Je suis Parisien, je suis human. Mais tout d’abord je suis un chrétien

“There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” –Brian Zahnd

Having a daughter one day (more than one hopefully) is the greatest longing of my heart, so when I watched this video for the first time, my heart was smashed into little pieces. Imagine being a father and having your child go through this. Would you not give your life to bring your child to safety? A lack of compassion is a sign of a weak heart. And a compassionless heart is an ugly heart. If you still fear letting Syrian refugees or any refugees into your country, maybe this video will touch your heart, like it did mine.

The people of France are in everyone’s hearts right now. There are few if any words that can heal the immense pain that the French people and the people of the world are feeling right now. There is little that we can do to erase the fear that such devastating violence brings. However, the sadness that this brings upon us all is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of our shared humanity, something that we all too easily lose sight of and something we must certainly strive to retain.

I am a Parisian. I am a human. But first, I am a Christian. Even though my heart is with the people of France, it is also with people everywhere suffering. Many people realize this, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but France was not the only country that suffered immensely this past week. We cannot forget that what happened in Paris is what people live through on a daily basis in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

We must not forget our common humanity and the value and worth that every single human being has, even those that are deemed lost causes by this world and sadly by so many Christians.

As beings created in God’s image, we must acknowledge that all people are worthy of love. As followers of the Crucified God, we are called to forgive all people at all times and in all circumstances. The choice to love and forgive is entirely our own. There are no ifs, ands or buts. We can and must choose to forgive, no matter the circumstances. We can and must choose the response of radical love over vengeance.

So in the midst of this, we must join in mourning with the French people and all others suffering. We must put ourselves in their place and imagine the terrible pain they have experienced and are experiencing.

At the same time we cannot forget our Muslim brothers and sisters. As Christians we must reach out to them as well, both the Muslims in our own communities and across the world, both peaceful and violent. We must be peacemakers. The vast majority of Muslims do not support the kind of violence just perpetrated upon Parisians, and yet now, as the inevitable targets of direct and indirect anger, judgment, hostility and hatred based on what some other radical so-called Muslims have done, they too have become victims of these terrible acts of violence. And those Muslims who do support and have even participated in these terrible acts are, whether or not we know it or believe it, themselves victims of generations of violence, injustice, hatred, bigotry, pain and loss which has seeped into their souls and so embittered them that they now are simply passing that on as it was passed on to them or their families and ancestors. To break the cycle of violence and retribution, we have to take seriously the call that Christ gave us to love our enemies and to overcome evil with good. Loving your enemies is a simple calling in declaration, but much harder to carry out in action and yet at the end of the day it remains our calling. It’s not a metaphor. It’s not some idealistic notion that cannot be attained until Jesus returns. It is for the here and now.

To break this cycle we have to rebuke the myth of redemptive violence, for it is a lie from the enemy, a lie that degrades our humanity. We, as Americans need to take responsibility for the sequences of violence that breed radicalism. Violence breeds violence. The road to peace is not war, but peace. War is simply a short-term answer for something that can only be overcome through peaceful means. The stories of real-life peacemakers like King and Gandhi tell us that peaceful means can and do bring peaceful change, we just need to give peace a chance.

Social Activist, author and peacemaker Thomas Merton put it well, when he said that, “The tactic of non-violence is a tactic of love that seeks the salvation and redemption of the opponent, not their…defeat.”

No one is beyond redemption. That is why we must seek the salvation and redemption of those who live by the sword. If we seek to kill those who live by the sword with the sword, we ourselves will eventually reap what we have sown and die by the sword. It is the story of cyclical violence. I can guarantee that as the number of bombs falling on ISIS increases, the number of terrorist attacks carried out in return will increase. A violent response is exactly what causes radicalism to grow. If you believe otherwise then why has the ‘War on Terror,’ led to an increase in radical Islam and violence?

Let us not forget so quickly the history of violence that has created the chaos from which refugees are fleeing. Many of the countries filled with violence and war were quite stable before their governments were overthrown, either directly or indirectly by the West. The U.S. and its allies are undoubtedly responsible for much of the instability that the Middle East is experiencing. The U.S. has blood on its hands. To deny this is to rewrite history, to deny history.

The kingdoms of this earth will respond how they have to respond, out of fear and vengeance, but we as Christians are called to be radically different, for we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom and our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities.

So how does responding in love look like? Well, first I will tell you what it certainly doesn’t look like. There is no room in the kingdom of Christ for hate. There is no room in the kingdom of Christ for vengeance and violence. There is no room for participation in acts of war and destruction, not for genuine followers of Christ.

