Soldiers in Somalia

Wielding the Sword

“We’re there for humanitarian reasons only.” “We’re there to help the people. After that, we’re pulling out.”

Haven’t we heard all this somewhere before? These are the reasons American officials offered for sending troops to Somalia a year ago. But they evoke haunting memories of something similar 25 years ago. When I went to the White House, the burning question of the day was how we could get out of Vietnam, and it consumed us during the years I served President Nixon.

How did we get entangled in the same thing again?

I remember well the justification President Kennedy gave when we sent troops to Vietnam: We were going in only to help the Vietnamese people defend themselves; we had no intention of getting involved in a war. Television images showed marines handing out toys to children and helping villagers build huts.

We were there to give peace a chance.

But our good intentions were based on unrealistic assessments of what we were up against. In the face of the naked aggression of the North Vietnamese and the ruthless tactics of the Viet Cong, again and again we gave a limited, restrained response. Never enough to win, only enough to keep hanging on.

The results we know too well: 50,000 Americans dead and an ugly stain on America’s national honor.

Now we are in Somalia and the conditions are strikingly parallel. The UN originally landed on the shores to enforce minimal order, just enough to get food to starving people. But now 12 American soldiers are dead, 78 wounded, many missing, and at least one captured. Many of the casualties occurred one Sunday when crack Ranger troops were pinned down by machine guns and grenade launchers for 12 dark hours-while UN commanders debated who should come to their rescue.

These were some of the same troops who several months earlier had requested tanks and armored vehicles for greater protection-and the administration had said no.

We are making exactly the same mistake we made in Vietnam. We’re sending in just enough troops to hold our own against the rebel warlords, but not enough to win-or even to defend our own soldiers. It’s time to use our military force effectively.

Either get in decisively and root out the hostile forces . . . or else get out.

Is there a biblical principle in all this? Absolutely. The Bible teaches that the state has been given the power of the sword-the army and the police force-for a purpose: to restore order and promote justice. In a sinful world, evil and violence sometimes need to be put down by force.

But the sword cannot be wielded timidly. Whether we’re talking about police action or military action, it must be swift and decisive in order to accomplish the moral objective. We need to give the arm of coercion the weapon it needs to do the job-otherwise we only add to the chaos.

When God ordained that the state should wield the power of the sword, He granted it an awesome responsibility. And when we allow the state to wield the sword carelessly, timidly, or without a clear purpose, we fail in that God-given responsibility. The result of our failure is that innocent people die.

Let’s do the job or come home.


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