On the eve of the Gulf War exactly 23 years ago today, I took a walk in the brisk evening air. As I rounded the curve of Emerald Isle Circle West in our neighborhood, I noticed the scarlet blush in the sky at sunset. With that striking image in mind and an imminent war on the national consciousness, I wrote these words:


The throat of the sky is inflamed,

livid with anger at the war it must swallow,

gagged by the bloodshed which rages in the jaws

of Babylon.

An olive branch on its tongue,

the dove of peace

touches the parched flesh with healing.

constrained by love

which sends streams

into the desert.

January 21, 1991, eve of Gulf War

Mennonites are pacifists, adhering to the tenets of nonresistance: opposed to war, not participating in military service, but sharing love and overcoming evil with good. I am no longer a Mennonite, but I choose peace over war, whenever possible.

Dove of Peace: Mennonite Central Committee logo

Dove of Peace: Mennonite Central Committee logo

On her show last week, Diane Rehm interviewed the former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on the publication of his book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Having served under eight Presidents, Mr. Gates reflected on the hard decisions national leaders must make concerning going to war and keeping the peace. One memorable line from the former Secretary, who often spoke in terms of pros and cons: “We [Americans] over-estimate our ability to shape events in other countries.” At the end of 51 minutes, Diane Rehm concluded the interview with another memorable remark: “I wasn’t supposed to say this on air, but thank you to all who serve.” And the piped in music carried her voice away.

I suppose that’s how I think about war, with ambivalence: I don’t applaud war. Peace is preferable, peace is the goal in all conflict, in my opinion. But when I see a man or woman dressed in a military uniform, often at an airport, I often approach them and say “Thank you” too.

Do you side with either viewpoint about war? Is it hypocritical to embrace both?

Were there war heroes or conscientious objectors in your family history? Inquiring minds want to know.

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