Feeling anger in response to terrorist acts such as what happened in Paris is normal and human. Our emotions reflect our deepest concerns, and anger is meant to be a healthy signal that something wrong has happened. But the Bible tells us to “be angry” and yet “do not sin.”  When anger goes beyond being an indicator that a wrong has occurred to actually driving us to counter with more wrong, then this is sin. Anger is about setting things right, not adding wrong to wrong.

I’ve been deeply saddened by the fear-based reactions of many Christians advocating to refuse entrance of Syrian refugees into their states. They have rejected Jesus himself, for Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ Many of the refugees are our Christian brothers and sisters. So we are not only rejecting Muslims, but our own brethren in Christ. Fear drives us away from Jesus, I pray that love for others brings us back to him. Perfect love drives out all fear and we have nothing to fear, because we know that Christ has already won!

The Bible is very clear about helping the needy. If you aren’t a Christian then my quarrel, our quarrel, is not with you. However if you call yourself a Christian, then you might as well tear the whole New Testament and much of the Old Testament out of your Bible if you believe our faith allows us to reject immigrants.

For the sake of those who are not as familiar with the Bible, here are some verses that make it pretty clear as to how refugees should be treated. (All verses taken from NLT translation).


Job 31:32  “I have never turned away a stranger, but have opened my doors to everyone.”

Leviticus 19:9-10 “When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop-do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:33-34 “Do not take advantage of the foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Ezekiel 16:49 “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.”

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

Exodus 23:9 “You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

Malachi 3:5 “…I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me…”

Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 1 Kings 8:41-42 “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people in Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm….”

See Isaiah 58:10 as well.


Matthew 25:35-36 “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.”

Matthew 25:45 “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”

Galatians 5:14 “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command, Love your neighbor as yourself.”

See Luke 10:29-37 also.

So what are some practical ways Christ followers can love our enemies as well as our local and global neighbors?

John Piper (yes I’m quoting John Piper), talks about loving your enemies in a post he wrote that can be found here.

Mr. Piper asks the question, “What is this love?” He goes on to list three simple steps we can take as Christians to love our enemies and I will paraphrase the three points and add my own thoughts.

  1. ‘Simply greeting them’ – What I like about this is that even if this can’t be done to the members of ISIS, it can be done to the Muslims all around us and it really can make an impact. I had the opportunity to visit a Somali mall in downtown Minneapolis with some people from my church led by Jay Perske, who is doing amazing ministry outreach with the Twin Cities Somali community. The simple act of smiling and greeting the Somali Muslims walking about in the mall would instantly light up their eyes. I could see the gratitude and appreciation that was evident in their interactions with us. They wanted to be understood. They wanted to be accepted. It’s a simple step and it can really make a profound impact on not only others, but yourself. It breaks down fear and it builds trust and helps you see the humanity of another human being who comes from an entirely different background.
  1. ‘Practically meeting their physical needs.’ –This is another great way to love your enemies. No, this doesn’t mean arming them and sending them monetary support (hint, hint U.S. government). Once again this can be hard for us to do, when ISIS is far away in another country, but there are Christians who are called to those areas of conflict and we must support them, because the reality of what enemy love can bring is incredible. There are countless stories of non-violence leading violent people to Christ. Some of you may have heard of the story of the ISIS member that became a Christian.
  1. ‘Praying for them.’– God is always at work and for me prayer is still a mystery. But the Bible tells us that it is something to engage in. I believe it is more than just a sign of obedience to God’s will, but an engagement in spiritual warfare. The enemy is always at work, but so too is the Holy Spirit and prayer is not something to be taken lightly, it is perhaps one of the most important elements of our faith.

Pacifism is not passive. Pacifism does not mean being some weak-minded hippie. No, pacifism seeks reconciliation at the possible cost of one’s own life, by far the most courageous pathway any human can choose. It takes tremendous bravery to respond in love and to refuse to hate your enemies. Firmly saying, ‘I refuse to be your enemy,’ will begin to transform the hearts of your enemies, I guarantee it, Christ guarantees it. This will open new doors for the Holy Spirit to work through and in your actions for those who do not know Christ.

Prayer is great. Acknowledging your enemy’s existence is great. Serving your enemies is great. But first you have to SEE. First you have to open your eyes to truly see those who consider themselves your enemies. Once you know who they are, once you have seen them,  you must seek to understand them, seek to know their history, their suffering and their beliefs. Once you have SEEN then you can immerse yourself in the conflict and contend for their reconciliation.

My pastor Greg Boyd shared a beautiful sermon this weekend and in it he gave his testimony of an encounter with a potentially violent person. While driving Greg crossed paths with a bicyclist who was clearly drunk. After getting out of his car, Greg found himself being confronted by the man, who apparently thought Greg had cut him off. The man grabbed Greg by the shirt and pushed him up against a car and was threatening to bash his face in. At this point Greg could smell the alcohol on the man’s breath and knew that this man could easily do what he was threatening to do. Rather than attempting to resist or respond in force, Greg simply said, “You can punch me and hit me, but I am not allowed to hit you, because I am a follower of Christ.” Immediately the man relented and drew back and the situation was resolved.

