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October 1, 2004

As I Lay Crying


On feeling what no patriotic American is supposed to feel

by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

"I was at a rap concert the other night," said a 17-year-old neighbor last night. "And they were saying all kinds of crazy things, like 'Bush is a baby-killer.'" He rolled his eyes and laughed.

I asked him, "Well the truth is that children and infants have been killed this very week – did you not see the photos of those kids who've been killed by U.S. air strikes over the last few days?"

"No," he said, shaking his head vigorously, "that's not true. Or if it was true, it wasn't intentional."

"But still they are dead, aren't they?" I asked.

"Yes, but for a good cause – to bring democracy. But Bush certainly hasn't killed any babies! I mean, come on!"

I asked, "Is it killing only when we do it by our own hand, or is it killing also when we order it? Is it killing when we set the forces in motion so that other people are doing the killing?"

"No, you can't believe those things. I mean people have told me it's just a bunch of terrorists over there causing the problem. Bush is trying to bring democracy to Iraq. People get killed – it's just part of war. Nobody's to blame, it's just part of the process."

"So if it's an accident, it isn't really killing?"

"It's not the same," he said, "as the insurgents and the way they kill. We're just trying to kill the rebels, and we don't target civilians. They do. Anyway, foreign forces are making most of the trouble and taking hostages, all that stuff. It's not the Iraqis who are fighting our troops; I read it on a blog from Iraq, and I know a lot of guys in the Marines, so I know it's true."

I read it on a blog, so I know it's true. The U.S. would never kill innocent people intentionally. It isn't killing when you don't target the civilians – it's just a part of war. Photos of babies and children supposedly killed by allied forces should not be believed. Or, if one does believe the pictures, one must understand that somebody else killed them because the U.S. would never do that. And if it did do that, it wasn't intentional. It was an accident. It was war. Just a part of war. We have to understand that. Nobody's to blame. I read it on a blog.…

He is so young. Untouched, protected, "from a good family." He prides himself on his resolve, on his confidence that every death will be worth it if we "finish what we came to do." He is so trusting, it hurts to look at his eyes as he says these things. Perhaps I remember too much from the Vietnam days, when friends came home without limbs or in a box with a nice memorial service and salutes and honors and then nothing … nothing.

Maybe it's my hypersensitivity, or simply the fact that I'm a woman – even worse, a mother – who can't seem to see things objectively, or understand that some kids simply have to die that others may be liberated, or freed from the threat of terrorism, the way a man can.

Or maybe it's Jesus whispering in my ear that's causing all the trouble, leading to these unpleasant rumblings of conscience and pain. Doubtless I'd be far better off (not to mention more popular) listening to Rush Limbaugh or Donald Rumsfeld or Pat Robertson or George Bush or Scott McClellan (another young untested one with trusting eyes).

A contented lack of concern about matters that are so very far away and thus should not concern me (except insofar as they keep me safe from bombings and wars) is the way I should, as a patriotic American, see things. This is what I've learned on every cable TV news and talk show – Have faith, war is the answer.

Even now, when I read that the U.S. and their Iraqi proxies are preparing for "decisive action" against the "insurgents," I should not worry about the frantic families who will die in the process. More babies, children, women, the disabled, the old people, and all the peace-loving Iraqi males that we are told do not exist will perish … but I should not think of these things.

I should be more patriotic. I should clamp down on my imagination. I should not see what is about to happen, nor what has already happened, to my brothers and sisters in Iraq. I should not weep for the victims who are even now breathing, laughing, getting a midnight snack, sleeping, playing with grandma, all the while not knowing that their days – or their hours – are numbered.

As I lay crying.…

I know that I have not been "all that I can be" as an American. Even as a Christian, I am aware that I am a disappointment to those who have adjusted Christianity's less popular elements to fit the doctrine of eternal war – war conducted by the people and for the people, killings that are done only by accident and for the very best of reasons.

Headline after headline reassures me: the U.S. military command targets only the "militants," the "insurgents," the "terrorists." If anyone else dies in those bombing runs, those midnight raids, those "returns of fire," there is no need for sorrow, nor for guilt. It was not intentional. It was blameless.

Truly, I do not doubt this. I have full confidence that civilian killings will not be intentional when the clampdown comes in October. It's just that I wonder if not being intentional is the same thing as not being accountable. I wonder if not targeting a family is the same thing as being blameless when its members perish.

I wonder, in my moments of weakness, if a child killed by a bomb not intended for her is any less dead.

But such questions are unpatriotic, aren't they?

Yes. These questions betray a lack of resolve, a lack of follow-through, a lack of "doing what we came to do," a lack of faith in war.

My grief, whenever I see the carnage that this war has left behind – car bombs, beheadings, dead toddlers with blood oozing from their nostrils – is evidence enough that I am no longer measuring up to the new revised Christianity that has corrected Jesus' teachings. The new Political Christianity teaches that wars and assassinations and accidental killings are to be tolerated or even admired, as long as they're for a good cause.

You may wonder why I say all this. It is not the popular thing to say. As an evangelical Christian, I am told by the men pounding on their Bibles and pointing their fingers at their studio audiences that I should vote for Bush. Yet I see the children in my dreams, the children and all the "family values" promoted with such fervor in this country that will be washed with their blood into the Iraqi soil.

But tomorrow I will drink an extra cup of coffee and square my shoulders and try to forget that on this night I lay crying.


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Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting(2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn’t Have to Choose Just One." Visit her Web site.

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