Posts Tagged ‘militarism’

Oh, look! Check out what today’s text is from the Lectionary!

Matthew 5:38-48

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Oh man, I am tempted to just walk into any church in town and watch the fireworks. If I had to pick, I would say this is the single most important chunk of teaching from Jesus’ life, and it’s also the one that breaks people’s brains. Congregation after congregation will be watching a version of this tomorrow from the pulpit:

A whole 211 words spoken by a dusty, wandering moral genius more than 2,000 years ago, and I’m willing to bet 90 percent or more of the clergy and preachers in this country will spend well over a thousand words explaining to thousands of people why Jesus could not possibly have meant what his plain words say, or if he did, well, gee, wouldn’t it be nice if the world worked that way (as if the occupied, exploited, internally divided land of 1st century Palestine were some Connecticut country club where everything is simple and idyllic and not at all complex or violent or dangerous). Nothing in this could possibly mean that we have to give up the power of violence even in self-defense of life, liberty or property, right?

No, what’s really being said here is that if someone hits you, you hit them right back so they don’t hit other people ever again, or at least they never hit you again. What’s being said here is that if anyone tries to take your coat, you cock that pistol and say “Make my day.” What’s being said here is that if someone ever tries to take your liberty by force, you go buy some Lockheed Martin missiles and General Atomics Predator drones and you blow those mothers off the face of the earth. That’s the only Christian thing to do. Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world like Jesus (pat him on the head now) where nobody ever tried to take your land, or national freedom, or your life? If only the world worked like that.

If only Jesus and his people had some experience with real cold-stone dictators or occupations or terrorism, he would have made sure to tell you what 90 percent of preachers and clergy are going to tell you this morning.

 

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This was the sign on a church we passed today in Plano, Texas: “Pray for the troops. Love your enemies.”

This sign confuses me, as the reader can draw any number of conclusions about what we’re supposed to ask for on behalf of the troops. I assume the attitude behind the sign is the attitude eviscerated so well by Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer.” I hope I am mistaken. Followers of Christ have no business cheer-leading for a war.

Here’s my prayer for the troops, that they:

  • Never fall under the impression that I want them to kill anyone or support a decision to do so;
  • Never pull a trigger or throw a weapon;
  • Return to their homes without physical or mental injury;
  • Live long, healthy, productive lives surrounded by people they love.

Suggested reading:

Jesus Military Patches

Although you’d never know it, the holiday we celebrate as Veterans Day began as a day for “thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations,” according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Not anymore. Today is a day for glittering generalities and conflation of Christian love with trigger-pulling.

Even my own church got in on the fun, declaring this Wednesday’s service a “Special Veteran’s Day Eucharist:”

On Wednesday, November 11th the 7:00 am and noon services will commemorate the service our veterans have given to our country. …All are invited for special prayers and thanksgiving devoted to the courageous persons that have made our country a place of freedom, justice, and peace.

Now, aside from my theological hangups about a Christian church cheering on militarism, this also happens to have the extra bonus of being blatant propaganda. This statement must refer to some platonic ideal of the U.S. military. It manages at once to ignore a great many crimes committed under the war flag against freedom, justice, and peace and to place all the accomplishments of every social movement in the lap of the military. Were the members of the U.S. military under General Winfield Scott who participated in the Nunna daul Isunyi involved in making our country a place of freedom, justice, and peace? I’m sure a few of my ancestors might be somewhat surprised to learn that little bit of history.

Of course, there are many things to celebrate about military life: discipline, self-sacrifice, etc. Those are things Christians and the anti-war movement could learn from our brothers and sisters in the military. The danger is that we focus on those things to the exclusion of the flip-side of military life: demonizing enemies, violence, killing. When we do this, we run the risk of baptizing radically anti-Christian behavior and transforming troops into Paschal lambs.

This is not meant to be an attack on the members of the military. It is, however, a reminder that military service is not a Christian vocation. Veterans are not saints. Military service is not holy. Killing someone through a night scope is not love of neighbor. Veterans need special pastoral care due to the nature of their experiences–fine. Many people want to thank veterans for allowing their hands to remain clean even though they don’t subscribe to Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence–understandable. Veterans need our love, just as every person does–and they should have it. But I’ve sat in a room where priests called war “sin,” right next to the “sins” necessary for women to maintain their reproductive rights. Will next Sunday be Abortion Sunday? Any guesses?

