Ever since the invasion of Iraq, I have been absolutely amazed by the position taken by many American Christians. Needless to say, I’m no theologian but it just seems to me that it would be difficult to find a clearer example of a violation of God’s prohibition against murder than what the U.S. government has done to the Iraqi people, with the full support of many American Christians.
You’ll recall that initially, the Bush administration justified its planned invasion of Iraq based on its infamous WMD scare. Bush and other U.S. officials strongly suggested that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was planning to attack the United States with the WMDs, weapons that, ironically, the United States and other Western nations had furnished him several years before so that he could use them against the Iranian people. (That’s why Bush and his people were so certain that U.S. troops would find WMDs in Iraq — they had the receipts!)
Prior to his invasion of Iraq, Bush’s goal was to implant a tremendous post-9/11 fear into the American people, a fear that would motivate Americans into supporting an invasion of the country without asking too many challenging questions.
And it worked. The vast majority of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq under the concept of self-defense. That is, people convinced themselves or permitted themselves to be convinced that because Iraq was about to attack the United States, the U.S government was justified in initiating a preemptive strike on Iraq. I recall many Americans saying, “The president has access to information that we don’t have. We have to trust him on this. He’s our president.”
Yet, after the invasion occurred there came a point where it was obvious that the fear of a WMD attack by Saddam was baseless and that all the evidence and insinuations by the Bush administration that a WMD attack was imminent were false and groundless.
At that point, one would ordinarily think that U.S. officials would have apologized for having invaded a country under false or baseless premises and quickly exited the country. One would also have thought that Americans would have expressed remorse and contrition over the killing, maiming, and torture of the Iraqi people up to that point.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, the U.S. government announced that it intended to continue occupying Iraq and quickly shifted its primary justification for its invasion and occupation from WMDs to the benefits of bringing democracy to Iraq and the Middle East.
Many Americans, including Christians, embraced this new justification without skipping a beat. Since the day the WMD scare evaporated, countless Iraqis have been killed, maimed, and tortured, notwithstanding the fact that not one single one of them had anything whatsoever to do with 9/11.
This new justification that American Christians have relied on for supporting the killing of people in Iraq turns on an arithmetical calculation. The idea is that Iraqis who survive the invasion and occupation are better off today with democracy than they were under dictatorship and, therefore, the killing of countless Iraqis to accomplish that goal is morally and theologically justified.
Again, I’m no religious scholar, but I have a very difficult time believing that God approves of that sort of utilitarian approach to killing people. If God approved of such an approach, it seems to me that He would have said, “Thou shalt not kill unless the killing will bring democracy to everyone else.”
That’s not what He said. He said, “Thou shalt not kill.”
Now I can understand how one could arrive at a concept of self-defense from God’s commandment against killing. But for the life of me, I cannot understand how one can arrive at a conclusion that God supports the killing of some people (or even just one person) for the sake of bringing democracy to everyone else.
We saw this same utilitarian mindset prior to the invasion of Iraq, during the 11 years of brutal economic sanctions that the U.S. government and the UN were enforcing against Iraq. During that sanctions, Iraqi children were dying from illnesses from such things as sewage-infested waters. The attitude among U.S. officials, and the American Christians who supported the sanctions, was that the deaths were worth the effort to oust Saddam from power and replace him with a U.S.-supported ruler.
That mindset was reflected by U.S. official Madeleine Albright. She was asked by “Sixty Minutes” whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been worth it, and she responded that they had in fact been “worth it.”
Again, the mindset was: It is okay to kill people — in this case, children — for the greater, long-term good of the American and Iraqi people.
Is such a utilitarian calculation really consistent with Christian principles? I can’t see how.
What’s even more amazing to me is that there has never been an upward limit placed on the number of Iraqis who could be killed (or maimed or tortured) in order to achieve democracy in Iraq.
In fact, we don’t know even know how many Iraqis have been killed because early on U.S. officials announced that they would keep track only of the American dead, not Iraqi dead. That seems to me to be an unusual policy, especially when the U.S. government is supposedly doing all this for the benefit of the Iraqi people, or at least those who survive the invasion and occupation.
Doesn’t the failure to keep count of the Iraqi dead imply that the number of Iraqi dead doesn’t really matter? If it takes 10,000, or 100,000, or a million dead, it’s considered a regrettable but necessary step to achieving democracy. And if democracy is achieved, the deaths are to be considered “worth it,” just as the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were considered “worth it.”
Many American Christians claim that Muslims are inherently violent people. But it seems to me that such a description could easily be applied to those American Christians who see nothing wrong with killing an unlimited number of people for the sake of achieving such political goals as democracy and regime change.