Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Since then the United States has been involved in two costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite more than a decade of American involvement in rooting out terrorists (even killing Osama Bin Laden a decade later), the world really isn't safer. Every year we stop to remember those who died. Sometimes our remembering includes bellicose statements about defeating our enemies, enemies that often morph into whole peoples.
On the eve of today's remembrance, the President gave a speech outlining his strategy to defeat the latest threat (ISIS or ISIL). After the beheading of two American journalists, the American people (or at least a sizable number) say that we need to do something. So, we will do something. There are those, like Senator McCain who want us to do more - probably reoccupy Iraq and invade Syria -- while others want us to simply stay out of the region altogether. Some do so from isolationist perspectives. Some do on the basis of a sense of pacifism.
I opposed both of the wars we entered into in the aftermath of 9-11, though I did so with regard to Iraq with more earnestness. At the same time, I understand that nation states will not operate with the same moral earnestness as we would hope the church would. In this, I am very much a Niebuhrian. I h ave been reading his book from the 1930s, Moral Man and Immoral Society. While I don't agree with all that he writes, I'm amazed how applicable what he writes between the two world wars can apply to us.
In a chapter on "The Morality of Nations" he writes:
Perhaps the best that can be expected of nations is they should justify their hypocrisies by a slight measure of real international achievement, and learn how to do justice to wider interests than their own, while they pursue their own. (Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (Library of Theological Ethics), p. 108).
And so it goes. The President couched the need to build this coalition against ISIS/ISIL and authorize air strikes in Syria on humanitarian grounds, while there is tacit admission that we have national interests here that go beyond the humanitarian. And as Niebuhr suggests, pursuit of international justice likely will involve conflict, force, coercion. The question for Christians is what role do we play. Are we to separate ourselves from the nation in which we live and leave national interests to others, or do we feel obligated to play a role for better or worse?
The Anniversary of 9-11 and the continuing conflicts in the world require an answer from us, especially we who are followers of Jesus, what is our place in the world?