From war comes lesson in peace
In the wake of the Sept. 11 WTC bombing, there have been a rash of letters to the editor advocating a misguided and brutal model of patriotism that undermines our basic values as a nation. I would like to respond to just one of these letters.
A writer advocated a response to suicide bombing in which the United States would engage in the “legal assassination” of the bomber’s entire family. Rounding out this appalling strategy, the author continues: if he has no family, a family will be picked at random from the families of former suicide bombers. Inexplicably, in support of his argument, the author continuously refers to one of our founding fathers, Thomas Paine, the author of the great revolutionary treatise, “Common Sense.”
As cheery a Christmas message as it may be, the writer’s argument presents insurmountable problems of ethics and legality – let alone geo-politics – that cannot be ignored. First, the phrase “legal assassination” is a complete misnomer, since there is absolutely no legal validity for such an action. In fact, by its very definition, such a policy would be criminal in nature and deserving of international prosecution. Ethically, the wanton and intentional murder of innocent women and children (infants included) would itself be the epitome of terrorism. Knee-jerk patriotism aside, there surely must be a moral limitation on what constitutes acceptable response to terrorist acts inflicted on our nation. Otherwise, we sacrifice any ethical differentiation between ourselves and those we demonize and condemn.
After reading this letter, I found myself reflecting on its content for several days. The writer stated that he has a son who is a Marine stationed in Afghanistan, and this set my mind to remembering another warrior caught up in the fiery madness of a different war.
June, 1969. I was lying in a hospital bed in Long Binh, Vietnam after being shot three times in a NVA ambush. As a medic, I had seen 40 percent of my company wounded or killed in a three-month period. On the day I was shot (while tending to the initial casualties of that ambush), my best friend crawled out to my position and was applying a field dressing to my shattered jaw when a rifle round took him in the eye, blowing out the back of his head. For the next two hours, I passed in and out of consciousness listening to my friend suffocate on his vomit. Later, in the hospital, I was gripped by an anger darker and more intense than anything I had ever felt, hating the enemy, his country and every human on the planet with slanted eyes and yellow skin.
And then, something truly magical took place.
After a couple of weeks, two mothers and their children were brought onto the ward so the kids could receive treatment for injuries suffered in the American bombardment of their rural village. The kids sported an array of splints and bandages, but, like children everywhere, were as curious, bug-eyed and friendly as my nieces and nephews back home when confronted with a new situation.
Before long they were scampering all over the ward, bugging the nurses and seeking interaction with anyone willing to be diverted from their suffering in order to fully engage the adventure of the present moment. As one of only two ambulatory soldiers on the ward, I was fair game.
It wasn’t long before they were climbing on my bed, examining my dog tags, touching my round eyes, and screeching hilariously as they cocked their heads crookedly in imitation of my own (badly whiplashed by a bullet to the chin). Let’s just say that I was captivated, transported beyond my fear and hatred by the exuberant innocence these wounded children offered to a foreign soldier. One week later, when I was medi-vaced to Japan, my hatred for all things Asian (the greatest wound I had incurred) had dissipated in the knowledge that my similarities with the Vietnamese people far outweighed any perceived differences.
In short, I was the beneficiary of a tremendous gift that miraculously healed the moral damage crushing my soul.
Those kids were the innocent victims of a war not of their making and utterly beyond their control. Their fathers, brothers and uncles could as easily have been Viet Cong as government soldiers; such are the divisions inherent in Third World warfare. They had no control over these events, and deserved to die no more than did our precious victims of the WTC bombing. If Vietnam taught me any one thing, it’s this: the children of the world are our children.
Through my war experience, I can fully appreciate the letter writer’s fear for his son’s safety, and how this fear has translated into a position of hatred and indiscriminate revenge. A policy of mass murder will not protect his son, however; nor will it protect the future sons and daughters of Afghanistan and America, alike. It would simply increase the odds of future tragedies on both sides, and ensure a continuation of East-West hostilities that would inevitably escalate to increasingly serious threats to our population.
To the writer of that letter – the father of that Marine – I say that his son will be in my prayers until the last American is brought home. And in that prayer, right beside his son – and all of our service people in harm’s way – I will hold the people of Afghanistan in the hope that terror of every persuasion will cease through the understanding of our basic unity. But please, do not misrepresent the message of Thomas Paine, who was perhaps the most high-minded of our founding fathers, a man who died in poverty and disgrace because of his courageous resistance against the repressive religious bigotry of his time. He would have never supported such an inhumane policy.
May all beings know peace.
Bill Larsen is a resident of Nevada City.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
“There is a cult of ignorance in this country … nurtured by the false notion that ‘my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov, 1980.