Idolatry American Style

by Berry Friesen

Berry fHow can a generation that has lived through the deceitful U.S. wars of aggression against Vietnam and Iraq continue to give its leaders the benefit of the doubt in Syria and the Ukraine?

How can it not notice the fact that the U.S. government has changed sides in the so-called war on terror, and in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen has supported the terrorists against legitimate governments?

These are questions I brought to Ted Grimsrud’s book, The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters (Cascade Books, 2014).

Grimsrud doesn’t deny that we Americans have a long history of using violence to achieve our ends.  Yet he insists there was such a thing as an American reluctance to support war—especially overseas—and an American skepticism about empowering the federal government with military assets.  Thus, the U.S. traditionally had no standing army during peacetime; armies assembled for purposes of war were promptly demobilized when the fighting ended. As a result, the economy did not become dependent on war or preparations for war.

That all changed with World War II.  During the seventy years since, the United States (U.S.) has maintained a permanent war economy and has been almost continuously at war.  Richly funded security institutions have become permanent fixtures of the national context.  We have become a thoroughly militarized society, solidly supportive of violent interventions abroad and violent behavior by police at home.  There is no discernable difference between our leading political parties in their backing for all of this. Public resistance to the government’s use of violence is rare.

With remarkable clarity and concision, Grimsrud explores how WWII brought about this transformation.  It isn’t a simple story and Grimsrud hasn’t provided a simplistic explanation.  But neither has he written a wonky book.  Instead, he stitches together the context that helps us understand—perhaps for the first time—how well-intentioned Americans responding to grave provocations followed a path that led to the betrayal of the very purposes for which they fought.

What made up this path to betrayal?  Grimsrud points to a variety of factors.  A major element was the way the Allied powers conducted the war with little regard for the safety of civilians.  The fire-bombing of German cities, the utter devastation of the Soviet campaign along the eastern front, the fire-bombing of Japanese cities and the use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the most obvious cases in point.

Protection of the Jews never entered the equation until after the war was over.  Government duplicity also played a major role.  It was present at the very beginning as President Franklin Roosevelt asserted an intention of staying out of the wars in Europe and Asia while taking deliberate actions to make U.S. participation inevitable.   It was present at the end of the war as President Harry Truman defended his decision to use the nuclear bomb rather than respond to Japanese desires for a negotiated surrender.

And it has been present ever since as the powerful war-dependent institutions that emerged during the war (the Pentagon, the CIA, the weapons-and-security complex) made sure that one of the war’s primary goals—disarmament—never happened.

Grimsrud shows how repeatedly over the past seventy years, efforts to return the U.S. to a peaceful footing were turned back at the last moment by some external event that seemed to require a military response.  America’s war lobby did not cause all of those events; some—such as the Soviet Union’s development of nuclear weapons, North Korea’s violation of the armistice and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait—had origins outside of the US government.  But the war lobby was directly involved in defeating the democracy movements of Greece, Iran and Guatemala; it was directly involved in opposing Vietnam’s struggle to end colonialism; it was directly involved in the resistance to Cuba’s, Chile’s and Nicaragua’s efforts to achieve economic justice.

Thus, not only did the American institutions created by WWII betray a second purpose for which the war was fought—national self-determination—they used the international crises precipitated by their interference to elicit fear from the American people.  This is the cynical game Grimsrud exposes.

Many of us have lived through this history.  We remember Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua.  What we lack is a narrative that recalls the context, connects the dots and helps us imagine a time when our moral vision had not been corrupted by hubris and deceit.  Grimsrud’s book does that for us.

So do we Americans now BELIEVE in war?  Yes, many of us do; our blindness is no longer just political, it has become part of our culture.  In contrast to our ancestors who lived free of the cognitive captivity induced by WWII, our default stance is no longer opposition to American wars.  Now, the burden of proof is on those who oppose war, who claim the world would be better off if the U.S. demobilized its forces and stopped its violent interference in the affairs of others.

Earlier this month, Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz, released their latest book, Exceptional:  Why the World Needs a Powerful America.  Here’s the book’s core message:  “We are, as a matter of empirical fact and undeniable history, the greatest force for good the world has ever known . . . Our children need to know that they are citizens of the most powerful, good, and honorable nation in the history of mankind, the exceptional nation.”

