The War We Must Win
Louis R. Tarsitano on Our Response to September 11
By any sane definition, since New York City and Washington, D.C., were attacked on September 11, our nation is at war. It is not a war that we have sought. It is not a war that we have begun. It is, however, a war that we must end, and we must end it in only one way. We must win it.
Those who have waged war against our country must be eliminated. Their safe havens and hiding places must be removed from this earth. Their allies must be compelled to give them up, or they must be required to share their fate. Nothing but victory will suffice, because nothing but victory can be a just or a moral purpose when the blood of so many of our fellow citizens, of our neighbors, has been shed in such a cruel and vicious way.
The Habitually Confused
While most of our nation, by the grace of God, has begun to draw together as a nation to seek an honorable justice for the dead, the voices of the congenitally or habitually confused have also been heard. “Peace at any price” some of them demand, although God Almighty warned in the days of Jeremiah that only a false prophet cries “peace” when there is no peace (Jer. 6:14).
Others insist that this slaughter of the innocents is a “crime,” but not an act of war, to be handled by some imaginary court of law. One might just as well imagine some bailiff delivering subpoenas to the Japanese high command after Pearl Harbor, or a writ of habeas corpus to Adolf Hitler, demanding the release of the Jews from Dachau and Auschwitz.
Worst of all, a small group of especially careless Christians has reverted to a form of ancient heresy called Gnosticism—a counterfeit sort of “spiritual knowledge” that at the least imposes a false separation between ordinary human life and a spiritual life in God, and at the worst hands the physical world over to the devil, to do with as he pleases, because only “spiritual” things truly matter. Such people have complained that the demand for earthly justice is “unholy,” and nothing more than bloody-minded human revenge, but their opinions are a gross perversion of the Christian faith revealed in the Scriptures.
Of course the American people are angry. What decent person would not be angry in such circumstances? But the mere fact of anger does not automatically make that anger a sin. As St. Paul wrote, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27).
There is a righteous anger, as well as a sinful anger. A righteous man does not go to his bed full of bitter hatred and a servant to the devil. Rather, he kneels down, confesses his sins, and asks God both to do true justice and to show him his own vocation in that justice, before he climbs into his bed and closes his eyes, confident both in God’s mercy and in his irresistible righteousness.
Dealing with anger in this way, precisely by seeking God’s justice and our proper part in it, is just one example of St. Paul’s general teaching about the Christian life: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”
St. Paul is not offering here a choice between a “human life” and a “spiritual life.” He is informing us of how a redeemed human life is to be led by a faithful Christian in this world: under the guidance of the Holy Ghost and not in slavery to our fallen human nature.
An Active Life
St. Paul is not describing a life of passivity or of mushy-headed religiosity. He is declaring, once and for all, that the Christian life is an active life—a life that takes on challenges and overcomes enemies, not with the weakness and vice of fallen human nature, but aggressively, fearlessly, and with the help of God’s commandments and grace.
And to walk in the spirit without fulfilling the lust of the flesh, we must remember this commandment of God, also delivered by St. Paul:
God has appointed human governments to do righteousness and to punish evil. He has given nations the authority to bear the sword, to use force against the evil when necessary and unavoidable, including persons, governments, and nations that have disobeyed his moral law. A Christian may, indeed, do his duty by questioning the legitimacy of a particular war, or else a hundred generations of Christian thinkers have wasted their time defining what constitutes a just and unavoidable war. What a Christian may not do, however, is to dismiss the possibility of war altogether.
God’s commandment forbids us to do murder, but it does not forbid us to defend our families’ lives or the life of our nation (Exodus 20:13). God’s standard of justice, even more to the point, is very high, valuing only human life to be worth as much as human life.
When God gave Noah the authority to rebuild the world after the Flood, he gave him this instruction: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6). Likewise, when God saved the world, he gave and accepted the life of his Son Jesus Christ in our place, life for life, as the only satisfaction of divine justice.
It was this same Eternal God, moreover, who taught us to pray in the Psalms, “Blessed be the Lord my strength, who teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight” (Psalm 144:1). Yes, our Lord taught us to love our enemies, and we should. But true love has nothing to do with giving free reign to evil, or else God is a hypocrite for creating hell as an eternal prison for those who refuse to abandon evil for good. There are times when a real love and a real justice must say “enough.”
And we ought not to forget the lessons of the twentieth century. A regime that gives candy to children to celebrate murder will not hesitate to sacrifice those same children, to put a bullet in their heads, when their deaths suit its purposes. The twenty-first century is only nine months old, and yet it is too easy to forget the lessons of the century just past. You may have seen or read about a television series called Band of Brothers, which tries to recreate, as much as film can, the labors of a real parachute infantry company, Easy Company, from their training in Georgia until the end of World War II.
One of the smallest parts belongs to the actor who played the company commander, 1st Lt. Thomas Meehan III, who was killed during the initial drop on D-Day. Ten days before he died, he wrote to his wife that “[F]or each of us who wants to live in happiness and give happiness, there’s another different sort of person wanting to take it away.”
Lieutenant Meehan never had that son, but his nephew has kept his letter as an heirloom for us all. And the perfection of human nature that he once hoped for has not come, nor will it come until our Savior returns in glory. But war has come. It has found us again, and we have no choice as a nation but to look for the grace of God, yet again, to prevail. We need that grace, to make us both strong enough to overcome hell and as kind as Jesus Christ, the victor over sin and death, as we struggle to do it.
We have been, in the midst of our blessings of prosperity, too disengaged, too confident that we have been above the fray in the rest of the world, too certain that all faiths are the same and have the same vision of peace, too unwilling to face the reality of human evil and our responsibility to act against it. We have learned a hard lesson on September 11, and most likely other hard lessons are to follow. As a country, we will have to learn again to be both brave and faithful, overcoming our recent inclination to settle for being merely comfortable and religiously indifferent.
Wars are won first in the heart, and in the mind, and in the will. If the heart, mind, and will of America belong to the One True God; if we as a people walk in the Spirit of God and not according to the lusts of the flesh, then we can trust Providence and one another to work out the details of our warfare. Let us vanquish sin, Satan, and death first, in Jesus Christ, and our earthly enemies will have good reason to tremble.
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“The War We Must Win” first appeared in the November 2001 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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