Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Pacifism’

Missiles Won’t Save Syrian Children

In Current events, The Trump Administration, Wars and Rumors of Wars on April 11, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Syrian children

I’ve been decrying the violence against children in Syria for five years now, since my heart was torn apart by a video of Rena, a four-year-old Syrian girl shot by a sniper back in 2012. I’ve posted other photos and videos of dead and dying Syrian children since then  – admittedly with few suggestions on how to make the violence against helpless children in Syria stop. I’m still struggling for answers.

By all estimates, there are certainly at least 500,000 casualties to date in the Syrian conflict, many of them children, as well as a great number of non-combatant women and men. We as Americans have their blood on our hands. The God, Guns and Glory GOP under George W Bush started a war in Iraq under dubious pretenses, and lacking any plan for the stabilization of the country afterwards, left behind the chaos that spread across the border to Syria – and gave rise to ISIS and other militant groups. These are facts – no amount of whitewashing by those who supported the war will undo their veracity. Donald Trump’s claims that Obama and Hillary created ISIS – and conservative media’s support of those statements – is frightening doublespeak revisionist history of Orwellian proportions.

And while I wouldn’t hold President Trump directly responsible for the murder of children in Syria (unlike anti-abortionist groups that called Obama a baby-killer), it is certainly possible his press secretary’s statement that toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was no longer a priority, that it was instead a “political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now”  – just a few days before the chemical attack – may have been a signal to Assad that he could deal as ruthlessly as he wanted with pockets of remaining resistance without fear of retribution from the US. In other words, Sean Spicer’s dissembling may have emboldened Assad in this latest attack. (Warning, this video is graphic and disturbing.)

The US has been complicit in the killing children in the Middle East for a long time. We’ve supported a regime in Israel that has in the last decades killed hundreds of Palestinian children in the name of ‘security’. (Yes, Palestinians kill Israelis children too, albeit in far fewer numbers and without American support). We fed and fueled the feud between Iran and Iraq for eight long years, resulting in one million dead Iranians and half that number of Iraqis. Not content to simply stoke the fire, we embarked on two major excursions into Iraq, the last of which produced an estimated 100,000 further civilian casualties. President Obama laughed ISIS off as a ‘JV team’, and did too little too late as they grew to power, sacrificing thousands more lives in the region. We’ve failed to take any effective action in Syria, while many thousands of children have died.

I think a secularist worldview, trying to find rational solutions to the world’s problems, by nature creates strong pacifist tendencies. War is almost never the correct solution to the problem, be it political, religious, economic, or otherwise. War is never clean or neat or ‘surgical’ – these terms apply only to the side that has sufficient technology to inflict much greater harm than it suffers, countries like Israel and the US. There is always ‘collateral damage’, meaning the slaughter of innocents, which in my opinion is unacceptable. But if military action is ever a solution – and I do believe it sometimes is necessary (is that because of the American side to being americansecularist? I’m not sure), then certainly protecting the most vulnerable among us would be one of those times.

I’m going to cut Mr. Trump some slack on his missile-attack response to the latest Syrian atrocity. The cynic in me says that, much like then-President Clinton’s airstrike on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, (read Christopher Hitchen’s brilliant deconstruction of that action ), Trump needed to create a distraction from the Russia scandal – and gross incompetence – his administration has been mired in. Bonus points that he had to stop holding hands with Putin to give the order. Trump and the GOP have been wildly inconsistent on military action since George W left office – or perhaps wildly Machiavellian. Their position has basically been that if Obama took action, it was a mistake; if he didn’t, he was weak.

However, I’m going to assume that Donald Trump saw these videos and was moved by them – as anyone should be – and that led to an actual change of heart. I’m going to assume the 180-degree change of opinion on Syrian action was motivated by genuine human concern and outrage when, perhaps for the first time, he came face-to-face with the realities there.

But missiles do not policy make, and if we want to see an end to the indiscriminate killing of children in the Middle East – and elsewhere – it will require intelligent, effective policies that so far no administration has been able to come up with. Airstrikes are the equivalent of taking away your teenager’s allowance after he’s murdered the neighbors, a sort of ‘well I had to do something’ kind of response. In fact, the bombed runway is already in use, and I’m sure innocents in Syria continue to be slaughtered by their own government – maybe not with gas canisters this time, but murdered nonetheless.

