John, one of my boyhood friends, enjoyed building plastic military models, usually airplanes. Sometimes when I would visit, he would take the models out into the yard, put firecrackers inside, and promptly blow them up. While I could say that he was destroying the representations of war as an act of peacemaking, in all honesty I suspect he was doing the opposite, another boy playing at war.
As I think back on the incidents now, I realize that my response was rather interesting. I distinctly remember gathering up as many of the broken pieces as I could find. Then I would take them home and put the airplanes back together. If I didn’t have all of the pieces, I would make some out of cardboard, using glue and tape to reconstruct the airplane. Finally I would take my model enamel and paint the planes in camouflage so that the parts blended together as closely as possible. Some of the models turned out pretty well if I do say so myself. I hung them with fishing line from the ceiling in my room and watched them take flight again.
For me I think the main issue was that I could not imagine someone destroying something that they had taken so much time to put together. Somewhere inside I guess I felt the need to use my imagination to reconstruct that which had been broken.
Recently I have become aware of conversations within some Mennonite circles about reaching out to wounded soldiers returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I wish to wholeheartedly affirm this idea and strongly encourage us to move from conversation to action. In particular, I would invite Anabaptist and other Peace churches around military installations to reach out to these communities as a way to help heal the wounds and wounded of war. While it is difficult to get a firm tally of those wounded in the “War on Terrorism,” namely because the Pentagon is reluctant to acknowledge certain casualties (see “the invisible wounded”), the number of those sick, injured or disabled is in the tens of thousands. There is much we can do as a people of compassion and peace.
There are several rather powerful precedents within our Mennonite history. Conscientious Objectors in World War II as part of CPS spent the war years working in mental hospitals, building dams, constructing roads, and providing free labor to a host of other projects. As a result, they helped build the infrastructure of this country and changed the way mental patients were treated, to name a few of the accomplishments (which have never been recognized officially). Then following the end of the war, Mennonites rallied to help rebuild Europe, flocking overseas in droves to volunteer to assist those affected by war. Mennonite Central Committee grew out of these efforts, which continue to reverberate positively in its solid reputation and good work throughout the world. There are many other examples which I am sure I am missing.
So our ancestors in the faith saw fit to put their peacemaking into action by being true to their beliefs in opposing war and violence, but also in not letting those beliefs keep them from loving their enemies and helping to heal the wounds of war. We, the current keepers of this legacy, should do no less.
Perhaps like the clumsily pieced-together model airplanes of my childhood, we can help heal those whose bodies and minds have been broken by war. And maybe, just maybe, someone’s life and dreams will be able to take flight again.