For many of us in this circumstance, fear would bring us to respond in-kind, but Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and to repay evil with good. Imagine how the state of the world would change if every Christian lived like this.

This week I encourage us as Christians to step out and interact with our Muslim brothers and sisters, locally and maybe even globally if the opportunity arises. A good friend of mine from house church has been a wonderful example of being Jesus to Muslims. My friend Josh (who is on fire for Jesus) has been getting to know Muslims in his neighborhood in Minneapolis. I have been so inspired by his walk with Jesus and how he models Jesus to the people he meets. He sent me an email this week, entitled ‘Jesus is for every Muslim.’ I think that perfectly encapsulates what we as a church need to be about. Joshua is taking the time to understand Muslims and what they believe. Here is an excerpt from the email he sent me after a very meaningful time at our house church this weekend.

“We the church have done a pretty lousy job reaching Muslims because we have refused to see the Truth that they have in their culture,  faith, and even in their holy book, the Quran. Our typical approach is to bash their prophet (Mohammed) and bash their book. After we have done that we feel that we have to tell them what they need to believe in order to be Christians.

Our approach is different. Instead we look to what we can hold up that they have in their culture, faith, and even their holy book. We use the common ground we have in these places as a bridge to talk about Jesus (whom they love). This naturally leads to sharing from our book (which the Quran holds up very highly as well).

Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.” We are doing our best to keep focused on this and let so many of the things that we tend to get distracted by be left on the side.”

I leave you to ponder the words of a man whose son was in Paris during the attacks.

“My son was in Paris last night. He took the metro back from the Eiffel Tower right under the area of the shootings, without knowing it. He and his friends had discussed going to the rock concert where the majority of the killings took place. They had discussed going to the area where the bars were. It’s only a trivial choice; half a kilometer, half an hour, and it would have been him. One day it catches up with all of us. President Hollande has declared war. But war is already on us. In us. War is what the enemy wants, and we are the enemy. In the intense shock and grieving of all these situations there has to be another voice. To appear weak? Helpless? Is that so bad? Because we already are. Rolling down the road of terror. Who was it that gave the wagon the first push? It doesn’t matter. What is important is to stop it, entirely. I pray that all of us have the faith and courage at least to jump off, if not–as Bonhoeffer said–seek to derail the wheels of the wagon.”Anthony Bartlett

Thanks for reading,







What’s wrong with Penal Substitution Atonement?

I’m tired of the Christian theology that states that ‘Jesus got what we deserve’ and that Jesus bore the wrath of God that God would’ve otherwise unleashed on us. Jesus saved us from the death! Jesus defeated death! Jesus saved us from what we do to ourselves, not from what God was going to/or had to do to us. Penal Substitution Atonement paints a picture of a vengeful, grotesque and retributive God entirely contrary to the nature of Jesus. PSA essentially says that God requires a sacrifice to not only satisfy his wrath/justice but to pay the debt of our sin. I see Jesus’ death as God’s willingness to absorb sin, violence, injustice and retribution as the only and final way to defeat all of these things.

The penal substitution view under emphasizes the true nature of God’s agape love and also ignores the themes of spiritual warfare and covenant faithfulness, both of which permeate the entire Biblical narrative. The PSA view presupposes that the cross was not about defeating Satan and death, thus ignoring what the Bible implicitly states in 1 John 3:8, that, ‘the Son of God came to destroy the works of the Devil.‘ This is reiterated in Hebrews 2:14. ‘For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who has/had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.’ 

Colossians 2:13-15 ‘You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed (or stripped off) the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.’

This verse exactly explains the point that Jesus was not paying a debt but cancelling it … to “forgive” is to release someone from a debt and to absorb the debt yourself, to not make anyone pay but to accept the loss.  To make someone else pay a debt would not only NOT be forgiveness but would also not be “cancelling” the debt, but instead merely transferring it. (Erasing debts is also another theme found in various instances throughout the Bible, but I’ll save that discussion for another time)

By not making anyone pay for injustice but instead absorbing it, Jesus defeats the endless cycle of “crime and punishment”, of “infraction and retribution” that is itself a central aspect of the fallen world and of Satan’s kingdom:  rules and revenge.  Jesus destroys this, breaks the cycle, shows a completely different way … one where he himself accepts injustice without revenge or retribution in order to forgive and then reconcile.

In Ephesians 2:14-22 we see an emphasis on peace, one of the major themes of Christ’s kingdom. It emphasizes the reconciliation BY discarding the laws/rules system. I see Penal Substitution Atonement as not only archaic, but pagan, because God needs no sacrifice to pay for our sin. To say so assumes that God is either unable or refuses to forgive our sins without payment.

