Editorial: Peace in a warring world?
When Richard Nixon won the US election in 1968, the Vietnam war had continued for 13 years. His campaign promised ‘peace with honour’, but as President he failed to bring negotiations with the north Vietnamese to a resolution.
So he gave the north a deadline of 1 November 1969 to make ‘major progress’ in their talks or face ‘measures of the greatest consequence’. He did not actually intend nuclear genocide, but told his advisers: ‘I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I would do anything.’ His tactical display of unhinged unpredictability came to be known as the madman theory.
Nixon raised the US military’s alert status and put 176 nuclear bombers on standby – the number known to be involved in the US nuclear attack plan. He appeared uncontrollable in a meeting with the Soviet ambassador. In 26 October, he sent 18 nuclear bombers to patrol the border of Soviet air space.
This is a story I’m sure I should have known already, but heard this week on Atomic Hobo, a podcast about the history of the nuclear threat which has suddenly become less historical. I found it gave some helpful perspective to Mr Putin’s present threats to the west. They are not a first.
The result of President Nixon’s madman theory was, I think, that he provoked a great deal of fear, but failed to get the result he wanted in Vietnam. That failure led to US withdrawal and the surrender of the south in 1975.
I gained a rather different perspective on the Ukraine crisis the other day arranging preaching visits for the coming months. Looking through the lectionary readings one phrase leapt out and perplexed me. ‘Peace I leave with you,’ Jesus says to his followers; ‘my peace I give to you.’ What are we supposed to make of that in a warring world?
Jesus was clearly not promising an end to wars, sieges and nation rising against nation – he foretold their continuance. He hardly envisaged his followers being exempt from violence either.
Is the peace of Christ then a kind of emotional tranquility that we are expected to maintain while around us people’s lives are being devastated? I’m not sure that seems altogether Christlike or even human to me.
I’m having some difficulty picturing what the peace of Christ looks like in a world of diabolical violence.
This article was published in the April 2022 edition of Reform