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The Seductive Power of Using Violence: Innocent Victims Killed in Afghanistan

John is a scientist at a local oil company. He coordinates Casa Juan Diego’s medical clinic at Casa Maria.

Once again the U. S. finds itself trying to destroy evil with violence, this time by attacking Afghanistan. While the stated target is Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban, innocent civilians have become the victims. These civilian casualties have gone quietly unnoticed. There is no end to the praise of the U. S. bombing, and mention of civilian casualties among the innocent Afghans is virtually nonexistent. At the time of this writing (January 25, 2002), the official tally of those lost in the September 11, 2001 WTC attack is 2, 872. The “best” estimates of civilian deaths in Afghanistan as of December 10, 2001 were 3, 767, according to University of New Hampshire Professor Marc Herold. His analysis, made from external sources, did not include deaths from disease, cold or starvation. They went mostly unreported in the U. S. by the major media. Prof. Herald’s numbers were also before the attack on the convoy that killed 65 local Afghan leaders or the 100 civilian deaths on December 30th. The New York Times hid the latter under the title “Afghan Leader Warily Backs U. S. Bombing” (1/2/02), while others in the world labeled it “100 Villagers Killed in U. S. Air Strike.” Later reports raised the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan by our bombs.

We, the U.S., are paying back evil for evil. We see ourselves as good and the enemy as evil. The seducing power of using violence to conquer evil only seems to make the violence increase. Each side sees the other as the arm of Satan. It’s déjà vu all over again.

No matter how many times we seem to destroy evil it always seems to come back, which in turn requires yet another battle to destroy “it” again. While often invoking God and the Bible, our leaders, whether political, media or religious, seem to actually avoid quoting Jesus. Wasn’t it He who said, “I tell you to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, pray for those who despitefully use you, bless those who curse you.” Elsewhere he said, “If your enemy is hungry give him something to eat, if he is thirsty give him something to drink.” That doesn’t sound like anything that we hear. In fact, it appears to be just the opposite.

An example of how ordinary Afghans view the bombing is seen in the report of Robert Fisk, from The Independent (London) on 12-13-01. He and his colleagues had been stopped in a small village near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and were violently attacked by about sixty rock-throwing people. These people believed he represented those that had destroyed their lives. Hospitals all along the border were filling with civilian casualties, he said. Everywhere he went he was met with rage. Local leaders brought him pieces of American bombs and missiles (including one with serial numbers), asking him why they were attacked. In one hospital a man and his wife agreed to speak with Mr. Fisk, only on the condition that Mr. Fisk not tell her that “their five children had been killed in a bombing raid.”

I cannot escape the teachings of Jesus, the historical Church or the Catholic Worker. “Whatever you do the least of these, my brothers, you do to me,” said Jesus in Matthew 25. “It is better that a millstone be tied around your neck and you are thrown into the sea than to offend one of these (referring to children)” he said elsewhere. Nowhere does He exempt Muslims or any other politically inconvenient group. It is just as wrong for us to kill innocent people as it is for them to kill us. We are not exempted because our political leaders say so, and it is not OK for us to kill them in revenge. Where will we find Jesus standing on Judgment Day, as He addresses the nations? With us, saying our killing of innocent Muslims was “part of the just war theory,” only collateral damage, and “we had to destroy evil?” Or will he stand with those civilians and condemn us?

I pray that God forgive us for being complicit in destroying Islamic lands, Muslim homes, and above all, innocent Muslim children. It is no more correct than the terror of September 11.
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXII, No. 2, March-Apr. 2002.