A Tragic Picture of Death

AP Photo / Karim KadimI stumbled across a heartrending picture of an 18 month old Iraqi boy who had been killed after being fired upon by US forces during a street battle in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood in June 2004. This picture, attached to an article in TruthDig, really hit home for me, as I have a young boy myself. It really put into perspective for me how I would feel if one of my loved ones was hurt or killed in such a manner. I debated on including the picture with this article, but finally decided to include it as it is a powerful testament to what happens in war. The picture is not nice, but it provides a jolt to those that feel disconnected from a conflict occurring far from home.

While I would like to think that I would have the moral strength to turn the other cheek and to try for a peaceful resolution with those that I felt were responsible, I know that my initial response would be one of anger and seeking revenge. It’s tough not to feel that way with something as permanent as death, especially of the young and innocent among us.

That being said, anger and revenge just continue to feed the violence and hatred that have spiraled out of control during the US-led “war on terror”. What needs to change in order to turn things around? It’s difficult to say, but the current climate of violence must end sooner rather than later.

I’m sure I’ll be hearing from the hawks out there that say, “Well, what about our dead?” and you’re right. All sides have suffered in recent years through numerous tragic events that have been inflicted from all sides. Nobody is innocent in the current world makeup. Freedom fighters, terrorists, secret agencies, spies, guerillas, armed insurgents and legitimately identified armies all have been vying for top spot in political games of domination ever since the dawn of recorded history. What differentiates the good from the bad, the right from the wrong or the morally acceptable from unacceptable?

All sides could easily justify their actions for their contributions to the current climate of violence in the world. Just War is just that… it’s justified. The question becomes: Justified by whom? The picture that I referred to above brought it to me in stark clarity: I could understand why any parent would feel the need for revenge against the US forces for what they saw was the reckless death of their young child. It doesn’t matter if the gunfight was only a small event in a much larger war on terror. The fact remained that it was a US bullet that killed their child. Numerous other examples of this abound.

And to be fair, the US has plenty to be angry about. 9/11 is only one example of terrorism at its worst. There are numerous examples of the US being targets in other countries from embassy bombings to targeting killings of US citizens overseas. None of this should justify the killing of innocents though. Unfortunately, war is a blunt instrument that doesn’t always hit with precision clarity. And that is a shame indeed.

For war is supposed to be the last resort in a politically charged game of cat and mouse. But in this case, in the Middle East, there are too many unanswered questions pertaining to the justification and causes of this conflict with no positive end in sight. In fact, there are few tangible facts to substantiate all of this loss of life. Looking back, the history books have been clouded with bad judgment, poor intelligence and hidden agendas. Conspiracy theorists are able to thrive in this market as there is no final answer or explanation for the cause of this war.

The greater problem is the implications. For the parents that have lost loved ones, there is no easy way to put aside that hatred. There is no easy way to overlook the recent past and to move towards reconciliation. There is no easy way to recover what has been lost. That’s the problem with war: the finality of its actions. Not only does it leave terrible scars in its wake, but it also leaves no easy method of recovery.

For war to be effective, there must be a way of measuring its results. In this, the US has failed miserably. There is no method of measuring success at this point. The US has provided few timelines and poor indicators of accomplishment. It would appear that the US is playing a game of whack-a-mole with no end-target with which to measure their progress.

If only the responsible world governments would approach this in a more systematic way. There are numerous causes at play here, many of which are just as vicious and harmful as the “war on terror”, only they are more subtle. Economic sanctions in particular cripple nations and lead to massive suffering among the general population. While this and other methods are important tools in controlling despotic regimes, they do little to help public opinion in these regions in the long term.

What are the solutions then? The October 2006 issue of Harpers contained an excellent article entitled “The Way Out of War” by George S. (George Stanley) McGovern and William Roe Polk that provided a detailed plan for leaving Iraq, along with some associated financial costs and benefits. It was an interesting read, as it provided some of the much needed answers to “what else can we do but fight?” The article defends strong investment in internal infrastructure as the US-led forces are phased out. The money currently spent on military intervention in Iraq would easily build a substantial infrastructure for further stability as the US pulls out. There are numerous other strategies suggested in the article, many of which mirror suggestions offered by Human Rights Watch and others.

The bottom line here is that there are numerous peaceful approaches that will help build bridges between differing cultures. The current method of blunt force trauma inflicted through war is doing little to build relationships. The current US-led actions in the Middle East is further fracturing relationships, and this is likely to impact an entire generation of people, thus delaying peace for the foreseeable future. I know that I, for one, would have a very difficult time extending an olive branch if I were in the shoes of a parent who has lost a loved one in the current fighting. It is the right thing to do, but when the impersonal nature of war becomes personal, it makes it much more difficult to be emotionally fit to resist revenge.

