The Beginnings of Christian Reform (22)

Christianity and National Defence

The only defensible war is a war of defence.[1]


One of Adam’s responsibilities in the garden was “to cultivate and keep it”(Gen.2:15). He was to protect Eve, and he was to watch for intruders. Part of his subsequent sin, was a dereliction of responsibility-a sin of omission. Pacificism in the face of a devious or violent enemy is a form of dereliction.

I. God is the Ruler of the Nations:

The first point of a Biblical covenant is an announcement that God is transcendent- the supreme Creator and deliverer of mankind. God is completely superior to and different from men and the world He created, yet He is also present with it: immanent.

Modern states engage in power politics, power balancing, so called “Realpolitik,” to secure manipulative goals that are Biblically illegitimate. A prime example of the Bible’s repudiation of such policies is provided at II Kings 13:14-19, wherein Elisha gave Joash the God-guaranteed opportunity to fully defeat invading Syria in five or six military campaigns (symbolized by Joash driving five or six arrows into the ground, each arrow symbolizing a military victory).

Joash deliberately drove only three arrows into the ground, choosing not to defeat Syria but to keep it intact as a buffer state against Assyria, on the other side of Syria. Joash was playing modern power politics, and Elisha condemned his manipulation in the harshest terms possible (in fact, Elisha was furious with him, vs. 19). In other words, fear of Assyria motivated Joash’s refusal to fear God and do what was right, motivated him to act in terms of international politics and power balances rather than to trust and obey God in the interest of his own people.

His fear of Assyria revealed his disbelief that God alone is sovereign, and was unfounded in light of God’s commandment that all nations, as nations, are to become Christ’s disciples (Ps. 22:27, Isa. 45:22-23, Matt. 28:18-20.[2]

II. God Establishes Legitimate Hierarchies:

The second aspect of a Biblical covenant is that God establishes a hierarchy to enforce His authority on earth.

Sinful man in his presumptions about God, himself and the world he lives in, has generally considered civil government as the most important institution. In doing so, he dismisses or under-estimates the individual, the family and the church, and their role and responsibility in the nation. This is a serious mistake, with implications for defence. Governments have foolishly tended to ignore the Bible, and viewed national defence as a task for professionals, rather than consider the all-important role of militia; of non-professionals.

What is clear, is that

When men [Biblically] were summoned for war, they brought along their weapons. Provisions for the army were raised from the people themselves (Jud. 20:10). The [poll] tax was not needed for the prosecution of war… (p.231). The military was not necessarily a state function over against a Church function in the Old Covenant. Indeed, holy war was a specifically priestly function. The torching of cities is to be understood as taking God’s fire off from His altar and applying His holy fiery wrath to His enemies. Thus, the torched cities were called “whole burnt sacrifices” in the Hebrew Old Testament (Dt. 13:16; Jud. 1:17; 20:40, in Hebrew)… The sword of the state executes according to the judgments rendered by the priests… Thus, the military duty is priestly, and a duty of every believer-priest. Both Church and state are involved in it, since the Church must say whether the war is just and holy, and the state must organize the believer-priests for battle… In Christianity, however, the focal point of civilization is not the state, as it is in paganism, but worship in the presence of God, organized by the Church.[3]

North’s comments here are also helpful:

There were no restrictions in the Mosaic law regarding the private ownership of weapons. Here we see a unique aspect of the Mosaic law. Citizens, tribes, cities and even strangers were allowed to possess weaponry that the king, as the nation’s commander of God’s holy army, was not allowed to own. This was another aspect of the decentralised political order under the Mosaic law…the Mosaic law was silent with regard to privately owned weapons. The general principle of the Mosaic law was analogous to the law in Eden: that which was not explicitly prohibited by law or a principle of the law was legal.[4]

A People Numerous and Armed:

The idea of a Christian society being made up of an armed, skilled populace, actually has deep historical roots. Alfred the Great codified the laws of England in the 9th Century, often resorting to Biblical law in order to do so. Alfred applied the Deuteronomic laws of kings that forbad a standing army (Deut. 17), and as a result developed a national defence based on militia:                                                                                                                                       

By the Saxon laws, every freeman of an age capable of bearing arms, and not incapacitated by any bodily infirmity, was in case of a foreign invasion, internal insurrection, or other emergency, obliged to join the army…[5]

Tyrants have always been suspicious of armed, independent subjects; it is in their nature to suppress the liberties of individuals. Charles II sought to disarm Protestants, and one of the early attempts of Britain to move against dissident Americans prior to the War of Independence, was when the British Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, General Gage, sought to stop armed protest by confiscating American stores of arms in September 1774.[6] Two months before the battles of Lexington and Concord, the British sent Colonel Leslie with 240 men to seize arms and ammunition which the rebels had stored in Salem.[7]

It was this attitude that prompted James Madison, the Father of the [U.S.] Constitution to write, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.”