We see in the New Testament, the use of the word, ‘free gift,’ in regards to the new life that can be found in Jesus. It would not be called  both ‘free,’ and a ‘gift,’ if Jesus was some kind of sacrificial lamb meant to quench God’s justice. I agree with Baptist Minister Steve Chalke when he said, “The cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—A vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed.”

Some would argue that PSA can be supported because of the use of sacrifices to cleanse people of their sins in the Old Testament. Some scholars question whether the whole system of animal sacrifice was ever God’s idea in the first place, or whether it was a fallen human system to which God accommodated to as he clearly does with many other fallen human practices (polygamy for instance).  Whereas with pagan animal sacrifice, the gods fed on the blood or spirits of the murdered animal (or human in extreme cases), the meat of the animals sacrificed in all but one of the Levitical sacrifices were shared in a meal, representing restored covenant and reconciled relationship. To support the argument that God never had in mind animal sacrifices as a payment for sins, one need look no further than such Old Testament passages as Psalm 51:16, Hosea 6:6 and Micah 6:6-8 just to name a few.  Animal sacrifice had occurred throughout all of history. All cultures practiced it and the Israelites were likely already practicing it as slaves in Egypt. God constantly temporarily accommodates to cultural norms and does this for the purpose of moving the culture into another direction. Paul even says in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20, that ‘..these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God.’ 

In Hebrews Chapter 10, the sacrifices are described as pieces of the old system of the law under Moses. In this system, sacrifices occurred over and over, but never gave perfect cleansing and in fact actually reminded the people of their sins rather then purifying and cleansing the people of their guilt. Then it quotes Jesus, where he says that,

  • “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer. You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin…” The importance and emphasis on this next verse cannot be stressed enough. “Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God-‘ As is written about me in the Scriptures.”

Jesus was not needed as a sacrifice to appease God’s anger or satisfy some need for punishment. No, what was needed, was for Satan’s rulership of Earth to be defeated and given back to humanity, and for this to happen a human had to be fully obedient to God unto the point of death, thus fulfilling covenant faithfulness with God which was broken by Adam and Eve. The Trinity conspired together to achieve all this, to fulfill God’s ultimate plan. It was not to feed God’s hunger for some revenge, but to free humanity from evil and restore us to adoption as children through sinless, self-sacrificial obedience to God’s will to the point of death.  Perfect obedience defeats Satanic rebellion; mercy triumphs over judgment.

God is like Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. So what are you going to believe in?

Brave New World by Amanda Cook


Amanda Cook’s music is drenched in the Holy Spirit. Her words reach down in the depths of my soul and utterly destroy any walls I’ve attempted to put up. A couple of her songs have been speaking to me lately, bringing me the closest to God that I’ve felt in my life. Her debut album Brave New World is truly a glimpse at the heart of who God is. The tracks Mercy and Pieces are perhaps the two most radiant and glorious works of art I’ve experienced in my life. Another song on the album, The Voyage, has also captivated my heart. The Voyage is just pure beauty, pure worship. I’ve listened to this song over and over and each time I am overwhelmed by the sense of purpose, of peace and of joy that it gives me. There aren’t enough words to describe the euphoric serenity that comes from the place that these songs take me to. Knowing that the core of her music is grounded in Jesus-centered theology is not just refreshing, but rare. When Amanda sings, “Mercy triumphs over judgment,” it’s not just another tired line of worship, but an incredible reality that many of us still fail to understand fully. Mercy triumphs over judgment! God is making ALL things beautiful, even the things we believe can’t be reconciled. All I can say is that God is continually pushing the boundaries of my understanding of who he is and it is breathtaking.


Were there alternatives to the Atomic Bombs?

In war, as in most of life, we are often stuck with a limited set of options, none of which are always preferable.  We sometimes have to settle with the lesser of two evils and then find ways to justify it.  Many people believe that this was the case in decision to use Atomic bombs against Japan. However, the lesser of two evils perspective appears to not have been the case in the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this scenario the ‘two evils,’ were to either drop the Atomic bombs on Japanese cities or engage in a full scale American invasion of the Japanese mainland, risking tens of thousands of American lives. However this was a false dichotomy, because there were a number of other alternatives between these ‘two evils.’

The American leaders were presented with several alternatives to the combat use of the Atomic bombs during the final phases of the war. There were five viable options that could’ve been substituted for the use of the Atomic bombs against Japan: A non-combat demonstration of the bomb, a modification of unconditional surrender, allowing for the Emperor to stay in power, further dialogue with Japanese diplomats who were interested in peace, delaying use of the bomb(s) until the Soviets entered the war and heavy conventional bombing with naval blockade. (Stoler pg. 420)

The option of using a non-combat demonstration was brought up only twice in government committees and rejected both times. One of the reasons for the rejection of this plan was that the bomb would not work and a failure might rekindle the Japanese resolve. The other concern was that allied POW’s might have been moved into the area of the testing zone before the bomb was dropped.