I don’t expect many Mennonite preachers in the U.S. will denounce such idolatry.

There is an antidote to such blindness, however.  Grimsrud ends his book by highlighting communities of dissent that have maintained their moral vision throughout this time of captivity.  Some emphasized political resistance, some social transformation, others acts of service to meet primary human needs.

Together, such communities have served us all by “creating spaces to be human.”

Modest as that sounds, it is where the renewal of moral vision begins.    

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. He blogs at

Peace on the Hill: Peace I leave with you…

By Charles Kwuelum

In May Nigeria inaugurated a new president, Muhammadu Buhari, who has pledged to use greater military force against the armed group Boko Haram. The U.S government welcomed this approach to “countering violent extremism” by giving increased military assistance to Nigeria.

Worthy of note is the fact that northeast Nigeria was already in a state of emergency, largely as a result of Boko Haram’s actions. About 1.7 million people have been displaced from their homes. Some communities and villages are deserted, while host communities and camps for displaced people lack proper housing and sanitation.

Displaced people have lost their sources of livelihood and economic power. As many as 4.3 million people are facing hunger. Education and health are inaccessible to many children because schools and hospitals lack basic supplies or have been destroyed.  Many people have become disabled as a result of the fighting.

The cost of the conflict has been enormous and disheartening. The Nigerian government has taken some positive steps towards sustainable peace, such as announcing its willingness to dialogue; emergency efforts and reassurance to victims of the violence. However, its overall militarized approach, and the complicated dynamics of various Boko Haram factions with other conflict actors continue the cycle of counter attacks, killings, and bombings thereby creating no safe space for dialogue, possible reconciliation and restorative transformational justice processes.

The government’s attempts to meet security needs are not adequately meeting “human security needs.” To do so, they need to tackle root causes of the conflict, including poor governance, alienation, and humiliation of ethnic groups, one-sided historical narratives and territorial authority.

The flow of weaponry and military actions cannot bring sustainable peace that the world desires (John 14:27). This past summer I met with a group of women choir members (Zumunta Mata EYN) from the northeast of Nigeria. Some of these women have had their daughters abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok area.

The women’s stories of brokenness, pain and grief radiated strength and hope. Some of the women credited trauma healing workshops and other interfaith community initiatives as part of their healing.

Mennonite Central Committee helps to support strategies for trauma awareness and resilience programs and healing among displaced people in northeast Nigeria (Taraba and Adamawa states) through interfaith community and water sanitation and hygiene projects, as well as training psychosocial support teams.

Social workers, health care providers, and other community members help to sensitize communities to prevent stigma against abductees when they return, and to provide psychosocial assistance to girls and their families.

Far more than military efforts, these actions nurture resilience and capacity for nonviolent mitigation of the conflicts with Boko Haram, in what otherwise seems to be a situation of misery and hopelessness. An overly militarized approach is not the best way to proceed in establishing peace in Nigeria.

 Charles Kwuelum is Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington office.

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.

Balancing Acts – As To the Lord

tom b

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

by Tom Beutel

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

Peacemaking tends to be pragmatic. Peacemakers are focused on accomplishing concrete objectives – providing for those in need, persuading those in power to act with justice, removing barriers, or empowering individuals.

Results are good. We do not want to see those in need remain in need or people suffering from injustice.  But, it is all too easy to be caught up in “good works” and forget about why good works are good!

Maxwell Smart (from the American comedy TV series of the late 1960’s) would often lament, “If only he’d used his talents for niceness instead of evil.” But, peacemaking is more than “niceness.”

Peacemaking, and our call to being peacemakers, are rooted and grounded in the very nature of God. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:17, that “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,  giving thanks to God the Father through him.” And Jesus instructs us saying, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Both verses focus on God as the reason and source of our peacemaking. Paul says, “in whatever you do, in word or deed,” – whatever we do, whatever we think, say, do, plan, or accomplish is ultimately to be done “in the name of Jesus.” Our “good works” should result in more than relieving need or injustice or oppression. They should cause others to “give glory to [our] Father in heaven.”

