A Time For War

I have to admit it, I like war stories. I like war books and war movies. I like non-fiction books on war like Band of Brothers and Flags of Our Fathers, and I like historical fiction war accounts like Killer Angels. I like the film version of these books too – the HBO miniseries based on Band of Brothers, Clint Eastwood’s film based on Flags of Our Fathers, and the 4 hour movie Gettysburg based on Killer Angels. These just scratch the surface, though, as I’ve read many other books, less well known than these three (including the masterful collection of short stories on Vietnam The Things They Carried – the title story alone is brilliant – though be warned, while milder than most war stories, there are some violent moments & uses of profanity), and I’ve seen other war movies, including some of my very favorites, like Glory, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, We Were Soldiers and one of my all time favorites, Black Hawk Down. So, it naturally surprised me when some readers of my series began referring to the books, especially the recently released final book, All My Holy Mountain, and to me as being “pacifistic.”

Now, I’m not really one to avoid expressing myself even if my view is unpopular, so I would acknowledge the label and embrace it if it applied, but it doesn’t, so I thought I’d take a moment to address this subject here. First of all, where does the idea come from that my series might be pacifistic in nature? The answer to that, I suppose, is that the making of weapons is what I use as a clear symbol of “the fall” of my fantasy world, and conversely, the unmaking of weapons is a clear symbol of restoration and redemption. Consequently, one of the clear conflicts in All My Holy Mountain is between Valzaan, a prophet of Allfather, and Aljeron, the main captain of the army of Kirthanin as it wages war against Malek. Valzaan suggests that even those who serve Allfather and wield the sword in service to Him can love the blade too much, and he goes even further in suggesting that Rulalin, an enemy of sorts in Aljeron’s eyes and Caan, a mentor for Aljeron, shared this trait – a love of the blade that was perhaps a bit strong. This suggestion doesn’t go over well with Aljeron, and in the end, Aljeron finds surrendering his sword when it is no longer necessary surprisingly difficult.

So, I understand why this notion of the sword as a symbol of what’s wrong with our world might be misunderstood as pacifism, but it is a misunderstanding. Pacifism is the idea that one should never fight/kill/go to war, and so forth. Never. Clearly, no one in the books held up as a laudable character makes that argument. You do see some of the older and generally wiser characters, like Monias for instance, be more measured in their enthusiasm and less gung ho for war in general, but none of these characters say “War is always wrong.”

C.S. Lewis has a very clear essay on this called “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” which is in his collection, The Weight of Glory, which I’d recommend for any who are interested in the topic. Lewis’ simple point is that to be pacifist, you have to believe war is the worst of all things. In short, since there is nothing so bad you’d go to war to avoid it, that means war must be worse than all states or situations which warfare might prevent. As Lewis doesn’t believe that, he is not a pacifist. As I do not believe that, neither am I, nor are the characters in my book.

However, and it is a big however, the older I get, the more I realize that war is indeed a symbol of the brokenness of our world. While there are things worse than war, things worth fighting for and dying for, even so, if the world was the way God had intended it to be, war would not be necessary. Do we not grow weary of the fighting in this world and long for a day when it will be finished? A day when the swords and spears will be laid down and the world will be at peace? I hope you do, as it is the great vision of God’s eternal kingdom that this will one day be.

So, even though I’m not a pacifist, I have come to see that war is more of a necessary thing than a good thing. Why then, do I still read and watch war movies, you ask? It is a fair question, and while there are a number of things I would say to it, I will limit myself to one as this post has grown long. One thing I find fascinating about war stories is that they show the best and the worst of human nature. The crucible of combat lays bare the character of the soldiers who enter it, and one moment you read or watch some horrific atrocity that exposes the deep depravity of man, and the next you read or watch some tale of unbelievable goodness, courage, friendship or self-sacrifice that is so poignant it makes battle-hardened, grown men weep. For a writer, for an observer of human nature, for a Christian always fascinated by the mysterious interplay of man’s sinful nature and yet the glory of God’s image, the imago dei inside us, these stories are in a way invaluable. They teach me much about who we are, about what we have become, but also about who we were meant to be, and one day, Lord willing, who we shall be.

