what Dwight Eisenhower warned us about:  the military industrial complex. 

We know the Iraq war was never linked to terrorists in reality—only in the minds of those who convinced and scared Americans into going to war.   Terrorism is a heinous crime.  But it has to be fought with great intelligence—the information kind—not with F-18s or Bradley fighting vehicles and certainly not by military units trained to fight a wholly different kind of war. 

My friend, Patrick Shea from Utah, served on the Gore Commission on Aviation Safety and Security.  I suspect most of us don’t know of this group’s work.  In 1996 and 1997 they were addressing the whole question of terrorists using airplanes in committing their acts of murder and mayhem.   

Patrick has watched this war unfold, as many Americans have, in stunned disbelief.  We have seen at least tens of thousands of Iraqis die.  Collateral damage, we are told.  We have seen joy and glee among leaders when an Al Qaeda leader is killed.  We have heard the cries of “Get Osama!”  For Patrick, and others who have studied terrorism, it takes “judiciously supervised law enforcement, both on a national and international scale” to combat the terrorists. 

The recent British action that thwarted another wave of airplane terrorism was done by the police, not by the army.  It was done with intelligence and surveillance.  It was smart, precise and lightning fast.  It is law enforcement--not the military--that will win our future battles with terrorists. 

The military has also become our latest muscle in western hemisphere diplomacy.  Instead of engaging governments in Latin America that some in our country consider “leftist,” our government recently—and quietly—lifted the ban on the U.S. training militaries from eleven Latin American and Caribbean nations. 

Our government is addicted to power, not peace.  It is addicted to arrogance, not humility.  It is interested in power over, never power with.  The personality of our government and our image abroad is not helping us achieve the credibility we need to restore if we are to be a true global citizen among nations. 

Now I don’t have time here to get into what truly motivates these terrorists.  I will address shortly one of the surface issues.  But our nation, if it is to survive, must address the needs of human beings around the world.  If our foreign policy does not bring hope to working, starving and needy people across the globe, then recruits for suicide missions will always be easy to find. 

But what about the religious zealots, you may ask.  I suspect the last words spoken in the cockpits of those hijacked planes on 9/11, were “Allah hu Akbar,” God is great.  I suspect that is not much different than battle cries we have heard in the past; for God and King, for God and Country.  Yes, there is a reality that some are using religion to their own ends.  They are using selected passages from the Holy Bible and the Holy Koran to justify their crimes against God’s creation.  Yes, the religious zealots are on both sides.   

The terrorists are now being called “Islamic fascists.”  Connecting these extremists to the evils of fascism from a war—World War II--that most say was justified is good political strategy.  The truth is radical fundamentalists are not limited to Islam.  We have our own share in this country and they are not necessarily Islamic.  They are fundamentalists who Jimmy Carter says live by “rigidity, domination, and exclusion.”   

This fundamentalism can also be described, as the late Christian theologian Dorothy Soelle wrote, as a new “Christofascism.”  Former Roman Catholic and now Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox, warned about the dangerous blend of government and religion in article in “Tikkun” magazine.   

Fox wrote, “Fascism seems to need religion, wrapping itself in religious piety to foster feelings of pious sentiment and self-righteousness.  Its God is a God of Authoritarianism.” 

Fox quoted a study by Dr. Lawrence Britt in which he found 14 characteristics of fascism.  He studied the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto and Pinochet.  Fox points out that four of these men were Roman Catholics who were never excommunicated by their church. 

But here’s what Dr. Britt found common to each of those totalitarian governments: 

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism employing constant use of patriotic slogans, symbols, songs and flags.
  2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights because security needs outweigh human rights.
  3. Using enemies as scapegoats for a unifying cause.
  4. Supremacy of the military.
  5. Rampant sexism including more rigid gender roles and anti-gay legislation.
  6. Controlled mass media.
  7. Obsession with national security driven by a politics of fear.
  8. Religion and government are intertwined, especially in rhetoric employed by its leaders.
  9. Corporate power is protected.  Industrial and business aristocracies put government leaders into power and keep them there, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
  10. Labor power, which represents one of the few threats to fascism, is suppressed.
  11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts and hostility to higher education, along with censorship of arts or refusal to support the arts.
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment.
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
  14. Fraudulent elections.

As Fox wrote, “one does not have to be paranoid to see these elements alive and well in the United States.”   

Another Episcopal priest and author by the name of Barbara Brown Taylor, puts it this way:  “Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy, he was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is a deadly mix.  Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force if necessary to make others conform.  Beware of those who cannot tell the difference between God’s will and their own.” 

Now if we were to look at this from a mathematical perspective, I could tell you that virtually all the major religions spoke out against the Iraq war.  From Pope John Paul II, to recent statements by Catholic bishops, to a majority of America’s Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican leaders, all spoke out against this war as either unjust or immoral or both. 

Only the Southern Baptist Convention pronounced this war as just.  And I find it interesting that in the latest issue of Southern Baptist Times, a photo appears of the president in the Oval Office with Baptist leaders.  You will not find any such photo with Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox leaders because they have never been invited into the Oval Office to share their views about the war or any other issue facing our country. 

