Just war theory was developed to guide Christians in the principles and conditions under which Christians could morally participate in armed conflict. I believe we are seeing in Iraq an illustration of waging a war of defense and liberation according to the criteria of just war--including making tremendous efforts to minimize civilian casualties, often at additional risk to coalition soldiers.
It now appears that the coalition's forces have prevailed, with remarkably low losses of coalition combatants. Further, given the scenes of Iraqi citizens greeting our forces with jubilation and destroying the symbols of the Hussein regime, it appears that military victory and Iraq's liberation are within our grasp.
How should we respond? With humility and gratitude. This is the characteristic posture of Christians concerning all of life. In the case of war, humility and gratitude should dictate our attitude and behavior; if we have been granted victory, it is because the Lord has read the motives of our heart and favored our efforts, not because of any wisdom or might we may possess. The overwhelming majority of Christians, evangelical and otherwise, agree that whenever success is achieved, God should be given the glory.
If one looks to American history, one finds deeply embedded in our culture a desire to be on God's side. As Frances Scott Key proclaimed in our national anthem:
"Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land Praise the Power that has made and preserved us as a nation. Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust'"Please note the conditional nature of this passage from The Star-Spangled Banner. It is God that has preserved our nation and we will triumph only "when our cause is just".
Humility in victory is easy when one believes it is because God favored your motive and intent rather than some inherent national quality or power.
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."In those moving words, President Lincoln summed up the best of the American and Judeo-Christian spirit. We do our best to be on God's side, not assume He is on our side, and we seek to be humble in victory. Almost a century later, John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address, expressed the same spirit when he concluded his extraordinary and moving speech with these words:
"With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."The context of the speech was the Cold War between American and the Soviet Union, and President Kennedy expressed our nation's desire for God's blessing.
So, as the present conflict in Iraq comes to a successful end, we should heed the advice of Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime Prime Minister who said: "In war: resolution. In defeat: defiance. In victory: magnanimity. In peace: goodwill."
We should be magnanimous in victory, and we should seek "to bind up the nation's wounds" and do all we can to enable the Iraqi people to experience the liberty and freedom we believe is God's gift to humanity. In that spirit, our troops have kept displays of the American flag to a minimum as we have entered Iraqi cities. We come as liberators, not conquerors. Our government has pledged to help rebuild Iraq and to stay only as long as necessary in their country.
Should we have victory parades? In Iraq, that should be the decision of the Iraqi people, and they should not happen if even a small minority of the population opposes them. In the United States, such parades would be entirely appropriate as we welcome home our heroes and heroines in uniform. They risked their lives for our safety and for the freedom of the Iraqi people, and we should not be reticent in expressing our gratitude. The spirit of such parades should be one of gratitude to God for granting us victory and gratitude to our troops--but not self-congratulation or any indication that God is ever automatically on the side of America.
I hope America's celebration also includes thousands of worship services in churches, synagogues, temples and mosques across our land as we give thanks for divine blessing on our endeavors, for his watchcare and protection of our military personnel--and as we pray for continued guidance to do "the right as God gives us to see the right."