Exhausted and Elated

At the Bagram air base in Afghanistan last March, hundreds of American soldiers poured out of CH-47 Chinook helicopters. They had just returned from a week of heavy fighting, going after Taliban and al Qaeda die-hards in mountain hideouts. "We were hailed on, snowed on, shot at, and mortared at, but we did the right thing at the right time," one officer recalled. In the battle's aftermath, according to The Washington Post, the men were sunburned, exhausted, and elated. That "right thing" was killing hundreds of enemy fighters -- which leads to a question: Even when we believe a war is just, is it right for soldiers to feel "elated" about what they do in war? Shouldn't they be more solemn, more regretful? Not at all, responds a man who survived the front lines of World War I. In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis attacks the notion that those who fight should do so with almost a sense of shame. As he puts it, "War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken. What I cannot understand is this sort of semipacifism . . . which gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with a long face as though you were ashamed of it." "It is that feeling," Lewis notes, "that robs lots of magnificent young Christians in the Services of something they have a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment of courage -- a kind of gaiety and wholeheartedness." Now, Lewis had no delusions about war. He had fought in the trenches in France. He saw firsthand the arrival of mechanized warfare, in which one side could slaughter, from a distance, huge numbers of men. Lewis lost friends in both world wars, and he himself was badly wounded. And yet Lewis apparently never lost his belief in the nobility of a just war justly fought. But while he encouraged soldiers to take pride in fighting the forces of evil in the moral enterprise that is war, he also warned against letting this pride turn into a love of killing. "We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it," he warns. "Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves -- to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good." This is what the Bible means by loving our enemies, he added -- "Wishing his good, not feeling fond of him or saying he is nice when he is not." Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. Our founders declared our independence and then fought to make that declaration and that liberty they loved a reality. On the anniversary of our founding as you gather with friends and family for backyard barbeques and the sight and sound of fireworks, I hope you'll pray for the spiritual welfare of those brave Americans and allies who are fighting today. Pray that they will know the rewards of courage, that they will never allow the grim joy that comes from fighting for a righteous cause turn into a soul-destroying hatred and love of killing. And if you have relatives or friends in the armed services, it's a good time to let them know we believe their cause is a noble one, indeed. For further reading: C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Touchstone, 1996). William Bennett, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (Doubleday, 2002). Learn more about just war theory by reading BreakPoint's fact sheet. St. Augustine, The City of God (Modern Library Classics, 2000).


Chuck Colson



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