What is clear from history, is that well-armed and determined locals can make it extremely difficult for an invading force to hold territory. The raw fire-power of an invader is only one aspect of warfare. A local population, angry and indignant at an invading force, will be resourceful, perseverant and tireless in their resistance. It was an American Revolutionary, Samuel Adams who said “it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

This is what the British found in their conflict with the Americans (1776-1783).[8] One frustrated British officer, speaking of the American’s guerilla strategy, wrote to his sister, that “as the rascals are skulking about the whole country, it is impossible to move with any degree of safety without a pretty large escort, and even then you are exposed to a dirty kind of tiraillerie (sniper-fire).” [9]

A dispassionate economic and geographic consideration of the U. S. War of Independence can quickly show that as long as the Americans were able to avoid a large-scale confrontation with the well-trained British army, but were able to consistently frustrate and harass them, the odds would be in favour of the rebels.

The British and their allies were fascinated by the rebel militia. Poorly trained and badly led, often without bayonets…the Revolutionary militia was much more than a military joke, and perhaps the British came to understand that better than did many Americans themselves. The militia enforced law and maintained order wherever the British army did not, and its presence made the movement of smaller British formations dangerous. Washington never ceased complaining about his militia—about their undependability, their indiscipline, their cowardice under fire—but from the British viewpoint, rebel militia was one of the most troublesome and predictable elements in a confusing war. The militia nullified every British attempt to impose royal authority short of using massive armed force. The militia regularly made British light infantry, German Jager, and Tory raiders pay a price, whatever the cost to the militia itself, for their constant probing, foraging, and marauding. The militia never failed in a real emergency to provide reinforcements and even reluctant draftees for the State and Continental regular forces. From the British viewpoint, the militia was the virtually inexhaustible reservoir of rebel military manpower, and it was also the sand in the gears of the [British] pacification machine.[10]

And what was the ultimate outcome?

The war was won by the militias. The militias did not deal in direct shoot-outs between massed formations. They shot the Redcoats down from a distance. It was hit-and run-warfare. It tied the Redcoats down in coastal cities. They dared not come inland.[11]

The Boer guerrilla strategy was surprisingly successful against the British from 1899-1902, when the Boers fought against remarkable odds. In the Russo-Finnish War of 1939-1940, the Finnish army followed suit:

In battles from Ladoga Karelia all the way north to the Arctic port of Petsamo, the Finns used guerrilla tactics. The Red Army was superior in numbers and materiel, but the Finns used the advantages of speed, tactics, and economy of force.[12] What was astonishing was not that Russia won; what was astonishing was that it took them three-and-a-half months to do so… The Finnish army may have been motley, but they were perfectly suited for the landscape – many were farmers from the region, and they fought a guerrilla war not unlike that of Indochina 25 years later.

Despite an appalling lack of arms, they used what little material they had brilliantly. Their commanders were resourceful; their strategy was sound; their ability to hold their tide against a million Russian soldiers with all their airplanes, tanks, and firepower was a miracle.[13]

And this is what the Americans found to their loss, in Viet Nam, from 1964-1975.

“You know, you never defeated us in the battlefield,” said the American colonel. The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. “That may be so, he replied, but it is also irrelevant.”[14]

Did the U. S. learn anything? It was the most powerful nation in the world, with overwhelming air and naval superiority. But the stiff opposition of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, the protracted, guerilla-style nature of the war, and growing public opposition at home, meant that the U.S. ultimately had to make an ignominious withdrawal with a massive bill, having lost 58,000 soldiers.

