I felt awful when we went to war in Afghanistan. I marched, I shouted, I chanted, I wrote, I plead, I preached, I prayed, I cried, I protested. And then we went in there are started killing poor people.
I felt awful when we went to war in Iraq. I raged, I accused, I fumed, I marched, I wrote, I prayed, I preached, I cried, I vented. And then we went in there are started killing poor people.
Afterward, I kept volunteering and marching and writing, protesting and preaching. I took classes in conflict management and nonviolence. I worked for the Eyes Wide Open exhibit and other programs. I felt that, ok, at least I can work on myself. I told myself that, and maybe it was/is true.
But we kept killing, and killing, and killing. Of the first fifty precision strikes in Iraq, carried out with the smartest of smart weapons, ZERO hit their intended target. Instead those precision weapons fell in villages and towns and Baghdad neighborhoods, and hospitals began to flood with shrieking and weeping mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and daughters and sons, holding the shattered remains of their loved ones in their arms.
They were collateral damage.
So maybe you believe the study by epidemiologists in The Lancet who estimate that 665,000 have died since our invasion. Or maybe you believe the Bush administration’s estimate of 30,000, or whatever it is.
So you take our collective agony over the VTech murders, and you multiply it by twenty thousand, or maybe just one thousand, and you get some idea of what we’re inflicting on other people, right now, this very instant. Does this make one better than the other, or less horrible? Not to me. Can you actually quantify suffering? Nope. I’m speaking rhetorically. Both situations are infinitely horrific. Both are immeasurably wrong. Every human life is beyond value, and to have that life snuffed out by violence is a tragedy, every single time.
There are those who argue that its worth it. Its all in the name of freedom. How many corpses does freedom cost? It doesn’t seem to matter to most of our decision-makers, as long as they’re Iraqi or Afghanistani corpses. We only count the American dead and wounded, and even then, we aren’t allowed to see their caskets when they come home. And we don’t officially count the dead contractors at all. Much less do we keep any kind of records of Iraqi dead. It takes a team of epidemiologists to give us any insight into what is actually happening, or independent recording of reported deaths from innumerable sources. I doubt we’ll ever know beyond vague estimates. I don’t think we have the collective will, the stomach, the courage to dig through the rubble and really look at what we’ve done.
We’re shocked by VTech because murder is horrible. Massacre is horrific on any scale. We mourn because they feel close to us. Because they are Americans. We can imagine them, in classrooms, gunned down. They are people we might have met, might have known; or did meet and did know.
But those other people, in Iraq and Afghanistan, are somehow just numbers. Those innocent dead are collateral damage. Those innocent dead are part of the cost of a higher good.
I called this post Good Friday because we humans are so good at Good Friday. Nailing up Christs every day, every hour. We do it to each other, we do it to people we’ve never met who have done absolutely nothing to us. Sometimes we mourn and grieve afterwards, but then it happens again. We’ll even pay for it. We’ll go into debt to manufacture Good Fridays all over the world.
We are experts at Good Fridays.
But it takes God to bring Easter out of it all.
I can only hope that, someday, God will make an Easter of all of this, an Easter of all of us. Until then, I find my way forward between blinding rage, despondent paralysis, and despite myself, a glimmer of hope.