What about Hitler?

One of the most asked questions I get when people find out that I’m a proponent of creative non-violence (which is a little different than pacifism) is, “So…what about Hitler? Would you have not wanted him dead?”

It’s such a loaded question because 1.) If I say that yes, I would *want* him dead, they would claim that I wasn’t a real pacifist (in the same way that I guess if I have ever wanted to steal something would make me a person who wasn’t a real … non-stealer). and 2.) if I say no, then I’m this horrible person who hates Jews and everyone else that had to go through all of that.

So, needless to say, when my friend lent me this book to read, I was very intrigued.

I took notes while I read, so I’m just going to go through, chapter by chapter, and touch on some ideas that stood out to me enough to write down.

Preface
* “The idea of what we are called to be is in part so distasteful and unnatural to us that it seems to me that through most of our history our theologians and philosophers have spent much time and effort explaining why Jesus could not have meant what he clearly said (p. 11).”
This idea sticks out to me because I’ve seen it a lot, and it’s something I despise. Much of what is hard for us to understand in the Bible is reasoned away– selling all your possessions and giving to the poor, being perfect as your heavenly father is perfect, loving your enemies, not thinking poorly of people, praying continually with a joyful heart, etc. What if we actually believed the things that Jesus said? And maybe wrestling with those issues?

Chapter 1: Foundations of Just War
* The Church was generally pacifist until about 170.
* Christians began serving in the Roman Army around 173.
* There was no christian writer that we know of who approved christian participation in war until 330ish, when Constantine was emporer.
* Tertullian condemns the voluntary enlistment of Christians in the Roman Army around 204.
* Augustine’s City of God talks about: 1.) the separation of physical action from spiritual constitution and disposition of their souls (yikes!) 2.) that just wars are defensive in nature and necessary, 3.) just war must be the last resort, after entreaty and negotiations have taken place. Overall, the idea that is communicated in his book is that the church is concerned with our soul and the state is in charge of our bodies.

Chapter 2: The Just War in Contemporary Thought
* “jus ad bellum”: justification of resorting to war
1.) must be a just cause
2.) state must have the right intention
3.) only the competent and designated authorities of a state can declare war
4.) war can only be the last resort
5.) the state engaging in warfare must assure a high probability of success
6.) overall good must be proportionately greater than the death, damage, and economic costs.
* “jus in bello”: constraints on war tactics
1.) force is proportionate to specific goals
2.) not kill innocent civilian population directly or intentionally

Chapter 3: The Good Wars
* The author thinks that WW2 was a just war, according to the definition.
* Some think that it’s right to kill the innocent in *some* emergency cases. If this is the case, do we all have the right to life?

Chapter 4: Terror
* The Church is to judge those inside the Church. Often when we’re in habitual sin, we’ve lied to ourselves and are rationalizing it or we don’t see it at all in our lives. Hence, it is the job of the Church to help be “our Holy Spirit”.
* Terrorism:
– use of force
– political end
– targeting innocents
– creation of fear
– “random” acts of violence
* “The American government and American people have been and continue to be curiously blind to the cumulative effect our policy decisions have on other people around the world, especially on those who lack political power or economic clout.”
* Basically terrorism is a response to a perceived act of terrorism- and both sides can be “justified” by just war.

Chapter 5: The Men behind the Hitler Question
*”I’ve often heard it said that it is important for Christians to be children of God and not humanitarians.” We can love people, but not love God. We cannot not love people, but love God. Our love for others needs to flow out of our love for the Father.
* Why are we so fascinated with Hitler (and not, like, Stalin)? “Hitler fascinates not because he was evil but because we don’t understand him or the phenomenon he represents.”
* He also talked about Ghandi and Bonhoeffer.

Chapter 6: Success, Failure, and Hypocrisy
* “Pacifism in the face of the evil that was Hitler appears to be irresponsible, perhaps either because it entails inaction or because the inaction it involves is inadequate to secure success. maybe the two amount to the same things in the end.”
* some think that pacifists, by not doing anything, is supporting the enemies.
* By disengaging from the war, pacifists are accused of reaping the benefits of security and comfort, but can feel morally superior because they aren’t out their fighting for it.
* Ultimately, violence comes from power– the ability to act the way one wills. We often want the role of God, and violence is a demonstration of that desire. “That is the sin of violence.”
*If Jesus’ ministry was evaluated by the same standards that are applied to pacifists today, he would have been criticized too –because he refused to engage in violence, he would have been accused of helping the cause of evil (why wasn’t he fighting against the Roman Empire– they were oppressing people!)

Chapter 7: The Christian Response [to the “what about hitler?” question]
“…We must live faithfully; we must be humble in our faith and truthful in what we say and do; we must repay evil with good; and we must be peacemakers. This may also mean as a result that the evildoers will kill us. Then, we shall die also.
“That’s it. There is nothing else- or rather, anything else is only a footnote to this. We are called to live the kingdom as he proclaimed it and be his disciples, come what may. We are, in his words, flowers flourishing and growing wild today, and tomorrow destined for the furnace. We are God’s people, living by faith.
” The gospel is clear adn simple, and I know what the response to the Hitler question must be. And I desperately want to avoid this conclusion. When my time comes, I may well trot out every nuanced argument I can develop, or seek for a way out in St. Thomas Aquinas or Paul Ramsey. This would serve me and my fear, my hypocrisy, and my faithlessness very well. But I would not be telling or living as I ought and as I am calle to live.”

Chapter 8: Elaboration
* People didn’t like that response (above), namely because people don’t want to die. And it’s “incomprehensible” that our faith might require us to pursue death.
* examples of mary and martha reacting to lazurus’ death. Lord, give us an attitude like Martha.
* The way of the gospel DOES seem outrageous and counterintuitive. Unnatural reactions are expected of us when we follow Jesus.
* The peacemaking church should have been loving Jews and living in a way that embodied forgiveness and redemption during the time leading up the Holocaust and WW2. But they weren’t. Many Christians, including our German Spiritual Fathers like Luther– hated Jews and were anti-semitic too.
* 1.) We must grow stronger in faith so that we can react to dying and death more like Martha.
“Without faith, physical death becomes what we fear most and try hardest to avoid; death retains its frightful mystery and power over us.”
2.) “we have to become peacemakers in all aspects of our lives in the way the gospel teaches.”
“Our call to be peacemakers is a call to make peace and carry Christ with us. Particularly in our mundane activities and interactions.”

Chapter 9: Elaborating Upon the Elaboration
* How do we become these kinds of people? Through prayer, mainly.
* Also, by practicing the following “spiritual works of mercy”:
– instructing and advising
– consoling and comforting
– bearing wrongs patiently
– forgiving
Also, practicing these “corporal works of mercy”:
– feeding the hungry
– sheltering the homeless
– clothing the naked
– giving alms to the poor
– visiting the sick and imprisoned
– burying the dead

Overall, I really liked this book! I learned a ton, heard good perspectives from different angles, and have more fully embraced the idea of creative non-violence. That’s what I’m committed to as a follower of Jesus, and I’m wanting to become in all areas of my life (not just my view towards war). Sometimes I’ll mess up in this, like I do in many other areas of my life, but my prayer is that I will continue to grow in this and be a person who makes peace.

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