War Crimes or Criminal War
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In March, just prior to the fifth anniversary of the war of terror in Iraq, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will be shaking the dust off a decades-old heritage of accountability and oversight in combat by its participants. The independent media has already reported that the gathering will focus on war crimes and atrocities; that my brethren and I plan to focus on describing gross moral negligence and criminal contempt on the part of our commanders and other leaders. While I cannot speak for the more than 75 veterans who will share their experiences during the weekend, not every vet shares those convictions.
My brothers at arms while in Iraq were largely respectable and law-abiding, and I am honored to have served with them. Of the few outright violations of international or moral law, each instance displayed a clear lapse in their character, and were quickly corrected and dealt with judiciously. At every rare opportunity, we provided relief and assistance to Iraqis and other nationals, even other combatants. I was then, and remain to this day, relieved that vigilante justice was rarely dolled out to hostile forces. My deployment to Iraq was an experience in patience and a lesson in humility (though it should be noted that not all veterans of OIF share my optimistic hindsight).
The question, then, is why are we testifying and what do we have to say if not merely to indict higher leadership?
As I have already stated, I am not concerned with war crimes and atrocities because it is my experience that the war itself is criminal and atrocious. An atmosphere of disregard to both the rule of law and the rule of the Lord pervades our society - corroding our collective consciousness and dislocating our moral center. Furthermore, I am only minimally concerned with legality, since it is too often relative and victim to misinterpretation (everything Hitler did in Germany was legally sanctioned, horrifically reminiscent of our own national leaders' ethical dyslexia). In my six years, no unit I came in contact with was briefed on the Law of Land Warfare (Army Field Manual 27-10) or the implications of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (ratified into US Law in 1959). Despite my own unit's best efforts, we could not de-criminalize the occupation in the eyes of the oppressed (which was our mission; "to win hearts and minds"). No amount of Iraqi Dinars or "As-salaam alaykums" could undo the harm our nation had caused its neighbors.
What does compel me to testify, however, is diakonia. As a soldier, it was my duty to serve the greater good. Selfless service is one of the core Army values, as well as a core discipline of Christian practice. Upon entering both the Church and the military, I made comparable covenants of obedience and submission.
Where the two allegiances intertwine, I have submitted to both Church and state. Where they have been mutually exclusive, I have obeyed God rather than men. In IVAW's Winter Soldier hearings, I have once again found that the two allegiances converge.
I, for one, am testifying in an effort to serve my country as well as the Church, to illuminate the injustice of this war based on my personal experience and reflection. For too long, I have let my heart harden and grow brittle, the painful emotions that could help heal me growing decrepit with neglect. Not long ago, I shared a bit of them here, but it has come time to really grapple with the demons and angels within me. My motivations for testifying are not unlike communion - where many of us take bread and drink wine (or grape juice) to remind us that Christ shared Himself with us; that we are not just to remember His sacrifice, but also to allow it to transform us. In the same way, I feel communion amongst us and within our communities must include not only the body and blood of Christ, but our own being as well. We are called to lives of interdependence, to lives of sharing and koinonia not unlike our communion with Him. It is in this light, and with this hope, that I will be testifying in March. It will difficult. It will be painful. However, I hope that this service, our testimony, may fuel the transformation of our country, our communities, and our Church. As precarious a path I am compelled to forge between patriotism and piety, I pray it may serve not only our fellow citizens, but the people of Iraq. After all, we ARE our brothers' and sisters' keepers.
Logan Laituri is a six-year Army veteran with combatant service in Iraq during OIF II and experience with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel and the West Bank. He is an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and currently resides in Camden, New Jersey, in an intentional Christian community called Camden House, where he continues to seek ways to wage peace wherever he goes. He blogs at courageouscoward.blogspot.com.