The peace testimony has been one of the more challenging testimonies for me to grasp emotionally. People talk about how a devotion to simplicity cuts across the grain of consumerist culture, but peace is even more counter cultural.
My father served alternative service before he was married. Like several others (mostly Mennonites) who disagreed with the Vietnam war, he was assigned to work in a mental hospital. I’ve learned, mostly from other people, that these people who viewed the war as immoral were seen as communist sympathizers, and faced violent attacks. As far as I know, the worst that my dad suffered was somebody setting his motorcycle on fire while he was at work.
Because my father saw it important to put faith above the expectations, or belief systems of our wider culture — it has not been difficult for me to learn good reasons to oppose war. Where there is war, the innocent suffer. Anything that can be called war largely hurts those who have no power to change anything, and leaves those who the war is about untouched. One might argue that war is a necessary evil, but it remains a great evil.
This is where the challenge for me comes: I am a person who responds to stories. Whenever we see stories that speak of war, or violence in general, the narrative tends to divide between heroes and villains. There is a way of transferring all the guilt to the villains, and leaving the heroes clean. The idea becomes not that violence caused the evil, but the violence stopped the evil. When I look to the stories that have currency in my culture, I see champions of violence who ‘defend’ the people who are suffering, but I don’t see champions of peace, nor do I see champions of consensus. It seems that those who broker peace are even seen as weak.
The only way that I’ve been able to reconcile these competing ideas is to admit that I feel all war is evil — but I am not a pacifist. I embrace a rather strict interpretation of Augustine’s Just war theory. The way I understand Just war is that force should be limited to as little as possible, and collateral damage is unacceptable. In addition, suicide missions are unacceptable — those who wage this ‘just war’ need to be reasonably sure of victory, and accountable for every excess of force beyond what is strictly necessary. Augustine’s just war theory is what our police departments follow when they live up to the high standards that they set for themselves. Nothing that has been called war follows these standards.
The bigger problem is how do we live at peace in our own lives? When people talk about the ‘peace testimony’, it is largely a political testimony — but, for the most part, a political opinion makes no difference in daily life. For something as counter cultural as peace, most years when it comes time to vote one must admit that there is not any peace candidates on the ballots.
For me, peace with the people around me is largely a matter of giving up the need to be right, or ‘important’ to the group. In my daily life peace means doing my best to stay out of self serving and dirty politics. The worst thing I can do to my opponents is attack their reputation — in order to live at peace with myself and others, the best I can do is pray for God’s blessing on those who are recognized before me.