The second option that could’ve been pursued was for the American leaders to modify and/or soften some of the terms of the unconditional surrender that they were already asking for. In particular, one of the terms of surrender was the complete dismantling of the Imperial system, including removal of the emperor. Since the Japanese practically worshipped the emperor, it would be hard for them to imagine surrendering, if it meant the removal of such a revered figure. If the emperor were allowed to stay, it was felt that the Japanese would’ve have been much more likely to surrender. One of the key complaints with this option was that the government feared a backlash from the public, because many Americans likened Hirohito to Hitler and considered him a war criminal. To the American leaders, this option was considered to politically risky.

Thirdly, there were a number of Japanese diplomats who approached American officials in hopes of negotiating a surrender. It was thought that perhaps dialoging with these diplomats might create a momentum among other Japanese who were tired of the war or felt that a loss was inevitable. However, it was not known if these Japanese diplomats had enough authority or influence to actually make a difference, so it was not pursued thoroughly. There was also a strong group of militarists in the Japanese government that were not interested in any terms of surrender.

Alternative four was to delay the use of the Atomic bomb(s) until after the Soviet Union entered the war. None of the top American leaders felt that the Soviet Union would be entering the war before the scheduled American invasion. Even if the Soviet Union had entered the war, it is not certain that Japan would’ve surrendered before the invasion.

The last option provided to the American Leadership could have been to continue the conventional bombing of Japan and the naval blockade, also known as the siege strategy. It appears that this strategy would have worked if the Americans would have been willing to prolong the war and delay the invasion.

At the time and subsequently afterwards it seems clear that none of the alternatives by themselves could’ve succeeded in creating a Japanese surrender before the scheduled American invasion of Japan. However, as Bernstein says, “it does seem very likely, though certainly not definite, that a synergistic combination of guaranteeing the emperor, awaiting Soviet entry and continuing the siege strategy, would’ve ended the war in time to avoid the November invasion.” (Stoler pg. 425)

So why was a combination of these options never considered, when it seems quite clear that a use of the bomb could’ve been avoided?  We have been led to believe that since the use of the bomb has been questioned after it was used and the horrible impact years later was revealed, that there was a reluctance to use to bombs at all and that the government was trying to avoid using them.  Those of us outside of the context of World War Two ascribe certain moral standards that were not at play at that time. For example, contemporary people assume that there was a real struggle among the leaders in their decision of whether to use the Atomic bombs or not.  Many wrongly assume that they were reluctant to use to bomb, when in fact there was no such reluctance. The war had been a long and terrible tragedy and everyone was ready for it to be over with quickly.  The moral and merciful position was to end it before more and more casualties occurred. The American leaders’ assumption was that the Atomic bomb(s) were a tool that was pragmatic to use and that there was no reason not to use it. “In 1945 American leaders were not seeking to avoid the use of the A-bomb. Its use did not create ethical or political problems for them. Thus they easily rejected or never considered most of the so called alternatives to the bomb.” (Stoler pg. 420)

It’s a human tendency to see things in black and white or either/or terms, such as “should we drop the bombs, or invade?” From a postwar perspective this can be construed as a choice between the lesser of two evils. Unfortunately, at the time, the option of using the Atomic bombs did not seem like a morally questionable option and if it had, there would’ve been more real incentive to take an honest look at a combination of alternative options that could’ve succeeded ending the war and pressuring the Japanese to surrender without the use of a full scale invasion or the Atomic bombs.


“Major Problems in the History of World War Two” -Mark A. Stoler and Melanie S. Gustafson

Stoler, Mark A., and Melanie S. Gustafson. Major Problems in the History of World War II. 1. 1. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003. 472. Print.

“Were there viable alternatives to dropping the Atomic mom?” By Barton J. Bernstein

Myths and censorship during World War II

By Josiah Callaghan

There’s history and then there’s the retelling of history. The retelling of history can be used for many purposes depending on whose telling it and what their agenda is.  Often historians, reporters and the media, “Forget the ugly and magnify the good things.” (pg.428) In retelling history, people will either pull negative or positive things to prove a point or they will make up, fabricate or exaggerate things to make something appear a certain way. World War II is a perfect example of when theses mythmaking occurred both during and after the war.

