Do unto others . . .
This column was published on the S-T editorial pages May 13, 2004
Tuesday was most depressing. First, I watched a couple of hours of testimony about prison abuse before the Senate and saw the political posturing on both sides. Then came the news of the beheading of an innocent American civilian in Iraq and the expected reaction, such as:
"They're not soldiers, they're monsters ... and we are not going to rest until every last one of them is in a cell or a cemetery.'' House Republican Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
And once more violence begets violence . . . It's such an obvious pattern.
Am I disgusted with the beheading? Of course! It is an act of pure terrorism - designed to evoke the fear that it evokes. And fear lies beneath anger and anger beneath hatred and hatred beneath more mindless killing. It's inevitable.
As I wrestled with my disgust and dismay - I was much more disgusted by this beheading than I was by the actions of our soldiers in the prison - I reminded myself of the psychological games involved.
The actions of our prison guards never shocked me. It was what I expect in a war. Ordinary people can do horrible things when their governments mislead them and give them a license to kill and place them in harms way. I was disturbed by our shock over this prison scandal because that means we are out of touch with reality.
Sure the prison abuses were horrible and we donıt want to see American men and women behaving this way. We are better than this. But we should be far more sickened by the reality that we have killed between 3,000 and 10,000 innocent Iraqi civilians - men women and children. Those killings are far worse than what these out-of-control prison guards did. Our only defense is that our killing is unintended - and I believe it is - but that still leaves us open to charges of manslaughter.
Second, we should be more sickened by the fact that we invaded a country that posed no immediate threat to us, the world, or its neighbors and could have been dealt with in other ways if we only had the brains and the guts to do so. In carrying out that invasion we killed an uncounted number of Iraqi soldiers. How many of these were not only innocent but were the victims of the very man we said we were there to depose, Saddam Hussein? Were they all fighting for Saddam? Or were they fighting an invader of their country? Or were they fighting simply because they had been forced into the military and feared they would be killed if they tried to surrender?
Yes, thereıs a difference between us and the brutal executioners we watched yesterday as they made a public spectacle of murder. We don't do our killing up close and personal with a knife. We do it from thousands of feet away - sometimes hundreds of miles - with sophisticated weapons that isolate us physically and psychologically from our victims. So we seldom see the broken bodies of children, women, and men that are the natural result of the terror we rain on them.
We went charging into Iraq more than a year ago, bragging about ³shock and awe² and oohing and ahhing in our living rooms over the fireworks display in the night sky of Baghdad, never seeing then, and ignoring the carnage now, that lay beneath all this ³shock and awe.² So now we get treated to the enemy version of shock and awe. And it is brutal too.
And Nicholas Berg, whose head was cut off by a knife wielded by his murderer, is dead and his family grieves. And the men, women or children killed by missiles, shells, bombs, or bullets, are dead and grieved as well, whether the intent was to kill them or not.
We have to take time to stop and breathe deeply. We have to ask ourselves what is happening to us and to others. We have to ask ourselves why? Why do we behave this way? Why do others behave this way towards us? I sense that we are afraid to ask those question in a deep way. We are afraid that if we look closely at ourselves that we may share some of the blame for bringing the world to this state. So we busy ourselves doing everything but trying to understand the situation. We accept - and by ³we² I mean those on both sides - the simplistic answers provided by our leaders. And both sides use the same language - religious language of good and evil. And on both sides, those leaders think they can play God and decide who is good and who is evil - who can live and who can die.
Can you imagine? As the killer cut off Mr. Berg's head, he shouted "God is great!"
God is a monster if he acts in this way. But so is our God if we think we can call on him to help us kill - to bless our weapons of mass destruction and our wars.
None of this is God's doing. These are the actions of men, trying to justify their fear and anger by appealing to a higher authority - by placing God on their side. We are better than this - all of us - Arab and Anglo and American - Christian and Muslim and Jew. And our respective faiths call us to act far better than we are acting.
Our faiths are about peace. Our faiths are about compassion. Our faiths are about love and understanding. I know there are far more people of good will in this world than there are those who would commit acts of hate and violence. Most people want peace and it is time to give it to them. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said:
"I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it."
May this be that day.