Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Please stop using women and children as excuses to go to war

I wrote this last week in the middle of the night. I updated it after the president's most recent speech. It has been weighing heavily on me, so posting it here today:

Please stop using women and children as excuses to go to war.

In the last few weeks, the leaders of the USA have spoken a lot about our ethical responsibility to save Syria from chemical weapons. As was done by former president George W. Bush in Iraq, rescuing women and children from living under oppressive and violent regimes has emerged as a important motivation for US military action. President Obama opened his remarks on Syria on August 31 by speaking of the fate of women and children. Earlier this week, he again opened by reminding us that “Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children” (emphasis mine).

On August 23, John Kerry actually spoke of the treatment of women and children as a moral obscenity. He said, “The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable.” He is quite right.

Except that it does not make much sense that military action is the proper response, for, as UNICEF has reported, “armed conflict kills and maims more children than soldiers.” Which we have seen in our own military's record on moral obscenities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan is abysmal. As I listened to John Kerry speak, massacres in Majalah in Yemen where 21 children and 14 women were killed in 2009 US missile strikes echoed in my memory.

So too, our domestic record in which women and children suffer from lack of access to health care, in which women's reproductive health is seen as a political football rather than a human right, in which children's head start programs are the first to be cut in the face of fiscal problems, in which women still in 2013 do not receive equal pay for equal work--- all of this makes plain to me that women and children are not interesting to us as a nation except as excuses to go to war.

And as I write this, I also remember hearing some people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo talking in glowing terms about former president Bill Clinton's push of NATO intervention during the genocide in the 1990s. I am not proposing we do nothing as women and children are violently attacked by their own government. Rather, more of us need to echo folks like Rev. Andy Oliver at Reconciling Ministries Network who wrote, “Please stop repeating the story that our wars keep us safe, our killing is justified, our weapons are humane, please stop repeating it because it isn't true.” Or folks like Jim Wallis at Sojourners who wrote, “Old military solutions have clearly failed. It’s time to find a better and more successful way.” There are no easy answers, but there is an imperative to find a new way.

Rather, we need to lead a creative response to moral obscenities in a way that does not do further harm to civilians, particularly women and children. We need actually care for and show compassion for civilians brutalized by any government, rather than ignoring them until we can use them as talking points and rallying cries to justify ramping up the war machine.

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