The way ahead must be one of peace and reconciliation. War has no place in settling disputes, regardless of the perceived benefits. Machismo and stubbornness will only continue to lead us down the path that the current US administration has been leading us down. Make a difference: Research the contributing factors into this conflict, identify workarounds or fixes to those problems that don’t rely on force, and help put them into action.

Todd Dow

Supporting links:
Truthdig article: A Culture of Atrocity
Wall Street Journal: Iraqi Death Toll Exceeds 600,000, Study Estimates
The Lancet: Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Human Rights Watch


Evangelical Sabre-rattling won’t lead to peace

Interesting article from

Evangelical Sabre-rattling won’t lead to peace

This article comments on the allegiance of some Christian leaders, including Billy and Franklin Graham, with American military might. While I do respect Billy Graham, I have often asked myself whether his chummy relationship with the White House was positive or negative. This article raises this same concern. And, it also highlights the troublesome violent messages of Billy’s son Franklin in his recent comments pertaining to Afghanistan and 9/11.

The article challenges us to look deep within ourselves and ask if war is the correct answer to conflict, or if we should try to rise above it and offer peaceful alternatives to violence instead. The following excerpt is, to me, the most powerful piece from this article:

Franklin Graham, brandishing a tone not heard from his father, called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion” and, in the wake of 9/11, said the U.S. should drop nuclear weapons on Afghanistan. He has backed down somewhat from the former statement but refuses to retract the latter. Rather than countering increased division in the world with calls for understanding and unity, he is digging the trenches deeper.
To be clear about what Rev. Graham suggested for Afghanistan, picture in your mind the apocalyptic images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — disfigured people and a lifeless smoldering moonscape.
Is that what the religious imagination has to offer the world?
Compare that with the Amish of Nickel Mines, Penn. When faced with senseless violence, they did not respond with righteous vengeance but reached out to the family of the man who killed their children, setting up trust funds for his kids. Confronted by unthinkable violence, they responded with unthinkable forgiveness and compassion. For them, faith meant replacing the human impulse for fear and retaliation with something kinder and gentler.

I have yet to see the same compassionate, loving and gentle side to Franklin that I see in his father. I hope that this will emerge from Franklin as he fills the void left by Billy. Yet, I can’t help but feel alarmed at the influence that Franklin will have as he inherits the large and far reaching audience that his father developed through his years of dedication to spreading God’s word.

One can only hope that a voice of peace emerges in Christian circles with the same kind of influence as Billy Graham to help fill this void and to help replace the more hardcore and intolerant messages being preached by his son.

One can only hope…

Todd Dow


Would killing me make you right?

You’ve gotta be kidding me… I read a commentary piece from David Warren the other day, in which Warren tried to explain the “right way” of winning in Iraq. Warren likened the war in Iraq to fighting the Nazis in WWII. I’m confused that people still think that this is a simple fight delineated on political lines, rather than ideological ones.

And it’s more than just Warren that sees the current Middle East conflict in such a division of black and white. The NATO mission in Afghanistan and the US war in Iraq are charging ahead with their missions to “colonize” the Middle East, in spite of the vigorous opposition from the local militants.

The obvious problem here is that for the locals, political boundaries don’t seem to matter. In fact, the lines appear to be blurred along cultural and religious boundaries instead. Warren and other traditional military strategists appear, at least to me (an ignorant non-combatant), to be fighting a traditional war against a non-traditional enemy. And what’s worse, I don’t feel confident that current military strategies, at least the way they are conveyed through the media, are showing much of an understanding of this non-traditional enemy either.

The NATO mission in Afghanistan seems to understand this dynamic, as their current offensive, dubbed Operation Baaz Tsuka is attempting to peacefully convince the enemy to reconsider their plans. Dealing with Afghanistan’s tribal problems is long overdue and no easy, peaceful solutions currently exist, but it’s good to see that NATO is attempting to curb the damage being inflicted by the Taliban through less confrontational military means (as much as possible).

The US in Iraq, on the other hand, faces a much more severe challenge. It has been documented time and again that the US led mission in Iraq has been shown to “‘not be in conformity with the [UN] Charter’ and many legal experts now describe the US-UK attack as an act of aggression, violating international law.” It’s no wonder the Middle East is hostile towards the US, considering the arrogance and bullying attitude that the US has been showing towards the Iraq situation.

