This week the editors discuss Marc LiVecche’s article about 9/11 and a report about the Pentagon admitting its drone strike against an aid worker in Kabul last month was a “tragic mistake.”

Rough Transcript

Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with my fellow editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. We’re mostly going to talk about reflections on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, about which Marc LiVecche wrote in Providence earlier this week. And also, we had a Providence event commemorating 9/11 last Friday evening with several speakers, including Marc LiVecche, but also Victoria Clarke, who was official spokesperson for the Department of Defense on 9/11 and worked at the side of Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld. So, Marc LiVecche, we touched on this a little bit in our last episode but your article has been posted since. Can you share with us a few highlights in terms of how do we as Christians and as Christian Realists reflect on the horrible events of 9/11, the 20 years of response to them in terms of the War on Terrorism, and now the Taliban reconquest of Afghanistan?

LiVecche: That’s an easy charge in just a few minutes. Comprehensively and with nuance and humility, right. I mean, I think we’ve been making the case for the last five years, six years that the Christian Realist starts any sort of ethical or moral or theological deliberation by trying to get a sense, or a grasp, of the facts on the ground that is as comprehensive as they can get. And then to couple the facts on the ground with as comprehensively and nuanced understanding of the theological facts that are relevant to the context. And so, I think when we look at 9/11, we saw this in the reflections, the memorial reflections, about it, people tend to gravitate toward great degrees of sorrow and something like rage. And there’s other stuff mixed in. There’s pride for the, as the song goes, the heroes who died just doing what they do and for the focused American reaction afterward, or at least immediately afterward, until our military men and women who stand on freedom’s wall and defend us and wreck justice against those who attacked us. So, that sort of complex cacophony of reactions is appropriate. It was a sad event. There was a great tragedy that occurred, and it should be mourned. But it wasn’t an accidental tragedy. It wasn’t a natural disaster. Bad men did bad things, and good people ought to respond to something like that with many feelings, including among them rage and anger at the violations that have occurred, the innocents that have been unjustly harmed, at the crushing of human dignity, these things often anger us because they are angry. Romans 12:9, right, on hypocritical love is made up of at least abhorrence at evil and love of good things. And my piece reflects on the fact that Christians continue to be incredibly uncomfortable with things like rage, with maybe the more hot blooded aspects of what it means to be a human being. We don’t know what to do with that and so we tend to denounce it, or when we don’t denounce it, we act as if the rage is the primary problem. As if violence is the primary problem. So, I reflect on a panel discussion that you attended shortly after 9/11 with Stanley Hauerwas and Jim Johnson and Jean Elshtain in which Hauerwas, again, rolls out the tired trope that the Just War tradition carries a presumption against war and presumption against violence, as if violence is the problem and not the thing that the Just War tradition is reacting against. In this case, bad men who fired airplanes into buildings. And I think this is more than semantics. I think casting violence or casting war as the primary problem directly and indirectly helps continue sort of the Niebuhrian fallacy of thinking that the very business of warfighting is morally injurious because it goes against deeply held moral norms and occasionally, we have to do these things, but it’s always morally wrong. And I think that does great and incredibly unnecessary harm to our military men and women who have to do the business of warfighter. So, those are some of the things that are reflected upon. The brightness of the sorrow, but the rightness of the rage. Not a directionless random rage, but entirely focused, just like the Just War tradition on the idea that injustices have to be required and victims have to be vindicated. And when you don’t do these things, as Jim Johnson said in that panel discussion, you have abdicated a moral world and you’ve done something with all the best intentions, but you’ve done something that is immoral.

Tooley: It strikes me that the overall American reflection on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was filled with a sense of almost failure, certainly, a lack of satisfaction, understandably, but that the Taliban are now in control of Afghanistan, among other reasons, that somehow it was a failed mission. I just wonder if this is a natural human reaction, or is this more specifically an American reaction influenced by our sense of Christian perfectionism? That somehow there’s a great evil and it should have been vanquished and brushed aside, and that chapter closed and we move forward, which of course is not how the fallen world actually works. Great evils may be defeated for a season; they are always replaced by other great evils. Perhaps we did not include in our commemorations enough appreciation for the fact that the major architects of 9/11 were in fact brought to justice, eternally or in earthly terms, and that there were no major additional strikes against United States. And the War on Terror which we thought would be perhaps like the Cold War, going on for decades, is largely over and has been replaced by another struggle seemingly against China. So, perhaps we ought to as Christian realists better explain that to be in the fallen world is to always be in the arena of conflict. Melton, your thoughts?

Melton: Just to kind of piggyback on what LiVecche was saying with the idea of justice and how theologically we sometimes look at like the New Testament guy and we’re like oh, Jesus with this grace and love and all this other stuff. But the reason why you need that grace is because of the requirement of justice and that we as Christians should really want a God of justice. We want a God who sees the tragedies of the world, who sees the crimes and wants them punished. But at the same time, we want the opportunity to recognize our own fallenness too and that Jesus has taken the punishment for us. And that’s something I’ve mentioned several times on this series. But when we’re talking about like the desire for retribution, that is something that we want a God who is a God that is just, but we sometimes forget that that requires the punishment of the evil. And what was the second part of your question? I forgot. Sorry.

