Forgive them, for they know not what they do
November 13, 2004
This is Part I of a two-part piece. I have not yet written Part II.
As the world waited in anguish for the much-threatened assault on Fallujah, a Nov 7 French Press Agency (AFP, its acronym in French) report announced,
The article began, “NEAR FALLUJAH - With US forces massing outside Fallujah, 35 marines swayed to Christian rock music and asked Jesus Christ to protect them in what could be the biggest battle since American troops invaded Iraq last year.” A pícture of these U.S. Marines appeared as follows:
It’s at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/1107-02.htm. The report continues: The marines drew parallels from the verse with their present situation, where they perceive themselves as warriors fighting barbaric men opposed to all that is good in the world.
Men with buzzcuts and clad in their camouflage waved their hands in the air, M-16 assault rifles beside them, and chanted heavy metal-flavoured lyrics in praise of Christ late on Friday in a yellow-brick chapel.
They counted among thousands of troops surrounding the city of Fallujah, seeking solace as they awaited Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's decision on whether or not to invade Fallujah.
"You are the sovereign. You're name is holy. You are the pure spotless lamb," a female voice cried out on the loudspeakers as the marines clapped their hands and closed their eyes, reflecting on what lay ahead for them.
The US military, with many soldiers coming from the conservative American south and midwest, has deep Christian roots.
In times that fighting looms, many soldiers draw on their evangelical or born-again heritage to help them face the battle.
"It's always comforting. Church attendance is always up before the big push," said first sergeant Miles Thatford.
"Sometimes, all you've got is God."
Between the service's electric guitar religious tunes, marines stepped up on the chapel's small stage and recited a verse of scripture, meant to fortify them for war.
One spoke of their Old Testament hero, a shepherd who would become Israel's king, battling the Philistines 3,000 years ago.
"Thus David prevailed over the Philistines," the marine said, reading from scripture, and the marines shouted back "Hoorah, King David," using their signature grunt of approval.
The marines drew parallels from the verse with their present situation, where they perceive themselves as warriors fighting barbaric men opposed to all that is good in the world.
"Victory belongs to the Lord," another young marine read.
Their chaplain, named Horne, told the worshippers they were stationed outside Fallujah to bring the Iraqis "freedom from oppression, rape, torture and murder ... We ask you God to bless us in that effort."
The marines then lined up and their chaplain blessed them with holy oil to protect them.
"God's people would be anointed with oil," the chaplain said, as he lightly dabbed oil on the marines' foreheads.
The crowd then followed him outside their small auditorium for a baptism of about a half-dozen marines who had just found Christ.
The young men lined up and at least three of them stripped down to their shorts.
The three laid down in a rubber dinghy filled with water and the chaplain's assistant, navy corpsman Richard Vaughn, plunged their heads beneath the surface.
Smiling, Vaughn baptised them "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
Dripping wet, corporal Keith Arguelles beamed after his baptism.
"I just wanted to make sure I did this before I headed into the fight," he said on the military base not far from the city of Fallujah.
These thirty-five marines are only a handful of the reported 10,000 U.S. troops now ‘liberating’ Fallujah in what is one of the bloodiest encounters of this barbaric attack on Iraq. A friend sent me a Nov 10th report by an Arab source, Quds Press News Service, which said that up until then, resistance fighters had found the bodies of 17 dead marines, American troops had lost 7 tanks and were forced to withdraw to the northern edges of the city, and that “the Islamic resistance in Iraq intends to execute 5 marines of the 36 being held, every day, if the American forces do not halt their assault on the city.”
Skepticism about the credibility of this Arab press service report of fierce resistance to the American invasion -- it might just be false propaganda -- can in good part be put to rest because it is confirmed (not completely) by reports in the corporate media in the U.S., Great Britain and elsewhere. A Nov 11 New York Times piece, titled “Hard Lesson in Battle: 150 Marines Meet 1 Sniper” gives a glimpse of the tenacious and deadly, effective resistance U.S. troops are encountering. To see this article, copy and paste the following two parts of the URL into your browser, eliminating the space between them before you click to open the page: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/11/international/middleeast/11snipers.html?h p&ex=1100235600&en=0879c52c261dfe9b&ei=5094&partner=homepage
The Nov 12 Seattle Times reports, “In the Fallujah offensive alone, at least 18 U.S. troops had been killed in action and 178 wounded as of yesterday, according to Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division in Fallujah. The more severely injured — 102 yesterday — were flown to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany . . .” http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002089034_killed12.html.
The Nov 12 Times-Argus of Montpelier and Barre, Vermont reports, “U.S. and Iraqi forces continued fighting with guerrillas in Fallujah on Thursday as deadly insurgent attacks took their toll in other areas of the country. . .The number of wounded in action was listed as 178 for U.S. forces and 34 for Iraqi forces.” This dispatch is at http://www.timesargus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20041112/NEWS/411120361/1002.
An AP report in the International Herald Tribune of Nov 12 said the U.S. military hospital in southwest Germany [Landstuhl Medical Center] is “expanding bed capacity to care for a stream of wounded from Falluja, officials said Thursday [the 11th]. A planeload with 53 wounded from Iraq, most of them from Falluja, arrived Thursday morning, and another with 49 more wounded was expected . . .” Article at http://www.iht.com/articles/2004/11/11/news/troops.html.
