On Saturday, October 3, 2015, the United States military launched an attack on a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
They said at first it was “collateral damage.” Later on they called it a mistake, the fault of Afghan soldiers who called for the attack, and the work of US Special Forces. In most cases where careless military action results in civilian casualties, they go with “collateral damage” and leave it at that. If the victim this time weren’t a large international medical organization, we probably wouldn’t have heard so much about it and the US military wouldn’t have been put on the defensive. When people start looking at exactly what “collateral damage” was done, it becomes painfully obvious what an inadequate and even obscenely callous response it is.
In September of 1945, in response to the Hiroshima bombing, Dorothy Day noted, “…while we went for obliteration bombing, Russia was very careful not to bomb cities, [not] to bomb civilian populations.” A month later she wrote:
What to do?
We can only suggest one thing — destroy the two billion dollars’ worth of equipment that was built to make the atomic bomb; destroy all the formulas; put on sackcloth and ashes, weep and repent. And God will not forget to show mercy.
Instead, we have done the opposite. We celebrate war, we take pride in the fact that we can obliterate people without ever needing to see them or know who they were. When a gunman randomly kills ten people in an Oregon college, a major Presidential candidate shrugs it off — “Stuff happens,” he says. Does human life really mean so little to us these days?
Whenever another of these all-too-common mass shootings occurs — whenever this “stuff happens” — there are those who are quick to blame it on an epidemic of untreated mental illness. They’re right, I’d say, but not in the way they think. The illness is cultural. It’s a glorification of violence, a disregard for the value of life. I recall an online discussion recently about the word “invaluable.” The word means above and beyond any measurable value, and remarkably a lot of people seemed to have trouble grasping the concept. We live in a world where a thing that can’t be commodified has no value. Even human life, increasingly, is only as valuable as its earning potential.
The Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz was by no means the first of our military missteps in the years we’ve been at war in the Middle East. Just a quick google search of “Wedding bombing” reveals what ought to be a sickening number of results. If another nation were arbitrarily bombing our civilians at such a rate we’d be clamoring for war against them. And yet so many of us don’t understand why we’re so hated in that part of the world.
A great man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The fact that it comes from a Spiderman comic-book does not in the least devalue the truth behind it. Comic-book heroes are part of our mythology — the source of cultural wisdom for the modern age.
There is a longstanding tradition in the comics that Superman does not kill his adversaries. As powerful as he is he could easily kill without thinking about it, so he has taken it as a moral imperative to exercise some self-control and to find a better solution. I can’t help but think that the world’s most powerful military force could stand to learn something from the Last Son of Krypton.