How to go about the business of peacemaking so that others will give glory to God is not necessarily straightforward. But, in some appropriate way, others ought to be aware that our “good works” spring from our faith in Jesus Christ and are intended to glorify God.

One way to do this is by being open about our faith. In Acts 3 a lame beggar sought alms from Peter and John. Peter responded to the beggar, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6) Healing the lame beggar was certainly a practical result, and, we would assume, more than the lame beggar could have possibly hoped for. But, Peter made it clear that it was “in the name of Jesus” that this good work was accomplished. No credit to Peter; no glory for Peter; only practical results to the glory of God!

But, there are other ways to glorify God in our peacemaking. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:3-4, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” While this is significantly different from open proclamation of our faith, it glorifies God in that we do not seek recognition for ourselves.

A further example can be understood from the story of the “widow’s mite.” Mark tells the story of the poor widow who gave all she had to the offering. On observing this action, Jesus remarked to his disciples, ““Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44) When we give sacrificially of our time, finances, or other resources, we bring glory to God. As in this story related by Mark, others are likely to be aware of it, and while it would seem that by this action the widow brings glory to herself, it is her faith in God that motivates her.

Scripture has many references that remind us that more than pragmatism must motivate our “good work.” Take a few minutes to read and meditate on these verses:

 Matthew 5:44-46

 I John 4:19

 Ephesians 4:31-32

 Ephesians 2:10

 Matthew 20:27-28

As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10, our “good works,” our peacemaking, were “prepared beforehand [by God] to be our way of life.” May all we do bring glory to God.

As Turkey targets militants, war grips-kurdish lands once again- NY Times

By Cara Ediger

Cara Ediger

When war comes to us,

and the marching band plays loudly,

trumpets sounding and drums pounding-

That peace would come and

blood would stop flowing1

We pray-

when we no longer

know what we are fighting-

When families turn towards

each other-

father against son-

son against father.

Praying forever for God to stop us-

stop our own people from sinning against


Only Jesus can save us, save us now!

Only Jesus can save us, save us, but how?

That peace would come and

blood would stop flowing

We pray, but why does blood keep flowing

If only Jesus saves?

Who are we, that God would be mindful of


It is not just the few, but the many

who have sinned against God

by sinning against humanity

Crimes against humanity,

they say

What are crimes against humanity,

except crimes against God,

the One who made us? –

And who made us, they ask?

The One who made the heavens and the


Yes, there is a Maker, the One who created

all things

We are all citizens of this country

This country called heaven-

There’s no back door into heaven-

The front door is wide open

No act of terrorism can earn itself a prize

in heaven,

Only an act of love, unseen by others,

The grace of faith and act of faith is love

In this country called heaven-

Are we all citizens of this country,

This country called heaven?

That peace would come and

blood would stop flowing

We pray, we sing, we ask

in the name of Jesus-

that His peace would come to us












EDITOR’S NOTE: Scratching the Pacifistic Itch

Keith 1By Keith M. Lyndaker

Pacifism is like that itch on your back in the place that you can’t reach no matter how hard you try.

I have found only three ways to scratch the itch.

1) I can rub my back against the nearest wall.

Pacifism begins with me. It is important that I take initiative and develop a conviction that peace is the way. But if all I do is rub my back against the nearest wall, then invariably the itch will return.

2) I can extend my reach with a backscratcher.

My conviction must lead me to discover the tools I need to be a better pacifist. Training and education in the ways of peace can extend my capacity to scratch the pacifistic itch.

3) Even better is having someone scratch that place for me. I can point them to the exact spot and they can tell me what is causing the itch.

My personal conviction and a full toolbox are not enough. Pacifism is best practiced within a community. I need to be in relationship with others with this same itch. Together we can help each other discover the places that need our attention and in so doing become better pacifists.

Then we can give our full attention to this war-weary world and place our healing hands on its big broken back.

Chasing After the Wind

by Berry Friesen

Berry fAt a July 24th gathering of seventy Mennonite World Conference attendees in the rotunda of the Pennsylvania capitol, participants read these lamentations about weaponized drones.

