Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Vietnam ... Afghanistan ... Next ... ?
Charles V. Weber was at the peak of his career when I launched into pastoral ministry. I never forgot my first encounter of listening to him deliver his series on “Living Out of the Overflow;” I was an eighteen year-old college freshman and appreciated his ministry ever thereafter. It also seems that Pastor Weber never forgot a certain San Diego parishioner that struggled with guilt throughout his adult life resulting from his experience as a GI in the South Pacific.
One day, the young GI topped a hill while on patrol. Approaching from the opposite side of the hill was a startled Japanese soldier. As the oriental youth dropped his rifle and raised his hands in surrender, the American soldier responded with “immediate and automatic” response: he lowered his rifle-bayonet, rammed it into the chest of his enemy, and watched him die (COGPF Newsletter, Winter 2009).
Reading that story brought to mind CNN reports I encountered recently, which gripped me with rapt attention - “Killings at the Canal.” After obtaining 23 ½ hours of taping, CNN aired stories on the three decorated American Army Sergeant’s charged in the assassination of four Iraqi prisoners
These young Americans, hardly more than boys, now face decades (reduced from life) of incarceration at Fort Leavenworth Penitentiary. A young bride lost the life she anticipated spending with her beloved, the victim of his tragedy. One single incident of war obliterated normality for several people forever.
These young lives might aptly be called casualties--the collateral damage--of the failed policies of war. The unanswered question asked by the CNN Reporter was “When does a soldier cross the line from being a soldier to a murderer?”
As we struggle nationally to determine a politically right and wrong way to relate to Afghanistan, I suggest the question asked by the CNN Reporter was the wrong question. Crucial to global relationships today is a consideration of when does war over cross the line from being wrong to becoming right?
Two recent presidents, George H.W. and George Bush Jr., found just causes for involving America in war abroad. Now we struggle with the cancerous moral malaise faced by President Lyndon Johnson when he attempted to justify the political pursuits begun by his predecessors in dealing with Vietnam.
When one studies the political intrigue and economic involvement of earlier wars, going back as far as World War One, we find ourselves still confronted by underlying political intrigue that leaves us still questioning “when is it ever right to violate our enemy through military violence?”
The two unfortunate incidents that introduce this article further substantiate what I have personally observed about wartime casualties and the lives of returned veterans. For years I have observed the guilt and turmoil, which we now neatly package medically as post traumatic syndrome, not to mention the brain disorders, and the broken bodies that support prostheses.
We were not created for the violence of maiming, warring, and killing. Although many veterans avoid becoming warped personalities, many do not escape. Needing our help, they never escape the nightmares and other horrors they wish they could forget. Like the young GI, they do with “immediate and automatic” precision that which they were trained to do, and forever suffer the undeserved hangover of guilt, anguish, and pain.
For America to continue to support its industrial-military complex with its huge economic benefits is to "enjoy life on blood money.” We cannot desensitize ourselves to the wrongness of war and not reap the whirlwinds of economic abuse, physical violence, and shattered relationships. We must return to the ways of peace, partnership, and people described by the one man in history (Jesus)who’s greatest fault became his unflinching refusal to compromise; he more than any other inspires others after 2 millennia.
No one else can make that claim, but no one ever “loved” as he “lived.” We need more living and loving and less hating and hurting,