In the aftermath of the horror of the Newtown massacre and the nation’s reaction to it, one notices the contrast between the grief and resolve evident after this unspeakable crime and the apathy that prevails when “collateral damage” includes the unintended death of innocent children.
How many thousands of children have been killed by our forces in the wars of the last half century, from Vietnam to Afghanistan? That they were unintended consequences may assuage the conscience of those responsible, but it does not diminish the loss or ease the pain and sorrow of loved ones.
That they were not our children makes them no less deserving of our protection. The instruments of war do not discriminate between the enemy and the innocent. The frightening calculation of what losses are “acceptable” to achieve a desired objective too often leaves dead children on the ground.
But unlike Newtown, we don’t know their names, see their pictures, or witness their grief-stricken families. Those parents can no more explain or understand why this happened than the parents of the innocents slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Some will ask how a loving God could permit this to happen. The same question is asked by the parents of children killed in a bombing run or a drone attack. If there is any divine purpose in allowing evil, it may be to make us more sensitive to the suffering of all mankind.
If only a small measure of the concern we rightly show for our own could somehow be directed to stopping the damage we do to others. While the intentional gunning down of innocents in a murderous rampage is not the same as “collateral damage,” the consequences – dead children – can be.
That chilling similarity should be enough to prompt a re-examination of our targeting choices as we impose gun restrictions to keep instruments of death out of the hands of the unstable and improve mental health services so that such persons can be identified and treated.
Is it too much to expect that in our nation’s grief, we look not just at our own but also at the children that we have harmed or will harm as the unintended consequences of military action? It should not be easy to distinguish between mass murder and mass killings when the results are the same.
In examining ourselves after this slaughter of innocents, we should take a broader view and vow not only to do whatever we can to protect our children but also to make sure that as a nation we are not risking the lives of other children in the name of national security.
Children are the world’s most prized possession. They are the future. Their value does not depend on where they were born or where they live or who their parents are. They all deserve and need our protection whether they live in Newtown, Connecticut, or in a village in Afghanistan.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.