Thursday of Mercy Week was a tale of two interesting events.
After a beautiful outdoor peace walk and Mass—attended, I’m sorry to say, by only the usual suspects—there was a Lunch and Learn, featuring a presentation by Brian Terrell of an Iowa Catholic Worker farm.
Terrell called attention to the special horror of modern drone warfare. Slow, faceless planes monitoring people until a bureaucratic order for their execution is issued and a Hellfire missile or 500-pound bomb turns human flesh into random bloody remains.
And the drone operator, sitting at a control counsel in Nevada or Utah or, possibly soon, Des Moines, Iowa simply goes home after his or her shift and then reports the next day for another day at the office.
This is the business of killing people, and for the participants, business is both horrific and easy. We’ve reduced war to a video-game sense of unreality where you work game-like controls and slay the innocent and guilty (who really knows) from across the world.
To me, one especially troubling aspect of this somewhat horrid brave new world is that it’s so easy to ignore. In wars past, when boys from Cedar Rapids would march across the globe, reporters would follow and report what our Army was up to. The reporting was very skewed and censored and incomplete—a book I just read claimed, with plausible evidence, that information about World War II was more accurate in Japanese newspapers in 1942 than in American newspapers—but there were witnesses who could state what they saw.
Now the only witnesses, besides whose monitoring drone video, are neighbors and family of the dead.
I don’t question that deadly force is sometimes necessary to protect us, but in the long run, this chilling techno assassination tit for tat feels like it will create more enemies for us then the long arms of our drones can extinguish, and if we unleash unfettered drone warfare, how long until World Trade Centers can be broken apart by planes without pilots? Ugh.
Anyway, it was a fitting reflection for both Mercy Week and our ongoing World War I series, and I’m happy to report that it required extra chairs because attendance was far better then expected.
After the speech by the pacifist, later that afternoon there was the blessing of a veteran’s lounge in Warde Hall, complete with prayers by a current PFC in fatigues.
The visual contrast may have been jarring, but there was not really so much of a spiritual clash. After all, veterans are an important student group at MMU, and Catherine McAuley, whose spirit we recall this week, emphasized the need to go where mercy is needed, not to be choosey about who you associate with or serve.
And, while I have never worn the uniform of my country, I do have a father and sisters and nieces and nephews who have. I’m not wild about dividing our students up, about creating special places where one type of student is welcome but not another, but it still feels “right” to do exactly that where veterans are concerned.
It seems like a very small token of thanks. Nobody ever comes back from a war unscathed. Even those who pilot drones that kill 7,000 miles away—what they see on the high definition cameras of those windowless machines of death will probably be the stuff of memories and nightmares to last a lifetime.
So I am glad MMU has created a comfortable place where those who have served can abide for a time. And I’m also glad MMU welcomes pacifists who are critical of the violent acts of our government.
It was an interesting day, Thursday, a day to reflect on the century of almost continuous conflict initiated by World War I. Where have we been and where do we go from here?
Wherever it is, I hope we find a way forward that allows all of us, not just all of U.S., to lead lives where we need not fear nameless death either from our fellow humans or from disembodied flying monsters.