On Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, Catholics, Christians of other denominations, and women and men of good will observed a day of prayer and fasting in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, at the invitation of Pope Francis.
During the late 1920s, as the world economy careened headlong toward an economic disaster that would soon befall it, a group of European thinkers and critics steeped in both German idealism and Marxist activism converged on Frankfurt, Germany to provide identity and notoriety for the recently established Institute for Social Research at the university there.
Within time, the assemblage of now famous philosophers and cultural theorists associated with the institute, such as Juergen Habermas, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, and Erich Fromm, came to be known as the Frankfurter Schule (“Frankfurt School”).
It is impossible for me to watch the footage of the children killed by chemical weapons in Syria without feeling a lack of coherence with the world. We were not meant for this. They … they were not meant for this. Their parents were not meant for this. The world was not meant for this. Breath, the source of life, was turned against these children. Their lungs were filled with death.
In his When War Is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking, theologian John Howard Yoder asks, “Can the criteria function in such a way that in a particular case a specified cause, or a specified means, or a specified strategy or tactical move could be excluded? Can the response ever be ‘no’?” (Orbis 1996, p. 3) In my judgment, the present crisis in Syria is indeed a particular case where a just war response is “no.”
Being a pacifist and an American is virtually impossible. Typically, the peace and justice community focus on violence issues, human trafficking, and other visible forms of oppression. They come out against war and unsanctioned military engagement (which is basically the status quo in the global capitalist empire: instead of war, we have police action). All of these things are unjust and need to be opposed, but ultimately they are the blood dripping from wound that we keep wiping up without recognizing their source: global capitalism.
I don’t know precisely when I first met Jean Elshtain. I think it was in the summer of 1995, in Swift Hall, home of the University of Chicago Divinity School. I must have been told of her arrival by one of the faculty. I know I talked to her in the corridor, that most important of places to ambush your teachers, and decided after that chat, that I would sit in on her class that Fall term—entitled, as I remember it, “Beginnings.”