All We Have to Do

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For one year I have been wondering why the rest of the world is allowing the fighting to continue to not evicting Russia from Ukraine, by force if necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the reluctance to initiate another war—whether it be hot or cold. My son is nearing the age when he will have to register with Selective Service; the last thing I want is another world war and the possibility of a draft in the U.S. At the same time, the fear of hardship—even violence and war—should not be a deterrent to doing what is right.

C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” That’s a familiar quote because it’s true. But if it is true that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching then it certainly follows that integrity includes doing the right thing when everyone is watching. And the world is watching Ukraine.

Last September, when the war was but seven months old, the Pew Research Center reported that Americans were less concerned about the war spreading into other countries than they had been, with just over a quarter of U.S. adults saying that they were not too concerned or were not concerned at all about Russia defeating Ukraine. At the same time, 57% of Americans said that the U.S. was providing the right amount or too much support to Ukraine.

Well, let’s be honest—if the U.S. were supplying adequate support to Ukraine, the war would be over and Russia would have lost.

In December, Steven Pifer wrote, for The Brookings Institution, that the war has “proven a disaster for Russia — militarily, economically, and geopolitically. The war has badly damaged Russia’s military and tarnished its reputation, disrupted the economy, and profoundly altered the geopolitical picture facing Moscow in Europe.” That may be true, but wrote that two months ago today and Russia does not seem inclined to give up.

A year ago Paul Kolbe, the director of the Intelligence Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a 25-year veteran of the CIA, said this about U.S. involvement in Ukraine:

From a principled standpoint, if the United States stands for democracy, if it stands for freedom of nations and peoples to choose their paths, if it stands opposed to aggression and efforts to change borders by force, then this is the ideal example of exactly where we should be walking the walk and not just talking the talk. 

Kolbe was right then and his comments are still right today. Back in November, when Russia withdrew from Kherson, General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “When peace can be achieved, seize it.” Maybe. But there’s a reason why Neville Chamberlain is best remembered for the utter foolishness of his claim of having achieved “peace for our time.” Appeasing Hitler proved to be naïve but shortsighted; before long, Hitler was doing exactly what he promised he wouldn’t do. And who can blame him, given that the rest of the world’s leading countries had demonstrated a reluctance to do what was necessary to make him stop? In case anyone has forgotten, the appeasement approach was already tried with Putin, too. (Remember Crimea?)

In late December Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was interested in negotiating an end to the war. Specifically, he said,

All armed conflicts end one way or another with some kind of negotiations on the diplomatic track. Sooner or later, any parties in a state of conflict sit down and make an agreement. The sooner this realization comes to those who oppose us, the better. We have never given up on this.

In other words, Putin is ready for a diplomatic agreement that gives him what he wants. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Giving Russia even one square inch of Ukrainian soil would serve to embolden Putin further but would also embolden Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un and others.

Paul Kolbe said that the reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “are complex and multifaceted and include history and psychology, longstanding grievances and grudges, and a bitter resentment of NATO.” All true—and none of them justify the invasion or giving Russia anything. Near the end of the American  Civil War, the South made some overtures about a negotiated end to the war. The war had been going on for years and hundreds of thousands had died; no one in their right mind would have refused to listen to their offer. But Abraham Lincoln made one thing clear—there would be no end to the war without an end to slavery.

In the same way, the U.S., NATO and other Ukrainian allies would do well to listen to Putin about a diplomatic agreement, but only one that includes a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian soil. That cannot be negotiated.

Last month, the George W. Bush Presidential Center released a report explaining why it is vital to U.S. national interest to support Ukraine. The report said, in part,

[I]t’s vital that the United States show total, bipartisan solidarity with Ukraine and any other country that might be threatened by thuggish, authoritarian regimes. The United States must lead, together with our allies, and that leadership starts with a united front between the executive and legislative branches on such a vital national security matter.

I agree with that assertion. But I agree even more strongly with this statement from earlier in the report:

There also must be accountability for Russian war crimes and genocidal acts committed against Ukrainians. Led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainians reject the notion of negotiations involving territorial concessions in exchange for a ceasefire.

The U.S. must stand by Zelensky and the people of Ukraine. Maybe, like a district attorney negotiating an agreement with a murderer and taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for a confession, war crimes are taken off the table in exchange for an end to the fighting and a removal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. Short of that, though, there can be no deal.

John Adams once said, “To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.” That’s easier said than done most of the time. But in this instance, it’s actually quite clear. We know what the good thing is to do. Are we willing to do it?

Must Christians Be Pacifists?

Last time I left one of Dale’s questions unanswered, because that entry had already grown lengthy and because the remaining question is one that can easily warrant its own post. The first part of the question was, essentially, are Christians called to be pacifists?

I would have to say that my short answer is no; my understanding of the Bible does not cause me to believe that Christians are instructed or called to be pacifists.

Certainly Jesus taught at length about turning the other cheek, and refusing to seek revenge, and I think that those teachings are relevant to an extent. I am not going to talk about the individual level here, because I did that last time. To me, the idea of going to war is a national-level discussion; a macro rather than a micro issue. That said, I realize, of course, that wars are fought by a collection of individuals, and it is my conviction that there are times when Christians are justified in going to war. I will try to explain why….

First, God Himself instituted the death penalty. In fact, the death penalty was the first civil ordinance God gave to man. Jesus did bring a new law when He came to earth, but I cannot find any of Jesus’ teachings that would negate God’s instruction that there are some offenses that are deserving of death. And I think this same principal can be applied at the macro level–there are times when going to war is justified.

Second, I think that is depends on the reason for the war. I think that Christians would have every right to question, and even to sit out, a war that was being waged purely for the purposes of conquest or territorial expansion. On the other hand, I think there are such things as “just wars,” and when a war is being fought to bring a person or a nation to justice, I see no biblical conflict with a Christian being a part of such a war. World War II would be a perfect example; the atrocities of the concentration camps not only warranted but, in my opinion, necessitated war to put a stop to the genocide.

Third, Scripture makes it clear that Christians are to submit to the government unless and until the government requires something that God prohibits or prohibits something that God expects. Only in those instances when obedience to government would mean disobedience to God are Christians justified in choosing to disobey the government. Accordingly, unless the purpose of a war is contrary to Scripture, one could legitimately argue that Christians have a responsibility to submit to the government and go to war when told to do so.

Of course, in the United States we have an all-volunteer military, so one could argue that no one should join the military who is unwilling to follow orders to go to war, but I think that skirts that main point that even in such instances it is possible for unjust orders to be given and for members of the military to have the right and Christian duty to disobey those orders.

Fourth, war may sometimes be a necessary method of enforcing the law. Just as God chastises those whom He loves, and expects parents to use the rod when necessary to teach their children, so nations may at times have to use force in order to enforce treaties, agreements, etc. For example, regardless of whether or not WMDs were ever found in Iraq, the case could easily be made that the use of force was justified because Saddam Hussein had repeatedly ignored deadlines established by the UN. The enforcement of law and the execution of justice may, at times, require going to war.

I do not think that killing someone is ever the loving thing to do, but I do think that there can come a time when the bounds of love have been exceeded. I realize that is hard to swallow, and it seems contrary to what we most often think of the Bible as teaching, but even God’s love has a limit. Despite the fact that everyone will believe in God after their death, not everyone will be saved, because there is no “last chance.” In His sovereignty, God has given a set period of time to each person, and once the time is up, it is up. I cannot see a problem with that same principle being applied (fairly) to nations; eventually, a refusal to repent may leave but one option.