I refuse to join the partisan fray, to criticize each and every decision the ‘other side’ makes, simply because it’s the other side. But I can’t really applaud the decision either, as I don’t really see what it accomplishes. I understand – after I see these videos, I want to throw missiles at someone – anyone responsible – as well. However, it does absolutely nothing to dissuade Assad and company from committing further atrocities.

Real remedy in Syria requires intelligence, competence, and the guts to make unpopular decisions. I am pessimistic that our current president is any more capable – indeed is in many ways less capable – of solving Syria than his predecessors.

The photo above comes from an excellent aljazeera.com post – a must-read if you’re not clear on the causes current Syrian conflict.

Please Don’t Forget Rena

In Current events, Wars and Rumors of Wars on February 8, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Bodies-of-children-wrapped-in-shrouds

I wrote months ago about how the tragedy in Syria is wreaking havoc on that nation’s children, and I fear not much has changed since then. At that time, there was a news story about a 4-year-old girl named Rena had been shot by a sniper while playing near the window in her family’s apartment. She died a few hours later, gurgling blood as she called our her for her mother. Now there are thousands more like her being starved out in besieged cities. Parents brave snipers’ bullets as they search the ruined streets and alleys for something – anything – that might feed their children. But it is estimated that perhaps half of the 100,000 dead in the conflict are children. At first I posted the CNN video into the body of this post, but I decided it may just be too hard for some to watch. Yes, even harder than the photo I decided to post above. So I’ll link to it instead – you can read the news story without seeing the video if you think it might be too upsetting.

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m not a bleeding heart. I am ashamed to say that I, like most everyone else, am pretty quick to change the channel when those Feed the Children commercials start appearing late at night. I wish I could say I didn’t. It’s so easy to get caught up in one’s own problems – even if they are infinitesimally smaller than those so many in the world face. But I don’t know how anyone can read of children being shot in the face or intentionally starved, and think that war in the Middle East – or anywhere – would somehow do some good. I was in Israel during the intifada in the 90s, and my heart grew sick at the site of crying mothers and fathers clutching their dead children – newsreels not seen in America. Twenty years later, it is obvious that wanton killing has not led to a solution. Nor has it in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, or a host of other countries around the world.

It seems we should have done something in Syria. The cynic in me says we didn’t because there’s no oil there. The realist knows that the American public is weary of war-mongering in the Middle East – for now at least – and the support for another mission there did not exist. I am against the use of drones – at least the way we’re using them right now, as the President’s personal play things – but if we’re going to use them to ‘take out bad guys’ it seems preventing people from starving young children would rank high on that list. I don’t know – I don’t have the answers.

The parties involved in the conflict are supposed to be meeting with each other in Geneva as I write this. I hope that first on the agenda would be a ceasefire and end to the sieges that are causing such misery. I am not an expert on the political situation there, and as always, it seems that what seems like a good solution at the time in that region often comes around to haunt us. But I hope that the kids there will be given food and warm clothing before more of them die.

The videos are hard to watch – you might just want to ignore them. But do me a favor, please. Before you jump on the next war bandwagon that rolls around in the US, come back and watch them. Look right into war’s grim face before you join in a glib chorus of ‘Bomb Bomb Iran‘.

And if you believe in prayer, please pray for these children.

Editor’s note:  reading this 3 years later, right after President Trump’s missile attack on an airfield there. So little has changed.

Why Pro-Lifers Should Be Anti-War

In American Society, Current events, Religion and Society on September 19, 2012 at 1:38 am

I’m having a difficult time forgetting this CNN video of 4 year-old Rena. She was playing on the balcony of her family’s apartment in Aleppo, Syria, when a bullet – not a stray, but one fired at random by a sniper – smashed through the window and into her face, dislodging one of her teeth as it pierced her cheek. The last hours of her short life were spent crying out in pain and fear, the blood gurgling in her throat as she called for her mother.

