Saturday, June 30, 2012

What We're Saying When We Drop Bombs

Do you remember how it felt to see news reports from the Middle East after 9/11? While we were shocked and sad and heartbroken, there were videos of people in Afghanistan burning the American flag and cheering that the twin towers had fallen.

Do you remember how it felt to see news reports from Washington D.C. after the U.S. took out Osama bin Laden? Joyful Americans took to the streets dancing, laughing, and proudly singing the National Anthem.

Forever in my mind, I'll be saddened that the towers fell and relieved that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat, but I can't help but see parallels between these two events. I suppose joy and anguish all depend on which side of the world you are on, because leaders in America speak of "Muslim extremists" while people in Iraq call U.S. leaders "Christian extremists." Whose right? Maybe we both are. Maybe we both aren't. Because aren't we all declaring war and asking for God's blessing? And does the country that God loves best always win the war?

Lately, I've seen a few American-made war movies and I think, "I wonder what would happen if the other side could tell their story." I'm well-aware of the American narrative, but what if a little kid in Vietnam had a couple million dollars like Stephen Spielberg. What kind of story would they tell?"

I don't like war. I don't want people to die. I don't wish for the pain and suffering that pervades a community long after the ammunition is gone. I hate that innocent people died on 9/11. I hate that innocent people continue to die in Iraq. I mourn lives that are lost, no matter what their country of origin.

When I was younger, I always pictured the United States as the "good guys" and everyone else as the "bad guys." It's this narcissism that perpetuates the belief that being American means never having to say you're sorry.  I've been thinking about war more and more since I've been reading Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution. I love how creatively and compassionately he talks about Iraq war and love and peace. He made  several visits to Iraq after 9/11 and brought with him a fresh perspective that I doubt many Americans have to think about, including myself. 

Claiborne writes: "Looking back now, I am embarassed at how surprised I was to find friends and family in Baghdad. It was as if I thought Iraq was filled with Osama bin Ladens and Saddam Husseins, and not with families and children just like ours."(208)

He was also surprised to find so many Christians. He talked with an Iraqi minister who said: " "Yes, my friend, this is where it all began. This is the land of your ancestors. That is the Tigris river, and the Euphrates. Have you read about them?" I was floored by my ignorance and by the ancient roots of my faith. It is the land of my ancestors. Christianity was not invented in America. He went on to tell me that the church in the Middle East was deeply concerned about the church in the United States: "Many Americans are for this war. Many Christians." "

He talks about attending an Iraqi child's backyard birthday party with balloons and cakes and bombs dropping nearby: the tension obvious, the resilience palpable. The children nervously continued to play, the adults looked anxiously at the horizon, but they pressed on, because they had to. 

Claiborne came to a hospital in Iraq when he needed care and found bed after bed of children who had been injured or killed in the bombings: "I saw a little girl shaking in her bed, asking over and over, "What did I do to America? What did I do to America?" " And a doctor who asked Claiborne: "Why is your government doing this? Why did they bomb the children's ward? We will still take care of you even though you are American. We are all human beings." " If we don't see each other as fellow human beings with families and stories and hopes and dreams, it's easier to "other", to label, to criticize, to hate, and to bomb.

This idea is similar to what Clairborne writes about Timothy McVeigh, the worst domestic terrorist Americans have ever seen: "McVeigh served in the Army and returned horrified, crazy, dehumanized asking a lot of these same questions in his essays, "Do people think that government workers in Iraq are any less human than those in Oklahoma City? Do they think that Iraqis don't have families who will grieve and mourn the loss of their loved ones? Do people believe that the killing of foreigners is somehow different than the killing of Americans?" He bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in hopes that complacent Americans could see what "collateral damage" looks like and cry out against bloodshed everywhere, even Iraq. Instead, the government that had trained him to kill, killed him, to teach the rest of us that it is wrong to kill." (261)

Every time we use military force to bring about changes in the world, we are teaching our children that while killing is wrong, it's okay if it's done because they hit you first. We perpetuate the myth that violence can be an instrument for good, which implies that we are always good and we are the ones who are allowed to use violence.

In my mind, the question isn't, "Who is right in war?" We can squabble for the next few centuries about who did this and who dropped that bomb. But what if the question wasn't who is right, but whose life is valued? Is an American life better or more valuable than an Iraqi's life? Have we gotten so trigger-happy, so convinced that our way is the only way, that we can justify killing fellow human beings because we've decided that we are superior?

Clairborne met a solider who had returned from Iraq deeply disturbed, he said, "I just risked my life for the American dream, and I am not even sure I believe in it anymore. And I am pretty sure that the world cannot afford it."


Mindy said...

Have you checked out the work the FCNL is doing in regards to this?

War is not the answer.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day. It read, "Who would Jesus bomb?"

When it comes to sardonic humor, it doesn't get much better/
grim/honest than that.


Heather said...

Thanks, Mindy. I will surely check out FCNL. Thanks for educating me about so many important things.