Christianity in the Vietnam War
Three Views of War
The justification of war in the Christian circles has been a subject of contention for a long time. Christians have had differing opinions with some supporting the war based on early tradition, while others opposing it, citing the example of peace as Jesus Christ commanded. Christians view war in three perspectives. These are pacifism, crusade or holy war and the just war tradition of just war theory. Pacifism is based on the teachings of Jesus and those who have this perspective are of the opinion that all war is wrong. They base their arguments on the teachings of Jesus especially the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus emphasized on peace and promised rewards to those who pursued peace and maintained it.
The holy war or the crusaders support war so long as it is religiously inspired. Those who have this perspective on war believe that God supports their actions and He will give them victory. Many people have held this opinion for a long time. Some of the reasons this perspective has taken root include expanding the faith. Some Christians have fought with people of other faiths and religions so that they can expand the Christian faith. Others have engaged in war as a way of destroying evil and maintaining the purity in the church. In the early colonial times, the Europeans invaded uncivilized nations especially in Africa so that they could spread the Christian message. Unfortunately, some of them did not use the peaceful message and they forced the people to adopt the new faith or they would die.
Another perspective of war is the ‘just war’ theory. This theory stipulates that war and violence must be justifiable. People do not go to war or engage in war for the sake of it, or for minimal reasons. The theory has two components, which are Jus ad Bellum, and Jus in Bello. Jus ad Bellum refers to justice before the war. It sets apart seven conditions that must be fulfilled before going to war for the war to be considered justifiable. The first condition is that civilians cannot decide to go to war on their own. This decision must be made by the reigning authority. The second condition is that there must be a just cause, usually self-defense, for people to engage in war. This allows country, which have been attacked to engage in war. This condition discourages engaging in war because of aggression, a need for more resources and land or fighting for the sake of ruling others.
The third condition is that war must be fought with the right motive and the right goal. Intentions such as hatred, cruelty, desire for more power and love of violence are seen as unjustifiable. The main goal should be seeking and maintaining peace. The fourth condition is that war must be the last resort, after everything else has been tried. The fifth condition is that there must be a reasonable chance for success. Some countries do not let this condition determine whether they should engage in war. No country engages in war thinking that it will emerge as the loser. The sixth condition is that war must promote the greater good, while minimizing the evil. This calls for countries to measure the costs and benefits of engaging in the war. The last condition that must be fulfilled before engaging in war is that both parties must listen to reason since either one of them might be wrong. This calls for countries to compare their relative statements of justice and purpose.
Jus in Bello refers to justice in the war and it considers how wars are fought. Not everything is permissible during the war and there are certain limits that must be observed during the war. One of the conditions is that the damage done during the war must not be greater than the damage prevented. Just like in a court of law, this conditions has it that the punishment meted out must be in proportion to the guilt of the offender. The other condition is that non-combatants should not be killed during battle. They should not be the target for the war. Any attacks on non-combatants should not be deliberate and if there are any killings reported, they should be accidental.
The just theory has especially been applied in modern warfare. The last condition as required in Jus in Bello is especially important since it relates to the moral problem of killing. In war, civilians are not supposed to be killed in any way. This has been a major problem for the United States especially because of the war in the Middle East. The human rights community and other activist groups have condemned the killing of non-combatants, which in this case are mostly women and children. The theory provides a means for the moral analysis of war. The seven conditions it sets forth are supposed to act as a guide during the war. Although not all warring countries follow these conditions, those who do have greatly reduced the effects that could have been experienced had the war been fought during earlier times.
Frontier Hero Myth
Most supporters of the Vietnam War would like to justify the reasons for the war. This is even depicted in movies. The actors try to recapture the events of the time by living in conditions, which they think the soldiers lived in during the war. They live without food and sleep and act with bravery. Rarely does the audience get to see any terror, anxiety or cowardice that the soldiers had. Political messages, especially those that are unpopular with the people are also preached. Nowhere has the value of being a patriot been emphasized than in war movies. This moves the attention of the audience. The enemy is brought out in a negative way and there is nothing virtuous about them. For instance in the movie Rambo II, the protagonist is presented as a character who loves and respects women and will risk his life to save them. On the other hand, the enemy is presented as people who disrespect women, only using them for sexual gratification.
The movie Platoon deviates from some of the aspects of the American war as presented in the movies. In this movie, the Americans are themselves presented in a way that sometimes seem barbaric such as when one of the soldiers cuts the ear of a dead enemy soldier and another shoots a woman just because he cannot stand her. Such depictions of the American soldiers are usually avoided in many war movies. In all war movies, the characters make it clear that they are fighting for their country. This has been the trend since the making of world war movies and it continues to this day. Many American soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War are presented in the same manner where they are seen as heroes and they have received different honors for their involvement in the war.
Movies are sometimes the only avenue where people who were not present during the war get to see what transpired. As Schechter and Jonna (19) assert, “The American moviegoer is not known for a willingness to spend five bucks…for the pleasure of experiencing two hours of living hell” producers usually capitalize on profits when making a movie and they will avoid showing unfavorable scenes. This does not present the situation as it was during the war and it is therefore not a credible way of learning. Unfortunately, this has shaped how Americans saw the war in Vietnam.
The article does offer some of the interpretations I had about the Vietnam War. Firstly, I did not believe that all the soldiers who fought in the war acted with bravery and they were all transformed into respectable citizens after the war. The movie platoon was especially useful because it presented the soldiers in a humane form. They got hungry, angry and tired and they did not always think of their actions. America was not always on the right when it decided to engage in war. The movie platoon represents a not so often seen view of war movies, where soldiers are seen in their weaknesses. The fact that soldiers can transform from peaceable people to revenge seekers is also evident. As the article asserts, “…centering on civilized heroes who undergo a deep inner transformation through their descent into a terrifyingly savage wilderness” (Schechter and Jonna 22).
Schechter, Harold and Jonna G. Semeiks. “Leatherstocking in ‘Nam: Rambo, Platoon, and the American Frontier Myth.” The Journal of Popular Culture 24. 4 (1991): 17–25. Print.