Like most people, I remember watching the news unfold on December 14, 2012, when Adam Lanza gunned down 20 first-graders and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The horror I felt was different, too, because this time I was a parent. My daughter was only two at the time — young enough that, thankfully, we didn’t have to tell her what had taken place. Her innocence remained intact… for now, at least.
But for the first time, I felt what every parent feels when a tragedy involving children takes place. That sense of utter powerlessness. The realization that it could happen here, in my daughter’s school. I’ve heard others describe parenthood as watching your heart walk outside your body. I finally know what they’re talking about, and it’s a disquieting experience, to say the least.
In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, I remember watching President Obama assume the role of mourner-in-chief, a duty he performed with exceptional skill: comforting victims’ families, eulogizing the dead, giving voice to the grief we all felt, and standing up to a recalcitrant gun lobby whose only answer to unspeakable gun violence is… more guns. (When all you have is a hammer…)
In his book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence, Preston Sprinkle raises a troubling question: how can the president mourn the children of Sandy Hook while authorizing drone strikes which have killed hundreds of children in Pakistan and Yemen?
How can any of us mourn one while rationalizing the other?
Reports vary, but almost all of them (with the possible exception of the CIA) reveal that military drone strikes aren’t nearly as precise as our leaders have led us to believe.
- According to a Columbia Law School study, up to 155 of an estimated 611 people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan during 2011 were civilians. That’s 1 innocent for every 4 suspected militants…
- Suspected being the operative word. Only 20% of these suspected militants were “strongly identified” — that is, identified by name and their status corroborated by an independent, on-the-ground investigation.
- According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 168 Pakistani children were killed by drone strikes through 2011. You can read some of their names here.
- Just last month, an errant drone strike killed more than dozen innocents in Yemen, because of an apparent failure to distinguish between a terrorist convoy and a wedding party.
- In Yemen, drone strikes have killed an estimated 42 children. They’ve had to establish a counseling center to help surviving children cope with the traumatic effects of drone strikes — children who are terrified of the United States and its flying robots.
Are the children killed in these drone strikes worth any less than the children of Sandy Hook? Did their parents love them any less? Did God love them any less?
Many of us are uncomfortable putting them in the same category as the children of Sandy Hook. When it happens in Connecticut, we call it murder. When it happens in Pakistan, we call it “collateral damage,” if we acknowledge it at all.
Preston Sprinkle won’t let us off the hook, as I found out while reading his book yesterday. Contrasting the president’s response to Sandy Hook with his handling of drone strikes, Preston writes:
Can we extend his sympathy to the Middle East? Are the deaths of 168 incinerated children any less a tragedy than the massacre at Newtown? Or does their color, ethnicity, and religion justify their deaths?
They come at the end of a chapter in which Preston shows how the New Testament book of Revelation (famously the source of Mark Driscoll’s prize-fighting Jesus) is actually a message of nonviolence. Preston demonstrates that Revelation is a polemic against the violence and excess of the Roman Empire — and all empires that follow in its steps. He argues that God does not dish out violence in Revelation; he absorbs it. The blood spattered on Jesus’ robe in Revelation 19 is not the blood of his enemies; it’s his own.
Human violence is condemned, never encouraged in Revelation. The Pax Romana (peace of Rome) — which was really peace for some, violence for the rest — is a myth. It is anything but true peace. Some day, Rome and all other nations will be held to account for the blood “of all who have been slaughtered on the earth,” according to Revelation 18.
And that includes us.
Which is why it’s high time we heed Preston’s call to untangle our faith from American nationalism. It’s time we speak out against violence in all its forms, especially violence against children — no matter where it takes place. As Preston writes:
I mourn both tragedies — the death of innocent beautiful children in Connecticut and of the precious children in the Middle East. Both tragedies are evil. Both will be vindicated. Both will be judged.