Civilian Deaths and the Just Use of Force
If only we could get one thing straight. The church is not America. In fact, far from being America, it is a transnational community comprised of all true believers in Jesus Christ. If we miss this truth, if we are content to equate Christianity with Americanism, we are doomed to fall into the abyss of statism, if we haven’t already.
As the body of Christ that transcends national boundaries, our symbol is the cross, not the flag of any nation. God loves the whole world, not just Americans. And it is within this framework that Christians are to seek justice among the nations.
Christians must studiously avoid the idolatry of state worship. Christ, not Caesar, is our Lord. Therefore, commitment to blind national self-interest is nothing less than idolatry in light of the Christian commitment to the one God revealed in Jesus Christ. And it is precisely our commitment to blind self-interest — our simplistic division of the world into “good” (us) and “evil” (them) — that blinds us to the errors that, in my opinion, extend to both sides in the current Iraqi conflict.
As Americans, we seek to ensure the safety of our troops deployed in Iraq. This is as it should be. But the slaughter of September 11 hardly justifies overkill. No amount of evil committed by al Qaeda can justify the killing of innocent civilians by U.S. forces in Iraq or any other place. Such behavior only feeds the terrorism we are seeking to eradicate in the Middle East. Have we forgotten that it was our own interventionism, including the placement of U.S. troops on Saudi soil, which fueled the anger that produced the likes of an Osama bin Laden in the first place?
All can agree that the U.S. has a right to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks. The act of terrorism that killed over 3,000 innocent Americans was a crime against humanity. It justifies a response. But is the solution to be found in the killing of innocent civilians — the kind we saw in Afghanistan, for example, where it is estimated that the massive use of air strikes on terrorist hideouts took the lives of more civilians than were killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, or the kind we saw in Samarra the day before yesterday in Iraq? The answer is clearly No. Moreover, the inappropriate use of force fails to help us address the underlying causes of the chaos in Iraq, including our failure to arm the Iraqi soldiery. As one Iraqi leader put it, “You know what makes Iraqis laugh? To hear that the Americans are training a new army for Iraq, when we have our own well-trained soldiers who could have helped prevent the security vacuum.” The Iraqi Governing Council itself says that coalition forces should step back and allow Iraqis to police themselves. When will we realize that other people and nations do not look at America the way America looks at itself?
No matter what your politics are, if you are a Christian it is your duty to reject the unjust use of violence and to call us as a nation to make our policies as just as possible. Yes, we pray for the protection of our soldiers in Iraq. Yes, we pray for their safe return. But the key question is not whether we are winning the war in Iraq. It is whether the war in Iraq is being conducted in a morally responsible way. All Christians — whether pro-war or anti-war — should be vitally concerned with this issue. The fact that the terrorists acted immorally on 9/11 does not mean that we have the right to act the same way in response.
December 3, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. His latest book, Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon, will be released next spring.