The Morality of the Iraq War

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The following is the unabridged text of my opening remarks in a debate concerning the morality of the Iraq War with Mark Overstreet, vice president and professor at Criswell College in Dallas, Tex. The debate was held on SoapBox Radio on June 9, 2007.

The question of the morality of the Iraq War is not a difficult one. It is, in fact, an open and shut case. The war was immoral from the very beginning. It is still immoral right now. And anything short of immediately withdrawing U.S. troops merely continues the immorality.

The mission of the U.S. military in Iraq can never be moral, just, and consistent with the principles of Christianity. No Christian has any business defending, supporting, or participating in the war in Iraq. If there is any religion that should be opposed to the evils of war it is Christianity. And if there is any group within Christianity that should be the most consistent, the most vocal, and the most scriptural in its opposition to the offensive, preemptive, open-ended, “shock and awe” campaign known as the Iraq War, it is conservative Christians who look to the Bible as their sole authority.

There are a number of reasons why I believe the war in Iraq is immoral. It is immoral because it is not defensive, because of its incredible cost, because 3,500 U.S. soldiers have died for a lie, because of the tremendous death and destruction that we have meted out to Iraqis, and because the state can’t sanctify murder.

The war in Iraq is immoral because it is not defensive. The essence of war is killing people and destroying property. It is never moral to kill someone and destroy his property unless one is acting in self-defense. The war in Iraq is anything but self-defense. The United States invaded a sovereign country thousands of miles away that had not attacked us. Before we invaded Iraq, not one American had been killed by an Iraqi since the last time we invaded. But have not the Iraqis killed, injured, or maimed thousands of U.S. soldiers? Of course they have. We would do the same thing to foreign troops that invaded our soil. We can call the invasion of Iraq regime change, nation building, or gunboat diplomacy, but we certainly cannot call it self-defense. But what about the September 11th terrorist attacks? What about them? President Bush himself has acknowledged that Iraq was not behind the September 11th terrorist attacks and was not connected with al Qaede. A report drawn up by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz for the Project for the New American Century a year before the 2001 terrorist attacks shows that Bush’s minions were waiting for what they called a “new Pearl Harbor” that could be used to justify the United States taking military control of Iraq. But what about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction? Do you mean the weapons the United States sold Iraq during the 1980s when Iraq was our ally or do you mean the non-existent weapons of mass destruction that Bush used to justify invading Iraq before he acknowledged that “most of the intelligence turned out to be wrong”?

The war in Iraq is immoral because of its incredible cost. Although then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the war would cost $50 billion, it is now costing the American taxpayers over $200 million a day. Congress just appropriated $100 billion to continue fighting the war this year. The final cost of the war is projected to be has high as $2 trillion. And who knows what the cost will be to provide a lifetime of medical care to the thousands of wounded and mangled U.S. troops. There comes a time when it must be said that enough is enough. With the national debt fast approaching $9 trillion, this is a war that we cannot afford.

The war in Iraq is immoral because 3,500 U.S. soldiers have died for a lie. The U.S. military does not defend our freedoms. Instead, it serves as the world’s policeman, fireman, social worker, bully, and busybody. Rather than guarding our borders, patrolling our coasts, and protecting our citizens, the Defense Department — which couldn’t defend its own headquarters — is focused on fighting the next foreign war. There are over 700 military bases on foreign soil, with U.S. troops stationed in 159 different regions of the world. Instead of the U.S. military helping to guarantee peace and stability throughout the world, the presence of the U.S. military more often than not is the cause of war and instability around the globe. Because of what the military has become, Christians in the military, if they want to act consistently with the principles of Christianity, need to do just one thing: get out of the military.

The war in Iraq is immoral because of the tremendous death and destruction that we have meted out to Iraqis. After the United States invaded Iraq the first time during the 1991 Gulf War, we imposed brutal economic sanctions on Iraq that lead to the deaths of half a million infants and children. Osama bin Laden listed these sanctions against Iraq as one of the main reasons for the September 11th attacks on the United States. I believe the CIA term for what we experienced is blowback. The scriptural principle is “whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” But even if Iraq had not been devastated by U.S. sanctions and yet still had been directly responsible for the September 11th attacks, I fail to see how that justifies reducing the country to rubble and killing — according to the latest estimates — 600,000 people, most of whom were supposedly people who had been brutalized by Saddam Hussein.

The war in Iraq is immoral because the state can’t sanctify murder. State-sanctified murder — can there be such a thing? Will it be an adequate defense at the Judgment? The state is responsible for more deaths throughout history than those caused by all individuals and organizations combined. In the twentieth century alone, tens of millions of people were murdered by their own governments. Trusting the state when it comes to the necessity of going to war is ludicrous. Blind obedience to the state is not a tenet of New Testament Christianity. Killing for the state in some foreign war violates the biblical precept against killing. Limiting the biblical prohibition against killing to just murder doesn’t legitimize killing in war. Because the war in Iraq was not defensive, U.S. soldiers — many of whom would claim to be Christians — cannot claim to be acting in self-defense when they gun down Iraqis. They are invaders and occupiers, not liberators and peacekeepers. It is unfortunate that many Americans have the idea that a terrorist is anyone who detonates a bomb but doesn’t wear an air force uniform. The Bible says in Colossians 3:23: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” Bombing, killing, maiming, and interrogating for the state cannot be done heartily in the name of the Lord. Christians who do these things in the service of the state do them unto men — men like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Powell, and the other architects of the Iraq war — they do not do them for the glory of God or even for the American people. The war in Iraq has made not made us more secure. To the contrary, it has intensified the hatred that many foreigners around the world have for Americans, and has created terrorists faster than we can kill them.

The majority of the American people are now against this war. Perhaps not out of principle, but at least they are against it — for whatever their reason. Yet, support for the war among many conservative Christians continues. I know that among Americans, and even among Christian Americans, conservative Christians are usually in the minority on many issues. But being in the minority on a particular issue doesn’t necessarily mean that one is in the right. Just look at one person who is in the minority: George W. Bush. Here is a professing Christian who believes that Muslims and Christians worship the same God and a Republican president who has done more to expand the power of government than any other Republican president since Abraham Lincoln.

But whether we are in the minority or the majority, conservative Christians should oppose this war, not because the war did not go as planned, not because we don’t want another Vietnam, not because we have suffered too many casualties, not because too many Iraqi civilians have been killed, not because the war is too expensive, not because the conflict in Iraq has descended into a civil war, not because there are too many insurgents, and not because the troop surge is not working — we should oppose the war because it was a grave injustice, a monstrous wrong, and a great evil from the very beginning.

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