I had the pleasure of filling in for a priest-colleague yesterday while he was out of town. The parish is known for being inclusive, and the spirit there is always one of vitality. The congregation is full of people with many talents, not the least of which is the willingness to engage in conversation surrounding potential difficult issues. Between services I joined their bible study group, which takes the approach of exploring scripture in juxtaposition with current events. Yesterday we looked at the story known as "the rape of Dinah," (Genesis 34) filled with issues of violence, justice, and vengeance, contrasted with the recent massacre in Afghanistan of families and children.
The conversation was thoughtful, penetrating, and respectful. We concurred that we didn't have enough information regarding the soldier in terms of his state of mind, and what may have prompted a course of action that virtually everyone suggests is contrary to his nature and history. Our conversation focused on the issues and implications of what took place, not on passing judgment.
Inevitably we touched on the nature of the conflict as it has been waged these last eleven years, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, noting parallels to the experience our military faced in Vietnam. In particular we voiced our concern that our military are confronted by an enemy that is no longer conventional: women and children are carrying out the deeds of what was once an adult male military force. When we can no longer tell the difference between friend and foe, what impact does that have on the psyche of the people who are put in harm's way? If it becomes commonplace to see women and children as targets, what becomes of us?
The question left hanging, for me, is this: at what point is the mission not worthy of the cost to the whole well-being of our men and women in arms? Do we ask them to lay down the lessons and values acquired during their lives from of a culture rooted in striving to be honorable and decent? Do we do so expecting them not to be changed by that experience, and to return home as the proverbial boys and girls next door? We delude ourselves, if this is so.
These questions need to be considered by more than just our military and congressional leaders. Each of us as citizens benefiting from the freedoms our soldiers defend and protect must also ask ourselves if it is right to ask our young men and women--and their families--to make this sacrifice. Going to war is no longer just a matter of risking lives, but of abrogating essential values. To consent to that perversion is to become the very enemy we fight. For that, we all pay a price.
I am reminded, yet again, of a closing scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, where the prince addresses his community mourning the loss of those whose lives got caught in the cross-hairs of hate.
We cannot afford any longer to wink. There is far too much at stake.Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!And I, for winking at your discords too,Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punish'd.act 5 scene iii