This is the real story of any modern war – the horrific suffering and death of thousands of innocents. Best estimates so far of civilian casualties in Syria are somewhere around 20,000 men, women, and children in the last year or so. The US is not involved in this war – yet – but we’re responsible for tens of thousands of civilian deaths in other wars since the start of this century – at least 100,000 in Iraq alone. Rena’s tragedy was captured on film, but thousands of others have gone un-reported, un-mourned, forgotten.

I don’t understand why the so-called Moral Majority in this country have been in favor of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; it hasn’t always been this way. The denomination I grew up in, the Assemblies of God, officially opposed participation of its members in any war until 1967. Now it seems that most Pentecostal / Charismatic churches somehow connect God, guns, patriotism, and warmongering as part of our grand American Christian tradition.

I remember a Christian music video I saw when the war in Afghanistan had just got underway.  I can’t remember the particular singer – she was a young, busty girl, with big hair and tiny cut-off shorts, dancing in front of tanks and American flags. Her rendition of Our God is an Awesome God was interspersed with sound bytes of George W. Bush saying things like “our cause is just”. The British phrase ‘gob-smacked’ is the only phrase that comes close to how I felt watching that video.

When did getting behind the war effort become a Christian virtue? And why is it that pacifism is viewed as un-American, un-patriotic, and somewhat socialist?

What does it mean to be pro-life? In Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he promised to “protect the sanctity of life” yet he clearly thinks that it’s a mistake to scale back our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and would certainly side with his good friend Benjamin Netanyahu should Israel decide to start a war with Iran – or perhaps even involve American troops in such folly. When Christians talk of the sanctity of human life, is that simply code for an anti-abortion stance?

Let’s face it – many Christians get all riled up about the rights of an unborn child – but don’t seem to care much about what happens to that child after it is already born. The hypocrisy is breath-taking. According to what I hear from pulpits across the nation, the current Christian ‘pro-life’ stance goes something like this:

If you get pregnant, you must carry the baby to term, because the life of that unborn child is sacred to God. The Bible makes it clear that God forms a child in the womb, and God’s plan for that child’s life is already drawn at conception – both Samuel and John the Baptist were destined to do God’s work when they were still unborn. The fact that you can’t afford a baby is inconsequential – it’s a sin to end the pregnancy. Once that baby is born, however, you should expect no help whatsoever from society or government in feeding, clothing, housing, or educating God’s little gift; that would make you some kind of pariah, one of Romney’s 47 percent of Americans who see themselves as victims, and are dependent on government. In fact, most Christians seem to be in favor or Paul Ryan’s plan to eviscerate government programs for the weak and poor – not while they might need them, of course, but for those others who refuse to take responsibility for themselves.

It seems that being pro-life is limited to being pro-fetus only, not to believing in the sanctity of any life that manages to emerge from its mother’s womb.

A century ago, most church buildings were simple structures, and much of the tithes brought in were distributed to the needy. Now, Christians busily build cathedrals, gymnasiums, and television studios, contributing very little to the community as a whole. So, while the church has become more miserly in their contributions to society’s most vulnerable, they have also grown dogmatic in their belief that government shouldn’t assist them either.

And in reality, pro-lifers seem to be mostly concerned about Caucasian fetuses, not so much about other varieties. The Far Right wants to make abortion illegal – but worries about Black women having more babies so they can get bigger welfare checks, or Mexican women having babies on Americans soil so they can avail themselves of government handouts. They fear that Muslims and Hindus are trying to out-breed White Americans and Europeans.

If you claim to be pro-life, then you have to be for the sanctity of all human life, not just the unborn. You must do something about the 30,000 children who die every day due to malnutrition and preventable disease. You must do whatever you can to end wars that cause the suffering of untold thousands of innocents. You must be concerned about the sky-rocketing suicide rates among enlisted American soldiers. You must insist that every child in America get at least one decent meal every day, and an education that will allow him one day to improve his lot. If you can’t do these things, you need to call yourself ‘pro-fetus’ or ‘pro-zygote’ or something else; you can’t call yourself pro-life.

So many of us cannot envision a world without war. We think that wars are inevitable, part of human nature – even necessary, perhaps valiant. Doesn’t the Bible say we will always have wars until Jesus comes back? Didn’t Jesus himself say that there would always be poor people?

It’s this kind of thinking that keeps us from changing the world for the better. It’s this kind of thinking that killed Rena.

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