I confess that, though I started it twice, I never made it all the way through Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I’m not at all afraid of long books, but I could never stir up much interest in the Napoleonic wars or the aristocratic Russian families affected by the French invasion of 1812.
I couldn’t help but think about Tolstoy’s opus, however, when Barack Obama stepped to the podium in Oslo on December 10 and marked his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize by making a speech about war.
The room was awash with irony.
Sadly, that’s the way it is when idealism and realism go head to head. Surely most inhabitants of the world would like for it to be a more peaceful place — but we have differing ideas of what liberties should exist in a peaceful society, just as we can’t agree on whether war should have any rules.
The president argued that the current war in Afghanistan is essential to protect American interests, and that it meets the criteria for a just war. A number of observers have hailed his rather hawkish take on the war, while others have been more critical, thinking the effort in Afghanistan has little chance of success.
I’m not an ethicist by profession, but I observe that people who make the study of ethics their life’s work can still disagree over whether or not a war is just.
I’m a peace-nik at heart and I believe that honest conversation is better than bullets, but when the enemy prefers to shoot (or bomb) first and brag later, hard decisions have to be made.
I am confident that the president dislikes war as much as anyone, and wouldn’t be pursuing escalating the conflict with 30,000 new troops if he didn’t believe it’s essential. I hope the effort proves to be successful, but it’s clear that success is not guaranteed. The radicalized, jihadist version of Islam preached by the likes of Osama bin Ladin is just twisted enough to turn all the normal rules upside down: for every terrorist we kill, the responding grievance breeds two more.
The network of hate reaches far and wide, even snaking into our own country to enlist and brainwash disaffected young men for terrorist training in Somalia and Pakistan. The danger, I suspect, is even greater than we know.
I’m not in a position to advise the president: I believe he is working just as hard to promote peace as he is to conclude a war, and it’s evident that he does not approach war with swagger, but realism.
There is little that I or any of us can do on a global scale, but we can work for peace on a local level. We can be kind to all we meet, even those who dress or speak differently. We can demonstrate love. We can speak up for those who need someone to defend them.
Like it or not, in both lives and lost wealth, we are paying for war. Let’s not forget to pray for peace.