Once again I had the experience of talking with a steadfast ‘liberal’ Obama supporter and we got into the issue of whether the president had the right to order the deaths of people without any due process. It was extraordinary the lengths he went to to say that Obama must have set up this extremely careful system to make sure that only guilty people are targeted, even though he had no evidence whatsoever to make such an assertion. He said that we had to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and that if there was the occasional mistake and an innocent person died, it must be due to faulty information that he received from others.
When I asked him whether he gave president Bush (of whom he was a harsh critic, especially of his decision to invade Iraq) the same benefit of the doubt, and that his actions could be similarly justified, he said no. In that case, he applied stricter rules of evidence to arrive at the conclusion that Bush had lied us into war.
Of course, the Obama supporter could not deny that in the course of the drone attacks that the US is conducting all over the world, innocent civilians are being killed, as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism painstakingly documents. But he said that this was inevitable and that “war is hell”.
That phrase makes me see red.
Not because it is not true. War is hell. It causes immense misery and suffering for everyone, except an elite few. What I hate about it is that you can be absolutely certain that when someone uses that phrase to minimize or excuse some military atrocity, none of their own loved ones are in danger of being victims of that hell.
When I asked this person whether he would so casually say ‘war is hell’ if one of the victims had been his own son or daughter, he was taken aback because it was clear that the thought had never occurred to him. He tried to imply that he might be persuaded that his child had been guilty of whatever Obama thought she or he was guilty of and thus deserving of summary execution, but it was totally unconvincing. His reaction would have been just like mine or any other parent of a child murdered by a government without due process, and that is pure unadulterated rage at the monstrous injustice.
And this is the problem. It is natural to care and grieve more for those who are close to us. I can understand that. What I find callous is the inability to feel, at least in some small part, the pain and grief that others might feel for their loss. The lives of poor people in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere are casually dismissed with facile justifications.
The people who glibly use the phrase ‘war is hell’ are those for whom it is not.