How can one fight to produce peace? How can one win a war without causing more wars in the future? These questions hit me, as funny as it may be, while I was listening to a song by Wilco recently. I had probably listened to this song about 20 times before the significance of these lines hit me, which doesn’t say much for my intelligence, as these are almost the only words in the whole song.
Anyway, the lines that grabbed me came from their 2002 album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot:
…It’s a war on war, it’s a war on war
It’s a war on war, there’s a war on war.
You’re gonna lose, you have to lose
You have to learn how to die… (from “War on War”)
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech on December 10, 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the same issue. He famously said “nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”  He went on to claim, I think rightly, that the foundation of such a nonviolent response is love.
In the immediate context of the African-American struggle for Civil Rights in the USA this meant that “The movement does not seek to liberate Negroes at the expense of the humiliation and enslavement of whites…It seeks to liberate American society and to share in the self-liberation of all the people.”  Violence, as a method to achieve this liberation, is ineffective and immoral because it creates a vicious cycle that thrives on hatred rather than love, destroys community and reduces dialogue to monologue, or in other words, “it seeks to annihilate rather than convert.”
I’d like to side-step the contemporary socio-political implications of such a view, although I think they are significant. Instead, I’d like to reflect briefly on an early proponent of this non-violent ethic: Jesus. In his famous Sermon on the Mount he says things like “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” This self-giving for the “other,” even those “others” who do not seem deserving, is a radical position but it is this response that has the potential to give life to both parties. Significantly though, Jesus didn’t just preach this, he lived it and, indeed, died it.
Collectively, we humans are indeed a violent and oppressive people. The Bible testifies to the fact that the world and people today are broken…if we needed any evidence for this outside of our own experience. How could God overcome our oppression and violence without resorting to (and propagating) violence and oppression? How could God reconcile the broken world to himself in a way that maintained dialogue and thrived on love?
He had to learn how to die. And that is precisely what he did. In the person of Jesus, God became human and died to free us from such vicious cycles of brokenness. In addition to the metaphysical aspects of sin and redemption, Jesus also serves as our example, the paradigm of how we are to love others so much that we die for them, giving ourselves for others rather than forcing others to give themselves for us.
It is a war on war, at least insofar as war is the culmination of human brokenness. As Wilco said “you have to learn how to die if you wanna, wanna be alive.” I think Jesus agrees.
 The text and recordings of MLK Jr.’s two Nobel Prize speeches can be found at http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/.
 This quote and the point below are made in MLK Jr.’s Nobel Prize lecture on Dec. 11, 1964.
 Matthew 5:38-41