Where Atrocity Is Normal
Some of the news reports from Iraq regarding the conduct of U.S. soldiers have been disturbing these past months. We have heard about the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison and more recently the alleged mass killing of at least 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in November 2005 by a squad of U.S. marines following an improvised explosive device (IED) that killed one of their comrades. How do we as Christians react to such events, especially when the men or women involved return to our homes and churches? Denial and feigned ignorance has generally been the historical reaction during previous wars. Let the former soldiers remember (and suffer) in silence. Let them work it out with God.
Nothing in this article should be seen as justification for war crimes, but Christians need to be informed and transformed as we struggle with the moral, ethical, legal, and spiritual issues raised by these events.
Several years ago, I was teaching at an African university when a Christian student asked to talk with me. She had heard that I had been a soldier. Over several hours, she struggled to share her story with me. At a young age, her family had emigrated from an East African country to the West where she was raised and educated. At age 16 she requested to return to her homeland to see relatives and discover her roots.
While visiting, a war broke out between her country and its neighbor. Because she was a legal citizen and had just turned 17, she was conscripted into the army. The young woman saw horrific combat, but one event disturbed her most. While on patrol, her squad captured eight young enemy soldiers. Since no prisoner of war facility existed in the country that could pass the Geneva Convention mandates, she and her squad were ...