Image courtesy of CNN and House of Charity. Image courtesy of CNN and House of Charity.

Friday’s Last Word – Pull Pin, Throw Grenade, Run Away: A provocative thought to kick off the weekend…

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

How much time do we as a society reflect on the damage we inflict on other societies in war?  Any at all? Don’t get me wrong, I’m clearly not a pacifist and certainly believe that the United States generally stands for good in the world.  But often – to do good – we have to do things that are not so good.

Is this societal apathy a function of the size of our military?  That is, does Joe Citizen believe that since society has created extreme specialization in warfighting – he doesn’t bear any responsibility for conflict and war damage?  Author Sebastian Junger took this up recently in the Washington Post,

“The country approved, financed and justified war – and sent the soldiers to fight it. This is important because it returns the moral burden of war to its rightful place: with the entire nation. If a soldier inadvertently kills a civilian in Baghdad, we all helped kill that civilian. If a soldier loses his arm in Afghanistan, we all lost something.”

I think there’s something to this – broad moral burden for war.  I say it in class often: armies don’t fight wars, societies fight wars.  I don’t think yellow ribbons and parades really do all that much – either to connect with America’s armed conflicts – or, equally important, heal truly traumatized veterans.

How do we break this societal apathy?

As I don’t really know the answer to that question (!), I’ll conclude with one interesting suggestion from journalist Jeremy Scahill, in a recent discussion at the Commonwealth Club of California.  The interviewer asks a final question before wrapping up the session: “What is your 60 second idea to change the world?”  Scahill responded,

“It should be the responsibility of every American to make it their business to research the story of one person who has been killed in a U.S. military operation that was an innocent civilian and read their story and know it and try to find as much information about them as they can.  So that when you have these discussions about our policies that there’s a real story that you know that you’ve internalized and you’ve owned as your own…

I think if we all adopt a story from halfway around the world of someone who’s life was either ended or impacted in a tragic way by our policies, then we can’t just be turning a blind eye to the realities of what our foreign policy is doing around the world.”

Consider starting with 4 year old, Shakira (from the image above).