Is It or Isn't It?
by Laurence M. Vance
by Laurence M. Vance
"Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13)
There seems to be an inordinate number of Hebrew scholars who support the war in Iraq. It was not until recently, however, that I realized just how many of them are readers of this website. True, I always hear from one or two whenever I write about Christianity and war and happen to reference the above commandment, but the last time I wrote about this subject, the Hebrew scholars came out in droves.
I was told that a more [appropriate, proper, precise, preferred] translation of the sixth commandment, according to the original Hebrew, would be: "Thou shalt not commit murder" or "Thou shalt do no murder." My rendering of the sixth commandment (actually, it is the rendering found in the Holy Bible) is unjustified and simplistic.
I was then informed of the following four facts to show me that some killing is justifiable:
- Men have God's permission to kill animals for food.
- Men have the right of self-defense, including the use of deadly force if necessary.
- There were many crimes in the Old Testament punishable by death.
- God commanded the Jews in the Old Testament to war against their enemies.
Since I discuss the truth of all of these things in several of my previous articles on Christianity and war, and especially the articles "Christian Killers?" and "Humpty Dumpty Religion," next time perhaps these wannabe Hebrew scholars will tell me something I don't know.
What, then, is the point of all this quibbling about the translation of a Hebrew word? Why are some people so adamant about limiting the sixth commandment to murder? Simply this: They are ideologically driven by a desire to legitimatize killing in war, and especially the current war in Iraq. The line of reasoning is as follows: If the commandment in question only prohibits murder, then killing someone in war is okay, and will not subject one to negative consequences by God at the judgment, since it is not murder to kill a man on the battlefield.
Is it or isn't it?
The wannabe Hebrew scholars who conclude that the word "kill" in the sixth commandment should be translated as "murder" are not off the hook. Even if we grant that it is merely murder which is prohibited by the sixth commandment (which I have shown in previous articles and will show again in future articles that such is not the case), they are still responsible for explaining how U.S. soldiers killing for the state in Iraq is anything but murder.
Is it murder to travel thousands of miles away from your home and drop a bomb, scatter cluster bomblets, throw a grenade, launch a missile, or fire a gun at someone in his home that you have never met who was no threat to you until the United States invaded his country? If it is not murder then what are you going to call it? Justifiable homicide? Manslaughter? Self-defense? Perhaps it can be masked as collateral damage, peacekeeping, or spreading democracy?
Any sane man would say that if you travel thousands of miles from your home in Florida to California and blow up a building so as to kill the people inside then you are a murderer. What is it that separates murder from mere killing? What makes the difference? Does killing someone in a foreign country instead of on U.S. soil make the difference? Does the religion of the people you kill make the difference? Does wearing a uniform make the difference? Does getting a paycheck from the government make the difference? Does using a government-issued weapon make the difference? Does following a government order make the difference?
Apologists for U.S. soldiers killing in Iraq would have us to believe that the killings are justified because they are done in self-defense. The terrible truth is that most killing in war is simply murder under the guise of self-defense. Those darn Iraqis were trying to kill me so I just had to kill them. All I wanted them to do was to welcome me as a liberator, write a constitution, and hold an election (and perhaps give me a little cheap oil), and look how they are treating me.
Let's see if I understand the self-defense argument. A U.S. solider participates in the invasion of a country thousands of miles away that has never attacked his country. He has his weapon loaded, his finger on the trigger, and the weapon pointed straight ahead. Someone who objects to his country being invaded then loads his weapon, puts his finger on the trigger, and points it at the invading U.S. soldier. The soldier shoots and kills the foreigner. It's not murder; it's self-defense. The "enemy combatant" should have surrendered peacefully. So likewise, I suppose that if an armed robber stands on someone's driveway and aims his weapon at the owner of the house standing in the garage and puts his finger on the trigger, but then the owner of the house points a shotgun at him, that the robber could shoot and kill the homeowner and say that he was simply defending himself. "But the robber was trespassing," you say. And U.S. troops are not? What else are you going to call it? Importing democracy? Regime change? Nation building? It is all of these things and more, but at the point of a gun.
U.S. soldiers killing for the state in Iraq cannot claim to be acting in self-defense because the war itself was not for self-defense. It was an act of aggression that was supposed to be a cakewalk, but it backfired with disastrous results for the United States. We have sown the wind, but shall reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). There is no saving face. Withdraw now. If you want to do it in a safe, reasonable, timely, and just manner, follow the seven steps I have previously outlined. Just withdraw the troops, now.
Is it murder or isn't it?
In the end it doesn't matter what you call it. Thousands of Iraqis don't care about the semantic word games played by wannabe Hebrew scholars, Bush apologists, Republican loyalists, Christian warmongers, and other supporters or defenders of this senseless war in Iraq — they're dead. It is of no concern to them if they were killed via murder, accident, manslaughter, self-defense, collateral damage, justifiable homicide, assassination, or execution — they're just as dead as the 2,327 American soldiers who have died "defending our freedoms."
Is it murder or isn't it? I would not want to face God at the judgment with blood on my hands.
April 3, 2006
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] is a freelance writer and an adjunct instructor in accounting and economics at Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola, FL. He is also the director of the Francis Wayland Institute. His new book is Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. Visit his website.
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