Saturday, July 02, 2005

is the sacrifice worth it?

I am not at the beach, although if you are reading this blog at the beach, I tip my hat to you. I am all in favor of reading at the beach, and the extension of the general principle, of course, is that the summer usually gives us more time to read. Why? Television is mostly re-runs, although the season premier of Monk is next Friday night on the USA network (see link to the right). People are scattered in different places, and church/community committees meet with less frequency. There are few high school or college sporting activities going on. There is professional baseball, but I have found that reading and watching a baseball game are actually pretty compatible activities.

I have had the opportunity to read in a few areas that are off the subject of my normal work, meaning, not necessarily for a sermon, or a staff policy dilemma, or a church decision. I usually read The New Yorker each week, and have done so for the last twenty-five years or so, since graduating from college. I often read "The Talk of the Town", and occasionally the fiction, and more often the poetry (especially if I am familiar with the author---recent issues have included poems by Donald Hall, Mary Oliver and Seamus Heaney). I always try to read the non-fiction profiles. Since September 11, 2001, The New Yorker has included superb pieces on New York, Afghanistan, and Iraq, related to the aftermath of the attacks, the war on terror, and the war in Iraq.

A recent article by George Packer, entitled "The Home Front", is subtitled "A father asks why his son died in Iraq" (July 4, 2005). It is the most balanced, compassionate and intellectually nuanced writing I have encountered about the war, and the author, and the father, struggle with the question:
"Is the sacrifice worth it?" This, I think, was a part of my dismay with Donald Rumsfeld's nonchalant dismissal of the question about our army in Iraq ("You go to war with the military you have, not the military you wish you had"). This is behind my struggle with the fact that the majority of our elected leaders are not sending their sons or daughters to Iraq.

What does the sacrifice mean? This, to me, is a question that neither the political left nor right has had the courage to face. Packer argues that the war is in part about democracy, in part about oil, and in part about security. It is certainly not about religion; if it is, we are in the midst of the next crusade, billions of Christians at war with billions of Muslims. Even Bush administration officials deny this.

There is a temptation, when things go badly, especially when young men and women are dying in a war, to increase the volume of the marching band music, to denounce those who question as unpatriotic, to demonize the enemy. These are political strategies that avoid the hard question.

Meanwhile, the death count rises. The returning coffins cannot be photographed, and in our local newspaper, the deaths are likely to be reported in the middle of the first section, page 4 or 5, while the front page is likely to have news reports on Nascar or a missing child in Idaho or California or Aruba.

Here is the death count (U.S.):

December, 2003: 500 hundred deaths (March 1, 2003: "Mission accomplished")
September, 2004: 1000 deaths (May, 2004: Abu Graib; June, 2004: Handover to interim government)
Current Death Count: 1740

The present economic cost of the Iraq War is $180 Billion. At the war's beginning, there were serious arguments presented that the war would pay for itself.

On this holiday weekend, we remember the sacrifices of those who have given their lives for the cause of freedom. My hesitance in writing this entry has everything to do with the sacrifices of those who have given their lives so that we might live in freedom.

Still, because the cost is so great, it is always essential that we ask the question, each time we go to war: is the sacrifice worth it?

I honor the men and women who see this question, who answer "yes", and who enlist in a war that is worthy of their sacrifice. I am in no position to judge their decision, and I am obligated to pray for them.

For everyone else, the unsettling question remains, to be answered in the years to come:

Is the sacrifice worth it?


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