For the past three years I have written my Saturday Evening Post from a perspective of uplift and my deepest positive sensibilities. Tonight I am writing from a different perspective in response to the news about the U.S. military’s efforts to justify the bombing of a Doctors Beyond Borders hospital in Afghanistan. I am compelled to write tonight out of a combination of sadness, anger, and deep remorse for our nation, for our people, for myself. What is most offensive to me is the US military claim that the bombing was somehow excusable because it was “UNINTENTIONAL,” just a "human error.” Those responsible are not to be tried nor held significantly responsible; it was simply one of those tragically regrettable collateral events that happen in war, as the logic goes. A mistakenly identified hospital building in a residential area is bombed, even as those inside communicate with U.S. officials telling them to stop, and already injured and suffering people and the staff are killed or subjected to further injury, and the building is largely destroyed. And the military response: "Kind of sorry for it. Bad mistake. Whatever….” And all those in Congress who voted for the war, those who plan it daily from the Pentagon, those who execute it throughout the “chain of command,” those of us who pay for it and tolerate the suffering of war in our name - are we also shirking responsibility and accountability under the guise of being “unintentional” about the suffering we are causing?
Isn’t war, after all, actually quite “intentional" on someone’s part? Is all the horrible suffering and destruction of war itself to be dismissed simply as unaccountable, "unintentional human error?” In fact war is intentional - and immoral and, yes, it is also avoidable, just as the bombing of the hospital was avoidable.
And if war is intentional, is it not an intentional crime against humanity whenever innocent people are targeted and killed as is the case of most wars now? Are we not accountable and culpable for allowing wars to continue? All of our military operations for these past thirteen years have been justified under the Authority to Use Military Force (AUMF) vote in Congress shortly after 9/11. Did Congress really intend their vote to result in God only knows how many tragedies like the hospital bombing? If it was intentional the U.S. is guilty of war crimes. If the death and destruction of the war they voted to wage is somehow UNintentional” but only a “human error," we would expect Congress to have the moral responsibility and courage to recognize the horror they have unleashed and assume accountability and at least review the AUMF (which they have not done), never mind rescind their vote. Is is not “intentional” that the AUMF is maintained as a convenient means to justify our continued military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, to send troops into Syria, and to condone all the horrors and waste that continue to accompany and perpetuate our waging war? Assuming the maintenance of the AUMF is “intentional” (and not “unintentional”) by military standards cited in the Afghan hospital bombing our nation would therefore be prosecutable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Which, in fact, it is.
I’m still going to try to rescue my anger here by at least a thread of uplift and hope.
I think the military authorities regret what happened, but I don’t think the military is going to get away with whitewashing this event. A lead article in the New York Times today condemns the event in no uncertain terms. The world at large is condemning it. A significant amount of the American public will condemn it. The bombing of any hospital, intentional or not, is a very, very serious criminal act, and it needs to be treated as such. Or is the U.S. above the law?
Personally I am using my reaction to the hospital bombing to deepen my commitment to declare to myself and anyone who will listen that war itself is a crime against humanity and must be abolished as slavery was abolished. I will not accept that war can be justified or that it is inevitable. I will work especially among the religious communities with whom I have contact to ask them to work to abolish war. I will support the World Without War, the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Friends Committee on National Legislation and others in their persistent efforts to end war. I will challenge my Congressional representatives to question and change their support for war and especially their negligence in assuming their Constitutional responsibility to be the ones to declare war. (I am reminded that at least in 2003 the whole world - the WHOLE world on every continent - on one certain day turned out, sadly without final effect, to say no to the war in Iraq. And I am reminded that two years ago when Obama actually paused enough to give Congress and the public an opportunity to consider whether or not they supported a so-called “surgical strike” in Syria, the public opposition was surprisingly vocal and strong. Diplomacy fortunately prevailed and for many in Congress they were spared what would have been a difficult decision of actually having to take responsibility for “intentionally” and culpably voting for another round of war making.)
War is not inevitable. Historically we have tragically engaged in war through lies and political and economic manipulation and then been trapped in the futility of it. It can be abolished. Alternatives are available through nonviolent actions, diplomacy and world courts of law. Please join me in this growing movement.
For those of us on Whidbey Island next Wednesday evening, May 3rd at 7 pm at the Coupeville Recreation Hall we have an opportunity to consider how we can work together to reconcile the differences and tensions between the north and south parts of our island home. The evening is billed as a “Quest for Unity Within Diversity on Whidbey Island,” and it is sponsored by the Whidbey Island Community Education Center. I will attend with gratitude for this effort and the organizers and participants. In these days of so much opposition and polarization, this event is a welcome and needed effort to try to find common ground. Please consider attending.