The point is that, even if you think war is a “necessary” evil, we don’t hold Eucharists to celebrate “necessary” evils. The Eucharistic prayer celebrates the Man of Perfect Love, the nonviolent Jesus of Nazareth. Is it too much to ask that we not bow and scrape to the sword of Caesar at the table of the Kingdom of God?

The Wall Street Journal‘s recent editorial [h/t Jeremy Scahill] supporting the CIA’s drone war over Pakistan is rank propaganda. In it, the editors denounce critics of drone strikes who rely on reporters instead of unnamed intelligence sources with unverifiable claims, and they assert that drones–which have killed roughly 800 civilians so far in Pakistan–are humane:

A U.S. intelligence summary we’ve seen corrects the record of various media reports claiming high casualties from the Predator strikes. For example, on April 1 the BBC reported that “a missile fired by a suspected U.S. drone has killed at least 10 people in Pakistan.” But the intelligence report says that half that number were killed, among them Abdullah Hamas al-Filistini, a top al Qaeda trainer, and that no women and children were present.

In each of the strikes in 2009 that are described by the intelligence summary, the report says no women or children were killed. Moreover, we know of planned drone attacks that were aborted when Predator cameras spied their presence.

Wait, wait…despite widespread reporting on the CIA drone war, the U.S. does not acknowledge that we’re even dropping bombs in Pakistan. If the editors saw hard evidence from U.S. intelligence reports that proves conclusively that the U.S. is bombing Pakistan–a country with which we are not officially at war–they should have given it to their reporters so they could write a front-page story about it. But that’s far from the only problem in this propaganda piece.

The overall argument presented by the WSJ–“drones have made war-fighting more humane”–is ludicrous on its face. (Scahill: “Ah, yes, that famous humane war we have all been waiting for. Finally!”) We know that the drones find their targets based on infrared beacons placed by paid informants who get high-dollar rewards for a “successful” strike, and reputable writers on the subject voiced concern that the financial incentives prompt the impoverished informants to sight false targets to get paid. Regardless of the reasons for the errant bombs, though, Predator/Reaper strikes have been absolutely lethal for non-combatants. According to a May 2009 column by Abdul Malik Mujahid, as of the date of his writing:

“There have been 65 to 85 US drone attacks on Pakistan, killing about 780 civilians and about 50 alleged terrorists.”

The assertion that “in 2009 … no women or children were killed” is a bald-faced lie. In just one strike, 35 local villagers, including 10 children ages five-to-10 and four local tribal elders were killed.

But what about the assertion that the drones can distinguish between men, women and children and abort the strikes when women and children are spotted? Let’s think about this for two seconds. Is the Wall Street Journal really ready to claim that, in a patriarchal society like that of the Pashtuns’, any gathering of men spotted by a drone is a legitimate target?

The worst transgression of this piece, however, is the assertion that we should suddenly start believing unverifiable (and therefore unchallengeable) kill reports. Uh, hello…remember this?

[U.S. Army General David] McKiernan, however, hinted that the American airstrikes might not have been responsible for the deaths in Farah. “We have some other information that leads us to distinctly different conclusions about the cause of these civilian casualties,” McKiernan said. He declined to provide more detailed information until the U.S.-Afghan team was able to investigate further.

A U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that “the Taliban went to a concerted effort to make it look like the U.S. airstrikes caused this.” The official did not offer evidence to support the claim, and could not say what had caused the deaths.

The military had its own “intelligence” based on “hours of cockpit video.”

The footage shows insurgents streaming into homes that were later bombed, said Col. Greg Julian, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. He said ground troops observed some 300 villagers flee in advance of the fighting, indicating that not many could have been inside the bombed compounds….Investigators later reviewed hours of cockpit video from the fighter jets as well as audio recordings of the air crew’s conversation with the ground commander. Julian said the military would release the footage and other evidence in the coming days.

That ‘vindicating evidence’ never materialized. It turned out that mistakes by U.S. forces caused the deaths of dozens of civilians. The U.S. stuck to that story until it was completely unable to do so because reputable third parties challenged the official story. We see here the same pattern: a propaganda piece defending government policy, with insiders insisting they have definitive proof of official claims and lamenting the fact that they just can’t show it to you.

