Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Up for Assignment (Update)

This original post was tactless and hurt people who expected better from me, so I am taking it and the subsequent comments down.

I have been asked specifically to address three issues in this retraction and will do so in what follows.

Two things before I start:

I gave the false impression that my son’s possible assignment to Korea involved no work or risk. This is not true. While we don’t hear much in the media about the US military death rate in Korea, it is surprisingly high, and any time a military aircraft takes off, there’s reason to believe it will be shot at. My son was on his first deployment to Iraq when his first child was born and when she learned to walk, and he could have been shot at. I should have acknowledged this considerable sacrifice and risk.

More importantly, he does what he does because he loves his family and others. As one whose life has never been in danger for more than a couple of seconds, and that as often as not because of my own stupidity, I have to take my hat off to anyone, friend or foe, who willingly puts their lives at risk. My son fits that category. And while my post used him as an example, my quarrel is not ultimately with him but with the rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world (Ep 6:12). And indeed, one of life’s cruelest ironies is that those who sincerely desire to fight those beasts often find out too late they are allied with them; I could be one of those people.

First is the issue of soldiers shooting their own family members on order from their superiors. Do I believe my own son would shoot me if ordered to? As I said at the top of the original article, when I had no intention of revealing who the subject of the post was, he is a man who loves his family. I am a member of that family, and he has said that he loves me. So far so good.

But one of the themes running through the exchange was that a belief in the justice of politics causes good people to do horrible things. Chuck Colson was once accused of saying that he would run over (or some similar verb) his grandmother to serve Richard Nixon. In one of his books he says that he doesn't remember saying that, but yes, that was a reasonable assessment of his attitude at the time. Totalitarian societies, which ours is becoming, have always enlisted children as snitches against their parents, who then become prisoners and often corpses. And even though I like to think I don't believe in politics, I've done horrible things myself. (For all I know, turning against the war in Iraq, which I initially somewhat supported, is one of those horrible things, and I certainly have no reason to be proud of the way I conducted this post.)

But again, my son is also his mother's son, and not only has she proven herself fiercely protective of me as a person, he has shown himself willing to forgive many shortcomings in my fathering. So, with a nod to the caveat in the previous paragraph that was heavy on my mind and heart when I wrote the original post, I would say that my son would not shoot me, and I was wrong to imply that he would.

I also gave the impression that I consider all military people robots. Such was not my intention. To make quite the opposite point I said, "Those guards at Auschwitz probably played piano, painted in oils, wrote their grandmothers, gave flowers to their girlfriends, and did many things that we could consider commendable. We know they had Bible studies at their Hitler Youth camps and that the SS gave money to Christian missions." That is, military people are just like the rest of us. That was why my next sentence was, "What went wrong?" I also said to a commenter, whom I know to be the wife, sister, and foster mother of soldiers, "I rage at those who have deceived your loved ones, not at those you love." Being deceived is not the same as being a robot, as I, who either was or am currently deceived on the question of the Iraq war, can attest.

This leads into the third issue I was asked to address: soldiers who have gone out of their way to help local people. The only specific examples I have at hand come from the Bible. One was the Roman centurion whose servant was sick; when the Jewish leaders came to Jesus, they said that he should heal the servant because the centurion "loves our nation and built our synagogue" (Lk 7:3-5). Cornelius, similarly, "and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly." In fact, it was because his "prayers and gifts to the poor had come up as a memorial offering before God" that Peter was sent to him (Ac 10:2-4).

These were an armed agent of an empire that Daniel described as an inhuman beast with "large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left" (Dn 7:7). The Jews hated the Romans so much that, I am told, Rome had more trouble with Judea than with any other province, and one rebellion was so troublesome that the Romans ran out of wood to make crosses on which to kill the insurgents.

Yet God's holy Word says that two commanding officers were noteworthy for their love for their subjects. In fact, it is about the anonymous centurion that Jesus spoke his highest praise: "I have not found such great faith even in Israel" (Lk 7:9).

Are US soldiers any different? Of course not. While it is true that you can look on YouTube at atrocious behavior by US soldiers (some posted by those proud of it), you can also find videos of US soldiers doing their best to help the locals. You can read newspaper and magazine accounts of people who have risked and even lost their lives sincerely trying to help Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis. I don't think these stories are made up. Which group of soldiers is more typical? I don't know and probably never will. But I apologize for lumping the two groups together and will do my best not to do so in the future.

