Yesterday a distant cousin of mine, only thirty years old, was killed in Afghanistan, or at least word of his death came yesterday around 5:00 p.m. I can find no mention of it in the newspapers or online. It may be that authorities are still contacting relatives or unwilling to release further information at this time. After all, it is a very tense time there now due to last weekend’s massacre of innocent civilians, including nine children, by an apparently disturbed American solider who left his base and went to several villages and randomly killed sixteen people.
It is not as if I knew Jesse, and yet the news of his death has affected me deeply and saddened me in ways that I could not have expected. I grew up with his mother and uncles in a small town in southwestern Wisconsin. We knew each other well. I still hang out occasionally with his uncle, someone I have also worked with in the theater. I haven’t seen her for years, but I remember his mother as a sweet young woman with a good heart. Today my heart aches for the whole family.
This death gives me pause.
All I can think is that violence begets violence. I am a man of peace in a world that has little concern for peace. Every year peace prizes are awarded, words and speeches praising the pursuit of peace are spoken, peacemakers and “the Prince of Peace” are lionized, and still the wars rage on endlessly. We should have evolved further than this. There is no room in my moral universe for war and yet the physical universe I inhabit is full of war, skirmishes, and violence of all sorts. The sword is not only mightier than the ploughshare, but far more prevalent. The death of this young man is senseless. But so were the deaths of innocent civilians asleep in their villages in the middle of night. So were all the deaths of soldiers and civilians in both Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade. Where does it end? We need to ask this question.
Simply put, we have no reason to be in Afghanistan. I have yet to hear a good explanation for why we were ever there, let alone why we remain. Before it started there were those of us who believed that our primary purpose in going there was economic, which is the reason for most wars, and it was particularly due to a large pipeline that our government may have wanted to control. American citizens were told by the Administration that we were going there to hunt down Osama bin Laden, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 attack has been the handy excuse for every illicit action of our government the last ten years. But it quickly became apparent that Osama bin Laden was no longer in Afghanistan. Did we move our troops to Pakistan? No. We eventually found him and killed him in Pakistan, but the troops remained in Afghanistan. Again, I have yet to hear a coherent reason why.
None of the political machinations and rationales matter much to a grieving family. It would be nice if they could believe that their boy died for a greater cause. I am not finding that belief right now. I can only hope that maybe his death will be the last one there, but I am not finding much hope in that either. May he rest. In peace. And may we continue to work for peace for all, in the ultimate hope that no more mothers will have to suffer this kind of news.