It has been said drones are very precise, that compared to other weapons they kill few people and cause little damage.  It has been said they are inexpensive to deploy and pose little risk to our own personnel.   It has been said that weaponized drones are a more moral way to conduct warfare, a less violent instrument of foreign policy.

But we say terror cannot be defeated by terror.  We raise our voices to lament the false morality of weaponized drones, this “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:1-4).

  1. We lament the innocent lives snuffed out by drones—the wedding guests, the men assembled to solve local disputes, the families gathered for food and fellowship.
  • It has been said few innocent civilians are killed, but this is a lie, a lie facilitated by assuming all men of military age are militants, even though there is no evidence they are militants.
  • The great majority of those killed are not on a kill list and the governments that kill them do not know their names. A study of drone strikes in Yemen found that in an effort to kill 41 identified individuals, 1,147 unidentified individuals were killed. That’s 28 unintended killings for each intended killing.
  1. We lament the massive disruption to family life, work, education and daily activities caused by the constant presence of weaponized drones. Communities are traumatized by anxiety. Children stay in-doors, imagining it is safer there. Neighbors avoid attending to those injured by a drone attack, knowing that a second attack often follows the first. Families avoid the funerals of loved ones, afraid that a drone will attack the mourners.
  1. We lament how weaponized drones have radicalized targeted communities, driving more men and women into violent resistance. An enemy of 1,000 may suffer 5,000 deaths from drones, but 10,000 will stand ready to take their places.
  1. We lament how the deployment of weaponized drones erodes the rule of law. A nation may not violate the sovereignty of another nation by crossing its borders and killing its citizens, yet this is exactly what weaponized drones routinely do.
  • This is justified by the “imminent threat of terrorism,” but this is only playing with words. In today’s world, the word “terrorist” has been politicized and simply means “enemy,” nothing more and nothing less. The phrase “imminent threat” simply means “armed and angry,” which is the natural consequence of living under the constant threat of drone attacks.
  • Predictably, nearly all governments are rushing to acquire this new killing capacity. Nearly two dozen nations already have it, and within a few more years, most will have it.
  1. We lament how weaponized drones are making violence and killing easy, thus subverting more peaceful and enduring forms of foreign policy. The difficult work of building a stable international order brick by brick, of moderating national goals in the pursuit of international peace, is swept aside by the quick-fix of targeted killing.
  1. We lament the moral injuries to those conducting drone attacks. They work in an environment where innocent men, women and children are “bug splat,” body tissue rent asunder and strewn across the landscape. We lament that this terror-producing activity is coming to Pennsylvania via a kill command center at Horsham, and that, as we speak, young men and women are being trained at Fort Indiantown Gap to carry out these atrocities.
  1. We lament the callousness of our own consciences, our reluctance to pay attention to the suffering caused by weaponized drones.
  • Against the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, we have valued the lives of our own countrymen more than the lives of those living in far-off places. We have regarded their lives as cheap and our lives as precious, their terrorism as evil and our terrorism as good.
  • Against the witness of history and the skepticism of our own traditions, we have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the deceptions of governments and the distortions of the media. We have failed to remember that those who want war always manufacture our consent by twisting the facts into a righteous cause.

These are our lamentations. As God is our help, may we find courage and strength to resist these sorrows, this chasing after the wind.

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. He blogs at

May the poor have peace

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger


May the poor have peace

May the hearts of the rich be filled

May our land be healed

and God’s freedom reign


May the world see our witness

May we be the church

We want to see in the world


May the poor have peace

May the hearts of the rich be filled

May we all turn to each other

with God’s love

And not our own power


May we listen with our hearts

And hear the stories of our neighbors

May we be the church

We want to see in the world

God is here with us,

God is among us


God saves those who call on his name

Everyone in the world the same

May our land be healed

And God’s freedom reign


May our land be healed

And God’s freedom reign

May we be your earthly sanctuary

We offer you the burden that we carry

A pain offering we give to you


Of this world that is hurting

This hurting world that groans

For your healing touch

Heal our land Lord,

Lord heal our land.