While both WWII and the Vietnam war involved atrocities such as Napalm, the killing of innocent civilians, low morale among soldiers and soldiers being ostracized when they returned home, all these are things that we normally associate with the Vietnam war. Somehow when its comes to World War II, the retelling as omitted the negatives and exaggerated the positives, resulting in WWII becoming the “Good War.” (pg. 429)  World War II became the “Good War,” for several reasons. First, the use of mass media, such as radio and movies, was a major factor in painting the war in a positive light.  The boom of radio and movie industries during the 1940’s created a regular and eager audience for glamorization of the war. 28 million Americans had radio’s and over 90 million attended movies weekly during the peak of World War II.  Both the radio and movie industry often focused on American heroism and patriotism, while portraying the enemies as “cruel, devious and unprincipled.” (pg. 434) Not only did media play an important role in creating the “Good War,” but journalism and government censorship as well. Surprisingly, many journalists including author, John Steinbeck, skewed their stories and reports by not reporting on disturbing or negative aspects of the war, such as the terrible conditions that the troops had to endure. Walter Cronkite submitted a story detailing how the U.S. Air Force had bombed German targets blindly despite thick cloud cover, which challenged the assumption that American bombs were released with more precision and only on military targets. However, his report was withheld and was not printed. On the other hand camera crews scripted scenes of both General MacArthur and Eisenhower in photo shoots to enhance their images as if they were Hollywood celebrities. Paralleling the governments view, “Eisenhower saw reporters as part of the army and expected them to report the news as loyal soldiers…and not as independent observers.” (pg. 433) During the war, there were several government agencies such as the, Office of Censorship, whose job was to filter communications, information, publish propaganda in favor of the war and clean up negative images and aspects of the war for the public. Some examples of censorship included the silence about atrocities of the U.S. military, including the beating and killing of African-American soldiers by other U.S. troops.

So why were these types of things done during the war?  World War II required a lot of support and sacrifice from the civilian population, but also the industries of manufacturing, agriculture and so on.  There was a significant need to sustain the support and motivation of the civilian population in making many sacrifices for the war effort. Furthermore, the war was actually highly beneficial to the American economy. The United States was only nation to experience economic prosperity during World War II. The GDP for 1940 was $97 billion, but by 1944, it had risen to $190 billion. “Americans weekly wages also increased from, $25.20 in 1940, to $43.39 in 1945, which was an increase of 72%.” (pg.431) Unlike the other nations engaged in World War II, the United States was the only nation that did not experiences invasion or regular bombing, which separated many people, both civilian and military from the reality and actual physical experiences of war. In fact America had changed tremendously from the Depression Era, to a vibrant and prosperous nation, and the war to many people became an exciting and positive change for many. Russell Baker said that, “World War II for a time, gave Americans a sense of belonging, of community, as they were caught up in the war fever.” (pg. 431) It is also true that many Americans truly believed that the Japanese and the Germans were so obviously evil. The evil of these nations showcased the goodness of America and to many Americans it was seen as a war between good and evil, with America representing all that was good and moral.

In spite of the effective way that the myth of the “good war,” was created, the war was anything but good.  Even though both during and after the war many people believed and continue to believe that it was a “good war,” that is just not the case.  Some of the not so glamorous realities of World War II that are conveniently left out include; area bombings, the high rate of nervous breakdown’s among American soldiers, the killing of prisoners and defenseless soldiers and the raping of women by American soldiers. Discrimination also occurred significantly among the armed forces during the war. Many retuning soldiers, especially wounded ones often felt  “treated like scum” and many people would even wash their hands after greeting wounded soldiers as if they were diseased. (pg. 432) The war had a significant impact on domestic life in the United States as well. Many rural farms and small business’ failed and gave way to the rise of giant corporations. There were record numbers of hospitalizations for mental health issues. “According to a poll in 1946, the majority of adults felt that teenage behavior degenerated during the war.” (pg. 432) Even the divorce rate increased to 600,000 by 1946. All of these statistics shatter the myth that everything was so much better back then and many of these happenings are things that we only associate with the Vietnam era.

World War II has often been called America’s best war and both historians and popular media have perpetuated this misunderstanding. As Americans, it is easy for us to look at these events as a moment that exemplified our national strength and brought us together. While this may be true, much about World War II remains untold or exaggerated and the fact remains that war is war, as even Dwight D. Eisenhower said it himself, “War settles nothing.” However, when the past becomes distorted and exaggerated, it loses its reality, “it cease to be real history, it becomes what we call myth…” (pg. 429). When history becomes warped it loses its own identity and becomes a tool for propaganda and control. We must never forget the courage and sacrifice of those who died fighting in World War II, but we must be careful not to ever over-idealize any war, because real misery and tragedy are part of war. Consider the words of Thomas Jefferson as you ponder the reality of World War II, “Governments constantly choose between telling lies and fighting wars, with the end result always being the same. One will always lead to the other.”


Stoler, Mark A., and Melanie S. Gustafson. Major Problems in the History of World War II. 1. 1. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003. 472. Print.

