Nobody, it seems, can make documentaries quite like Ken Burns.
His recent series, “The War,” tells the story of America’s involvement in World War Two through the eyes of four American cities and towns, among them Mobile, Alabama.
When war broke out, Glenn Frazier, a 17 year-old infantryman from Mobile, was serving in the Philippines under General Douglas MacArthur. In “The War,” Mr. Frazier admits that he had enlisted several months earlier with no thought of ever seeing combat, and that he had gone to the Philippines under the assumption that it would be a nice, safe duty station in the event that war did break out.
And Mr. Frazier had a good reason to do his best to avoid combat.
“I was raised in a real Christian family,” Mr. Frazier explains, “ and, as a result, killing was not part of my training, and that was a big hurdle for me to get over because I’d been taught not to kill.”
He goes on to describe the incident that pushed him over the edge and caused him to get past that particular doctrine.
After watching a Japanese plane bomb a hospital and then land a direct hit on a friend of his, Mr. Frazier had a turn of heart.
“When that Japanese Zero turned its wings right above the trees and started to fly away,” Mr. Frazier recalls, “I could see him with a smile on his face and at that point I had no trouble killing people. As a matter of fact I got to the point where I hunted them, and if I didn’t kill Japanese in a day I felt I didn’t do my job.”
THOU SHALT KILL
Listening to Mr. Frazier’s story today, the wonder is not that he ultimately embraced killing the enemy as his duty, but that he brought any Christian-influenced reticence about killing with him to the Army.
In the sixty some-odd years that have passed since Mr. Frazier watched in horror as his buddy was obliterated by a bomb, the Biblical prohibition against killing seems to have receded from the consciousness of many American Christians.
Many voices today thunder from the pulpits that the time has come to march off on yet another holy war to destroy Islam. America, some insist, was created by God for the purpose of ridding the world of the disease of Islam.
These voices reach the ears of thousands upon thousands of Christians who now are convinced that God wants America to embark on a massive Muslim-killing crusade. Rarely have theology and ideology been so effectively wedded to mold opinion on a national scale.
A sentiment seems to be growing that the only way to combat the threat of extremism emanating from Islamic nations is to throw extremism back at it from Christian nations.
FUNDAMENTALISMS GOING HEAD-TO-HEAD
In his 2002 book, “The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads And Modernity,” Tariq Ali, a Pakistani and a self-described “agnostic,” warns of the dangers posed by fundamentalism of both the Islamic and Christian varieties.
In a paragraph that would have fit nicely in Phil Zimbardo’s “Lucifer Effect,” Ali writes:
Acts of violence depend neither on the will of an individual leader, however charismatic, nor on the structure of a single organisation, the existence of one country or the fanaticism of a sinister religion, its believers fuelled by the visions of a glorious afterlife. The violence, unfortunately, is systemic. It assumes varied forms in different parts of the globe. Nor is it the case that the bulk of this violence is directed against the United States. Religious fanatics of all hues often brutalise co-religionists whose purity is suspect or who are not as vigorous in their search for God and, as a result, are more critical of superstitions or empty and meaningless rituals.
KEEP ASKING THE QUESTION
Glenn Frazier served his country proudly and bravely. His ultimate rejection of the commandment not to kill was a common experience among Christians when faced with the reality of combat.
Mr. Frazier’s Christian upbringing caused him to wrestle with the question of the morality of killing. He honestly acknowledged the conflict between religious conviction and duty to nation. His particular resolution of that conflict should not be questioned by those of us who have never had to face it in quite so direct a manner.
The danger comes not from individual decisions on questions of morality.
The danger comes when we stop asking the questions altogether.
Love your enemies. Simple words, direct and to the point. Anyone facing an enemy, a truly life-threatening enemy, should have a moral dilemma if “love your enemies” means anything. A “Christian” leader who calls for the destruction of enemies creates a moral climate that urges followers to destroy rather than love. Although it may be the individual who makes the decision to kill, war-mongering by a religious leader helps to set up the “Lucifer Effect”: Followers who might pause for moral reflection if urged to love their enemies are instead goaded to join in the call for war and destruction. This isn’t a question of letter versus spirit, either. A Christian who takes the Bible seriously must struggle with what Jesus could possibly have meant when he said “Love your enemies,” other than, well—“Love your enemies.
This video on nonviolent communication and protective force versus aggression perhaps can help lift human consciousness about the conflicts, which in some cases appear inevitable. I think it's significant that Rosenberg did not advocate force, or violence, as a punitive measure.