7 thoughts on “A Time For War

  • You are completely right!!! As John Stuart Mill said:

    War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which his is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
    – John Stuart Mill

    There is a time for words, and there is a time for swords!!!!!

  • Hey Mr. Graham. I live in Durango, CO (and it’s ok the only people besides you who will read this comment already know so you can let it be posted)And some people may not know this about Durango, but Durango is massive Hippie-ville. Our town is full of wiccans, rostifarians (no clue if I spelled that right)hippies and such. Yeah it’s pretty weird around here. Every monday and wednesday there are anti-war protests on two of the intersections on Main Ave. They always disgust me and (I admit it I’m a brat!) I stick my tounge out and yell stuff like “You better watch out. I hear your terrorist buddies are for war not against it. If you’re not careful they could drive a plane into your house next!” But when a Christian, pacifist friend of mine asks me to prove from the Bible why war is good I can’t. And that’s because I don’t believe war is good, but that it’s necessary. So I have the belief that you just wrote about, but nothing really substansial from the Bible to back it up. Can you recommend any verses for me? I would really appreciate it. Thanks!! :)

    PS I love the way you phrased what you believe though. I may have to steal a few lines! It sounds so much better than mine. lol :) Thanks again.

    -Aubrey M. (Purl)

  • Evan – thanks for that great quote from J.S. Mill. I’m not a utilitarian, like Mill, but I agree with him on this point. It’s like the Edmund Burke quote that all that’s needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

    Aubrey – I’m not sure shouting out the window will help the protesters see the error of their ways, but I do recommend you read “Why I’m Not a Pacifist” by C.S. Lewis for the logic of not being a pacifist. As for scripture, the whole Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) as well as Joshua and much of the historical books have to be cut from the Bible even to have a chance to arrive at Pacifism as biblical. God commanded Israel go to war on numerous occasions, and to believe that pacifism is correct, you’d have to believe that God somehow changed his mind about war as a sometimes justifiable necessity.

    I’m not a big fan of the “I need a verse to prove my point” approach to the Bible, as verses out of context have done much damage in the church, but Psalm 144 opens with the Psalmist thanking God for teaching his hands to fight. In the early Judges chapters, perhaps chapter 2 or 3, it says that one of the reasons God allowed some Canaanites to survive the conquest was so younger generations of Israelites could learn warfare. (I don’t have my Bible with me as I’m blogging, or I’d give you more precise directions.) Further, Romans 13 is a classic chapter on civil governments, and when Paul talks about Caesar “bearing the sword,” I believe as do many/most Bible interpreters that he means governments have been entrusted with the obligation to provide protection within and without, and that includes the need to exercise lethal force when necessary.

    Hope that helps.

  • And remember that David, a man after God’s own heart, was a mighty warrior.

  • I don’t agree with everything Mill says either, but I do on this point. I do think that war is necessary at times, even though it is not necessarily a good thing.

    Aubrey, if you were looking for another example, in the Bible’s “Hall of Faith”, in Hebrews 13, several of the people in it were great warriors, such as Gideon, Barak, Samson and David.

    Evan

  • I could not agree more L.B., war is a nasty and a cruel thing. I’m 13 and enjoy fighting/war games, but when my brother died, it curbed my enthusiasim for games like that as I realized what death felt like to me. War is necessary but only for certain things. My Dad told me not to fight over unimportant things, but to fight for few things e.g. my faith but war and death should never have been or happen but it is necessary to fight for some things but to like and enjoy war is wrong for one’s life should not be thrown away for trivial things. L.B., you have a way of phrasing words in an easy to understand way and I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • *big smile* thanks Mr. Graham. And just FYI I am always careful to never use verses out of context. I always take a recommended verse and read the chapter(s) around it to make sure that I’m using it correctly. :)

    And thanks Evan. :) Even though I should’ve thought of that on my own. *sheepish grin*

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