Tuesday, March 20, 2012

God have mercy on Robert Bales' victims, and on Bales himself

This post discusses the shootings in Afghanistan that left 16 Afghans dead. I would like to make three points.

First, the Western media hasn't named the victims. When we pray for them, God surely knows their names, but it's a bit less personal. Now, the Afghan government might not have released their names. But journalists would do well to find out. It's harder for us to muster compassion for an abstract class of people. But, may God have mercy on the victims and on Bales himself.

Second, America has started to reflect on what may have driven Bales. This is good. But perhaps we should also reflect on what drives Afghans, and others, to kill in acts of terrorism. It is wrong to kill civilians deliberately, and Christians and Muslims have established criteria for just wars that al-Queda most emphatically did not meet. But we are occupying Afghan soil. We have killed civilians inadvertently - but that inflicts very real costs on Afghans. People lose their children. People are orphaned. Do we think it matters to them that the deaths were accidental? Would we like heavily armed men and women patrolling our streets, enforcing curfews and searching houses? To empathize with Afghans, and Iraqis, does not mean condoning acts of terrorism. But Christ would demand empathy. It would help us understand why some hate us. It would maybe get us to put more effort into non-military efforts in Afghanistan - not that that's a panacea.

Third, I do not believe that God can bless any wars. Even wars that are potentially justifiable. People die. People break, and they kill civilians. People are left broken, physically, mentally and spiritually by warfare. The sixteen dead Afghans should be playing in the fields, or caring for their children, or whatever - except that they were massacred. Bales should be able to go home and raise his own children - except that he killed wantonly, and will most likely face the death penalty (or maybe life in prison, and in the military that's probably going to be even harsher than in the civilian world). Bales still committed murder, responsibility falls on him personally, and he must pay for it. But political leaders who send their troops lightly into combat also bear responsibility. 

Too many politicians in the US make loose talk of war. They act as if belligerence is their core doctrine. They act as if God has given this country the right to do so, and they act as if God is sanctioning war. I don't mean to turn this into a partisan screed, but I think one can objectively say that a lot of those politicians in the US are Republicans, and that they are wrong.

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