02 August 2013
Murder and the value of truth
I just watched 12 people get murdered on YouTube. I've watched them die before, but today I watched it happen again. It felt important. It felt like the least I could do. Because I've watched the video, a brave man is likely to go to jail. The murderers will not.
I hope it's obvious to you that the video I'm talking about was leaked by an American soldier called Bradley Manning. It shows a group of unarmed men being killed by American forces in Iraq. Let's remember what happens. As I say, it is the least we can do.
The men are unarmed, standing on a corner. The viewer watches from the point of view of an attack helicopter as it fires its unimaginably powerful machine guns at the men, who try to run or take shelter, but there is really nowhere they can hide from bullets of this size and velocity. Those who aren't killed immediately, who cower behind a wall, are fired on again. As the smoke clears a man (a journalist, it turns out) is moving. He's crawling onto a pavement. The recorded voices of the American helicopter crew dare him to pick up a weapon.
A moment later, a van drives along the street and, as any human being would expect, it stops. People get out. They start carrying bodies, dead or wounded, to the van, and they too are fired on. The force of the bullets spins the vehicle around, explodes the street in clouds of dust and kills almost everyone. At least one child is left alive but badly wounded. A foot-soldier who arrives on the scene asks for one of the helicopters to airlift her to hospital. His request is denied. "It's their fault," says one of the voices on the military radio. "For bringing their kids into a battle."
This week, Bradley Manning was found guilty of five counts of espionage in a military court because he leaked that video and a number of other classified documents. I think he's a hero. I can't understand why the Church, which calls itself pro-life, which preaches bringing into the light the things done in darkness, which tells its children that the Ten Commandments, are the cornerstone of good living, is not shouting from the rooftops that he is, too. The people who killed 12 unarmed men, who grumbled "Come on, let us shoot!" and who laughed as a tank drove over one of the bodies, are free. They are our allies. This is our war, being prosecuted in our name. And I am not going to lecture you about the prophetic tradition of justice in the Bible. And I'm not going to tell you what to believe about Thou Shalt Not Kill in the context of war. I will tell you that the people involved in this killing are not heroes, they are murderers. And blaming them is pointless.
Trained, indoctrinated and ordered to murder, who of us would have the courage or the freedom of mind not to? The soldiers who did this, the people who trained them, the men and women who gave them their orders are a symptom of a larger problem. The empire at the centre of our world is sick. It is misguided. It has categorised people into those who deserve protection by virtue of their nationality or the things that they believe, and those who do not matter.
And perhaps, as Christians, we must simply render unto Caesar what the empire demands. Perhaps fighting back on the same terms as the rulers of this dark world just makes us like them. But, if that is true, the least we can do is reveal the truth. The least we can do is encourage the likes of Bradley Manning. The least we can do, in the face of evil we cannot on our own defeat, is shine a light in its face.
Jonty Langley is a writer and works for a Christian mission agency.