Lone Survivor-A Pacifists’ Perspective

Despite reading about the films’ extraordinary amount of violence and blood, I decided to enjoy (and i use that term loosely) watching the recounting of the story of Operation Red Wings, in the movie ‘Lone Survivor’, starring actor Mark Wahlberg. My Uncle and I decided to go see the movie together. We both were a bit hesitant to see this movie, given our beliefs and sentiments towards war and violence, however we decided to give it a go. The film recounts the story of four Navy SEALs sent on a covert operation to neutralize a Taliban leader. After a series of hindrances, the operation becomes compromised and the SEAL’s are ambushed by Taliban forces in the remote and mountainous Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. The movie is based off of New York Times bestseller by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. The primary targets of the operation were a group of anti-coalition militia-men from the Nangarhar province led by Ahmad Shad, a regional Taliban leader.

To be honest I don’t care much for war movies, which are often ripe with over-zealous patriotic themes and jingoistic flaws, however I have been moved by power-house films such as Saving Private Ryan, not at all for the violence, hidden behind the guise of ‘freedom,’ and a flag, but for the pure power of the story and the raw emotion of such accounts. Despite the gut-wrenching violence included in the ‘Lone Survivor,’ it was nonetheless a power-house movie, with both its flaws and achievements.  Despite the violent themes and events in the film, ‘Lone Survivor,’ had one of the most hauntingly beautiful soundtracks to a movie that I’ve heard in a long time…and that was one of the few redeeming qualities.

Simply put, War is Hell….there is no way around that…..and in the movie it becomes crystal clear. The film begins by showing the vigorous and intense training that Navy SEALs go through. It is not hard to appreciate the strength and ‘bravery,’ that these men must have. It’s obvious that these men have no shortage of courage and are willing to give their lives for their (American) brothers and comrades. Throughout the movie, the camaraderie and bond that the SEALs have is clearly shown. It becomes hard to not grow fond of the ‘heroes’ of this story, knowing how important each of them is to each other and the brotherly love they have for one another. They are willing to die for each other and in fact they do (Not to give too many spoilers away here) and at one point, the team leader, Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, climbs up to the summit of a rock cliff in order to radio in air support after their communications officer is killed. In the process he is shot several times and dies in a slow motion scene with the dramatic backdrop of the the mountains. In doing so, Lieutenant Murphy is able to make contact with U.S. forces in order to call in air support.

Going into the movie, I had my opinions and biases, but I did my best to put those aside, to watch and interpret the story as it is and was. Surprisingly it was actually a decent movie, with powerful acting and raw emotion put into many of the characters individual stories. The acting was of course superb, including an impressive performance by Mark Wahlberg. The cinematography was beautiful and combined with the soundtrack, at times it was almost more of an art-house movie. However at some points the violence and blood-filled scenes became too much. Earlier on in the movie, the Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah is shown hacking off a traitors head, thankfully the camera is pointed away and we only see splatter of blood flying into the air. However, once the fighting truly begins, it is a nonstop stream of disturbing brain-gushing shots, with lots of blood. At first the Taliban fighters are picked off with shots to the head and upper torso’s, but soon the SEAL’s began to takes one hit after another as bullets rip through their flesh and bones. Before long it becomes a constant barrage of countless gunfire, ranging from small arms to a large mounted machine gun and even rocket-propelled grenades. The SEAL’s are hit by multiple gunshots, taking bullets to the legs, upper bodies. Severed stumps of blown off fingers, mutilated ears and protruding bones are shown throughout the process, leaving the viewer with a empty stomach and a disturbed conscience. Soon after the gunfight erupts the SEALs find themselves tumbling down of sheer cliffs, crashing into boulders and trees as they tumble head over heels down the mountainside. The viewers watch as one by one each Navy SEAL is killed, until only Marcus Luttrell is left alive and fighting for his life.

Sadly, the film almost seems to worship the pain and agony that each of the SEAL’s go through. Their ligaments are riddled with bullets and their bodies cut by rocks and trees, they find themselves lathered in blood within minutes of the ambush. But yet somehow they are still able to fight on, with missing fingers, broken bones and so on…..Not to say that Navy SEALs are not tough, they are likely the toughest men in the world, but at times it does seem a bit ridiculous. This doesn’t go to say that they didn’t experience something like this (maybe they did) and if they did it without a doubt one of the most remarkable feats of our time. But like all stories, especially ones involving the politics of war and militarism, stories are exaggerated. I need not give examples, you only need to examine the stories from the American press during World War Two, Vietnam and others to understand what I’m getting at….Propaganda comes in many forms….

Throughout the movie you begin to see the genius of Director Peter Berg as he captures each and every bullet that hits the American SEALs in a simple, but brilliant way. But of course the Taliban are quickly killed with single shots to the head and/or chest and die before they have even fallen to the ground. In the end, it is only the overwhelming numbers that bring them down. And even as they die, they appear at peace in their dying moments.

