The Common Good

Deaths in Afghanistan: Robbing the World of Human Possibilities

I hate war. I do not hate it because people die. Death is inescapable. And believers believe that we will meet those we love again in heaven. I hate war with a perfect hatred because it causes suffering and robs the world of incalculable human possibilities. It pains the earth. It creates waste and the misallocation of resources.

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Saturday, August 6, 30 Americans and eight Afghans were killed when Taliban insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter. The New York Times called it: "the deadliest day for American forces in the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan."

Pictures of the warriors are coming out. We see strong men holding babies. One tragedy of war is that these children and others who have lost their parents in war will never know their fathers and mothers in the flesh. They will see pictures, and they will hear stories, but they will never have the opportunity to make their own precious memories. We do not know what this loss will mean to their lives. This is the human possibilities that are lost. When any human being dies too soon -- Afghan or American, NATO or Taliban -- his or her family and friends suffer a void that can only be filled by the grace and mercy of God's love. But the whole world loses a smile, laugh, frown, tear, touch, caress, or concept that may have transformed another person's life for the better.

Warriors on both sides die, and their families and friends suffer. At the same time, civilians die, and their friends and families suffer as well. This is the reason why there is no such thing as a just war. While military casualties are down in Afghanistan, civilian deaths have risen 15 per cent during the first half of 2011. There is little wonder why the civilian population in some areas resent the United States and NATO; why some may fight with the Taliban and others tolerate them out of fear despite their resentment of the violence that the Taliban visits upon their lives.

All this comes as President Obama has started to withdraw surge troops that he sent into Afghanistan at the end of 2009. People who do not want a timeline for withdrawal argue that such a timeline will only invite more attacks by the Taliban, especially in the mountains. This is the terrain that has helped to defeat occupying armies since Alexander the Great. Other voices call for a more expeditious withdrawal.

Moreover, when a helicopter is shot down, the human cost is the hardest cost to bear, but several hundreds of thousands of dollars in military hardware is also gone. This is money that could have been better spent to provide food, shelter, clothing, schools, and medical care. The good news is that the efforts to provide the basic needs of people in Afghanistan are moving forward and showing some progress. I hope and pray that this will be the lasting legacy of the world's presence in the region. Meanwhile, another tragedy unfolds in Somalia where babies are starving to death in a country with little to no government.

There is a caution that I must accept whenever I say that I hate anything with a perfect hatred. I ought to invite God to search me and see "if there is any wicked way in me." (Psalm 139:24) How do I contribute to the violence that I so perfectly hate? How does a nation's way of life contribute to the suffering that we ask so few of us to bear?

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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