My father was born in Chicago of Polish immigrants, and in some unbelievable sort of Polish joke, his mother went back to Poland with her youngest children for a visit just before World War I broke out. They lived near the border of Germany and Russia. Around the dinner table at our home, my father would tell us about the soldiers—the Prussian cavalry with their plumes, the Russians, and the Poles—three different armies.
He was five years old and thought the soldiers were all wonderful. Once, when one of them saw a dog chasing him, the soldier took my dad aside and made him a makeshift sword so he would not feel defenseless. To my father, the soldiers were all nice young guys. The town folks got to know them by name, and after the battles, they would ask about those who did not return.
Once, after a battle, my father wandered onto the battlefield. He said he was not afraid, only very sad. On his deathbed, I think those scenes must have haunted him. One of the last things that he said to me, I thought in delirium, was, “Tell the people to stop the fighting.”
World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but now, nearly a century later, we are still fighting. Why is that? I would like to dedicate this reflection to my father—in case it wasn’t delirium.
Taking the War to Heart
Do we have a right to hate the terrorists, to hate the Islamic Jihad as our enemies? We profess to be a nation which embraces Christian values, the values of Jesus, who said that we should love our enemies and forgive them not seven times, but seven times seventy.
This may be a large leap, maybe too large a leap to make for some, but we could at least spend some time considering how we can get to that state of forgiveness from where we are right now.
There is a somewhat famous Iowa joke about someone asking directions from a farmer, who replied, “You can’t get there from here.” This is about where we are right now. It is time to start looking at the map and see what we can find out.
I tried this the other day, looking at a map of Iraq, turning it over and over, trying to understand what is happening there. I discovered that the shape of Iraq is really the shape of the human heart.
We have been treating the war as a large, complicated, expensive, and virtually insoluble problem, as a kind of chronic disease we must expect to live with, possibly for the rest of our lives. But what if the war is not the disease, but a symptom?
Iraq seems to be the place where there is a convergence of war and the human heart. The heart is the organ of love, it is meant for love. Yet our hearts are often gripped with fear. Most of us have walked around with fear of one kind or another for all of our lives, without knowing it. But now, we know it. The events of 9/11 have made us aware that we fear. The only thing that will ever remove fear is love.
We are made by, for, and of love. When the war inside ends in love, then the war outside will have served its purpose. It will end in a win-win situation for the human race.
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