Sunday, January 06, 2008

God on Both Sides of Charlie Wilson's War

"Charlie Wilson's War" is an excellent film. I hope Aaron Sorkin keeps writing great scripts about current politics. He has some grasp of complexity.

One of the key complexities was that evangelical Christians were rallying political support to pay Israelis to arm Muslim fundamentalists to fight communists. Joanne Herring, the Houston socialiate who pushes Congressman Wilson to arm the Afghan mujaheddin does so as a Christian crusader for religious freedom -- that is why she is anti-communist. Gust Avrakotos, the CIA agent brokering the deal, urges her to tone down the religion, lest the latent religious contradictions of the whole house of cards be fatally exposed. Mrs. Herring argues that she is persuasive because God is on her side. Avrakotos counters that that works until God is on both sides.

"Charlie Wilson's War" is an ironic film, but it doesn't hit you over the head with it. Politically informed viewers know that those same weapons that we gave the mujaheddin to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan later armed the Taliban. The political conclusion of the film -- and this is a political film much more than it is a religious one -- is that our semi-secret proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan was a great war, and was instrumental in ending the Soviet empire and winning the Cold War. But then we allowed Afghanistan to fall to the crazies because we didn't follow through with rebuilding the country when we could have.

The religious point, though, is equally important. Sometimes we need to fight wars to oppose great evils. But when we clothe our wars in God's mantle, we invite our enemies to do the same -- to the great corruption of their faith as well as our own.

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