Killing is reprehensible, no matter who does it

This column appeared on the editorial page of The Standard-Times (New Bedford, MA) December 17, 2001.

by Greg Stone

Here we are at the season of love and joy, of peace on earth, good will to men, and we watch human beings celebrate blowing other human beings to smithereens.

We are justly appalled at the callous casualness of Osama bin Laden, as he shares with friends the experience of hearing how many his suicide bombers killed on September 11. How can they talk so lightly, speak of joy and God while causing so much human suffering?

A heck of a bang

I don't know. How can we, in official press briefings, be so casual as to call the BLU-82 a "daisy cutter" when the sole objective of this largest of conventional bombs is to kill or maim as many human beings as possible? We didn't use them that way in Vietnam - we used them to clear jungle landing strips for helicopters. In the Gulf War we exploded them near Iraqi troops, then dropped leaflets warning the troops that they would be the next target if they didn't surrender.

Now - well, listen to Marine Corps General Peter Pace describe daisy cutters: "As you would expect, they make a heck of a bang when they go off, and the intent is to kill people."

Listen to these Pentagon press briefings and you hear us using careful euphemisms one minute, and laughing the next. The tone can be unnerving. Perhaps the laughter is some sort of defense mechanism to cover from ourselves the horror of what we do - certainly the euphemisms are.

But surely we are not like Osama bin Laden? No. But how unlike him are we?

The 30,000-foot psychological barrier

It is so easy, when dropping bombs from 30,000 feet, to forget that beneath those bombs are human beings - some who have led despicable lives causing much suffering themselves, and some who are as innocent of "evil" as any of us.

I am not talking only about unintended civilian casualties.It's funny how we love to classify the people we kill into two categories. Killing civilians is bad. Killing soldiers is good. As if a person who puts on a uniform is somehow an evil person because of that act. We forget all the reasons a person might don a uniform, or might follow a particular cause. We forget that in a poverty-stricken, war-torn country people have been continually victimized - forced to choose between two or more evils. We forget that we have participated in the cycle of violence before. We forget that some who lost brothers, sisters, children, fathers and sons to our weapons ten years ago, or in our surprise attacks of 1998, might hate us now without being any more evil than those of us who hate because our innocents were shamelessly slaughtered on September 11.

So we say the soldier deserves to die - as long as he's not our soldier, of course - whereas the civilian who feeds and finances him and sends him off to war is somehow innocent. None are innocent, none so guilty they deserve to die.

Everything we don't want to be

Osama bin Laden is every thing we can not allow ourselves to be, yet we follow in his trail of violence. He apparently thinks God should be praised for aiding in his gruesome mission of death. Be repulsed by him. Any human being should be.

But where is God in all this? I'm thinking of the Christian God at this time because so many in our nation - and especially its leaders - claim to worship that God and I can't seem to put it together - killing and the Christian God. Is this the God we keep asking to "Bless America?" Do we really think he's blessing our "daisy cutters" that fall on the guilty and the innocent, and those of many shades between evil and good?
If so, spare me the Christmas carols this time around.

"Peace on earth, good will to men, from heaven's all gracious King" did not come upon a midnight clear this year - not in Afghanistan. If the shepherds looked up they saw the contrails of death over their heads. Oh yes, some cheered those contrails, but only because they felt they meant death for others. Cheering the cruel deaths of others is not an expression of love, whether it's done by our allies of the moment, or done by Islamic fundamentalist who feel they have been treated unfairly by us.

Nothing lies still in the "little town of Bethlehem" this sad Christmas season. And certainly no "everlasting light" shines in its dark streets. Instead we see suicide bombers strapping explosives to their bodies to destroy themselves and innocents.

This is insane. All fighting is insane. It represents the worst in us and it only looks good and right to the victors of the moment, just as September 11 looked good and right in the insane, evil eyes of Osama bin Laden.

Lesson from Gladstone

William Gladstone, the great English statesman , more than 100 years ago asked us to:

"Remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of almighty God as can be your own. Remember that he who has united you as human beings in the same flesh and blood, has bound you by the law of mutual love; that the mutual love is not limited by the shores of this island, is not limited by boundaries of Christian civilization; that it passes over the whole surface of the Earth, and embraces the meanest along with the greatest in its unmeasured scope."

Or as Kofi Annan said in his wonderful acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize a few days ago:

"Today's real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another."

Hate, fear - or love? It's your choice!

The world is filled with fear and hate. We have added our measure to it in the past few months. We now, more than ever, need to work for a world of love. We all walk the same lonely valley and the only path open to us worth following is the path to love and life.

I hope that's the path we turn to in this Christmas season. I hope we sing those carols with a new sense of what they mean and a new dedication to make "peace on earth" " a glorious truth.

It lies within our power to do so. We are the strongest, wealthiest nation to ever arise on Earth. But it is a very troubled Earth that we occupy and while wealthy, we remain a troubled nation, afraid our own children are plotting to kill us. We need to rededicate ourselves to peace, and good will towards all. We have the power to feed the hungry. We must do it. W e have the power to ease the suffering. We must do it. Not because it will repay us to do so, or protect us from future terrorists, but because it is the right thing to do and we know it.

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Last updated December 17, 2001


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Kofi Annan's Nobel Prize lecture which deserves a lot more attention that it got, can be found here:

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