To summarize, my intention was not to hold any individual up to ridicule. I am grieved beyond words at the world my children will spend their adulthood in and at my own contributions to the way things are. I am doing my best to acknowledge my own sinfulness and give credit to those who disagree with me where it is due, but this time I simply got it wrong.


  1. So let me get this straight, you are praying for this captain to go into combat BECAUSE he is in the military and therefore he supports whatever combat his country sends him into? Being an objector is a moral cop-out for anyone who lives in the safety of this country fought and paid for by those who served out of duty, honor or whatever reason brought them in. You live in freedom BECAUSE of the duty of others. You can sit on your side of the observer glass and make whatever moral or theological summations you wish, but how God judges those who serve is up to him and your summations are irrelevant. I pray that this certain US Army Captain doesn't read your blog.

  2. Kathryn,

    Thanks for your comment. I’d rather have you roast me than stop reading. Blogs are a bully pulpit; while power doesn’t corrupt, it does allow one to avoid the consequences for one’s actions that the less powerful have to endure, and as a result, those with power, and even influence, can get used to throwing their weight around, knowing they won’t suffer for it. I can say what I want here if no one responds; the fun begins when a comment I haven’t anticipated comes in. So the fun has begun!

    My most memorable episode of All in the Family was when Archie and Meathead got stuck in a meat locker overnight with a bottle of gin. Archie drank the gin to keep warm, and as the alcohol took effect he opened up and talked about things that were deep down important to him, mostly how much he had loved his father, who had loved him and cared for him like no one else, but who was also his role model for irrational bigotry. Finally, Meathead said, “Did it ever occur to you that your father could have been wrong [about minorities]?”

    Archie got an incredulous look on his face and said, “Wrong? He wasn’t perfect, but wrong?” He shook his head. “No. Never.”

    I think you can draw the parallel between that and my view of our government. Saying that War X may have been justified does not disqualify anyone from saying that War Y is wrong.

    You and I are both on the observer side of the glass. I don’t want anyone to go over there and get shot at; you’re apparently fine with it. I don’t know whom you know who is going over, but I’m guessing it’s not your immediate family. Indeed, most of those who support this war will never fight in it. I’m not sure why trying to get the war to end is more of a cop-out than urging other people’s children to put their lives on the line.

    Again, if the war is just, the captain should be a true hero and shoulder the load, and you can rest assured that God will indeed judge me for sniping. If, however, in God’s eyes the war is not just—and I have only to look at the government abuses you protest on your Facebook page to find evidence that our government is unjust and there is reason to believe that this war is simply another manifestation of its wickedness—then I know no other way to open the captain’s eyes then to have him seeing what “just following orders” does to people Jesus commanded us to make disciples.

    I’m trying to obey Leviticus 19:17: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” The evidence is there for anyone who’s willing to look at it that this war was sold to a trusting populace with lies and that our military has made millions homeless and killed thousands. God will eventually judge this nation—the 2008 election was just step one—and I’d like to escape that judgment. On the other hand, I was as bloodthirsty as anyone before the invasion of Iraq (“We’ve got enough missiles to turn every city in the Islamic Crescent to glass and the Kaaba to powder; let’s do it!”), and I even turned on the TV hoping to get a glimpse of Shock and Awe, live and in color on ABC the day of the invasion, so there’s not much chance of getting a pass.

    The Prince of Peace wields a sword that will divide families and friends. If the captain reads my blog and decides he loves his government more than he does me, I have to take it. When our president gets his wish for military and paramilitary forces to patrol “our” streets to keep us in line, maybe he’ll even get the chance to drill me. If I can’t convince him to join the fight against politics, I at least want him to see firsthand what he’s supporting.

  3. By the way, Kathryn, an uncle-in-law once said, “If you won’t stand behind our troops, you’re welcome to stand in front of them.” I have been asking the Lord to let me go to Iraq, unarmed, with no connections to the US government, for years. I don’t know what good I could do there—I picture myself with a pitcher of something legal and a standing invitation for any Abdullah, Achmed, or Arshad to sit down and practice his English by telling me anything he won’t get in trouble for if they torture me, but running a wheelbarrow to clear out rubble would be OK, too, much as I hate real work—but I’d rather be there, or Afghanistan, than here in the States. If God answers your prayers, sister, please gather a gaggle of like-minded folk and beg him to send me to Ir-Af-Pak.

