Springingtiger's Blog

Put Away Your Sword.


I was reading in Matthew’s Gospel about the arrest of Jesus. When one of his followers sought to defend him with a sword he told the man to put the sword away and famously added, “All who take the sword will die by the sword.” (He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword) It reminded me of an earlier verse in Matthew 5 when Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement” (Mt. 5:21). An injunction against murder as Jewish law allowed for killing in war and as a punishment for certain crimes. However Jesus went on to say, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Which I believe rather tightens up the injunction.

In the early church many soldiers were martyred because they believed killing, even in war, to be contrary to the teachings of Jesus. I am not going to argue about just wars, I cannot blame people for defending themselves when attacked, I will not condemn self-defence. However when someone claims self defence dishonestly, whether it be a justification for a war or an individual killing, it is murder. If a politician honestly believes his country is about to be attacked then perhaps he is right to send the army to its defence. But to send armies thousands of miles into another country which is in no position to invade is not defence, it is murder. For a leader to misrepresent facts or to lie, to achieve the goal of attacking another country is murder. Anyone who dishonestly attacks another country is not only responsible for the attack, but also for any retaliation by the people of that country, whether by war or terrorism. When your country is invaded, if you accept the concept of a just war, then any action you take to persuade the aggressor to withdraw is justified wherever you take the action. However any doctrine of just war precludes the killing of civilians. Which would make the use of any weapon designed for the slaughter of civilians, murder.

We all have a degree of responsibility for war and for killing. The man who smelts the steel that makes the gun might as well be making it for girders, little blame attaches to him. The man who takes the steel and makes the gun must bear some blame, but does he know who will use the weapons? The man who sells the weapons knows to whom he sells, it’s fair to say he is to some extent guilty. But the man who orders the weapons to be used bears the most guilt and, to a lesser extent (in a democracy) those who voted for him. What about the soldier who uses a gun? His responsibility and his choice is the most personal. To a very great extent I accept that much of a soldier’s guilt is removed by his following orders. Should he deliberately kill a civilian then he is guilty, but the emphasis lies on ‘deliberately’. In my experience very few soldiers want to kill civilians, but there will always be some who in anger or ignorance strike when they should not. Even then much of the blame lies with those who put them in that position. I will not lay blame on a man under pressure who accidentally kills, I will not excuse the ones who put him there.

Ultimately the greatest blame lies with those who choose to order the slaughter of innocent civilians, the most obvious examples are terrorist bombs in civilian areas or the carpet bombing of cities like London and Dresden in World War Two. Any politician who votes to deploy weapons that cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants is effectively voting for murder. Any politician who declares themselves willing to use weapons of mass destruction is effectively declaring a will to commit premeditated murder. However any guilt these murderers or potential murders have is shared with those who put them in the position to make these immoral decisions. Some who vote for them will sincerely believe they are justified in doing so, however they should not take offence when others equally sincerely call them murderers. Before you next cast a vote, perhaps you might wonder whether that vote may ultimately lead to acts that, on reflection, you would abhor. Ask questions, before you decide, afterwards it will be too late.


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