The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Beyond good and evil

The hideous spectacle of Abu Ghraib ripped away our moral fig leaf

Disgusted, disheartened, ashamed but not shocked — that remains my reaction to the brutalities at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. No one should be shocked, least of all Christians. What happened was predictable, if we take our own teaching seriously.

Commentators cite lack of discipline, command failures, war's degradation of human sensibilities, revenge and the intoxification of power as reasons for the squalid affair. This list contains much truth. But it overlooks the arrogance and moral exceptionalism of the rhetoric used from the beginning to justify this war.

This rhetoric offered us a crusade against an "axis of evil," intended to destroy "evildoers," remove a dictator, smash his weapons of mass destruction and punish those responsible for the heinous acts of Sept. 11. It promised to bring liberty to the Iraqis and to restore a moral order other nations were unwilling or unable to enforce. There was good and evil, good guys and bad guys — and we knew where each resided.

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