Torture in Iraq: the Evil of War

Friday, May 14, 2004



I had posted an article from newspaper a few days back about U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. I implied an unjust war does this to people. In response, a reader wrote:

It is possible that war has corrupted these individuals. It is equally possible that they were this corrupt and depraved prior to the war. I don't see the causative link that you propose.

Thanks for the insightful comment. I posted this response in the comments and it became so long, I turned it into an article.

Actually, I have been meditating on this since the war began, and it is sort of hard to argue what comes first.

In my opinion, killing another human being should always be something that is repulsive and sickening to any human person. Just as Christ taught that lust in the heart is already adultery, so too, Christ teaches that when we grow enraged with someone enough to desire their death, we have already committed murder in our hearts (Matt 5:21-22).

The Scriptures portray sin as a force guided by a power that controls this world. Sin lies constantly at our door - like a hungry lion ready to pounce.

The Hindus speak of thoughts as something like radio waves that emanate from one person to the next. We swim in a sea of thoughts without even being aware of it, just as we know that radio and TV transmissions are all around us without physical awareness of their presence.

While I am not a Hindu, and certainly want to avoid any kind of idolatry, they must be at least partially right. If our thoughts do not somehow leave our brain, what is the point of prayer - especially to saints?

And think about the thoughts of the human race....

What kind of insanity lead to the invention of the atomic bomb?

War is evil.

I am not really saying that there is no such thing as a "just war".

But are we merely called to justice?

If justice was the height of perfection, I'd be damned, because my acts and thoughts have been unjust.

The Gospel calls us to something beyond justice. We are called to love!

When you love someone, the idea of killing that person is simply unthinkable. What sort of parent would kill their own child - even when angry?

We'd all call such a parent sick.

If we think of Jesus' calling to us as a calling to health and wholeness - to our original state before the Fall, human beings were originally created to love one another. A perfect human being would never, ever, under any circumstances, kill another human being in anger.

So what can we say about a person who would voluntarily join the military, even in a time of peace - as most soldiers before the war in Iraq?

I am not saying these people are personally at fault for a specific personal sin.

However, I am implying that they are caught up in an delusion,..., a sort of mental sickness.

And the sickness is not just something that effects the soldier. It effects the entire country - and it's a sickness we've had for so long that we're not aware we are sick.

We are like schizophrenics who refuse to take our meds because we believe someone is trying to poison us.

Maybe we are not subjectively at fault for sin, because we do not act with full understanding and full freedom of will - just as the mentally ill are not always personally culpable for their acts even according to the Church.

The fact that we cannot assign personal culpability very easily is why I can support our troops as persons - respect their consciences - love them - pray for them - want them to return soon and safely - and even admire the virtues that they possess such as courage and loyalty - and hope for the best for the people of Iraq.

Yet, I believe the desire to express the very real virtues a soldier possesses by taking up arms is a wrong choice made from a sort of delusional thinking.

When one begins to question the very notion of building up arms during peace time, it becomes apparent that society is sick. And the difficulty we have in imagining a world without arms only reveals the depth of the sickness.

As Christians, I believe we are called to be people who can imagine health and wholeness - a world where we will all truly love one another.

From imagination, we also begin to guide our acts to align with this. However, even the very act of imagining peace in the here and now is having its effect. Imagining peace is sending thought transmissions of peace into the universe. Imagining peace is prayer!

In order to imagine peace, we must stop rationalizing death and destruction. Let go of the thoughts such as "They started it" or "they deserve it" or "They're out to get us" and begin to imagine forgiveness and love. 1 Jn 4:18 tells us perfect love cast out all fear.

Imagine the infinite love and mercy of the all powerful and eternal God pouring like a torrential downpour on Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin laden, Slobodon Milosovich, Kim Jong-il (of N. Korea), Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khomenei (of Iran), Bashar al-Asad (of Syria), Muamar Qadhafi (Libya), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Jiang Zemin (China), Jacques Chirac (France), Gerhard Schroeder (Germany), Tony Blair (G. Britain), George Bush, Dick Cheney, the U/S. Supreme Court, Congress, and Senate, Kofi Anon and all U.N. representatives, Pope John Paul II and all the bishops, and all our world leaders and the peoples they lead.

Imagine the infinite love of God wearing away their hearts of stone and softening them till they have hearts of flesh as Ezekiel prophecied.

Stop thinking in terms of "us verses them", and start thinking in terms of "we".

Start trying to understand the world from the point of view of your worst enemies.

By the way, for those who say I should follow my own advice toward "conservatives" - I was conservative for more than half my life so far, and understand the conservative point of view very well.

I have learned, however, that there is as much flaw in what many conservatives believe as there is among liberals. Conservatives often correctly point to practical problems with liberal ideology, but liberals have their hearts in the right place. Conservatives often ignore the political ramifications of the call to love one another and make assertions of certainties where certainty is not really possible. One side is not "more right" than the other. We're all stumbling along in darkness.

I am not actually so much a hard core liberal/progressive as a skeptic who still manages to trust in the goodness of a God who would reveal himself in a person like Jesus.

Jesus is our ultimate guide. Confronted by the power of evil - even in the face of death - and knowing his disciples would suffer the same way - Jesus was non-violent, forgiving and loving.

We claim the same Holy Spirit who dwelled in him now dwells in us through baptism. We cannot excuse ourselves from the call to love all people by saying, "But he's God, and I'm not."

This explains our thoughts and actions in the past - but not the here and now and the future. If the Spirit of God dwells in you and you are fully responding to that Spirit, the very idea of war would seem to me to be the most repulsive thought imaginable.

So yes. The soldiers in our military who are now doing horrendous deeds are sick, and yes, the sickness was there before they did the deeds - but unjust war and this torture are symptoms of a single disease rooted in the Fall of humanity - and everyone in America who was not actively opposed to this war is somehow complicit in the act by their very thoughts of destruction toward Arab peoples.

That last point may sound harsh and judgmental, but I can no more help feeling that way than the average Christian is outraged when a child is abused. Anger itself is not the sin. Rather, the devaluation of another life in anger to the point contemplating death for the other is the sin - even when done in the mind and heart.

the U.S. has spent more than the rest of the entire world combined on military technology, hardware and human resources for decades. For decades, we have lived with a spiritual tumor that is so bad it is killing us.

The same spiritual force behind the war in Iraq is the same spiritual force that gave us legalized abortion and the federal death penalty. It is the same power of darkness that gave us euthanasia. It is the same prince of the world that promotes drugs and gave us AIDs and destroys our marriages and wreaks suffering and violence around the globe.

It is always and everywhere less than loving to kill another human being, because the human person is the image of the divine loved by our God, and therefore worthy of our love.

Peace and blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 2:22 PM

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