No, that isn’t quite right; they have enlisted, drafted, commissioned and equipped our sons and daughters and ordered them to do the deed, promising them and us that their actions will please God. How they have managed this is a study in itself of frightened people, bewildered and wounded by enemies, being persuaded to accept their leaders’ preordained plan for unlimited worldwide military action.
I spent the ’60s bearing and raising children. My first questioning of the wisdom of the decisions being made by our leaders didn’t come until 1969, when The New Yorker published an article based on an incident in Vietnam.
The writer, Daniel Lang, reported on the morale of American forces there and made clear that the deliberate killing of individual soldiers by comrades was a reality. The article focused on a soldier who sought to inform superiors of a horrifying breach of conduct and was advised to go along and get along, or risk being murdered.
Lang focused on one soldier’s story: When his best friend is killed in a sniper attack in a seemingly peaceful village, the leader of a squad of five men on a reconnaissance mission, shattered by his loss, chooses a girl — a daughter, someone’s daughter — from one family’s hut. He and his men take her into the hills to be raped. One soldier, who unlike the war-weary others has been in Vietnam for only three months, refuses his turn. His attempts to save her fail, and she is killed. This witness’ struggle with his conscience drives him to reveal the incident to an officer and a chaplain. He is urged to remain silent to avoid the consequences.
When I read it, this uncompromising article forced me to accept that our soldiers were strangers in a strange land, vulnerable as sitting ducks, sacrificing their lives (and, I feared, their souls), forced by a futile imperative to destroy an abstract enemy who could not be distinguished from the sea of humanity in which they lived. The soldiers’ morale was collapsing, and their ideals were being eroded. These soldiers, our youth, the product of our American dream, were not just in danger of turning their weapons upon innocents and one another. They were actually doing so.
The details of this incident — and that it was investigated, reported and confirmed — persuaded me that the politicians controlling the fate of our soldiers, and our society, were making disastrous decisions.
Anger grew in me, knowing that just as the men and women in suits pull the strings that allow some to avoid onerous or dangerous duties, the men and women in suits determine one way or another who will be the inquisitors, the assassins, the executioners, the torturers. The chosen will rarely be their own sons and daughters. No, they are other people’s sons and daughters — our sons and daughters. Would anyone of us want to see our daughter led by life events to be tested in such a place as Abu Ghraib? Would we want to see President Bush’s twin daughters, dressed for the many balls, garbed instead in camouflage and told to soften the prisoners? Someone’s daughter was put there and told to do so, a daughter named Lynndie, whose desire for life and love is so sadly evident in her pregnancy, and whose sins against humanity have caused her to be pilloried.
It is important to see in the faces of the Bush girls and of Lynndie the faces of the daughters of America, and to accept that, frustrated and made to feel impotent, the rage within can drive almost anyone to violate innate taboos. In killing what we recognize even belatedly as innocent, we can kill the innocence in ourselves and become even more, ever more, deadly. War is a mother of monsters.
It’s bad enough to kill in the name of God, but to order our children to kill in our names and the name of God compounds the evil. Surely there is cause for us to pray that those who call themselves followers will not continue to be deaf to the message so unequivocally proclaimed by Jesus, who, we are taught, allowed himself to be killed rather than kill. That lives and souls are destroyed in his name is irony beyond tragic.
Anne Mulderry lives in Kinderhook and is a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.