The Price of Peace

by Jim Stoffels

The following is a speech given at an observance of the U.N. International Day of Peace,
Sunday, September 21, 2003, in Columbia Park, Kennewick, Washington.

"‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace."

Things haven't changed much in the two-and-a-half thousand years since those words were written down by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). With so much talk about peace these days, there is so little of it.

Why? Because, as we well know, talk is cheap. And too many of us Americans want a cheap peace — a peace that doesn't cost us anything personally.

Even if we shell out another $87 billion, incur the first half-trillion-dollar deficit in history, and accomplish our objective in Iraq, it will still be a cheap peace. Because it's easy to try to buy peace with money, especially when it's our children's and grandchildren's money that we're borrowing. But the best money can buy is a cheap peace — one that doesn't involve any cost to our personal self.

The personal cost is heavily borne by our troops — especially those who come home in bodybags — and their families. But their sacrifices are not enough to bring enduring peace. There are sacrifices and hardships that 292 million of us Americans must bear to achieve an enduring peace.

Our war in Iraq was sold to us as part of a war on terrorism. But we don't really have a war on terrorism. All we have is a war against terrorists — a purely reactive measure in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

To have a real war on terrorism, one we could have any hope of winning, we have to address the root causes of terrorism. And that's a price too many of us — including our President — don't want to pay, because it would require us to face the reality of our own participation in evil-doing as a nation.

"‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace."

We are not a country at peace with the world. Are we, individually, at peace with ourselves?

If we are people who search for meaning, for truth, for God, for peace ... in our personal lives, where do we find that? Only in reality.

We cannot find God, truth, meaning or peace by escaping into drugs or alcohol. Neither can we find God, truth, meaning or peace by escaping into a fantasy world of wishful thinking and denial. Only by facing the sometimes harsh realities of our lives can we find God, truth, meaning, and the healing that brings peace.

Likewise for us as a nation. We cannot find peace by escaping into a fantasy world of denial and wishful thinking in which the United States is totally white, totally pure, and it is only others who are blackened by the evil of sin.

We cannot expect to have peace when we ourselves do not behave according to accepted legal and moral standards. And our pre-emptive attack on Iraq was both illegal and immoral.

It was a violation of international law because it was an act of war, not of defense. The doctrine of pre-emptive military strikes is itself a direct violation of Nuremberg Principle VI, which states that "Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression" is punishable as a crime under international law.

Moreover, 48 U.S. religious leaders, representing many different denominations – Baptist, Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Quaker, Reformed, Unitarian, and others – sent a letter to the President stating their judgment that it would be morally wrong for us to take pre-emptive military action against Iraq.

The world's lone superpower may be able to force it's will on the rest of the world, but might does not make right.

When we demonize others as evil and present ourselves as the savior of the world, we are out of touch with reality. Evil has neither an "empire" nor an "axis" but is universal to the behavior of every human person and, consequently, every human institution — including "we the people of the United States."

Many root causes of terrorism can be found in the foreign policies of our country over the last half-century or more. We have to pay the price of facing that reality — the reality of our own evil-doing as a nation — if we truly want peace with the world.

If we do not face that reality, then we can never do the hard work of reconciliation that is needed to bring healing into our relationships with others around the planet. And without that healing, there will be no peace on Earth.

Copyright 2003 by Jim Stoffels