All’s Not Quiet on the Moral Front

An Old Movie Scopes Out War's Impact on the Soul

What do a vintage Warner Brothers cartoon, a classic war movie, and a caution about how we see ourselves have to do with one another? They are my way of trying to untangle the flag-waving emotions of our day by raising some fundamental questions. Are we going to war with Iraq? The question a Christian needs to ask is: should we?

Arriba, arriba across the lines
Let’s look at the vintage cartoon. In the story Speedy Gonzales (the very fast mouse) is recruited by an army commander; his mission is to deliver an important message across enemy lines (the cat). As the brave mouse accepts, we see the numbers on the wall indicating his fallen brothers. Speedy finally delivers the letter, which turns out to be a birthday card, and the generals have a good laugh. Speedy (with a wink to the audience) then frees the cat to chase the generals.

All’s pointless on the Western Front

Speedy realizes what the men in the classic film [click to purchase DVD] ask each other after months of “living with death.” In a memorable scene sharing a meal, they ask, “Why are we here fighting this war?” “It’s a problem of nations.” “Do you mean one mountain got angry with another mountain?” They come to understand that the indiscriminate killing is just that–indiscriminate, something the powerful want and the soldiers do. They have been put in harm’s way for reasons they cannot understand, let alone justify.

“All’s Quiet On The Western Front” was made in the period between World War I and II, that in-between time when humanity came to grips with its own capacity for cruelty. Watching the film I was moved by their vision of what they hoped would be humanity’s absolute last experience of war. How could they have imagined that World War II, Korea, and Vietnam were still to come. It’s hard to not ask yourself, “Did we learn nothing?”

The Christian way
Both of these illustrations show us something fundamental—we become blind to the pain and suffering of others when we put our own interests first. So the question is: is this the Christian way? We know Saddam Hussein is a very bad guy, but can we, by doing evil ourselves, do any good in the long run?

The Christian always needs to look to Jesus as the light by which we see everything else. Jesus does not only love his neighbor, he refuses to become part of a cycle of violence to protect his own interests. Had Jesus saved himself, allowed Peter and friends to fight back on the Mount of Olives and meet violence with violence, he would have won the battle but lost the war. We would not be here.

Jesus showed with his life that the best way to make lasting change in the world—to communicate God—was to love. Instead of war, bring food; instead of missiles, rain down teachers and international aid; instead of bullying neighbors into being allies, show leadership by joining neighbors in building a world where those who opt for violence will be more and more isolated and obsolete.