Motivated by the recent WikiLeaks classified document dump, a “Proper 29 Project” has arisen out of Duke Divinity School in North Carolina to focus on “our moral culpability as Christians in the United States for civilian deaths and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Based on the WikiLeaks document dump, this group of theologians, clergy and seminarians exclusively fault the U.S. and its allies for killing over 66,000 Iraqi civilians. “We acknowledge and lament our corporate responsibility for these acts,” they bewail, without considering that U.S. and allied forces weren’t the only side that was shooting.
“Our preoccupied silence and political support has sustained so brutal a war since 2003,” laments one Mennonite minister with the project. “We are complicit in these crimes,” she insisted, comparing America’s iniquities to the brothers of the Biblical patriarch Joseph who sold him into Egyptian slavery.
A November 21 sermon at Duke University’s majestic Gothic chapel featured a former Christian Peacemaking Team (CPT) activist who was in Baghdad in 2002 to guard Iraq from the impending American-led invasion. “The truth we must face…[is that the] extension of America’s reign has not brought peace to all corners of earth but rather millions of people are living in hell on earth,” he lamented, touting the “Proper 29 Project” message. The CPT activist claimed the Iraq War failed to meet Just War criteria because it is “without end” and because the 66,000 fatalities dispute its moral proportionality. “Weep for us, those who allowed this to happen on our watch,” he bewailed, likening America to wicked ancient Israel against which the prophet Jeremiah inveighed. “We are all participating in a system that is dealing death to millions of people in the world.”
It’s not clear who these “millions” of America’s victims are. The claim sounds suspiciously similar to 9-11 truther and process theologian David Ray Griffin of Claremont School of Theology, another United Methodist seminary. He claims the United States has murdered tens of millions essentially because all war and poverty and illness globally over the last 70 years is directly America’s fault. Evidently, absent the United States, the earth would revert to an Eden, where death exists no more. The citation of over 66,000 Iraqi civilian deaths across 8 years of war is actually more responsible than many of the far Left’s claims of hundreds of thousands of fatalities in Iraq. Where “Proper 29 Project” seems to agree with the kooky far Left is that everybody who has died violently in Iraq since 2003 is America’s victim.
Do the sectarian militias and al Qaeda carry any guilt for the civil war they have attempted to foment since Saddam Hussein’s relatively quick overthrow by Allied forces in 2002? Unlike Allied forces, these militias and terror groups deliberately killed civilians to stoke religious and political resentments they hoped would convulse Iraq into a blood bath. And does Saddam himself, whose tyranny and aggression provoked the armed liberation, carry any responsibility? Or does the liberator bear exclusive responsibility?
There is also the seeming assumption by “Proper 29 Project” that Iraq would have been peaceful and tranquil absent the U.S. led invasion. This fantasy by many war critics ignores that Saddam murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people, and his reign of murder, almost certainly surpassing 66,000, would have merrily continued until the present had he remained enthroned. But Saddam’s countless victims across the years were not typically featured on Western television, and they never merited compassion from the anti-war Left.
In the brutal calculus of the real world, the choice for American policymakers is often not between tranquility and carnage but between massive horrors versus more limited horrors. But recognizing the fallen world for what it is, and fully acknowledging the murderous brutality of many regimes, or the intractability of some conflicts, is difficult to impossible for many on the Left, especially because it distracts from characterizing the United States as chief global villain. Another voice at Duke highlighted by “Proper 29 Project” claims the Iraq War was America’s “quest for 9⁄11 vengeance,” animated by a “cloud of lies.” Iraq’s poor are trapped in the “crosshairs of the world’s last superpower.” Ostensibly, “Proper 29 Project” wants to “address the gross harm done against Iraq in the name of our national security.”
One featured endorser of “Proper 29 Project” is David Gushee of Evangelicals for Human Rights, which targets U.S. “torture” policies. “The WikiLeaks report tells us what we have tried to avoid knowing; our beloved nation brought or was complicit in tens of thousands of acts of torture and murder of civilians in Iraq,” Gushee gushed in his blurb for “Proper 29 Project.” He enthused that this project would enable “preachers to do what they are called to do.” That vocation for preachers is apparently denouncing America, however incoherently, while ignoring the crimes of more authentic murder regimes.
Honest and coherent religious pacifists, with other religious anti-war critics, might be more persuasive if they freely acknowledged that Saddam Hussein’s regime was a charnel house of mass murder, torture, mutilation, orchestrated rape, imprisonment and police state oppression. They might also admit that the contending militias and terrorists who arose after Saddam’s overthrow sought to murder their way to power and to erect an Islamist theocracy that would equal Saddam’s brutality with the added varnish of religious zeal. Within that horrifying context, religious pacifists could then present their hard and ostensibly holy truth that no matter the vast carnage of such a regime, or its likely alternatives, no military action by the United States or its allies under any circumstances could be morally justified.
The Religious and Evangelical Left’s uncompromising doctrine of non-violence essentially means that hundreds of thousands of innocents may die, but no permissible armed intervention may deter or rescue, possibly excepting some imaginary international “police” force wielding bobby sticks, at most. Sadly, the Religious and Evangelical Left’s crocodile tears over the real tragedy of Iraqi civilian fatalities are motivated primarily by antipathy towards America. They ignore the main killers, and disregard the nastier alternatives to American intervention. Such exercises in self-delusion may titillate some seminarians but likely won’t persuade very many minds off campus.