I don’t know how evangelical Christians, among them President Bush, can forget the suffering of civilians in the Iraq war while professing, as he did, religious compassion for five-day-old laboratory embryos.
Take the Mansur bombing in Baghdad. Reuters and other news organizations reported under a Washington dateline on April 7, 2003, the U.S. announcement that a B-1 bomber dropped four 2,000-pound bombs on a Baghdad building where Saddam Hussein and his two sons may have been meeting.
Lara Logan, a new CBS reporter, went to the scene, where she encountered smoking rubble and enraged Iraqi residents screaming about dead neighbors and family members. There were no coalition forces to be seen.
Her report had a compassionate tone that, I thought, was perfectly appropriate. It was an interesting departure from the stone-faced objectivity of the older reporters who keep their cynical distance. Logan said, “This crater is all that remains of four families and their homes.”
The next day, coincidentally, she was in the Palestine Hotel when it was shelled by a U.S. tank. Two journalists were killed and three injured. I happened to see Logan’s live report from the scene, and she was obviously shaken and upset because she knew one of the victims.
She reported later, according to a CBS transcript, “The U.S. military said that they were under fire from the building – small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. But I know, because I was in the building, along with all the other journalists who were here, that no one was firing from this building.” She said the incident “brings it home to us because we’re here on the ground. But this is happening to Iraqi families all across Baghdad.”
Logan was criticized for bias on at least one “liberal media” watchdog Web site. The networks were sensitive to this sort of criticism, and soon she was assigned elsewhere. I have found no information on this, but I do know that Peter Arnett, a seasoned war correspondent (He won the Pulitzer Prize for his AP reporting from Vietnam), had already been fired by NBC for pro-Iraqi bias.
Last May 25 by accident I encountered the Mansur bombing again, from a new perspective. Early on that Sunday morning I was watching “The Hour of Power,” live from the Rev. Robert H. Shuller’s Crystal Catherdral in wealthy Orange County in Southern California. It’s Shuller’s custom to have interviews of interesting people from his podium during the Sunday service, and on this day an Air Force officer stood in uniform.
Shuller opened: “I cannot imagine such a good looking, tenderhearted guy like you piloting a B-1.” The pilot (whom I will not name) responded, “Well, it’s fun.” He told how on April 7, 2003, he and his crew of three were completing a two-hour reconnaissance mission when they received the coordinates for a bombing target and orders to fly there immediately. “We took a look on the charts and saw that the new target was in the center of Baghdad,” he said.
The command checked the coordinates three times, telling the B-1 this could be the “big one.” The pilot said (and this is from the transcript on the church Web site): “They told me that General Mosely, who was in charge of the whole air war, and General Franks, were monitoring the operation. With these two generals watching, we just couldn’t miss on this one.”
Shuller said, “Wow!”
The pilot went on, “Everything worked flawlessly on the B-1. We came in and released our weapons. All bombs came off perfectly and they hit with a hundred percent precision.
Shuller: “Could you see them hit?”
The Pilot: “No sir, we don’t.”
When they landed they found they were heroes because they had bombed Saddam and his two sons (although this turned out to be false).
“Wow,” said Shuller, and he went on to establish that the pilot prayed and read the Bible regularly and that his faith helped him in his career. The pilot said crews are led in prayer by an Air Force chaplain before every mission, “and we thank God when every single plane in the unit returns home.”
Shuller praised Gen. Franks for attention to preventing civilian deaths, adding, “but that’s out of your hand’s, isn’t it?” The pilot said, because of precision bombing, “the restaurant building that we hit is a hole of rubble, but all the buildings around it are still standing.”
Shuller thanked him. “God loves you, so do we,” he said. The congregation applauded enthusiastically.
Now, in the second debate with John Kerry, George Bush expressed moral anguish about stem-cell research. He said, “I had to make the decision do we destroy more life?” Nowhere do I find a similar sentiment about the decision to begin bombing Baghdad in March 2003, or to carry out leader-targeted bombing that is euphemistically called “decapitation.” And those were decisions within the province of the commander in chief. Those involving theology are not.
There is no end to argument about when in the human reproductive cycle the life of a person begins, but the death of a full person – of the Mansur family members — is not a philosophical issue. It’s fact. And when a decision gets a lot of people killed, a display of bravado under the sign of “Mission Accomplished” shows a willful blindness, not the vaunted moral certainty of the evangelical Christians.
A week after the Mansur bombing the Boston Globe quoted residents saying 18 innocent people had lost their lives. A man whose sister and three of her children were killed said, ”I’d rather have died with them.” The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report in December 2003 that the Mansur bombs missed and destroyed three houses, killing 18. The military does not do investigations to verify or debunk collateral damage.
Bush said of the stem-cell issue, “I made the decision to balance science and ethics.” But the dilemma he conjures is not ethics. It’s politics. If he lets science be, he loses support within his evangelical Christian base, which holds to the superstition that the harvesting of stem cells is abortion. Ever since these believers forced the “family values” platform through the Republican National Convention in 1992, the recriminalization of abortion has been an article of GOP faith. It is an obsession of John Ashcroft, among other Bush appointees.
Kerry is for stem-cell research, and he dropped the names of Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox among all the other suffering victims of inoperable neurological disorders who might be saved by this new medical miracle.
This is not intended to vindicate Kerry, who lately talks tough like Bush. Both avowed Christians argued about Iraq for the better part of three hours without either one regretting in any memorable way the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. But presumably Kerry as a Catholic is closer to Pope John Paul II’s position against not only abortion but also the death penalty and the war in Iraq.