The Common Good

Afghanistan: War is Still Hell

As the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan nears 1,000, and as civilian casualties continue to mount during the latest offensive, it's hard to know how to offer fresh commentary on the war in Afghanistan. And yet we can't remain silent. Sojourners offered its alternative to escalating the conflict late last year, knowing that appeals against the logic of war often fall on deaf ears -- even those of a "progressive" president, whose vice president now brags of better body counts than Bush. We raised our voice again when that same president called for increases in an already bloated defense budget, at a time of record deficits.

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And with the current offensive in Marja, we feel helpless to stop what Jim Wallis calls the "math of terrorism":

Both parties and successive White Houses have become trapped into a primarily military response to the real threats of terrorism. So here is the metric of success: Are we killing more terrorists than the number of new ones who are being recruited? We all know the answer to that is no, and that we are losing ground every day; but nobody in Washington is allowed to ask what would be the best policies to keep more people from becoming terrorists in the first place. The math of terrorism is against us.

So we are not surprised that, even under new rules of engagement seeking to limit civilian casualties, many civilians are still killed. War is still hell. Hence these headlines in Duane Shank's Daily Digest on Tuesday:

US vows probe into Afghan deaths "The US defence secretary has said that Nato forces are doing their best to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan, after an air raid killed 27 people, including women and a child." Afghans want Nato out after civilian death toll "Relatives of 27 people killed when Nato aircraft bombed a civilian convoy in southern Afghanistan have demanded that foreign forces leave the country." Gen. McChrystal apologizes for new Afghan civilian deaths "American-led efforts to avert civilian deaths in the war against the Taliban suffered a new blow over the weekend when a NATO airstrike in southern Afghanistan killed about two dozen civilians. NATO officials said that coalition forces targeted the vehicles because they thought they were filled with Taliban preparing to attack NATO and Afghan forces."

Among many who opposed Iraq as the "wrong war," Afghanistan remained, for some, a "just war" -- in that it sought to eradicate the havens of terrorists who've attacked us on more than one occasion. Our enemies there are truly evil -- for their support of terrorism, and in their violent repression of the Afghan people, especially women and girls. And yet, a primarily military solution to such evil, once again, inevitably multiplies it. And those who would quote Romans 13 to justify support for the government's use of the sword must first read Romans 12:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you... For citizens of a democracy, this is no loophole that relegates such a command to private, interpersonal relationships. Nonviolent movements from Gandhi to MLK have shown us what is possible, and we bear responsibility for our government's actions. It depends on us.

And though we're not surprised by violence -- whether by terrorists, insurgents, or by our government's response -- we must remain outraged at the cost to the victims of either side. My prayer continues to be: "All I ask of God, is that the war not make me indifferent."

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners and a photographer whose work can be seen at www.ryanrodrickbeiler.com.

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