An exhausted Marine, probably not older than twenty years-of-age, gazes unaffectedly at the field photographer’s camera after struggling forward against well dug-in Japanese automatic gunfire on the beach of Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. What have those young eyes seen? How much of his friends’ blood remains dried on his coal dust-encrusted skin; friends who advanced next to him, but plowed into the dirt with bullets or shrapnel quickly stealing away their lives. Friends to whom he couldn’t tend, or even say good-by, because he had to keep running toward the enemy machine guns.
In those wide eyes we see the aftermath of terror, the shame of being the one to return home after so many better men fell in battle.
Two people gaze at the impersonal camera: First, a Marine, unknown to everyone, with the possible exception of someone, somewhere who loved him and remembers his face. Second, a man in harm’s way, whose job it is to kill those his superiors have declared to be his enemies, and if possible, to stay alive to fight another day. Here is the face of Bataan, Korea, Viet Nam, Lebanon, Granada, Afghanistan, Iraq, and any place where young Americans spill their blood out of duty to their family, friends and neighbors back home.
Is it right to kill and die out of duty to one’s government? Well-meaning debaters have argued war’s morality for as long as mankind has waged it. In recent years, the news media has made the horrors of war always visible to the civilians who pay for it with their young men and women, and their tax money. We persistently demand justification for the expenditure of lives and material, but the reasoning behind it all remains cloudy. Are we to simply trust our leaders and back their wars? Or it it our moral responsibility to question their motives and pressure them to end war’s evil?
Everyone who cares has an undebatable answer to those questions, either supporting, or resisting, war. And they have a solemn responsibility to express their opinions. But considering these questions raises other crucial issues: Does anyone have the right to sabotage others’ efforts to to express themselves? Does anyone have the right to sabotage war efforts even if the conflict is conducted for obviously wrong motives? Such actions will implement the Law of Unintended Consequences.
That law(otherwise known as Murphy’s Law) is already in force as a result of our engaging Saddam Husain’s regime. No one in the west anticipated the Islamic militia’s sustained resistance, kept alive by sympathetic Muslims the world over. Whether or not we should be involved in the Near East is a useless argument at the moment. Going into the past and not going to war with Saddam Husain’s regime is impossible, regardless how much we hate the war. Realistically, we have an Islamic tiger by the tail. What will happen if we let go? For one thing, it will prove to the enemy that we are unwilling to stay the course. Since they already hate the United States as the “Great Satan,” they will greet any conciliation or offer to negotiate as an opportunity to put us on the defensive. Once we begin heading that direction, our way of life will be doomed.
No one knows where this war will end. Both interests are determined to win, and both are willing to commit virtually unlimited resources to that purpose. Only by personally placing their trust in, and their dependence on, the eternal, self-existent God, can anyone hope for a positive outcome in this hopeless situation. And that outcome will not necessarily take place in this lifetime. Until then, people will continue sacrificing their lives to please humanity’s triune god of Wealth, Power and Success. Ultimately, this side of eternity, no one wins.
Photos credited to the National Archives.