Tooley: Well, I think there was just one question.  

Melton: Part of the commemoration… I think for some people there is a sense of not clearly, as people of the younger generation move into adulthood and have less and less memory of it, there will be fewer and fewer people over the decades who will have strong memories of 9/11, which is natural. And fewer and fewer people have strong memories of the Vietnam War, for instance, like I don’t have any. But the commemoration, I think for now there’s, I sensed a bit of almost depression with it, or just sorrow where like to kind of think about it, to dwell upon it more, was sorrowful. So, I noticed some commemorations of it, but maybe not as much as I may have seen in the past, but I think there’s a bit of sorrow that comes with it where some people don’t want to dwell upon it as much. If that makes any sense. But that for a lot of people it’s still so dominant in memories and it has shaped how people have viewed the world and the dangers of the world coming out of the post-Cold War, the immediate post- Cold War years, to recognize that just how dangerous the world is. Though I think I do probably have a little dispute of the idea that the War on Terror is over. It’s just different.

Tooley: Certainly not over, but not at the level of intensity that perhaps was expected in the immediate wake of 9/11. Marc LiVecche, if I may ask you, the drone strike on the man in Kabul, it was assumed he was a part of ISIS in Afghanistan and perhaps plotting an attack upon the airport during the evacuations. And the Pentagon has mentioned today that he and nine other people who were killed were in fact mistaken targets and he was not a terrorist. And it seems that seven children are among the dead in that horrible event. So, once again, further evidence as though we needed it of the horrors of conflict and war. And this is obviously not the first time that drone strikes have taken out innocents in their pursuit of the guilty. So, what are your reflections on this latest event?

LiVecche: Yeah, so, the piece you just said, it was absolutely confirmed today, you said?

Tooley: Yes. The Pentagon has just confirmed.

LiVecche: So, I had seen as late as last week that was the assumption. I missed the report that was absolutely confirmed. So, right, I mean, obviously, where do you begin on something like that. So, one of the questions that was asked to me earlier on, when we still thought it was a let’s call it a “good kill” where we thought that it was a terrorist and all these other children and other innocent bystanders were pulled into the explosion, people have asked me, was it just? Was it proportionate? Those are complex questions. Questions of proportionality always have to do you know with at least two problems. One, is it proportion? Is what’s going to occur likely to occur proportionate, and is it proportionate to what might occur if you don’t do the attack? And so, if our assumption at the time legitimately was that we thought this man was planning an imminent attack along the lines of the one that had just happened, then the loss of 10 or 11 innocent bystanders, especially when they are children, however grievous that is, I think an argument could be made that it’s going to be proportionate. Heartbreaking, tragic, sorrowful, all those things, but if this man was really up to what we hopefully really thought he was up to, then I think an argument could be made that the strike was appropriate. And in such circumstances, you can argue that morally we’re causally to blame, but we’re not morally responsible for the deaths of the innocent. That man with that bomb would have been. As it turns out, none of that is true. I think it’s even compounded by the grim fact that not only was he an innocent bystander, but he was apparently working for us. And these children rushed out of their home to greet their father and their uncle. If all of that still holds true, which is what I read last week, they ran outside to greet his homecoming. So, it’s horribly tragic. And now the questions have to be asked as to why that happened. So, I just gave a disquisition on the appropriateness of rage, but even when rage is appropriate, if we think we have to act quickly so that we look tough and we look like we take things seriously and so we just lash out without good information, without vetting the intelligence, etc, etc., then we are morally responsible for the bad things that happen. I would love to know where the intelligence came from. And this is going to be part of the problem in continuing activities in Afghanistan. We don’t have people on the ground who can vet the intelligence, and who are we going to be reliant upon? So, in terms of if terrorist camps begin to reform in Afghanistan, good intelligence is going to be hard to come by. And that’s not the sole reason why we should have stayed, but having been on the ground and being able to cultivate networks of intelligence gatherers and having our own eyes on the scene was incredibly helpful. So, there’s nothing that America can do about this, it seems to me, except take our hats off and apologize for the horrific miscalculation or bumbled strike. And my heart breaks for whoever it was who pulled the trigger on the RPA and the person who helped guide the munition in because they’ve got to live with this. And if their leadership gave them bad intel, then not only is the blood of those children on their hands, but the grief and the moral injury of those who made the strike is on their hands as well. It’s just heartbreaking.

Tooley: Well, a time for much sober reflection. Mark Melton, what do we have coming up next week in Providence?

Melton: We have a number of articles lined up. I’m not sure exactly which days I’ll run what, but let me pull up my notes here, but we have some stuff about the British and religious freedom. They’re going to be hosting the ministerial on international religious freedom, so we have an article from a British author talking about that issue. And we also have some other articles in the pipeline, whether it be in the next week or so, about Lebanon. We also have some book reviews coming up, and yeah, some other stuff about the Taliban and Iran, Russia and China.

Tooley: Until then, thank you, gentlemen, for another conversation of Marksism. Until next week, bye-bye.