There is no honor in judging the courage of a soldier’s actions during a battle by those who weren’t there. And I’ve never been there. I’ve never served in the military. I can only wonder how I might respond to a threat to my life, real or perceived, during war. I can’t say whether the questions my conscience raises as I wonder from afar would even appear in the heat of battle.
But there is also no honor in downplaying or ignoring the death of innocent civilians in
Two months ago I listened to Darrell Anderson testify as I sat on the panel at a Citizen’s Hearing about the legality of the war.
He was one of about 15 soldiers with weapons ready, including a 50-caliber machine gun. To ward off approaching vehicles that might have been armed with car bombs or desperate insurgents, they established a lighted perimeter. Three vehicles turned back without incident. The fourth one penetrated the lit perimeter and came to a stop in front of his position.
The story appears longer in the words to tell it then the likely unfolding of the real event. Listening then, and thinking back now, there is no way to know how long
Ever since listening to him testify I’ve believed
I have frequently been visited by a scene from the legendary battle of
Wondering how I would have responded in such as situation isn’t a new thought now. In my innocent youth I shook with the fear whenever I’d think about such a defining moment of courage. I could almost feel my eyes wander seeking signals from other soldiers, only to find them all intently focused on the approaching enemy. I imagined I’d never be brave enough to execute the will to hold off acting to save my life. I’d either fire too soon or flee. I’d fail.
It’s not difficult to reconcile the different eras of these wars. The Minutemen atop
In Baghdad Anderson’s regiment was equipped with automatic weapons where the constant barrage of bullets diminished the absolute necessity for accuracy in every shot. And the approaching motor vehicle may have been delivering a bomb with the driver, a suicide mission by an enemy intended to inflict mass causalities on his unit.
The officers in charge in both battles would issue orders deemed essential to protect his troops while at the same time forming the strategy expected to win the battle. Even though they are focused on the entire unit’s performance and not the individual, the two are intertwined in the immediate fight and in the war itself.
But the battle in
Perhaps the two month avoidance of analyzing the issue more precisely reaches into a personal dilemma. My oldest son was in
Finally, the real haunting questions reveal themselves. Which choice would I want Michael to make? Does the taking of an innocent life matter less to me if he believed he was acting in self defense? Is it my selfish impulse that wants to interfere with my distinction between right and wrong? Have I been lacking the courage to ask him these questions because I’m just grateful he’s home, or because I don’t want to share his burden if he did kill a civilian in a similar set of circumstances?
We all want our soldiers to come home. These men and women represent us all, regardless of whether or not we support their mission in
The country as a whole tries to measure the war’s success or failings by the number of
The steady procession of flagged draped coffins arriving from
President Bush and I have one thing in common as we consider whether
Bush doesn’t see an individual soldier as I do. Giving us soulless phrases like collateral damage may keep the war impersonal, but he is fooling himself if he thinks the burden of guilt for every civilian death doesn’t rise from up the boots on the ground to the White House.