Before Agincourt [against the English in 1415], there were things the French might profitably have learned about long bows, but didn’t bother because chivalry didn’t concern itself with peasants. It was the glory of the thing, not whether they were committing suicide. English generals killed 20,000 young Brits in one day at the Somme [in 1916]; they hadn’t compared the ideas in their heads with then-current military reality (such as that infantry charges over long distances against massed machine guns, artillery, and barbed wire are not especially productive, unless you manufacture embalming fluid).…

A consequence is a tendency for militaries of the First World to gravely overestimate themselves, and thus underestimate their enemies. This is why they usually expect wars to be far shorter and cheaper than they turn out to be.[15]

This is what the Americans (who clearly learnt nothing from the Viet Nam debacle), are continuing to find in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan. An armed and determined local opposition makes the financial and human cost of mounting and maintaining an invasion prohibitive. (Reportedly, in 2009 it costs U.S. $330,000 annually to keep one U.S. soldier in the field in Iraq.)

The resident population does not have to launch a frontal assault on their enemy in order to be perpetually making their life difficult; the residents can utilise the advantages of having local support and surprise, while the invader can never be sure if he is going to face a sniper from a roof-top, have a road-side bomb explode next to his vehicle, or a grenade being thrown into his sleeping quarters. And every year the bills keep coming in.

The guerilla has limited resources. He has to wage a war of attrition against invaders. His tools are the tools of low intensity warfare: sniper rifles, land mines, spies, propaganda materials, confidence in his cause, and an extremely long-range time perspective. [16]

Even when Israel was engaged in a civil war (II Sam.17-18), the soldiers had to be sustained privately. The public purse was off-limits even for the king, who had to be provided for while in the field by rich supporters (see II Sam.17:27-29; 19:31-32).

This national defence strategy of a well-armed and extensively prepared militia, has been the Swiss means of defence for hundreds of years, and they have never been successfully invaded. Even though Switzerland had a common border with Germany, when Hitler (the most aggressive European leader since Napoleon), conquered and dominated most of Europe in 1939-41, he left Switzerland alone. Switzerland has been free from war since 1815.

When the Swiss defeated a referendum which would have restricted the public ownership of guns in February 2011, one writer commented that “it’s good to know that there remains a modern, sophisticated democracy that has not given in to the irrational, fearful, anti-factual, gun-ban mentality. Trusting ordinary, law-abiding citizens with guns is a sign of a free country, one in which the people are truly the sovereigns and not the subjects of the government.”[17]

[1] G.K. Chesterton, “Autobiography,” 1937.

[2] Martin Selbrede, “National Defence and the Bible,” Chalcedon Foundation website, 2009.

[3] James Jordan, “The Law of the Covenant,” 1984, p.231 ff.

[4] Gary North, “Restoration and Dominion,” 2012, p.27.

[5] Francis Grose, Military Antiquities Respecting a History of the British Army, from the Conquest to the Present Time, 2 vol. (London: Egerton and Kearsley, 1801), 1:1. (The two above para. quoted in Joel McDurmon, “Bring Your Guns to Church,” American Vision website, 24/4/2010.)

[6] Source: Wikipedia.

[7] John Whitehead, “Everyday People and the American Revolution,” Rockwell website, 3/7/2012.

[8] “It was in the South during Lord Cornwallis’s long meandering march up and down that the American militia began to come into its own. The Americans won only one battle of any consequence, Cowpens, but they so bled the British by their constant harassment that the exploits of Sumter, Pickens, Morgan, and Marion are prime examples of guerrilla warfare.” Marina, W. F., “Militia, Standing Armies, and the Second Amendment: Some Perspectives from the American Revolution.” July 1, 1975.

[9] James Murray, 25/2/1777. Quoted in Cohen, M., & Major, J., “A History of Quotations,” 2006, p.506.

[10] Marina, W., “Revolution and Social Change: the American Revolution as a People’s War,” in Liggio, L., “Literature of Liberty,” April/June, 1978, Vol.1, no.2, [1978].

[11] Gary North, “How the Revolutionaries won the American Revolution: a Politically Incorrect view with Applications for Today,” 3/12/2010.

[12] Source: Wikipedia

[13] “A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-40,” by William Trotter.

[14] A conversation in Hanoi in April, 1975, quoted in “On Strategy,” by Colonel H. Summers.

[15] Fred Reed, “Surprised by Disaster,”, 27/10/09.

[16] Gary North, “Millennianism and Social Theory,” 1990, p.290.

[17] Lorne Gunter, in the “National Post,” Canada, (quoted in ‘Swiss Voters Turn Back Gun Control Referendum,’ “The New American,” 16/2/2011).

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