Posted by: The Amoeba | March 15, 2009

Of Black and White, War and Peace, and Conscientious Gray

The pastor of the church we attend in Honolulu probably lost some people today.

The first part of her sermon spoke of how the Decalogue represents rules by which a community may live, and, one hopes, thrive. No problem here. Any social system, even anarchy, is going to be governed by a series of rules – the members need to learn and remember which actions will keep the community working, which ones will destroy it. From what we know (or, at least, what this Amoeba knows) of social systems in the millennium before the Common Era, the Decalogue’s rules looks pretty good, not least because of their implicit restrictions on the principle of retaliation (e.g. “No killing allowed”; elsewhere, (only) an eye for an eye), thus minimizing the risk that a community will wipe itself out seeking “justice” for its members, Mr. Corleone.

The second part, however, spoke of conscientious objectors to the Iraq war, specifically Hawai‘i’s Ehren Watada, and how God’s rules (“No killing allowed”), to which they are adhering to their cost, trump any rules that The Evil Military Authorities attempt to impose.

War black. Peace white. Welcome to 1969. Hell. Welcome to 1863.

The hawks have just left the building. And the Amoebae are thinking that Pastor has missed the point of her own sermon.

That point? That an effective set of social rules (and the principles on which it is based) serves its community under all circumstances. Including both war and peace.

Neither war nor peace is an absolute. Each is a circumstance with which, from time to time, the community must deal; Qohelet famously wrote of a “time for war” and a “time for peace”. The key issue is never “War or else” or “Peace or else”. It is, instead: “In the present circumstances, how can we best ensure the survival and growth of our community?

Indeed, if its people are sufficiently committed to the community’s principles and rules, they will be willing to sacrifice for that community, rather than risk the possibility of that community failing. And sometimes, Clint, that means shootin’. An idea that We the People didn’t have much of a problem with back in 2002 and 2003, when we actually had a chance to do something that would make a difference about the wars that have since bankrupted us, financially and morally.

Sacrificial commitment is the message of several Biblical passages, the Gideon story, to name one.

It is also the story of the Mexican War (1846-48).

If the aphorism (attributed variously to Napoleon, Voltaire, and Tradition) that “God is on the side of the heaviest batallions” were correct, you would be reading this blog in Spanish. American forces were attacking a much larger body of Mexican troops on their own soil – a circumstance that should have produced higher casualties and lower morale for the American side, and an eventual Mexican victory. However, the Americans were volunteers bound together by a common set of principles, while the Mexicans were mostly conscripts who had little in common with the hacienda owners and mercenaries who commanded them. The Americans were soon dictating terms in Mexico City.

Note, please, that there was nothing particularly noble about the principles that the victorious Americans espoused. For one thing, American settlers first gained a foothold in Texas through outright lying to Mexican authorities about their intentions to learn Spanish and convert to Catholicism. (If you have the stomach for it, I recommend a comparison between the American principle of Manifest Destiny and the [Nazi] German ideal of Lebensraum). For another, Mexico had abolished slavery in 1810 (a decree reinforced in 1813 and 1829). One of the first acts of Americans in territory taken from Mexico, Texas especially, was to relegalize slavery and establish slave-labor plantations.

What, then, is the true significance of an Ehren Watada? What else than this: the community no longer agrees on its core principles and rules.

Which means that We the People may be in the condition of the Mexicans of 1846. Or of the Jerusalem of ca. 598 BCE. When Jeremiah the prophet spoke out and said:

You have a choice. End the greed that divides you, pay the true wages of peace, bring back a community that all can support, and live. Or continue as you are, and die.

As it happened, the multimillionaires and their sycophants, Rush nobles of Judah, in their mansions of cedar staffed by slaves and “guest workers” in rags, chose not to heed Jeremiah, chose not to heal the rifts that divided them from their people, and their people from each other. They even had men of the cloth to whistle in the dark for them.

And Jerusalem, and Judah with it, fell to Nebuchadnezzar.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.



  1. The minute I saw that COWARDS name in your post I saw red. I believe OC that I most likely missed the point if this post because of that. He knew what he was signing up for, knew how the military operates and knew the rules of our great USofA. Regardless of anyones opinion of war when you enlist into the military you do as told by your Cimmander In Chief. Your party affiliation and religious beliefs be damned. I despise that little bastard and always will he is a spineless COWARD!

  2. Thom, if all believed in the USA and what it stands for, there would be no debate on this matter. That there is debate on this matter tells me that all do NOT believe in the USA and what it stands for. A country with as many unresolved political, social, and economic divides as we now have is a country in danger of toppling. That’s really the point of the piece.

    The Nuremberg trials, in 1946-7, established the principle, in international law, that an individual soldier cannot evade personal responsibility for crimes against humanity on the basis of submission to higher authority (“I was following orders”). Given the state of education in these Untied States, I daresay only a small percentage of enlistees had ever heard of the Nuremberg Principle, much less dreamed that it could ever apply to them.

  3. If the ‘End is Nigh’ then there are many who fervently wish that the end hurries up and gets here already. Hard and fast numbers are not absolute, but the percentage of the super-rich has not varied that much throughout human history. Is it 10% owns 90% of all wealth? If so, isn’t that a similar percentage during the Robber Baron Era, the Carpetbaggers, the Plantation Owners, the Industrial Revolution etc. all the way back to Jeremiah and beyond.

    What does America stand for anyway? As far as I can tell, having a conscience is a burden to be shucked at the first opportunity to make money.

    This post reminds me of the movie “Sergeant York”.

    • Long time no see, Brian. Hope all’s well with you and yours.

      I don’t know about this “the End” stuff. Every time Nostradamus pops up on the pages of the Enquirer, I hear the voice of Bullwinkle trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat: “This time for sure!“. Even Jesus of Nazareth has tried to predict the future, saying that some of those in his orbit wouldn’t die until Jesus’s second coming. I thought that fundamentalists would be far more excited about searching Palestine for 2000-year-old eyewitnesses to the crucifixion than they have proved to be. Mel Brooks doesn’t count.

      In recent years, the proportion of wealth held by the super-rich has increased dramatically, at least in the US prior to the current debacle. Over the last half-dozen years, real income for most people in the working and lower middle classes has declined, while their productivity has increased (and the rewards of that productivity have gone into Bill Gates’s pocket, so he can spend it on people who are so poor, and so far away, he hardly need worry about them complaining about how what’s left of their pay is vanishing into health insurance premiums and deductibles).

      No real surprise then, when the bubbles burst and the wealthy needed a hand in order to keep the economic superstructure from folding in on itself, most people were only willing to give them the finger. Which was probably what was going on in Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar’s army appeared over the horizon.

      I wonder what Sgt. York would have thought of Iraq …

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