There’s an aspect of the U.S. military’s actions overseas that is continually hidden by proponents of military participation: the cost in human lives in other countries. When discussing the sacrifices of war, so many Christians in America focus on our soldiers and their families. They are to be considered, naturally, but so are the tens of thousands of people affected by those wars we fight. (It’s extremely difficult to get good numbers on that. I have been chastised for referring to the site Iraq Body Count, but the material released by WikiLeaks has shown that, if anything, that site is conservative in its counting.)
One reason that 9/11 impacted this country in such a strong way was the fact that it happened on American soil. We’ve worked hard throughout the years to keep all fighting limited to somebody else’s home, not ours. This morning on the news, as the proposed reduction of troops in Afghanistan was being discussed, people expressed the fear that the fighting might come here. “Better to fight them over there” has always been a popular slogan.
As Christians, I think we’re obligated in such a situation to consider those who live “over there.” Consider the Afghani people. In the late 1970s, the Soviets became involved in Afghanistan as military advisers. The U.S. saw the chance to lure the Soviets into a military quagmire, so operations were undertaken to escalate the fighting in Afghanistan. Once the Soviets invaded, the U.S. began arming Afghani warlords to fight the Soviets (When asked about the dangers, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, responded “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”). When that war came to an end, these armed strongmen continued to dominate the regions where they lived. Then after 9/11, the United States invaded, fighting against many of the same people we had helped arm and train. And throughout it all, the civilian population suffered destruction of property, serious injury and death.
When we speak of sacrifice, do we think of those people? Do we consider the mothers who lost sons, the children who lost parents, the villagers who lost everything? Where are their parades? Who raises memorials in their honor? Where are the churches that send them care packages and stand and clap for them during worship?
But they’re not “our people.” No, of course not… unless you’re a Christian. Unless you believe that there is no “Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.” Then, of course, those people are as much “our people” as any freckle-faced American soldier.
On Memorial Day, I was accused of not honoring the sacrifice of those who have lost loved ones in war. I respond that I honor many more of those people than do those who march down Main Street and salute the flag.
When we count the costs of war, let’s count all the costs of war.