The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) of Nov 12 reports, “US marines faced strong resistance on day four of a military push against Iraqi insurgents in Falluja.” U.S. commanders said “About 600 insurgents are reported dead, but the civilian casualty figure is not clear. US officials also said 69 US troops had been wounded during the fighting.” The article quotes Fadhil Badrani, journalist in Falluja, “There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable”. Also, “Earlier, two US Cobra attack helicopters were forced down by small arms fire while flying over Falluja. The crews of both were rescued.” Report at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4003549.stm.
Yes, civilian casualties are unclear (claim U.S. military), but it’s reassuring to know that the stench of decomposing bodies doesn’t come from the corpses of marine Cobra helicopter crews or other dead U.S. troops. After all, ours is a culture which sanctifies life.
We ought to be very critical of all the media reports we see, ‘theirs’ and ‘ours’. ‘Theirs’ speaks of “resistance fighters” whereas ‘ours’ refer to them as “insurgents.” Is the resistance legitimate, justified in opposing an ‘invading occupation army’? Or is the army obeying the order of ‘Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi', legitimate head of a legitimate Iraqi government, in order to return Fallujah to ‘civilian control’?
In God We Trust
In Cambridge, where I spent several summer months in 2003 and 2004, I often walked across the beautiful Massachusetts Avenue Bridge over the Charles River on my way from Cambridge to Boston or back. Especially on a stifling hot and humid day, that stretch of the walk usually offers an oasis of refreshing breezes sweeping downstream across the broad expanse of rippling water. At the Cambridge side sit the formidable structures of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where highly-paid scientists and technicians developed the complex electronic inertial guidance systems for America’s multipli-targeted nuclear warheads, thereby insuring peace for us because the Soviet Union wouldn’t dare misbehave and risk the loss of all its major cities in a few minutes. Many MIT students didn’t (and don’t) like war. During the Vietnam War, they actively protested MIT’s war work, some of which was then moved a few blocks off campus to the ‘independent’ Draper Laboratory at the appropriately named Technology Square just off Main Street, where it still flourishes doing ‘defense’ research on a rich diet of Pentagon money. Now, almost two generations later, during the slaughter of Iraqis by our peace-loving nation, today’s students have painted a question on the approach to the bridge,
MIT students are mainly well-to-do. It costs somewhere of the order of $30,000 per year to study there, not a realistic possibility for most of the U.S. troops in Fallujah. I think about 40% of them are reservists in the National Guard, many of whom needed the extra cash that their monthly training provided, and are now forced to risk losing their lives. Most of the troops in Fallujah are not, I assume, killing for Jesus. But even those highlighted in the Agence France Presse report are victimized. They are among our fellow Americans who have been doubly victimized, first by being used to slaughter people in an imperialist war pursued by a ruthless government, and second by having been ideologically duped to believe the vicious religious dogma that assures them they are killing for Christ.
I don’t doubt they are sincere in their faith, just as are many Muslims who feel driven to kill the 'infidels' now occupying and assaulting Iraqis. A fascinating article in the Nov 9, 2004 Guardian, a British daily, describes a group of a dozen fighters in Falluja who, “With Kalashnikovs in their laps and copies of the Qur'an in their hands, stared at us [the reporters] suspiciously. . .Eventually, the mujahideen started talking: ‘Who are you?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘Why the big cameras?’ But mostly they were interested only in converting us to Islam. . .another fighter, an older man with a beard and a soft voice who said his name was Abu Ossama from Tunisia. . .said. . .‘The most important thing is our religion, not Falluja and not the occupation. If the American solders came to me and converted to Islam, I won't fight them. We are here not because we want to liberate Iraq, we are here to fight the infidels and to make victorious the name of Islam’. . .When it was time to break their fast, the men poured food into a big tray and, exchanging jokes, scooped rice with their fingers. I had to keep reminding myself that these people blow up civilians every day in Iraq.”
Both the group of evangelical marines first described and some of the fundamentalist mujahideen described in this article are prepared to kill other human beings in the name of their sincerely-held religious dogma. Both accept, on religious grounds, the slaughter of ‘infidels’. Both are groups of ordinary human beings like you and me, ordinary human beings who, like all humans, have the same basic needs and desires, share similar fears and hopes, and who, like all sentient creatures, suffer pain. Both are extremist religious fundamentalists, each with its own faith. Both want to proselytize.
But there appears to be a significant difference. According to this report, which is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1346708,00.html, one of the Iraqi fighters said, "The world is convinced that we people of Falluja are happy to kill the innocents, that's not true, even when we execute collaborators and people working for the Americans, I feel sad for them and sometimes cry, but this is a war." No doubt the young marines are part of the American forces trying to subjugate the Iraqis, and the Iraqi fighters trying to rid Iraq of the aggressors are justified in their opposition. If they actually feel sad when killing non-combatants, as reported, that is a sign of human compassion. Perhaps some of the marines also feel sad at causing civilian casualties, which the AFP report omitted to mention. Let us hope so.
We, the world’s people, are at what must be one of the lowest points in human history. If we love life, as we surely do, then we must strive to turn history around, onto a different path, one that is humane, in which we can all live without fear, without oppression, with justice, secure in the fulfillment of our basic needs, with joy and personal dignity.
In Part II I will offer my thoughts on what we must do in order to make these goals not just utopian dreams but realities. I want to acknowledge and thank many good friends who have been inundating me with information about and proposals regarding the major problems we face at the moment. Because of the intensity, severity and urgency of the problems, I expect to increase somewhat the frequency of my e-mail distributions.
George, November 13, 2004
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