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A message from Deonna- November 21, 2003

A message from Deonna- November 21, 2003

Collateral Damage

Duncan asked me to write about the war in the Middle East and the war.  As someone with an academic specialty in the ethics of war, there is a lot to say on the subject.  However, I think everyone pretty much knows that while Israel may have clear justification to defend itself (i.e. a just cause for war), the way Israel is going about fighting the war (the manner of warfighting), does not seem to be consistent with the just war tradition of proportionality and distinction.

The difficulty, of course, is that Israel’s opponent, Hamas, is not conducting itself according to the rules of war either, e.g. taking hostages, using human shields, having weapons stored in hospitals, and having its military corridors all underground.  As a result, it is extremely difficult for Israel to conduct a war according to the “rules” that would be militarily effective and efficient.  And, of course, the people who are suffering the most are the innocent civilians in Gaza.  It reminds me of WWII. During WWII about 15 million soldiers died on all sides, but 38 million civilians were killed.  In war, civilians almost always suffer disproportionate casualties to military combatants. The term for this is “collateral damage” and is often viewed, albeit regrettably, as the “price of doing business.”

As I think about the civilian casualties of war, I can’t help but think of other instances where the lives of innocent people are lost because of the “price of doing business.”  Two issues that leap to mind are abortion and the right to own firearms. Many in the US do not have a problem with elective abortions if it suits their own needs.  The developing baby in the womb is a casualty of the decisions of adults whose own self-interest and ideological views have power over them.  And, as a country, even though we lament the rise of gun violence and school shootings, the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment often seems to be regarded by some as more sacred than the human lives it was written to defend.  How does a parent explain to a child that they must be prepared to be shot in school because our interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is more valuable to us as a country than they are?  I wonder if this is similar to how the people in Gaza feel with respect to the position Hamas has placed them in? Hamas is the de facto governing authority, yet the consequences of its decision to attack Israel have led to untold suffering and destruction of the very territory and people it is responsible for.

I realize that war, abortion, and the right to bear arms are all morally complex issues.  And I am not advocating for pacifism, a total and unconditional ban on abortion, or eliminating the 2nd Amendment as a matter of public policy.  I offer these other two examples in this article about war to highlight that innocent people suffer, not only in war but in other subtle and less subtle ways, when the defense of ideologies becomes more important than the people they were meant to serve and protect.  And, as we have often witnessed, those with power are not usually those who suffer or are killed.

When I think of Christ enthroned in the heavens, I often picture Him weeping.  I imagine Him crying as he watches us kill each other and destroy the planet. I think Christ longs for us to choose real freedom, which is to love Him and to love each other.  A freedom that cannot be secured by war, public policy, or political philosophy. Yet, Christ knows our weaknesses, failures, prejudices, self-centeredness, and love of idols and things that draw us away from Him and each other.  And, for reasons known only to Him, He sticks with us, does not withdraw His love from the world, and lets us all perish.

When you despair about the state of the world, reflect on the type of power that you have over others.  How are you using that power?  What sort of collateral damage results from your decisions and actions in your sphere of responsibility at home or work? As a spiritual exercise this Thanksgiving, I recommend reading the Great Litany on page 148 in the Book of Common Prayer. It will help put things in a spiritual perspective and reorient the soul. May God have mercy on us.  And may each of us repent when innocent people suffer from our actions, which we often justify as “the price of doing business.”

Deonna