There’s a history that this current administration may not want to get too close to.  In 1930, all of the world’s Anglican Bishops adopted a statement that has been re-adopted and reaffirmed every ten years since. That statement says, “War as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and the life and the example of Jesus Christ.” 

And in 1952, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the United States adopted a resolution that says, “Believers in a God of justice and love as revealed in Christ cannot concede that war is inevitable. Voices are occasionally raised suggesting that a preventive war would afford a shortcut through our present dilemma. If this advice were accepted the United States would be placed in an indefensible moral position before the world as well as violate the fundamental teachings of Christ. Therefore, we are unalterably opposed to the idea of so-called preventive war.” 

So why has America gotten to this point?  Part of it is organization and part of it is media.  When I say organization I mean the ability for a strong, committed minority to exercise disproportionate power in the government and society because they are extremely well organized.  They know how to get out the vote.  They know how to influence public opinion.  And above all, they know how to influence the media. 

Over the past several years, we have entered into an era of what I call, “judgmental journalism.”  It is a time where opinion passes for fact and the more radical the opinion the more air time or print space it seems to get. 

News editors across the land routinely ignore statements and news releases from mainstream religious leaders because editors think “that’s what they’re supposed to say.”  They say we United Methodists, Evangelical Lutherans, American Baptists, Greek Orthodox, Episcopalians and Presbyterians are predictable and that’s not news.   

But let one outrageous leader rally his Christian Zionist followers into a frenzy and the media just swarms the story.  Editors and producers love outrageous.  I know.  I used to be one. 

The Wall Street Journal’s edition of July 27 gave 67 column inches, beginning on the front page mind you, to an event the previous week held by Pastor John Hagee.  The San Antonio televangelist organized a pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C., that attracted 3,500 people.  He has since predicted millions will die in this coming war and that it happily marks the beginning of the end of the world because Jesus is coming back -- in the midst of the carnage on all sides.  Several other news organizations covered the event. 

Most respected biblical scholars can cite you numerous examples of misinterpretation of the Scriptures around the so-called “end times.”  Many biblical scholars will tell you the Book of Revelation is not about the end of the world but about the occupying Roman Empire at the time the biblical text was written. 

For people of faith today, it is critical to recall the words of Dr. King:  “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state.  It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.  If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” 

Okay, so what can we do?  We are just individuals with very little real power to address what I have outlined here tonight, right?  Yes and no. 

First, get into a community that works for the common good.  Look at what’s going on at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship or other religious based peace organizations, or the Friends of Sabeel, the Center for American Progress or the National Council of Churches advocacy website  People working together can do much more than people working alone. 

Secondly, get to know the issue.  If some of what you have heard tonight is new to you, find out more.  Become conversant on the issue.  Know your facts.  It is hard to argue against the facts though people are making a living shouting down or talking over those bearing the facts.  But keep at it. 

Thirdly, get organized.  Write letters to the editor of newspapers.  Call radio talk shows.  Get your opinion in the public arena.  If you are part of the majority of Americans who disagree with the war, or torture, or the Patriot Act, your opinion needs to be expressed.  And if you get really organized, you will set up duty rosters for those who will call radio talk shows on Monday and Wednesday, and those who will call on Tuesday and Thursday, an so on. 

For the newspapers, rotate who will write letters.  Most newspapers won’t use letters from the same person more than once a month or once a quarter.  So organize your duty roster on a rolling schedule to get more of your opinions published. 

And everyone should write their elected representatives regularly.  Let them know your opinion.  Tell them what Archbishop Desmond Tutu said.  “Peace never comes from the barrel of a gun.” 

What you will be doing is active peacemaking.  It is following in the footsteps of Jesus, Gandhi and Dr. King.  That’s not bad company.   

In your own personal life, may I recommend a thorough self-examination of the words we use and state of our souls.  Stopping the name-calling in our private and public conversations is a start. If we do that, then extend that to the public arena, we will go a long way to raising the level of civility in our society. We will recover a level of respect for each other that seems to have gone missing. The words we use to demean, dismiss and disregard our fellow human beings need to be pulled from our lexicon.  If we can marginalize someone with a different opinion to make us feel justified in our beliefs or our actions, we can feel a sense of victory. Then we have won. That’s true for those whose goal is supremacy.

Victory for the peacemaker is finding the place where everyone is honored for their humanity, for the seed of the truth carried in each one of us. 

If you are in a personal state of anxiety or rage about the state of the country, find some spiritual practice that will allow you to channel the energy you have in more constructive ways.  I can tell you I never felt the power to speak up until I was a practitioner of centering prayer.  It is a meditative practice that its primary teacher, Father Thomas Keating, says will help us to better hear the cry of the poor. 

And take comfort in the words of those who have gone before…such as St. Seraphim of Sarov, an 18th century monk in Russia who said:  “Have peace within yourself and thousands around you will find salvation.” 

Become an agent of peace.  Be a force for good in your home, in your community and in your country.   

I leave you with the words of a Poet Laureate from India…Rabindranath Tagore.  I heard this poem read by Martin Sheen last year at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site protest. 

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake 

Thank you.  And may God bless the whole world…not exceptions.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228,


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