From a Pastor

A reader writes:

This email is in response to Rush Limbaugh's remarks posted on your site, about "gleeful" war-critics who are concerned about Haditha. It is of course in Limbaugh's own interests to stoke the fires, but he needs to know that those who oppose this war are not monolithic.

There has been no glee in my heart since my son-in-law was killed by an IED on Feb. 3, 2004 in Iraq. For those who need a chronological framework, that is after "Misson Accomplished" and "Bring it on" and when the deaths were still in the low 500 range. To this day, we have absolutely no idea who planted that bomb: Saddam dead-enders?; Shiite militants? (it was in a Shia dominated area); Al-Qaeda terrorists? Renegade army or police elements?

From the start, I did not support the Iraq invasion. Poorly conceived, poorly planned and poorly implemented at the highest levels of government, it was a mistake. Still, with my son-in-law in the service, I resolved that I would direct my anger at the policy to where it belonged and not blame the soldiers.

Since my son-in-law's death, I have also spoken out from my pulpit about the moral failure of an administration which did not give clear, moral guidelines to the troops who were expected to carry out a dangerous counterinsurgency mission.

Which brings us to Haditha. I have had a long standing interest in military history, and no, I am not shocked that some Americans may - may - have committed atrocities. It is in our human nature. There is no glee in my heart. Instead, there is a profound sadness that our soldiers are led by a civilian administration that thinks the moral high ground is forbidding loving couples from pledging their love to one another forever, while the administration itself has abandoned conventions, treaties and policies prohibiting mistreatment and torture.

Fortunately, there are many, many soldiers who send the right messages. During the funeral and for many months beyond, I came to know the leadership of my son-in-law's unit and found them to be honorable men committed to doing a thankless job in a humane way. My son in law was a 2nd Lt., loved and respected by his men. He led from the front, and would never ask another soldier to do anything he himself wouldn't do. So it was that he discovered an IED, warned others to get away, and was killed instantly when "the bad guys" exploded it.

Just a few weeks after his death, while the platoon was on patrol, they caught red-handed several men who were planting IEDs. Out on patrol, away from the base, a lot of nasty things might happen to such prisoners, especially when you are grieving your leader's death. "Sorry, Captain, but Ahmed here fell off the truck (wink, wink)." I can still recall the pride in the voice of our son in law's Captain as he told me the story. He said, "My boys did the right thing. They captured the prisoners, and had to take them along for the rest of the patrol. They fed them, gave them water, and returned them safely to the base. They did what they were supposed to do."

Wherever we train men (and women) to kill, we risk the possibility that our sinful human nature will lead to atrocities. But if a clear message is given to the troops, with clear expectations, clear boundaries - and clear punishment for violators - we can expect the vast majority of them to do the right thing. I still believe that in my heart.

Even when their civilian leaders have not done the right thing.