Let’s face it: Human beings are killing machines.
Almost since our stay on the planet began, we’ve been busy figuring out ways to end the lives of other living things. First it was out of necessity; humans had to kill other things in order to eat and survive. But in the so-called “modern age,” we’ve taken the craft of killing to remarkable heights.
From thrown rocks to spears; from boiling oil to trebouchet, we’ve advanced — if you want to call it that — ways of killing with each generation.
Now the news is dominated by yet another foreign policy crisis; yet another war. And world leaders are making decisions based not on the fact that thousands of people have been/are being killed. They are concentrating on the way some of them have been exterminated.
It seems that death by a .50-caliber machine gun bullet or by napalm dropped from a jet is somehow less heinous than by poison gas delivered via artillery shell.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since what amounts to a civil war began in that nation, and it would be inaccurate to say that the world has ignored that on-going war. What is accurate, however, is the notion that the world — especially the government of the United States — began paying rapt attention when the gassing deaths of more than 1,400 people, including women and children, became public.
The president and others in government are arguing that the use of chemical weapons has crossed some imaginary line. The Syrian government, if it’s proven that they did the deed, must be punished with military strikes, the argument goes. No doubt there will be other deaths as a result of those strikes; perhaps even “collateral” damage, as the deaths of civilians are often called.
Make no mistake, the Catholic Church — from Pope Francis on down — condemns the use of chemical weapons. But the church has also condemned the use of any weapons, and condemned most armed conflict around the world.
So it is important to listen to the words of Pope Francis and others in the church as the debate over chemical weapons — and retaliation for their use — continues.
Last week the pope asked leaders of the 20 nations with the world’s largest economies to set aside their ideas about retaliating against the government of Syria. He called the idea “the futile pursuit of a military solution.”
Both the pope and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked President Barack Obama to avoid the temptation of military retaliation.
“We join you in your absolute condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Richard E. Pates, chairman of the bishop’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote in a letter to the president.
“These indiscriminate weapons have no place in the arsenals of the family of nations,” the letter said. “With you we mourn for the lives lost and grieve with the families of the deceased.” But like Pope Francis — and the Syrian Catholic bishops — they conclude that “a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation and will have unintended negative consequences.”
So far in the two-and-a-half years of the Syrian civil war between the government of Bashar al-Assad and rebels who want him out of office, no one knows exactly how many people have died. News stories use numbers ranging from 100,000 to 400,000. The United Nations says two million people have been driven out of Syria and another four million have been displaced — or had their homes destroyed — inside the country.
The proposed response to all of this has, of course, been more killing. Though there is a glimmer of hope. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin have stepped into the fray — Kerry suggested Syria give up all her chemical and biological weapons to the international community and Russia said it would take them. Surprisingly, a Syrian spokesman agreed to the idea, though later in the day President Assad denied that his nation even had such weapons. And so the dance continues.
We need raids to “destroy and degrade” Assad’s ability to attack with chemical weapons again, some generals say. These raids, they argue, might help bring his army to its knees.
Yet other generals note the dominoes that might fall if such attacks occur. If the U.S. unilaterally bombs Syria, Iran says it will come to its neighbor’s defense. Military experts say if that happens, then Israel will let loose the dogs of war on Iran. And should that occur, who in God’s name knows what the Russians will do?
Through the ages, we’ve become experts at killing one another, and no one seems to know a way to make it stop.
But Jesus did and does. He said “love one another.”
That would do it.