Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The North Korean Cop-Out

With all the troubling threats coming from the 'hermit kingdom' these days, it's easy to get worried. I mean a third-generation madman has nuclear weapons and seemingly no incentive not to use them. I don't appear too concerned about any of this - something that came as a surprise, even to me. Maybe part of it is living on the East Coast, where Kim Jong Un's missiles are unlikely to fall - I know, how selfless and caring of me, right? I think mostly, though, it's the knowledge that the US government, which has spent close to 50% of its annual budget on military preparedness for decades now, will likely just blast it's way out of this problem, regardless of the consequences.

Now, I don't think that's a wise solution for any number of reasons - the most being my general opposition to violence and war. However, I've been trouble by how easily I'm willing to let someone else do my dirty work in this instance. The number one critique of non-violence is that it's easy to do when someone else will do it - it's a typical retort from police officers or soldiers - and one I am generally challenged by. I work hard not to use that excuse, to be prepared to put my life in danger for peace, if need be, specifically because it's a valid critique. It's not really non-violence, if you're counting on the violence of someone else.

Yet I still find some measure of comfort if the notion that the US army could utterly reduce most of North Korea to rubble, if need be? It's a contradiction one doesn't have to ponder much when it's just a far-off possibility - however, as in recent weeks, when it looks like a more and more likely solution, it's an obstacle that must be faced.

I don't think it's likely that any world government will choose an alternative to violence, especially if other options have been tried extensively, so as much as I've been thinking and researching non-violent ways to potentially deal with the North Korean crisis, that's not really what this is all about.

How do I look at a situation in which people are almost guaranteed to die in large numbers with just about any outcome and not choose utility?
It's that means to an end thing, again - something I decry over and over again here - something I am absolutely opposed to on philosophical and theological grounds. The ends aren't ever ends. History is linked - stopping the madman today has influence on what happens tomorrow. Abandoning principles for a momentary victory might feel good to me and the people who are alive today (rather than dead) because of it, but is that reallt a better solution than choosing death now in the hope of a greater peace down the road?

I don't honestly know the answer to that question, because there's no evidence by which to make a decision. Violence has always been met with violence - at least on a national and international scale. The large-scale non-violence that characterized the Church in the first few centuries after Christ were not in the realm of global politics - it was not nation vs nation. The closest you might find is when Russia burned Moscow and withdrew from Napoleon's invasion, knowing he could never maintain supply lines through a harsh Russian winter - but that was really more tactical than noble; it was being willing to live with a problem, so long as the problem was far away.

Here, I think, it's important to point out the problems inherent with associating ourselves with a nation. The underlying Christian doctrine has always seen the people of God as an alternative nation, a separate construction, a different people. We get into trouble when we begin to associate ourselves with more than Christ. Being an American Christian (or a German Christian or a Korean Christian or a Christian from Lesotho, for that matter) is automatically a conflict. It might not always show up in our day to day lives, but we can't just let the passive be passive,
for passivity is a lie.

That's the real issue - we want to know how the US or China or Nigeria or Europe of whatever nation we associate ourselves with should address the problem in North Korea. For Christians, the prior issue is that we really shouldn't be associating ourselves with those nations in the first place. 1 Peter 2:9 call's Christians "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation." We've too often taken that metaphorically, rather than quite literally, which is the alternative way of life proclaimed by Jesus and reinforced in the practice and teachings of Paul. It is not that we should become a nation to rival other nations,
but that we should avoid falling into the trap of nationalism.

The US may very well enter into war as a means of keeping North Korea from using nuclear weapons. Christians must mourn this - and any other violence - for war and violence are not part of the Kingdom of God. The very rational response from the US might be, "what else would you have me do?" Christians reply, "Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. If your enemy is thirsty, give them something to drink; if they are hungry, feed them."

I don't know if that's a rational or even feasible option, especially given the history between the US and North Korea, but it's the only answer I know how to give - and it's the national call of God's people.

I'm not sure what that means for my initial problem? Does it mean being willing to die rather than kill? Yeah. But it can't mean being willing for other people to die so I don't have to. On the other hand, I don't think, say, moving to the west coast so as to be more in the path of any rogue North Korean rocket really makes much sense either - it's not going to guarantee my sacrifice any more than staying here - no should looking to die really be the way to deal with such a situation.

In the end, I believe the answer is not looking to avoid suffering. That's really at the root of this reliance on someone else's violence to spare me my own. So what if millions of impoverished, suffering North Koreans suffer even more - I'll get to keep my way of life. That's the mindset we need to fight. The reality is, I am safer and better off than most people in North Korea could ever dream to be. Even living simply,
being sacrificially generous, and avoiding the trappings of the typical US way of life will not change the disparity between us and them.

Maybe my call is to go - sneak into North Korea and simply suffer with the suffering. It's a holy, noble, and worthy act, perfectly in line with scripture and the witness of the Church. I suspect the world would be better off if we were all able to do it. We're not. What we can do,
though, is live in peace - active peace - here and now. Love people. Give to those in need. Suffer with those who suffer in our backyards and around the block. Be the people God has called us to be with the sincere hope that this war will be the last one.

What we can't do is avoid the problem. We can't continue to live in our isolated peace and quiet, just expecting things to change on our own.
The comfort we have was not one by righteous means, no matter what the national myths around us say. Christians are called to live into a different story - it's one of love and grace and peace for sure, but one achieved through sacrifice and suffering. If we're not committed to those things, we can't really enjoy the benefits.

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