Kayla Mueller and America’s Romance With War


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February 12, 2015 21:01 EDT

Bombs, mortars and bullets cause human suffering that can be prevented.

Kayla Mueller was a heroic young woman dedicated to humanitarian service in places, including America and the Middle East, where the ravaged and forgotten undoubtedly drew some measure of peace when touched by her caring hands and caring heart. She was apparently moved to act and internally strengthened by deep faith in her god.

I expect it was much more than that. There is too much evidence to suggest that this god is far more disinterested and vengeful than Kayla could have imagined it to be. It is hard to find much comfort in a god that lets Kayla Mueller die and Dick Cheney get yet another functioning stone heart. I suspect that, above all, she put herself in places to see human suffering up close and had to try to do something about it.

As the parent of a college student flexing his activist muscles for the first time, I often think of those whose passion ended their lives at places as far apart as Kent State University and a town somewhere in Syria. And while I could never presume to speak for Kayla or her loved ones, I expect that for every moment of grief, there will be multiple moments of pride. She is the best and the brightest star at this moment in time.

But this star will be dimmed, as many before, by America’s continued romance with war fueled by our religious zealotry at home and directed at religious zealotry abroad.

It would have been nice if President Barack Obama could have found the words to help us all understand the human suffering that motivated Kayla to act. But like so many other teachable moments, Obama missed this one as well. He was quick to respond, no doubt with prayers, but also with this thought: “No matter how long it takes, the United States will find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla’s captivity and death.”

We all should know by now that this means another significant uptick in the violence that has nothing to do with any civilized notion of justice. While Kayla Mueller might have liked the prayer part, I suspect she would have resisted the thought that tomorrow’s killings are the antidote to today’s killings.

So now again it is “thoughts and prayers” time. This phrase has become so overused that it has lost whatever significance it might have had at one time, a bit like “God bless America.” This nation will move quickly to the next “thoughts and prayers” moment, while those that loved Kayla Mueller will have a very hard time moving on even though they are showered with our “thoughts and prayers.”

Since our collective “prayers” don’t seem to do much to prevent the next “thoughts and prayers” moment, maybe we should focus on the “thoughts” part. If we did so, we might be able to come up with some extraordinary way to remember Kayla — no flowers, no teddy bears, but maybe new initiatives derived from a renewed recognition that the US death and destruction machine is the worst that we can be, and Kayla is the best that we can be.

I don’t know what god blesses or doesn’t, nor do I care one bit. I do know, however, that there is way too much suffering at home and abroad, and way too few folks like Kayla Mueller willing to live within it and try to reduce its grip on human life.

Bombs, mortars and bullets cause human suffering that can be prevented simply by reducing the number of bombs, mortars and bullets in use. Those who would send others to battle are not doing humanity any favors. They are simply the flawed descendants of the crusader class that has wreaked havoc on humankind for centuries.

I have a very hard time separating the god that inspired Kayla from the god that seems to have inspired the bombs that probably killed her. I am committed to a secular world, free from the tyranny of everybody’s religions. But if you have to embrace a god, Kayla’s god would be a good place to start. It simply should not be, with or without divine intervention, that this beautiful child died so that more death can rain from the sky.

*[A version of this article was also featured on Larry Beck’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]

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