Sunday, January 15, 2012

Peeing on Humanity

When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
(Proverbs 16:7)

Facebook this week was unsettling, as the photo of members of our military urinating on corpses of alleged Taliban members was posted and reposted.  Reactions were strong as people reacted to the image, many feeling it was justified and symbolically spoke to them.  Others were apalled for a variety of reasons, just one of them being the simple truth that this does nothing but give our enemies fuel for the American hatred fire that blazes in their already heated hearts.

I found myself a little sickened, for many reasons...and I know it is likely I will have a most unpopular opinion in this age of war, patriotism, and flag waving.  It has nothing at all to do with not supporting our troops, valuing the sacrifices they and their families make hourly on behalf of all of us, or not recognizing that our enemy...a nebulous one versus wars of the past...has done far worse to our soldiers and civilians of their own countries.

I received a lot of flack for my Facebook post in response to the celebrations held as we became aware of the death of Osama Bin Laden.  However, my inner voice spoke to me in the same way as when I viewed  this recent photo...that our thirst for vengeance, our desire for the blood of our enemies, and our celebratory dances do nothing, really, but point out how easy it is for us to become just like them.

War dehumanizes us all, on either side of the fence. 

As a person who identifies with a God that loves what God has created...all that God has is impossible to rejoice at the death or humiliation of another of God's created persons.  We begin to see men, women, and children...and yes, the warriors as well, as "expendible targets" or a "justifiable casualty".  Oh, we might find compassion in our hearts for the folks we label as "innocent" in a conflict, the mom at the market whose life is lost as a car bomb goes off nearby, or the child held in the sobbing father's arms as that child's life slowly leaves his earthly body as his mutilated foot dangles from a barely attached leg. 

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Somehow though, we forget that the enemy warrior is human as well, he is someone's husband, father, son. He is God's child too.  That warrior feels as committed to his cause and as justified in his actions as our warriors do in ours.  We cry out in vehement rage when the naked bodies of our fallen soldiers are dragged through the streets of Somalia, being spat upon...and we call those who do such things "unholy savages".  We are offended, we are further filled with a righteous sense of anger and it fuels our mission as nothing else will. 

And yet when we commit similar acts upon the fallen of our enemy, we find it so easy to say "Serves them right!".  The only reason we say that is because at the moment, for that battle, we were the victors.  Reverse the roles and make our soldiers the victims, and we can't fathom why our enemies would desecrate a body in such a way.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  (Matthew 5:44,45)

War changes any participant.  It also changes the bystanders.  We become hardened and calloused, we fail to see the gift of life that is bestowed upon all living things.  Warriors are trained to depersonalize the enemy in battle, for if they are unable to emotionally distance themselves, they can not perform the job they are called upon to do.  Our unwillingness to recognize this, as the people who call our armed services into action, makes it impossible for us to then recognize and offer appropriate help to the returning soldiers who are forever changed by their experiences in war.  A sensitivity toward our fellow man is not something that can be turned on and off like a lightswitch.  Soldiers come home unable to relate to their wives and children, unable to view life in the ways they once did.  They did their jobs admirably, but they are never the same.

Imagine, if you would for just a moment, that those uniforms in that photo were reversed.  Imagine that some wife or mother here in Minneaoplis, or Houston, or Hartford is seeing a member of the Taliban urinating on her son or husband.  Would we be cheering that?  Or would we see it as an atrocity?

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).

As much as we'd love to view ourselves as the World's Super Heroes whose soldiers are incapable of the sorts of heinous acts that we hear our enemy commiting, we too are just as capable of being the ones dragging the bodies through the streets and spitting on them.  We too are unable to escape the inevitable process of dehumanization of our enemy, for it makes the killing into a sport, and makes it palatable to those who initially might have felt it almost impossible to pull a trigger.  We think that our soldiers are somehow immune to the sorts of actions we see reported that our enemy commits.  They are not.  Like it or not, we do not own the moral high ground any more than any of our enemies ever did.  It just makes us feel more justified to imagine us so.

There is only one-way in which one can endure man's inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one's own life, to exemplify man's humanity to man. - Alan Paton

How many innocents did we kill in Nagasaki?  Hiroshima?  What about the Trail of Tears?  Slavery, Mai Lai, and yes...Iraq and Afghanistan....  We, as a people, have overstepped throughout history just as badly as others in foreign lands have.  We too have sometimes gone too far, we have no right to hold ourselves up as the Moralists of War, and we see how every participant is changed and hardened...and sometimes led to do things they might never conceive of under different circumstances.  It is THAT which gives me great heartache, that our young men and woman lose part of their own humanity.  That is what urinating on our enemy represents to me.  It is not that urination on a corpse is the worst we could do...but it is an indicator of the rapid descent into evil that comes from failing to see how our very souls are being lost.  It leads to parading the dead in the streets, or strapping them to the fronts of jeeps to put on display.  Although the following are graphic examples, it is important for us to see just what we are capable of when that aforementioned descent is not halted:

and then check out the photos that go with the above claims/article:

Any google search can bring up hundreds of images of the ways in which dehumanizing our enemy leads from something seemingly as relatively benign as urinating on a corpse leads to committing acts against real, live humans that would truly sicken any of us.  That occurs on both sides of any battle.

