The way of all war

A hospital in Afghanistan goes up in flames

Oct 26, 2015 by

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Doctors Without Borders wants answers about an Oct. 3 U.S. airstrike that killed 22 people at its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. They’ve demanded a war-crimes investigation. Was the bombing due to negligence, willful disregard for civilian casualties, or a tragic error amid the “fog of war”?

No matter what evidence might be found to explain the terrible incident, one fact is not in doubt: In this war, like every war, innocent people die. That is one of the reasons many Anabaptists and other Christians who are committed to nonviolence oppose the war in Afghanistan and have done so for all of its 14 years.

A Pentagon statement used the dehumanizing phrase “collateral damage” to describe the deadly attack. Witnesses said patients burned in their beds. A doctor died while undergoing an emergency operation on his office desk. Because the attack destroyed a hospital run by a Western humanitarian group, these wrenching details drew attention around the world.

But most incidents of civilian carnage go largely unnoticed. In June, a U.S. airstrike destroyed an Iraqi factory that was making bombs for the Islamic State and “flattened an entire neighborhood,” killing 70, including civilians, Reuters reported. A Canadian air attack killed between six and 27 civilians earlier this year in Iraq.

This is the way of all war. Even with “rigorous procedures to minimize civilian harm,” which the Center for Civilians in Conflict says the U.S. has, eventually a hospital goes up in flames. High-minded goals and glossy policies can’t change war’s evil nature.

Today’s asymmetrical wars pit relatively weak terrorist groups against vastly more powerful conventional forces. The nature of these conflicts makes the combatants even less likely to follow traditional “just war” rules. When the weaker side mixes with civilians, the stronger one accepts that noncombatant deaths are inevitable. Ethicists question whether such wars can ever be moral. Cecile Fabre, author of Cosmopolitan War, has written of “contingent pacifism” — the view that today’s wars are almost never justified because they seldom meet the conditions for a just war.

In some ways, such a view is not far removed from the absolute pacifism of the Anabaptist tradition. Yet there is an essential difference: Christ-centered nonviolence is unconditional and rooted in the call of the Prince of Peace on our lives.

The bombing of the Kunduz hospital shows the need to take to heart, and to put into action, an antiwar statement that Mennonite Church USA delegates passed last summer. The resolution, “Faithful Witness Amid Endless War,” laments that we rarely object when innocent people are killed on our behalf. It warns against letting unending warfare dull our moral sensitivity. It urges “a renewed emphasis on trusting God and the way of Jesus, not violence, for our security.” The bombing of a hospital confirms our objection and sharpens our conscience.

Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

About Me