This past week, I wrote a post called “What is the purpose of the killing?” where I asked the following question:
Imagine that the police discover that an active murderer lives in your neighborhood. As a way to apprehend him, they shoot and kill much of the neighborhood. Is that something that is acceptable? Does the fact that a murderer needed to be stopped justify the extra killing?
The police/murderer scenario is a metaphor for the foreign policy of the United States. The people of the United States were unjustly attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001, so a response to such an act was not unwarranted (just like bringing a murderer to justice would not be). Killing many innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of such a response, however, serves justice in no conceivable way. People generally seem to be aware that innocent men, women, and children are dying in these wars, but it does not seem to matter enough for many of them to think that anything needs changing.
It is a sad manifestation of citizenism: people seem to care more about those who live within their geographical border (arbitrary as it may be) than they do about people who live outside of it. There was justified outrage after the Boston Marathon bombing. People were correct to be upset after any of the number of mass shootings within the United States in recent years. The compassionate responses include thoughts like, “I can’t imagine the hardships these families have to go through now.”
I agree. It’s a terrible thing to have to deal with and it is good to empathize with people who will never meet. And everyone has and voices their opinions on how to make sure something like it never has to happen again.
But what is the response to any of the numerous stories of families being killing as a result of American military action? At best, someone might say, “War is hell.” And then silence. No thoughts on how to avoid such disasters are offered. “That’s war—people die.” The collateral damage, including the loss of innocent lives, is largely inescapable.
This is precisely one of the reasons why we should be avoiding war in the first place. There is no way around the destruction. It destroys wealth and economies and it destroys lives and families. Because of this, people prefer to keep a distance from the stories of those whose lives have been destroyed in war (except when it provides them with some benefit). You won’t see the pictures of Iraqi children whose lifeless faces have been mangled beyond recognition by bomb blasts or the man missing his leg from a drone strike. It makes it too real.
The girl’s name in the cover picture for this article is Samar Hassan. She’s crying because her parents, Hussein and Camila, were just killed by American troops at a checkpoint. Their car was sprayed with bullets after they didn’t stop when approaching the soldiers. The American soldiers followed the “rules of engagement,” so do we just say that this was an unfortunate misunderstanding—part of war? Samar and her brother, Racan, now have no parents.
Do we keep doing what we’re doing, following the rules of engagement and the plan for the wars?
In a similar story, about 8 months later, a father and mother were killed after soldiers fired 200 bullets into their car when they didn’t stop at a checkpoint. Their six- and nine-year-old children were also shot, but survived. These children now also have no parents. Their only living relative, an uncle, was notified. Imagine this phone call…
“Hello, we regret to inform you we have just shot and killed your brother and sister-in-law. We’re asking you to be their children’s guardian.”
I would assume that this uncle is like you and I and wouldn’t think twice about taking his family into his home, but that is such an incredible burden that he’s being asked to take. If you met this man, would your comment on the military action in his community be “War is hell”?
These are not isolated incidents. The death tolls in war are staggering. Real people suffer the costs of war.