Saying No to War

by Esther Epp-Tiessen

In the early months of 2003, ten years ago, the drums of war were beating menacingly.  Many of us were trying hard to prevent the U.S. from going to war against Iraq.  If we could not stop the war, we Canadians at least hoped Canada would not join.

Iraqi women

This photo of Iraqi women, taken around 2002, inspired MCC Canada to launch a women’s fast for peace in 2003. For three months, over one thousand women (and some men) fasted each Wednesday as a way of witnessing against war.

We lit candles, fasted and uttered countless prayers for peace.   We gathered signatures for letters to the Prime Minister.  We participated in vigils and rallies and marches. We took out newspaper ads.  We posted peace messages on our church buildings.  We joined with the larger Christian community and like-minded coalitions to speak out for peace.

Other people around the world acted in courageous ways to resist the war.  An MCC colleague in the U.S. fasted from food for a full 40 days, each day also sending a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush, urging diplomacy.  Many people engaged in civil disobedience.   On February 15, 2003, millions of people rallied simultaneously around the globe with a clear message:  No to war.

Despite the pleas of people worldwide, the U.S. and a “coalition of the willing” launched a massive air assault on March 19 and invaded Iraq with ground troops a short time later.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Numbers can never express the terrible toll of war on the lives of individuals and communities.  But they are staggering nonetheless:  Over 120,000 Iraqi civilian casualties and 10,000 military and security casualties. Some 4,500 U.S. soldiers killed.  Some 5 million Iraqis displaced from their homes.  I feel a profound sadness, as I contemplate the terrible legacy of death, disability, displacement, psychological trauma, and environmental devastation.

ON -- peace sign

Ontario Mennonites participate in a public peace witness, 2003.

In some ways, perhaps, the Canadian churches can take some credit for keeping Canada out of the Iraq War.  Prime Minister Jean Chretien reportedly acknowledged that the voice of the Canadian churches factored into his decision not to take Canada into the war.

In other ways, however, the “victory” rings hollow.  Canada, though officially not at war, nevertheless participated unofficially through significant numbers of special military personnel and through arms sales.

Nonetheless, to my mind, our humble witness against war was absolutely necessary.  History is increasingly judging those who counseled against war as right and correct.  More and more analysts are now calling the invasion of Iraq a foreign policy disaster or, more gently, a major error.  Prime Minister Chretien is being lauded for his decision not to officially support the U.S. war effort.

For people committed to the way of Jesus, however, more important than the judgment of history is the judgment of the One who calls us to love our enemies and do good to those who threaten us. When the nations march to war, followers of Christ simply must say No.

Esther Epp-Tiessen is public engagement coordinator for MCCanada.  She visited Iraq in 2002.

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