And should such evidence turn out to be not so solid, according to WSJ, we should ignore contrary information provided by reporters, which is a fun argument for a newspaper to make [emphasis mine]:

In both cases, the argument against drones rests on the belief that the attacks cause wide-scale casualties among noncombatants, thereby embittering local populations and losing hearts and minds. If you glean your information from wire reports — which depend on stringers who are rarely eyewitnesses — the argument seems almost plausible.

You know, the funny thing about this age of the Interwebs is that news organizations often embed a search engine into their website. You know what else is funny? I used the Wall Street Journal’s search engine to search their site, and found this article that they published online:

Associated Press

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A car bomb destroyed an Internet cafe and tore through a bus carrying handicapped children in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing at least 11 people and wounding many more, police said.

Elsewhere in the troubled region, an apparent U.S. missile strike hit a Taliban training camp, killing 29 militants, while Pakistani troops killed dozens of Taliban in their bid to re-conquer the Swat Valley, officials said.

Must be an isolated incident, right? I mean, the WSJ wouldn’t be caught dead relying on stringers for wire services like the Associated Press who “rarely witness events first-hand.” Right?

Associated Press

ISLAMABAD — Suspected U.S. missiles struck a Taliban compound in a northwestern Pakistan militant stronghold bordering Afghanistan on Sunday, killing three people, officials said.

Err, maybe not.

The facts are these:

  • Drone strikes are inhumane and indiscriminate, regardless of the Wall Street Journal’s propaganda. As of May 2009, they killed more than 15 civilians for every one suspected terrorist.
  • The strikes have caused such carnage that leading British legal experts “said the aircraft could follow other weapons considered ‘so cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance’ in being consigned to the history books,” likening them to “cluster bombs and landmines.”

With the mothership’s creditibility already on the ropes due to staff lawlessness, you’d think the Journal would think twice about damaging it further by publishing rank propaganda. You’d be wrong.

Unmanned drones are indiscriminate and inhumane. Ground them, now.

UPDATE: Among the distortions in the WSJ piece is the assertion that one of the things that makes the Predator so “humane” is its compliment of “laser guided munitions with low-explosive yields.” Again, the WSJ’s propaganda piece omits essential information:

However, the Predator has now been joined by the much larger MQ-9 Reaper, which can carry a heavier payload, around three thousand pounds, including a large number of Hellfires and GBU-12 Paveway II and GBD-38 JDAM bombs. These are different types of 500-pound bomb, one with laser guidance and the other satellite guided. Both are based on the 1950’s-vintage Mk 82 bomb ; less than half the weight of the bomb bomb is explosive, and the rest is the steel casing. The reason for having such a thick casing is shrapnel: when the bomb detonates, the casing blows up like a balloon before bursting and spraying high-velocity steel fragments in all directions. It is these fragments, rather than blast, that do most of the damage.

Marc Herold, in looking at casualties in Afghanistan, quotes an ‘effective casualty radius’ for the Mk82 of 200 feet: this is radius inside which 50% of those exposed will die. Quite often the target is taking cover or lying down and the effect is reduced, but if you can catch people standing up or running then the full effective casualty radius will apply.

Obviously, this information disrupts the story WSJ’s editors want to tell, so they left it out. Again, classic propaganda.

UPDATE II: One final, but massive, point of disagreement. The editors are flat wrong that “the argument against drones rests on the belief that the attacks cause wide-scale casualties among noncombatants, thereby embittering local populations and losing hearts and minds.” That’s one argument made by the folks they cite in the article, yes. But a larger and more important argument is not that drones “undermine the war effort by turning people against us,” but that they consistently kill people who are not parties to the conflict, period. The worst effect of all this talk about counterinsurgency is that it has reduced the civilian populations of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan to mere means to the end of our strategy. They’re not. Drones may be awful in part because their use leads to more terrorism, but the worst effect of their use is the slaughter of people whose right to life exists independent from our goals for the region.

The bumper sticker says, “Freedom isn’t free,” and it’s correct–just not in the way that the driver thinks. July 4, the day we severed consent to the Tyrant, was the day we became independent–not the day Cornwallis surrendered.

Remember: Freedom isn’t free; it requires people–all people–to be willing to risk everything to assert the rights they have by virtue of being human.

Also remember–one of the grievances that led the Founders to sever consent to the Tyrant’s rule:

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

Don’t forget.

If you wonder why, click here.