When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
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 created...it 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