|The Angel Announces the Savior's Birth
"They shall beat their swords into plowshares, / And their spears into pruning hooks; / Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, / Neither shall they learn war anymore." – Isa. 2:4b; NKJV
During this Christmas season several news items came to our attention. One, of course, was the horrific shooting incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. But there was also an article in the Dec. 10 issue of Newsweek magazine about "Moral Injury," and more recently USA Today carried an interview with Grover Norquist about his steadfast opposition to tax increases (12/17/12). They all, in a curious sort of way, are connected.
The big question in the wake of the school shooting is how to prevent future tragedies like this occurring again. One proposed solution is to outlaw military style assault rifles like the one used in the incident. The NRA will undoubtedly argue that it is not guns that cause violence, but the people who use them, and in one sense this is perfectly true. However the rifle in question is a military weapon – it was designed specifically to kill as many human beings as possible. No one is going to use it for deer hunting, for target practice, or for self defense. It has no legitimate civilian use. It makes no more sense to make it available to the general public than it does to put tanks and fighter bombers on the civilian market.
Obviously more needs to be done to bolster school security. How was a heavily armed gunman able to enter an elementary school? For that matter, why did the gunman's mother leave her gun cabinet unlocked when she knew that she had a mentally disturbed son? But probably the most important thing we can do to prevent future attacks is to improve our mental health system. Almost all of these attacks are carried out by young, emotionally disturbed males, and their acquaintances knew this long before the attacks. We need to find a way to identify these people and get them help before they commit an unspeakable crime.
The Newsweek article discussed the diagnosis and treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Up until now the standard view has been that it is a fear-based disorder – they live in constant anxiety of getting killed. But the counselors who have spent time talking with these GI's and vets say that a different story has emerged. What these combat veterans are suffering from is guilt – guilt over having killed innocent civilians or not having saved the life of a comrade. This has forced the military to face a deeply troubling question: is there something about killing that violates the human conscience? For the Christian the answer is obviously "yes." Human beings "show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness . . ." (Rom. 2:14-16). Even a hard-boiled atheist cannot escape this basic fact of human psychology. Either he must admit that the pangs of conscience reflect some sort of objective reality, or else he must hold that the conscience is irrational and that there is nothing inherently "wrong" about killing other human beings.
All of this raises a serious question about America's foreign policy. Soldiers find themselves in these morally difficult situations because of the nature of the assignments given them. We send them overseas to put down an insurgency. But once there they find that it is often difficult to tell friend apart from foe. They all look alike, they all dress alike, they all speak the same incomprehensible foreign language. In the heat of the firefight, when the bullets are flying, it is inevitable that innocent civilians will be killed. The GI has to live with this on his conscience potentially for the rest of his life. It is no wonder that he is emotionally traumatized.
Which brings us to Mr. Norquist. He was asked by business journalist Maria Bartiromo how he could say that taxes should never go up. His answer was, in part, "The federal government has been taking about 18% of GDP in taxes for the last 20, 30 years. That is more than sufficient to run a reasonably sized government."
That all depends on what constitutes "a reasonably sized government." Tax rates are considerably higher in a number of European countries. What Mr. Norquist fails to mention is what the US government spends that money on: most of the budget is devoted to defense, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. What does Mr. Norquist think we should cut? Does he really think that the elderly should not receive medical attention? Reforms obviously need to be made to the major entitlement programs (a point seemingly lost on Mrs. Pelosi), but the fact remains that the U.S. spends 5% of its GDP on defense, more than France (3.2%), Britain (3%), Italy (1.8%), or Germany (1.7%). Wouldn't it make sense to bring our defense spending more in line with that of our NATO allies?
We got Osama bin Laden. Isn't it time to say "mission accomplished," and bring the troops home?
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