  4. Henry, evil as you seem to think the military is, they (the people in it) only want peace, just like you. My husband sat nuclear alert for years, ready to put his life, and his families, on the line at a moments notice, during the cold war. Our "foster" son Dan has been shot at in his F-16 in Iraq many times, our nephew has just returned from Iraq after 15 months flying over there. My son's and daughters have had friends serve, get shot and witness horrendous things, during the post shock & awe period in Iraq. Each of those that have served volunteered to go back. They believed in the freedom they were providing to the Iraqi people. They felt the Iraqi's appreciated what good they did do. As you know, both of my sons serve daily in law enforcement and now my new daughter in law serves in corrections. I have a vested interest in the safety of those I love and who serve - you bet I do! I know of what I speak, via personal accounts given to me. Do I agree with 100% of what my government says and does - of course not. But the world isn't perfect and the military and those who serve in it are a necessary "evil", as you seem to think they are. Our country has gone to the aid of more countries that any other combined. We are a good and peace loving people. Peace comes at a cost. Many times we lose lives and lives are shattered. But there is always a cost. Some of us are willing to take chances to pursue that peace, even if the cost is to us or someone we love. The countries we've supported wanted democracy or to be out from under the thumb of dictators. We've made mistakes, yes. We've also been lied to by all governments, including our own. The world is made of imperfect beings, just as God planned. We each have a role in it. You are fulfilling yours, just as God planned. My loved ones are fulfilling theirs too. Someone has to do the "dirty" work but God knows the secret places in each persons heart. I will not question peoples intentions in serving their country in the military or their local law enforcement. I believe on a larger level that our country is still good, our government is TRYING to do good, even if I disagree with what is being done, and that our countrymen/women are serving as their God, hearts, consciences direct them. I pray our God will be forgiving and loving and understanding as he has promised.

    My question to you? What would you do if one of your sons or daughters chose to serve?

  5. Kathryn, the captain in question is my son.

    As you did, I grew up under the shadow of WWII and was taught to disparage those who escorted the Jews to the gas chambers and justified it by saying, "I was just following orders." Imagine my horror to hear those words from my own son.

    People often ask why bad things happen to good people. I think a more important question is why good people do bad things. Those guards at Auschwitz probably played piano, painted in oils, wrote their grandmothers, gave flowers to their girlfriends, and did many things that we could consider commendable. We know they had Bible studies at their Hitler Youth camps and that the SS gave money to Christian missions. What went wrong?

    Fareed Zakaria gave an interview on NPR's Weekend Edition this weekend, and when asked what made suicide bombers do their thing replied something to the effect of, "They are convinced that they are doing good, that they are part of something bigger than they are." That is precisely how the German grunts thought, and it's the motivation of the people on "our" side. It's also why Obama has pushed the health care reform that will destroy the medical profession and why Al Gore pushes anti-global warming legislation that will further impoverish the third world.

    The issue is, what is the truth? How can we know it? I was in my 40s before I found out that the Lusitania was carrying every form of armament the Germans said they would sink ships carrying. But Wilson lied about it, and many brave men like those you describe above died as a result. Roosevelt goaded the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor and knew it would happen, though maybe not the day nor the hour. Again, thousands of brave people died for a lie. Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, as the late Robert McNamara confessed before he died, and thousands of brave men and a million innocent civilians died as a result. The dictators "we've" freed people from in the last 8 years are people we put in power in the 1980s. I think it's safe to say that the harder the government pushes an idea, the less likely it is to be true.

    What makes otherwise good people do bad things is politics, the idea that, as you put it, some evils are necessary. I don't believe that God designed necessary evils. We are not to do evil that good may result (Ro 2:8). If killing or protesting is necessary, it's not evil; if it's evil, it's not necessary. The political process rests on the idea that some people have the right to take others' property or kill them for some greater good.

    You are personally closer to the situation than I knew; please pardon my speaking in ignorance. I rage at those who have deceived your loved ones, not at those you love.

  6. And you are also personally closer to the situation than I knew! LOL!

    I lay awake thinking about your son and you all night.

    I am curious. What brought your son to the decision to join the Army? Were you supportive or in horror? Are you afraid for the repose of his soul? What has he thought of his decision now that he has served for a period of time? How do your discussions progress? Do you have meeting of the minds, do you disagree on the situations? If he has served in a war zone, how does he feel about the American impact of the region.

