Hauerwas writes a brief response to Obama’s speech here, where he enunciates once again the importance of maintaining our language about war. What, he asks, lets us know a war is a war? Particularly to proponents of “just war” theory, who list a number of criteria that make a war apparently “just,” Hauerwas asks what a war that fails to meet these criteria would be? Would one still call it war? For instance, one of the just war criteria is that it must be declared by legitimate authority. What if a guerrilla group or terrorist organization declared “war” on a certain country? Would one call this war? Another criterion is that the declared intention of a war must not be different than the actual intention. A country, that is, cannot declare a war looking for weapons of mass destruction, but actually be looking for oil. But then, if this is no longer a war, what is it? A point Hauerwas makes elsewhere, but only alludes to here in his reference to Cain and Abel, is that Christians ought to maintain our language of war as murder. If we fail to name war properly, that is, as murder, then we may lose the resources to see when the wool is being pulled over our eyes with the language of a “necessary war.” Because for those who live by the flesh and blood of one who would not take up arms, the one thing necessary is the peace that is given through the cross.
I must admit, I feel a fair bit of tension today, this Remembrance Day. I am no longer sure how to remember the events this day marks, because I am no longer sure of the necessity of violence. Of course, I am not ‘remembering’ exactly, but looking back with my country to the collective, national memory of Canada at war with imperial Germany and her allies. This reminds me that memory and acts of memory are not neutral. Memory involves people in identities and creates them. Our histories, remembered in one way or another, shape who we understand ourselves to be today.
We all participate in various histories, various memories. For example, as an individual, I have personal memories (from my childhood, with my parents, in school); as a Canadian, I participate in a national memory (our peacekeeping legacy, our British inheritances); as a Christian, I participate in the history of God who has come to us in Jesus Christ. Of course, at different times one or another of these histories affects me more deeply. The important question, though, is which history most fully defines us.
There is the haunting possibility that without the Canadian entrance into the two World Wars of the last century, I would also be part of an imperialist, fascist German history (instead of a democratic Canadian one). This terrifying truth need not be definitive, however. It only depends on which of our histories we see as most determinative. If our identity as Canadian trumps our identity as Christian, then yes, today is our most important act of remembrance. If, however, we are first and foremost Christians, then there is another, far more definitive act of remembrance we should recall today:
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
So far, I haven’t mentioned pacifism (nonviolent resistance), but it actually is hidden in much of what I have said. For if Christ’s history defines most fully our own history and identity, our own self-understanding, then our other histories must be evaluated in light of nonviolence. I haven’t yet decided how, then, I ought to remember my Canadian heritage properly today, but I know this:
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate sign that our salvation comes only when we cease trying to interpret Jesus’ story in the light of our history, and instead we interpret ourselves in the light of his. (Hauerwas, “The Peaceable Kingdom,” 136-137)
Check out this quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2306):
Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other [people] and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death.