The Lookout | 6.29.08
By Alan Dowd

Isaiah called our savior the “Prince of Peace.” And during His public ministry, Jesus certainly lived up to that title: He asked His followers to turn the other cheek, embraced His enemies and bestowed a special blessing onto peacemakers.

Yet we know that Jesus had sterner words for those who worked as scholars and scribes than He did for soldiers. In fact, when a centurion once asked Him to heal an ailing servant, Jesus didn’t lecture the soldier about putting down his sword. Instead, He commended him. “I have not found such great faith in Israel,” Jesus exclaimed.

Centuries earlier, David, the warrior-king of Israel, praised the Lord, “who trains my hands for war.” His son concluded that “There is a time for war.”

Although some Christians do not accept this notion, most concede that there is indeed a time and purpose for war and the warrior.

It may seem inconsistent or paradoxical, but the Prince of Peace calls on His followers to defend the weak, to help the helpless when it is within our power to act, to free the captives, to be instruments of mercy and justice.

Doing these things—whether it’s a policeman here on the home-front or a Marine on the battlefront—often requires the use of force. Indeed, there are times when force serves a higher good, and there are even times when the absence of force, however unwittingly and unintentionally, serves the enemies of that higher good.

In short, those who defend us are far more than a necessary evil: They are a necessary good, especially in this post-9/11 era.

Waging Peace

Just consider some of the exploits of U.S. troops during these years of consequence and sacrifice:

  • They have closed the book on two truly horrific regimes, liberating 24 million Iraqis from Saddam Hussein’s torture chamber and 26 million Afghanis from the medieval Taliban. Whatever your opinion of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein were enemies of humanity. The examples of mass-torture are too numerous to catalogue and too brutal to discuss here.
  • Backed by the muscle of the U.S. military, American relief agencies have built or renovated 640 health clinics, 600 schools and 4,000 miles of roads to connect the fragmented country of Afghanistan.[i]
  • Some five million Afghan children are now in school—and about 1.8 million of them are girls.
  • U.S. and allied troops are clearing away what has been called “a Devil's Garden” of minefields in Afghanistan, paving the way toward one of the greatest reverse Diasporas in history: More than 4.6 million Afghan refugees have returned home since 2001.
  • U.S. and other NATO forces in Afghanistan recently completed a nine-kilometer water pipeline. As a result, according to Haji Mir Abdul Khaliq, deputy governor of Herat, “Our children will no longer suffer from thirst or stomachaches in the summer.”
  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai reported in August 2007 that no less than 135,000 children under five are alive today because of American intervention.
  • In Iraq, where the costs have been far higher, it pays to recall where we began. Saddam presented himself as father and god to Iraqi children. “With our souls and our blood,” they pledged at school, “we sacrifice for Saddam. We will sacrifice ourselves for you, O Saddam.” Those children who refused to join Saddam’s youth paramilitary gangs were imprisoned by the hundreds. It was a regiment of the U.S. Marines that set them free in April 2003.
  • With the help of America’s ambidextrous troops, Iraq’s schools—in peacetime used as places of Baathist indoctrination, and in wartime used as anti-aircraft sites—are being rebuilt. All told, some 3,400 schools have been rehabilitated since 2003, and more than 55,000 teachers have been trained. 
  • U.S. forces are helping build 142 new primary healthcare centers, which will serve 6.5 million Iraqis.[ii]
  • As of 2007, according to the U.S. Army’s Iraq Reconstruction Report, the Army had launched 3,340 reconstruction and development projects in Iraq. For example, last May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refurbished Iraq’s national electrical grid, delivering electricity to an additional 1.7 millions homes. These same units have repaired and rebuilt water treatment stations, enabling 5.2 million more Iraqis to drink clean water.[iii]
  • And on top of all their work in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. troops were the first responders to disasters of biblical proportion in Pakistan and Indonesia.

As one Marine general put it in 2006, “We’re waging peace just as hard as we can.”

Good Works

Whether or not this war has God’s blessing is a subject for another essay. As President Lincoln put it in the midst of another war, “My concern is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God’s side.”

Regardless of God’s position or our government’s methods, there are good people who are doing good works in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is wrong to forget or ignore that.

Make no mistake, the media are not contriving what they report, but they are leaving many things unreported.

As we wade through the deluge of bad news, we should remember what a member of the Mosul City Council said of the American troops in Iraq: “They work hard to do the right thing.”

Indeed, many Christians in the U.S. military see their service as a way to do the good works prescribed by our faith.

I know of three such people—a pilot, a soldier and a Marine—who have worked hard to do the right thing while serving God and country. Their stories tell us something about the kind of people who wear our country’s uniform and our Savior’s name.

Scott Taylor, who piloted F-15E fighter-bombers over Serbia, Iraq, Manhattan and the nation’s capital before leaving the service in 2005, used to fly pharmaceuticals and physicians into central Africa—and that was when he was off duty.  “I had extra time when I was on vacation,” he says, “so I flew down to Africa to help in Sudan and Kenya.”

Brian Nicholson, a veteran of the Marine Corps and Air National Guard, was deployed all over the eastern hemisphere during his 11 years of service, including Okinawa, Thailand, South Korea, Australia and Kuwait. He concedes that the military’s reputation was not always sterling overseas. But he remembers how Christian members of his unit did their part to change that by visiting orphanages in the forgotten jungles of Thailand.

“When we were off-duty, we worked with local missionaries to clean up buildings, do construction, serve meals and baby-sit,” Nicholson explains. In a word, these off-duty Marines—who were full-time Christians—lived the message of James by looking after “orphans and widows in their distress.”

Half-a-world away, while on deployment in Haiti, Maj. Joe Hilbert connected with a pastor who ran an orphanage near Port-au-Prince. Along with his battalion chaplain, the 13-year Army veteran gathered leftover, unopened items from his unit’s MREs (or “meals ready to eat”) and delivered the surplus foodstuffs to the orphanage every week. “One time,” he recalls, “we had leftover chicken from a barbeque. We couldn’t store it, so we took it to the kids.”

Camouflaged Christians
This fishes-and-loaves story wouldn’t have happened were it not for a Christian soldier expressing his faith. It’s something those of us who are civilians take for granted, but for our brothers and sisters in uniform, just sharing the Good News is like traversing a minefield.

Nicholson points to tight regulations prohibiting any sort of religious activity that may offend host nations, especially Muslim nations. “The guidelines about expressing your faith off-base were much stricter in Kuwait,” he recalls.  

But Hilbert adds that it also can be difficult to share the Good News on base. “You have to be careful with someone under your command,” he explains. “If they ask about Christ, I share. If they don’t, I try to live my faith and hope they see Christ in my life.”

That’s good advice—whether you wear khaki slacks or camouflage fatigues to work. After all, it comes straight from scripture.Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians that we should lead lives that “win the respect of outsiders.”

It pays to recall that disciple means “one who accepts”—not one who submits. As author Philip Yancey observes, “Our respect in the world declines in proportion to how vigorously we attempt to force others to adopt our view.” For evidence of this, look no further than the enemy in this war: The jihadists are fighting, quite literally, for a world where there is no faith but one.

The U.S. military is fighting for precisely the opposite—a world where people can choose any faith or no faith at all, a world where people can live in peace.

[i] See US AID, http://www.usaid.gov/locations/asia_near_east/countries/afghanistan/index.html.

[ii] US Army, Iraq Reconstruction Report, April 30, 2007

[iii] US State Department, Iraq Weekly Status Report, May 9, 2007