Gaining perspective from afar

Does America have a moral obligation to be the defender of oppressed sectors of other nations?

By Molly T. Marshall

Over the past two weeks, I have read of Miley’s shenanigans, the lawsuit on NFL concussions and the possibility that the U.S. might use military force in Syria — all from the perspective of the Bangkok Post. We do not look so good from a distance.

The decadence of American culture can prove embarrassing, and people wonder if Christianity has any real purchase in our land, as we are purportedly a “Christian nation.”

Scantily clad singers or a sport that sanctions out-of-control violence somehow reduces human bodies to instruments of exploitation. No matter that provocative singers wear a cross or that football players cross themselves. Such symbolism is subjugated to the idols of sex, money and power.

Then there is the proposed targeted strike to avenge, or at least teach a stringent lesson to, those who have employed chemical weapons against their own populace, with a death toll of around 1,400. Thus killing to upbraid killing is proffered as helpful, which makes little logical sense.

My Asian friends had interesting responses to this potential scenario. Their questions were perceptive. Is this simply another instance of America seeking to control others? Is America trying to stimulate its economy by ginning up its war machine? If it is truly interested in defending children, why does it not focus on the poor, uninsured in its own land? Is this proposed strike really for humanitarian purposes?

My responses were vague and unformed as I struggle with finding a balanced viewpoint, informed by the Prince of Peace.

Is there a road to Damascus for the U.S. that does not exacerbate the very tenuous regional equilibrium? Obviously, I have more questions than answers, along with my interlocutors from Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan.

I also have a divided mind about constructive moral options for addressing the wrenching deaths of those asphyxiated by sarin. Intelligence has discovered that Syria possesses a huge stockpile of chemical weapons of mass destruction stored across the nation — supposedly a defense against Israel’s weaponry.

In a world of tyranny promulgated by fallen, sinful people, Christians have long struggled with whether “bearing arms” can resolve deeply conflicted situations. Ross Douthat, in his typically acerbic prose, wrote: “I know that Thomas Aquinas wouldn’t endorse a war for American credibility.”

I wonder about the role America has come to play in the world order, with our military’s near monopoly on global force. Do we have a moral obligation to be the defender of oppressed sectors of other nations?

Promoting democratic aspirations through intervention can be seen as a new form of colonialism rather than principled collaboration. When the Pax Americana is imposed, more carnage usually ensues. The destroyers poised in the eastern Mediterranean, armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, pose grave threat to civilians as well as military forces in Syria.

While my brothers and father never saw military service, my late husband fought proudly in the Second World War, believing it to be the honorable thing to do given the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thus, this is not a screed against all forms of armed defense.

Still, global leadership may not require American presence in the affairs of others, especially if it is really about global dominance over waning super-powers.

Our President and Congress are in an unenviable position as they sift options. The liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer regularly calls by name those charged with governance, praying for them as an act of worship. I have found myself practicing this discipline as this newest international crisis is unfolding.

Grant, O God, that our President, Barack Obama, Secretary of State, John Kerry, and congressional leaders will have the wisdom that comes from above. Come to their assistance as they deliberate action; make haste to help them find the right pathway in a world groaning with suffering and malice. And may your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. I offer this prayer in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.


OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.