I certainly respect these incredible men, I do believe they had/have good intentions in ‘serving’ their country, but I believe that they( like all soldiers on this earth) are misguided by flags, politicians and sense of duty that exists and persists through the continuity of ideals likes patriotism. Unfortunately the movies is full of cliches and meaningless phrases like many of its predecessors. At one point, one of the SEALs yells, “You can die for your country, but I’m gonna live for mine.” A perfect example of how war is a racket. At times the movie almost feels dishonoring to the nineteen Americans killed, making the the movie into an almost cartoon like representation as the Taliban leader is shown cutting off a mans head in front of the victim’s son (which likely never happened). Its almost an insult to the fallen soldiers to have the target of their mission appear as a cheesy villain from a mediocre action movie.

There are many other problems with the movie as well. Of course in the book written by Luttrell (mostly Patrick Robinson), there are not any questions regarding the Americans’ reasons for being in Afghanistan, including the civilian deaths and U.S. tactics. The movie doesn’t explore any of these either. In fact one of the things that pisses me off is that the film did nothing to explore why the Americans have had such a tough time winning over the heart and minds of many people in Afghanistan, when it is quiet obvious to the intelligent outsider. Maybe the reason the goat-herder boy’s eyes were filled with hatred towards the SEALs was because his father had been killed by an American, or maybe the torturing and killing of prisoners by U.S. interrogators during Dick Cheney’s time in office. But of course in the minds of the neo-cons and Bush, “if you are not with us, you are with the terrorists.” So being anti-war in the minds of many amounts to supporting the terrorists….smh

Let me steal a quote from David Edelstein in his review of the movie.

“….Berg leads you to the conclusion that these Americans were just too good, too true, too respectful. Luttrell’s operation — and his teams’ lives — might have been saved if they’d summarily executed three passing goat-herders rather than following the Rules of Engagement. I can’t imagine a single person watching the subsequent wave upon wave of Taliban fighters with their RPGs and machine-guns and not thinking, If only the Americans had put two bullets in the head of each of those guys, they’d be home with their wives and kids today. Lone Survivor is a brutally effective movie, made by people who think that they’re serving their country. But they’re just making us coarser and more self-centered. They’re perpetuating the kind of propaganda that sent the heroes of Seal Team 10 to their deaths.” -David Edelstein

Ultimately, however the film is powerful and emotional at times despite the constant barrage of blood-splattering gore and violence. As a human I can appreciate what these men went through and how much strength and courage it took to strive through it all even though in the all but one died. What troubles me, is the fact that here in America, we are okay with sending our daughters and sons off to war while we live in relative luxury. We are okay with men and women dying and killing in other countries in the name of ‘freedom’ when in reality most of us don’t even know what we are fighting against or why and what if… what if the truth has been hidden from us and maybe all these wars are really all predicated on lies and deceit from politicians and special interests who want to make sure that the continuity of government and the military industrial complex is safe and secure. In spite all I really don’t believe the film attempts to glorify war as some films do. It’s not even a one dimensional war flick with shallow, gun-ho, cursing soldiers that don’t give a rip about the enemy… but it sure as heck ain’t a critique of war…

The most frustrating thing to me is that both sides( the Americans and the Taliban) seem to think that God is on their side…With the Taliban yelling phrases about Allah they often appear as the religious nuts and crazies, but are the Americans really that different? In one scene that turns out to be positive, Luttrell smiles and says, “See? God’s looking out for us.” Implying that God is supporting them in their fight against the Taliban. Some people can throw some Old Testament verses at me, without context and theological training, but the fact is, that it contradicts the nature of Jesus. Jesus does not take sides in war and neither do I. There is no honor, there is no humanity in killing others for the entity of a nation.

In summary, “Lone Survivor,” was not a bad movie, at several points I found my eyes becoming watery. However both me and my uncle felt incredibly empty and saddened by it all. One can appreciate the intent of others to ‘protect’ our freedoms even if that is not what they are really doing. I will continue to and will always respect men and women who serve America, but I do not support them. There is a difference. I’m not saying men who fight in wars are necessarily evil, many are forced into that type of situation, such as many of the young Taliban fighters as young as me. I don’t pretend to be more morally sound then them, we all have our faults….but to move forward we have to call things out as they are, not how we want to see them.

As me and my uncle left the theatre, we found ourselves cleaning our eyes and ears (metaphorically of course). We commented to each other on how pointless it all was. Such young men (both Taliban and American) killing each other for such empty causes. I do not recommend this movie for the faint of heart and for anyone easily upset by violence.

I pray that one day there will be no more senseless violence and death.

I leave the song, “God and Country,” by Gungor to consider in light of this film