According to the BBC, “many of the insurgent attacks attributed to foreign jihadis have a sectarian element in that they have targeted Shias with the aim of provoking wider violence between Iraq’s religious communities.”

A recent article in the December 2006 issue of Christianity Today further outlines the sectarian conflict playing out in the Middle East. The article, entitled “Garlic, Dracula and Al Qaeda”, outlines the problem of religious extremism which is currently fueling this international conflict between the East and the West. I don’t mean to diminish the complexities of global politics, but it is quite clear that without extremism, it would be possible to have rational religious discourse without the fear of offending people and sparking riots, protests and worldwide violence (Remember the Muhammad cartoon fiasco of earlier this year? Or, how about the fatwa against Salman Rushdie).

Religious extremism is attempting to subvert our individual freedoms through violent censorship and intimidation. This abuse is so abhorrent that it is difficult, if not impossible, to rationally defend the faith for which these individuals are fighting. I think it would be fair to say that if the only method of coercion available to religious extremists is violence, then that side has already lost the argument. Violence is a failure of an individual to rationally articulate reasons to support one’s opinions. Thus, it is shamefully obvious that those on the side of fanaticism are fighting a self-defeating battle with themselves when violently imposing their views on others.

Although I don’t explicitly support the current military efforts going on in the Middle East, I have to say that I am at least a little impressed with the ideological recognition and strategic adaptations that the NATO led forces are applying to the Afghanistan mission. At the very least, it’ll prove to be a better template of striving for peace than the hammer that the US is applying to Iraq.

Unfortunately, this still leaves plenty of global hostility towards the West that currently exists in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. I think that it is important to peacefully right past wrongs, offer forgiveness on both sides and work towards lasting rational dialogue and relationship building. This requires all sides to be more understanding and respectful of one another.

And for goodness sake, let’s hope that the US administration will soon learn to be a little more respectful of human rights and freedoms when attempting to impose their values on people in other lands.

Todd Dow



It’s a tough question… could you forgive someone who did you wrong?

A story in today’s news caught my eye:
Forgive Iraqi captors, former hostages plead.
Three former hostages urge forgiveness for Iraqi captors.
Spare Iraqi kidnappers, Loney pleads.

James Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden and Norman Kember, three members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, were taken hostage in 2005 and were freed 117 days later in March 2006. The three spoke at a press conference on Friday, arguing that although their alleged captors were wrong in their actions, they do not deserve the death penalty if convicted.

Loney was quoted as saying, “We have no desire to punish them. Punishment can never restore what was taken from us. What our captors did was wrong. They caused us, our families and friends great suffering. Yet we bear no malice towards them and have no wish for retribution.”

Loney was further quoted as saying, “By this commitment to forgiveness, we hope to plant a seed that one day will bear the fruits of healing and reconciliation for us, our captors…and most of all, Iraq”.

Difficult stuff… what would you do? How would you react? I, for one, would have a difficult time forgiving someone for such an offensive deed. I would like to think that I would be able to have mercy and to forgive, but that’s easy to say from the comfort of my peaceful life. And, I think it would be even more challenging had this happened to one of my close friends or family members. But again, my sheltered life prevents me from understanding the anger, pain and frustration that must accompany such a difficult ordeal.

That being said, I think that Loney, Sooden and Kember’s gentle voices speak to an ideal that comes with much reflection and a great deal of commitment to furthering peaceful dialogue with a group that, rightly or wrongly, feels that they are defending their freedom. I know that this won’t sit well with many who have suffered at the hands of Islamic violence, but there is some value in at least considering a peaceful response. Without forgiveness, there can be no peace. On either side. But, with justification for anger on both sides, forgiveness is difficult to achieve.

I don’t want to trivialize this situation, but consider the basic ways in which conflict is resolved. Consider two children fighting on the playground at school. I don’t know about your experiences, but for me, a solution that I’ve seen applied time and again is to have both children apologize for their contributions to the fight, to shake hands and agree not to continue fighting, and then to encourage healing and friendship between the two kids.

Why can’t these same principles be applied on the larger world scale? Is the violence any more complicated? Not really… one side has done the other wrong. The justifications might be more complex, but does it make the actions any more correct? When is it right to kill? Especially in the name of peace? There are some serious contradictions to any argument that uses “killing” and “peace” in the same solution. And I’m not alone in that thinking.

I’ll leave the door open to further discussion on this one… I’ve said enough for one day. But I’ll revisit this again soon.

What are your thoughts? Could you forgive? Do you think forgiveness is a virtue? Or, do you think that forgiveness a weakness?

Todd Dow