Three more days until I go home for Christmas leave, and counting. It will be good to be home for a bit. I’ll be home for 9 days, which will go by way too quickly.
We’ve been training hard for the past couple weeks, firing automatic weapons and practicing convoy patrols. We’ve been practicing reacting to situations we may encounter, such as IED attacks, casualty assistance, returning fire when engaged by enemy forces, and other scenarios. Today, when we were on a practice patrol, we encountered a man standing by a vehicle with a weapon, smiling and waving at us, calling out “Americans!” as if he were friendly. As we approached, two other people got out of the vehicle and began shooting at us. The man who was waving at us also fired at us. We fired back (shooting blanks - this was just for practice and training) and “killed” the three attackers.
It was very believable, and indicative of the type of environment we will cover. People who pretend to be friendly may actually be part of the enemy forces.
The Army (and all U.S. forces, as well as those of other allied nations) have specific rules about what kind of response is allowed in what situation we encounter. We do not shoot indiscriminately, even at those times we are attacked. We use what force is necessary, and no more, in order to secure our objective, which is mostly keeping the peace.
There are posters in our living quarters, called “The Rules of a Soldier.” They include such rules as a Soldier never shoots at anyone not shooting at him, a Soldier never shoots at a non-military target, a Soldier never uses torture or abuse, a Soldier takes care of wounded enemy combatants when they are captured , and a Soldier never leaves a fallen comrade. These are not just phrases on the wall - they represent a code we live by. Anything less is dishonorable, and we all live by these rules.
Unfortunately, those we are fighting do not have similar rules. They have used civilians as shields while they attack U.S. Soldiers (knowing the U.S. will not counterattack, due to the risk of killing innocent people), they have used religious buildings (mosques) to attack U.S. forces, knowing U.S. Soldiers will not return fire towards a religious institution, and they have misrepresented themselves as friendly forces in order to attack.
This past Sunday, I went to church, as I have since I’ve been here. Before the service began, I reread one of my favorite passages, 1 Corinthians 13. I was struck once again by one of my favorite promises in scripture, written by St. Paul: “Love never fails.” It seemed like God was reminding me that ultimately right triumphs over wrong, because God cares about the oppressed, the poor and needy, and those who cannot defend themselves against those who would keep them subjugated.
I’ve never been politically conservative, but I understand the anger conservatives feel about what’s happening in the Middle East these days. Whenever I watch the news (which is about the only thing on TV here, besides sports) I am dumbfounded at the hypocrisy of those who kill their fellow Muslims in the name of their religion. And we get blamed for causing this violence. This is absurd.
I don’t know what may motivate other Soldiers to want to fight this war, but I know what motivates me. I feel like some of the Europeans probably felt who joined the Americans in fighting the English for our freedom, trying to bring about a new order, a social change long needed in the world.
I’m reminded of the last line of our National Anthem: “Then conquer we must, if our cause it is just, and this be our motto, In God is our trust.”
This will be my last writing before going home for Christmas. For all of you who may have a chance to read this, may God bless you this holiday season, and may God bring quickly that which was promised by the angels at Jesus’ birth - “Peace on Earth, good will towards all men.” Salaam, Shalom, Peace.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.