The mounting casualties of the ongoing war on Iraq continue, although authorities are doing their best to keep them out of public sight. Caskets are secreted back into the US, and media outlets are not allowed to publish photographs or much information about the funerals. With over 100,000 Iraqis and more than 2000 American soldiers dead, the scale of the tragedy continues to grow – all in the hope of creating a new and peaceful future.
While the US operational casualty list from the present battle is largely hidden, there is a greater tragedy of war for which statistics are available: the number of soldiers who have died as a result of that interesting euphemism “friendly fire” – where death occurs as the result of weapon discharge by one’s own side. The Pentagon estimates that one in six American casualties during WW2 were the result of friendly fire, a figure which grew to one in four during the Gulf War.
In reflecting on those statistics, my mind is taken back to many conversations with people who still carry scars from ‘friendly fire’: people who have left organisations of all descriptions, people who have become alienated from friends or family. These are wounds which are the cause of ongoing bitterness, increased timidity or outright aversion. Once they have been hurt in the honest pursuit of a passion, many determine that they will not put themselves at risk again, and the world is – in the majority of cases – impoverished as a result.
I am thankful for the life of Jesus, cut down as it was by ‘friendly fire’. Jesus was not deterred from his path, even by those who clearly spelled out to him the consequences of continuing to pursue his line. He suffered friendly fire from his own people the Jews, and from his chosen group – the disciples, yet he did not draw back. He was sustained by his relationship to the father.
We have all known the impact of such ‘friendly fire’. These are not times of correction (which we all need), but something much more destructive. We are all vulnerable as victims and capable as assassins, unwitting or otherwise.
As we journey together in exploration we can reduce the risk of ‘friendly fire’ if we commit to hearing one another, and listening with grace and compassion, believing that we all carry the best interests of God’s kingdom and his church in our hearts. While we will not always agree, and cannot possibly carry everyone’s hopes and dreams as a community, we can cherish the diversity and the conversation, knowing that God often thinks differently from us, and listening for His voice requires being open to change.
If we are to be a community of healing and hope, let’s be aware of our capacity to wound. The only good ‘friendly fire’ is one you can barbecue sausages on.
February 19, 2006