“In October 2012, 8-year-old Nabeela ventured out with her 68-year-old grandmother Mamana Bibi to do daily chores in their family’s large, open field. Moments later, Mamana was blasted into pieces by a US drone strike that appears to have been aimed directly at her. Amnesty International did not find any evidence she was endangering anyone, let alone posing an imminent threat to the US. Yet a year has passed and the US government has not acknowledged Mamana Bibi’s death, let alone provided justice or compensation for it.”
Thus begins a new report from Amnesty International detailing targeted killings from US drone strikes in Pakistan. Based on interviews with 60 survivors and eyewitnesses, the report, entitled “Will I be next?,” documents a litany of “potentially unlawful killings and abuses,” “extrajudicial executions,” and possible “war crimes” committed by the United States government and President Obama, who authorizes these strikes, in yours and my name, with our dollars, in the name of “justice,” “national security,” and “peace.”
Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You
“One has to be alone,” writes Thomas Merton, “under the sky, before everything falls into place and one finds one’s own place in the midst of it all.”
Let’s consider Merton’s statement for two seconds from the perspective of Pakistani and Afghani children today, where open skies harbor not a sense of benevolence, of “being at home” in the universe, but hide rather a nameless technological menace, waiting to burst through with terrible destructive precision, without mercy (the girl’s grandmother was “blasted into pieces”). For whose sins are Pakistani children paying in this irrefutable logic of justice?
Let’s consider ourselves, this great nation, soothed by our national myth of primordial innocence, ten or twenty years from now – in the “fullness of time” – when some other nation-state with its own priesthood of faithful engineers has given birth to its very own technological Wisdom Child, and determines to send their beautiful unmanned killing craft into our skies. Behold the prophets of Justice as they guide this obedient wonder child undetected over vast oceans, winding rivers, and fields of amber grain.
A child has ventured out with her father on a beautiful autumn day to gather wheat, to go to school, to play soccer, to watch her brother’s baseball game, to visit the Washington monument. But something suddenly feels amiss. She looks up as a low rumble gathers from behind towering white clouds in the sky. A flash and a thunder-clap, and all is silence…
And the people bowed and prayed, and gathered around TV sets, and their leaders vowed justice . . .
When our schools and our skies have become nothing more than theaters of “enhanced security,” when the oceans have been reduced to fish ponds and continental latrines, when mountains, deserts, and plains are seen by the powerful as virginal frontiers waiting to be plumbed, mined, penetrated, and “fracked” for their resources–what kind of horizon “falls into place” for our children, for the earth, and even for God?
When we make ourselves into gods of life and death, wherever we turn the skies and the earth itself into “instruments of our own hands” (Psalm 115), then the God of covenant relationship has no ground from which to initiate new life, hope, and wonder into being. Death and burial for human beings, for animals and trees, fishes and birds—even for Christ, buried in an earthen tomb!—can be nothing more than void, darkness, suffocation.
Dare we hope for resurrection even as we plunder and kill and rob the earth of the conditions necessary for the flourishing of life, for so many other lives, bound secretly together with our own? Dare we speak of “justice” without figuring Nabeela and her grandmother and nameless others like them into our calculations? Dare we “pray for peace” while casting seeds of arbitrary violence and unilateral judgment across the earth?
God is Not in Heaven
Merton, like Thoreau before him, beckoned us with grave urgency to rediscover our solitude, where we might discover, with a shock, that we are not alone. The God of Love, from whom we are always frantically running and hiding, is with us. The God of peace lives in us, and, lo and behold, in our enemy, whom we have just blasted to bits. (And her blood cries out to heaven, but God is not in heaven, God is in her body and in her blood scattered over the earth.)
In solitude I can begin to face my deepest fears, the seeds of my own violence, and still discover the good news, that God, the One who is merciful, is with me. I can recognize, in fear and trembling, how those seeds are now being sowed elsewhere, in my name. Alone at the breakfast table, looking up from the newspaper, how terribly clear it is to me this morning the bitter harvest being sowed today for my children and for future generations.
“One has to be alone, under the sky, before everything falls into place and one finds one’s own place in the midst of it all.”
The God of hope promises life, but summons our freedom to bring life into birth. The God of the living and the dead demands that we strain every muscle to work for genuine peace, which cannot be established when we blast our perceived enemies into bits. The God of love, for whom Jesus is my Prince and Life-bearer, keeps on whispering: War no more. It isn’t working.
Where, then, do I find peace enough this day to enter the world of rapacious men?
In my solitude, apart from the herd, I discover my reassurance. Alone at the table, or venturing out into the rain under a cold autumn sky, I can feel that You are here, You are with us, even “in the valley of the shadow of death,” and I don’t have to be afraid. I can only hope and pray with all my heart that Nabeela’s grandmother, in her last moments of terrible solitude, felt something of the same.
May God, and may she, forgive us, for God help us, we know not what we are doing.
Update: John Dear, SJ, reports on the recent acquittal of five Catholic activists and drone protestors who blocked the entrance to Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, a regional headquarters for US Reaper drones.