Casualties of the Iraq War

[1] If truth is the first casualty of war, cynicism must be its last-and most enduring. Sadly, we have seen both in the war in Iraq. No one found WMDs, the stated reason for entering the war. Nor were there any discovered links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The majority of Americans who believed otherwise had been duped by an incantational rhetoric which substituted repetition for truth. Despite the declaration almost three years ago that the mission had been accomplished, our own Secretary of Defense warned earlier this year that this “War on Terror” will be ongoing. I remember Henry Kissinger’s sober assessment of: “We lose by not winning, and the guerrillas win by not losing.”

[2] Yet I think we will recover our ability to tell the truth. We may remember how to demand that it be told. Harder to challenge will be the rising cynicism in public life. After all, lies are told by liars. Good politicians in compromised circumstances at least take responsibility for what they have concealed. Across the board, in red states and blue states alike, a common consensus emerges: there aren’t many good politicians out there. I was struck that a Democratic governor gave this year’s response to the State of the Union message: it was as if no blue politician within the Beltway had any credibility left to do the job. Will cynicism be the sole victor of this war?

[3] As Christians we cannot afford to let that happen. Our task is not only to raise up the next generation of Christians for the church of the 21st Century, but to encourage the next generation of public servants for American public life. Our cynicism, however well-documented and richly deserved, falls hard on youthful ears at a time when talented, idealistic, and prophetic leadership is needed desperately in public life.

[4] I do not counsel uncritical support of whomever is in power. We Lutherans stand after the Garden and before the eschaton. We possess that dangerous ability to value public life without turning it into an idol. We can be calm and non-anxious in the public realm: demanding the facts, deliberating respectfully, and acting with bold humility. Our incarnational commitments demand nothing less.

Martha E. Stortz

Martha E. Stortz is Professor Emerita at Augsburg University, where she held the Bernhard M. Christensen Chair of Religion and Vocation from 2010-2021.  With Rabbi Barry Cytron, she directs the Collegeville Institute’s Multi-Religious Fellows Program.  She writes, speaks, consults, and publishes, most recently, Called to Follow: Journeys in John’s Gospel (Cascade, 2017).