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Editorial — March 6, 2013

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To protect innocents abroad and at home

In its Sunday editions, The New York Times reported the deaths of two Afghan brothers, ages 11 and 12, who were killed in an attack Saturday by a NATO helicopter whose crew mistakenly took them for what we in the American press refer to as “insurgents” – code for Taliban supporters.

The Times reported that the boys were walking behind their donkeys and were collecting firewood, a badly needed resource to keep the home fires burning during the severe Afghanistan winter.

Gunfire from the chopper also killed the animals, the report said.

The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., apologized to the Afghan government for the accidental killings, the Times reported.

These fatalities, according to the Times, mark the second time civilians have been killed by an airstrike since the general was assigned to the country last month. In the prior incident, six adults and five children died when two homes were blown up.

The general apologized then, too.

Many will argue: “C’est la guerre, n’est-ce pas?”

They will say that in the hunt for global terrorists, all risks are acceptable, and if innocent people die in the process, well, it’s sad but, essentially, inevitable.

They will point to Pearl Harbor and say that attack justified the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and they will suggest that the madness of the Third Reich had to be answered by such acts as the Allies’ destruction of Dresden and the killing of who knows how many innocents.

Those dead are, after all, the unfortunate casualties of war … they will say.

Then came the unspeakable horrors of 9/11 and the hunt for Osama bin Laden and our invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan; native peoples blowing themselves up in public marketplaces and restaurants and buses, taking the lives of people just trying to go about their business; U.S. drones in Pakistan taking care of business although not always neatly and cleanly.

The price of combat. When I was in college during the ‘60s, and the draft was instituted to grab more boys for Vietnam, I wasn’t called up because I had flat feet and a way high draft number. My best buddy, who had a Mennonite background, declared himself a conscientious objector and worked stateside with a government anti-poverty program.

So neither of us ended up in a jungle shooting at folks we probably wouldn’t even have seen.

You wonder what the military personnel in that NATO helicopter saw – or thought they saw – when they opened fire on those brothers in Afghanistan.

Just another wartime mishap? Chalk it up to the evils of terrorism?

We have a choice. We can stand up and be counted and say enough to pointless killings. We can work for world disarmament. There’s something worth fighting for, indeed.

But we’ll get nowhere with partisan mudslinging, with America insisting it’s going to be the world policeman, with us telling other countries who can have nuclear reactors and who can’t.

No, if we don’t learn the lesson that it’s the people who do the world’s labor, who grow the world’s food, who take care of the sick, who keep us safe, who entertain us, etc., etc., who must seize the day and force the governments of the world to listen.

Otherwise, those Afghan boys – and the more than 3,000 who perished on 9/11 – will have died for nothing.

– Ron Leir

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