Saturday, March 11, 2006

What is Courage?

What is Courage?

I’ve always said that I’m not a pacifist because I don’t have the courage. In my mind it has always taken more courage to be a pacifist then to be a soldier. Soldiers will march into battle knowing that they might be killed, and that takes courage. But a soldier fights back. If he is successful in his fight he will live and win to fight another day, usually killing his enemy in the process. Fighting gives a soldier some hope of survival, and through combat he resists his death. A pacifist marches forward knowing he may be killed but a pacifist cannot fight back. He must stand there and accept his fate without resisting. This requires a much deeper and more profound type of courage.

I write this because of a man in the news today named Tom Fox. A Quaker and a discharged Marine (there’s no such thing as an “ex-Marine:” once a marine, always a marine), Fox was recently found dead in Iraq. He had been kidnapped last year and held hostage by a group calling itself “The Swords of Righteousness Brigade.” The name is somewhat appropriate, I think—men who claim the mantle of righteousness by their use of the sword, killing a man who demonstrated his righteousness by his quest for peace. Fox was in Iraq as part of a group of Christian peace activists. They had gone there to stand against the soldiers and kidnappers on all sides of the conflict—Sunni, Shiite, Kurd or American, it didn’t matter. He worked as a sort of chaplain for the families of incarcerated Iraqis, praying with them and taking messages to their loved ones in prison. And he was an advocate for peace.

George Bush implies that God told him to go to war. Tom Fox believed that God would never do such a thing, that God prompted him to work for peace. By all accounts he did not seek martyrdom, but he knew that he was doing was dangerous. He was quoted as writing in his blog:

"I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier, Does that mean I walk into a raging battle to confront the soldiers? Does that mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign saying 'American for the Taking'? No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan."

That is real courage. I haven’t got that kind of courage. I resisted being a soldier when I was young, true to my granola munching past, but if I was physically fit I could and would be a soldier now. I would want to avenge people like Tom Fox and 2800 of my fellow New Yorkers. Even though I didn’t support the Iraq war and still don’t, I didn’t protest it because my cousin Danny and several of my friends were there, and I did support the invasion of Afghanistan because they had attacked us. I am not a pacifist. I wish I could be. I think they are right. But I don’t have their courage.

The martyrs to peace, Jesus, Gandhi, Dr. King, they are the greatest of heroes and the bravest of men. Theirs is true righteousness. And to their names should be added Tom Fox and those like him who die in the quest for peace in Iraq. I don’t recall anything in the bible about blessed are the soldiers (though he did heal the servant of the centurion). But I do recall:

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mathew 5: 9 & 10).


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