This week marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. Listening to a couple of shows on NPR as well as reading some articles about what people today have to say about the Civil War, I am reminded that William Faulkner said, "The past is not dead. It's not even past."
Meanwhile, America is currently (overtly) engaged in three conflicts (without having declared war), in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. And in Libya itself, the government backed forces are fighting against the people. Which is not a new thing in countries run by dictators.
My study book during Lent is Diarmaid MacCulloch's A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years; I have just finished reading the section on the Crusades, when the Church declared that becoming a soldier, going to war, was now a holy calling, a new pathway to salvation. Of course, Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire after Constantine's military victories in the early Fourth Century, in which the Emperor declared that God had given him a sign in the sky - a cross, with the words, in hoc signo vinces. In this sign, conquer.
Ever since Augustine of Hippo, who wrote about "just war" during the time his own community was being ravaged and Rome was being sacked by "barbarians," the Church has had something to say about war and has been implicated more than once in war that was not at all just. Even a short chapter on the Crusades cannot avoid mentioning the atrocities committed by Christian Crusaders against Jews across Europe; in sacking Constantinople, the seat of Greek Christianity; and even fighting against Poles and Lituanians who were already Latin Christians. As MacCulloch puts it, the Crusades started out as "holy warfare ... begun with Islam as its enemy [and] ended up with Christians fighting Christians."
So today, I am thinking about violence and about the human cost of war. We use words like "casualties" to soften the blow, but it is people who are injured and who die. And not just people who are soldiers. The American Civil War was noted as one which tore not only the country but families apart - brother fought against brother, father fought against son. War also creates orphans, creates poverty and starvation, interrupts education. People are the casualties, and some pay with their physical lives, some lose their community life, some lose their future. There is not time or resources for education during war, not in the countries that are engaged in endless conflict for generations, where children become soldiers, many people are missing limbs and eyes from bombs and shells, women are captured and raped as a matter of course.
The Bible, both Old Testament (Isaiah) and New (Revelation), say that when everything is all over, God will wipe away every tear. There will be many tears to be wiped away. Many of them because of war.