    I agree with your statement that its safe to say that the harder the government pushes an idea, the less likely it is to be true. This is probably often the case. It is hard to know who to believe in any more. We live in a world with governments and politicians, dictators and tyrants. We are all just doing the best that we can with the information we have. In my mind, there are obvious lines that should not be crossed. I believe Hitler was evil. I believe his gas chamber technicians also knew that what they were doing was evil and wrong. I believe Maj. Malik Hasan is a terrorist, not a criminal, nor a mis-guided Muslim. I believe KSM should be tried in a military tribunal, not a NYC courtroom. And I can't control the decisions of my government. I can vote for what/whom I believe is the most honest and will do the most honest work. I can support my country with my taxes, my work and my family or life, if necessary. Beyond that, I must put my faith in my God and pray that he sees in my heart and knows my intention.

    God Bless us all.

  7. My son would be the one to answer your first question. He took his first two helicopter rides within weeks of his second birthday and has wanted nothing more than to fly since then. The Army offered to teach him to fly essentially for free, and going to a civilian flight school that wouldn't give him nearly the flight time would have cost him a quarter million dollars. Whether his desire to "serve his country" arose independently or as a rationalization for taking that road to realizing his dream I don't know.

    As you can guess, I am horrified. I tried to convince him when we dropped him off for his first semester of ROTC in August of 2001 that he didn't want to be taking orders from the likes of New World Order Bush or Lollipop Clinton. I wouldn't have guessed half the abominations our government has been involved in since.

    As for the repose of his soul, I am a work in progress, and I've done things as a Christian that I would doubt the salvation of anyone else who did them, so I need to cut him and those other Christians who disagree with me some slack on that score. I do my best to play hardball asking questions, but he's my son, and he'll be my son even if he has to shoot me. For that reason we don't talk shop---his shop, anyway. When he deployed to Iraq, from what I understand, he was never less than a mile from Iraqi civilians when off base.

    One suggestion: while it is your government that your taxes support, it is not your country. Your country is your loved ones, and our government does not have our loved ones' well-being in mind. While we have to pay taxes (Ro 13), we should realize that in an earthly sense we are funding our enemies. In a heavenly sense, though, we are heaping coals on their heads.

    May we all bless God.

  8. H. Whitney: "How to pray in this situation?

    I've decided to pray that he is sent into combat."

    Me: Some people learned that when talking to God you need to be specific about what you want for him to deliver to you. I learned that if we pray to God that His will be done, that we can't go wrong.

    Me thinks the better prayer would be to pray that your son's assignment "bring the most peace possible, everywhere". That would include, the world, the country he's assigned to, the USA, his family, your heart and his soul.

    I've just noticed you've posted another comment to this post, which I have not read yet. I will do that now.

    Respectfully yours.

  9. Henry, I understand why you feel the government is evil, I truly do. I believe there are many, many people in power in the US government that ARE evil. And that is the way it has always been and always will be.

    But, I do believe in the concept of our Republic. As Benjamin Franklin said when asked "What have you given us, Sir?" he responded, "A Republic, if you can keep it." The concept of a Republic where the people vote for their President/VP, their Senators and Congressmembers, and a presiding Supreme Court (even one the people don't personally select - as radical as it is) is what I believe is good. The people in the positions in many cases are evil, but I choose to believe that We The People, can change that for good. Will our government ever reach a time where it is not lead by some evil people? Obviously the answer is no, but I don't think that God intends for us to be perfect and there is evil in the world and we have to live within that framework.

    I think it is our responsibility to work for peace and all things good. I think it is our responsibility to educate ourselves, talk to each other and learn from each other, as I hope you and I are doing here, and turn our lessons into a better way. It is the cross that we bear as imperfect and mortal beings.

    At times I can get so depressed about what is going on in our government. I get so angry at the likes of Pelosi, Reed, Dodd, Geitner, Obama, and the list goes on and on, regardless of administration..... But I have to put myself in check and remember that we do live in a relatively free society, as a nation we do try with goodness in our individual hearts to do the right thing by other countries (even in the mistakes that we make), and work towards whatever good I can personally do within my country and government. If I dwell on the evil, I am paralyzed. If I have hope in the goodness of individuals to effect good change, I can keep going. God alone will judge me on the content of my heart and the hearts of others. It is not for me to judge but for me to do the best that I can to bring about good.

    God Bless.