I remember what it felt like ten years ago this week.
The dread had been building for months. The sabers had been rattling for some time.
Though there were certainly plenty of folks who were ready to “finish off the job” that had begun over ten years before, it seemed as if the great masses of Americans opposed military intervention in Iraq.
I myself had participated in a gigantic march through the streets of Dallas to voice my opposition to war. Around the world, huge numbers of people were saying, “No” to this looming conflict. It seemed impossible that Bush would actually go through with starting a preemptive war.
To the end, I convinced myself that something would happen at the last minute to stave off the invasion.
Alas, shock and awe happened. Poor planning happened. Insurgency happened. Abu Gharib happened. And Guantonomo Bay. And 116,000 Iraqi casualties. And 4,486 American casualties.
I don’t need to replay all that has happened in those ten years. I don’t want to, because it’s outright depressing. That’s why it’s taken me a few days to write this post.
To this day, it stuns me that we let the Iraq war happen. I let it happen. You let it happen. I knew it was a terrible thing, and you did, too. And it happened on our watch.
We could blame the Bush administration, but that would be too easy. We could blame the media for not asking enough tough questions, or the general public which too easily believed the rhetoric and hype from Washington.
But this blog is the place to blame ourselves, particularly the church. Especially the church. Especially people who claim to actually believe what Jesus said and did. I can’t speak for other denominations or traditions, so I will speak for my own. The United Methodist Church horribly disappointed me in those months leading up to the war.
There were, of course, individual bishops, clergy, and laypersons who stood up publicly to oppose the war. There were proclamations and statements, including this one from the President of the Council of Bishops in October 4, 2002: “A preemptive war by the United States against a nation like Iraq goes against the very grain of our understanding of the Gospel, our church’s teachings, and our conscience.” And, of course, there are the Social Principles of the church, which state that “war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ.”
But as all of us know very well, statements by bishops and agency heads are viewed with great suspicion — even by our own members, much less anyone else in the general population. You think Dick Cheney lost any sleep over what Rev. Jim Winkler (General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society) thought about the war?
As a whole, United Methodists across the country did NOT rise up and demand that the US stand down. Not only that, but very few preachers were willing to preach against the impending war. There was simply very little momentum, and even less strategy, within the church to turn the tides of war.
We could have stopped the Iraq war from happening. Yes, we could. In 2003, there were 8.3 million United Methodists in the US. That’s a significant number, enough to have at least slowed the war machine.
If significant numbers from the other Christian churches in the rest of the country had also stood up and demanded that we stop the madness in the name of all that is moral and upright, I am convinced that we could have stopped the war from happening.
But I can’t sit and mope around about what didn’t happen. After reflecting on these last ten years, I find myself extremely motivated to make sure it never happens again. Not on my watch, anyway.
I will never stand back as passively as I did ten years ago as our country begins ramping up for a preemptive strike on another country. I would not be able to bear the guilt if I let it happen again.
And yes, I’m talking about Iran. Or North Korea. Or any other country which a President deems “unredeemable” or “evil” or “a threat.”
Perhaps we were too naive ten years ago, believing that marches and articles and prayers alone would stop a nation’s madness. It may be that we need to learn some new nonviolent strategies or take a few pages from the Occupy playbook. Those of us interested in the peaceful ways of Jesus have to do things differently next time.
Yet, even as I sit and write these words, I am uncomfortably aware that the current administration engages in the same kind of rhetoric and justification of violence that the last one used.
Bush had his Saddam vendetta, but Obama has his drones.
Bush had his al-Qaeda playing cards, but Obama has his kill lists.
Bush allowed for hospitals and schools as collateral damage in his bombings, but Obama allows for women and children as collateral damage in his drone strikes.
Bush had his Guantanamo Bay, and Obama has … the same Guantanamo Bay.
Bush was a willing participant in the military-industrial complex that dominates our political system, and so is Obama.
The truth is, nothing much has changed in ten years.
And it’s our fault.