Many Americans subscribe to the adage that “might makes right.” It is foolhardy, however, because those who are on the receiving end of our might – those maimed and killed by U.S. drone attacks and by F-15E Strike Eagle and other air strikes – don’t forget who was responsible for their suffering. Many victims are innocent civilians.
Last October, a U.S. airstrike hit a Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 22 people. According to a USA Today report, a “heavily armed” U.S. AC-130 gunship “pummeled the hospital.”
In other words, ISIS is in part a consequence of, and reaction to, our government’s and our NATO allies’ belief that we can “win” the war on terror by selectively bombing the so-called “bad guys.” Because these Middle East fighters do not have access to sophisticated weaponry, they are no match for NATO and U.S. firepower. A lack of fire power doesn’t mean they won’t retaliate, however.
In recent years, we have seen a major uptick in terrorist attacks on our soil and throughout Western Europe. These crude attacks, usually carried out by religious zealots willing to die for their cause, are very hard to prevent. The loss of life, however, is often high, as in San Bernardino, Orlando and the two recent attacks in France.
Because the F-15s fly out of Goldsboro’s Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, our state plays an especially egregious role in the war on terror. While the Pentagon and Congress like to claim our airstrikes and drone attacks rarely kill civilians, independent investigations by human rights groups have contradicted those claims. These lost lives in places like Afghanistan and Iraq are nameless men, women and children, most of whom were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Pentagon simply refers to the killings of innocent victims as “collateral damage.”
In truth, we no more care about them than those who carry out attacks on the West care about us. It is a sickening cycle of violence and killing with no end in sight.
In a rare act by a president in wartime, Barack Obama apologized to Doctors Without Borders for the mistaken U.S. bombing of its hospital. But the president’s apology rings hollow if he continues the policy of air attacks that will only kill more civilians. While Obama continually claims our bombings are succeeding in crippling ISIS, one can only wonder by what measure he draws such conclusions.
The Middle East appears as unstable as ever. Attacks on the West are becoming common place, and I’m sure most American citizens no longer feel safe. The war on terror is and has been an utter failure. It is an unwinnable and counterproductive war that only emboldens ISIS and helps it recruit more suicide attackers.
Another adage we might be better off subscribing to is, “Violence begets violence.” In sacred Scripture, Jesus was clear when He told his followers, “Put away the sword. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” He also told us to, “Love our enemies.” We ignore these teachings at our own peril.
Among those killed in the Doctors Without Borders hospital were staff members and patients – including three children. Don’t be surprised if one day we hear that a suicide bombing is carried out by someone who lost a loved one in that attack on the hospital.
Patrick O’Neill is co-founder of Garner’s Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House.