I understand that killing occurs in war.  I am not really a total pacifist, and recognize that sometimes we have no choice but to stand and fight.  I do not personally think that our current conflict in Afghanistan or our recently ended one in Iraq were the wisest moves that we as a nation could have made.  It came at an extremely high cost, both monetarily and in terms of lives lost.  And I do mean lives lost on both sides, as there were far more innocent Iraqi and Afghani  lives lost than we could ever justify.  Ever.  That does not mean that I don't have the deepest respect for our soldiers, tens of thousands of whom were called upon to do a job, and performed it admirably and with honor. 

Abel’s blood cries out “vengeance”---Jesus’ blood cries out “mercy”.  -Jacquelyn K. Heasley

I can not respect the acts of disrespect displayed by the soldiers in the photo depicted peeing on humanity.  That is not the picture of a US American soldier that I want to carry in my mind.  The ones I would prefer to see are the photos of our soldiers playing with Iraqi children in the streets, protecting the innocents as they can in situations, working hand in hand with local leaders in an effort to bring peace to the area and end the years long conflict.   No, I don't forget the photos of our own men, bodies broken and torn apart, rifles propped in the ground with helmets of our fallen resting upon them.

But does peeing on our enemy really do much to change that?  Does it reflect the values we as Americans hold, and hope our soldiers carry into battle as well?  Or is it an act of immaturity, disrespect for life, and a sign that several soldiers felt the need to prove their superiority in a way that showed only how weak they really are..that they gave in to their baser urges that afternoon.

I don't wish that it were American soldiers lying out on the ground in that photo, and am grateful that the lives of our men were spared.  I wish that they could have walked away feeling that gratitude rather than reveling in the death of others.

Violence as a way of achieving justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.—Martin Luther King



Anonymous said...

Hi, Cindy!
Good posting, per usual! All the way through, I kept thinking, and she wonders what good her theological training has done her ..... You are every bit as much in ministry with your postings here, and the work you do with your children, as anyone who is called to a pulpit! God grant you all you need to continue ....
Peace and blessings! Kaye

Kath said...

And we don't know they are Taliban members... what if it turns out they are innocent people caught in crossfire, how many will still insist it was justified then? Or if they are child soldiers, brainwashed into a fighting for a cause that they don't understand.

You are right, by doing that to another human, they are showing how close they are to becoming what they claim to hate so much.

Anonymous said...

When I saw that photo my first thought was "Man inhumanity to man", and I felt shame that our American soldiers were doing such a thing.
As usual, you eloquently say what many of us feel, thank you.
Fran S.

Karon and John said...

We are not so different as I agree with you 100% This is one of the things I also admired about the late Pope. He belived all killing was wrong. In War, Capital Pubishment, abortion ect. Every life is life.
Thank you for standing up for humanity.

Kim Adams said...

I agree, well said.

Anonymous said...

Peaing on a corpse does not compare to 9/11.


Anonymous said...

But peeing on a corpse is the same dehumanization that led to ramming planes into the World Trade Centers and Pentagon in the first place. I was there, I lived two stops from the Pentagon and smelled the fires burning for a week afterwards. I walked past the grieving families, waiting for pieces of their loved ones to be recovered every single day on my way to work. One atrocity does not excuse or justify another. Heaping inhumanity on more inhumanity doesn't make it better, it makes it worse.

Regards, Kelly

Anonymous said...

This just popped into my head while I was reading all these comments, so I'll share it. You'll have to decide if there's a connection for you:
Many years ago, I was backing out of a parking space in a crowded lot. I backed into the car behind me. Upset, I got out to see about any damage, and all of a sudden felt accosted by a very angry woman, the driver of the car I had hit. I apologized and tried to see what I could do to make things right. She just went right on venting .... then stopped, looked at me quizzically, and suddenly became really nice. She was a resident of our small village who generally was looked down upon and put down, considered to be a trouble maker. She was so accustomed to people belittling her that, in essence, she came out with her fists up, spoiling for a fight. All of a sudden she realized that I was treating her as a respectable human being, and her entire way of being changed, at least with me. She became a friend, of sorts, for the rest of the time I knew her -- all because I didn't treat her in the offensive, oppressive manner to which she was so accustomed. How can we hope to find peace if we don't offer peace and live peace? How can we hope to be respected if we don't offer respect to those we encounter?

Lori said... the wife of a Marine, you know that we obviously live in the land of Oorah.

John and I talked about this when it came the commandant (with whose daughter I went to high school!) said that this didn't fit the caliber of Marines.

And I disagreed...and said that it fit exactly as I figured it would.

Because you are right—in war, there IS dehumanization. It's the only way that those men and women can do what is asked of them (kill the enemy) without completely losing their minds too (although this of course happens as well). I absolutely believe that ALL military branches, to some degree, facilitate the dehumanization of the enemy because they simply would not be successful if they didn't...we already have so many suffering from PTSD as it is.

I also believe that kind of behavior goes on A LOT. And was basically just an instance of being caught here. Which I really feel is what many military members are more distraught over—the act of being caught doing something like that, rather than the fact that it was SO not honorable or noble or merciful or Christian (I know, I know...they don't claim to be).

I have a huge problem with that treatment. I abhor it.

But like John said to me...I'm not in it. And...being in a situation that I know is one that many people think they can get, but really can't unless they've experienced it...I left room for his theory that we just don't know what war does to people.

It's sad. It's horrible. I wish it wasn't like this. But I fear that's just the way the world will continue until Jesus comes back and makes it His own again.

And I have no doubt of your love and respect for our nation's military. It's evident in all you write that you are an amazing citizen and raising your children to be so. I totally agree that the act of peeing on any other human is just disrespectful. While I understand war is war, I just wish in war training, there was more emphasis on honor and nobility...but I understand where and perhaps why it lacks.