Too Old for Outrage? My Reaction to the Hospital Bombing in Afghanistan

KUNDUZ, AFGHANISTAN -OCTOBER 03: Fire at Doctors Without Borders (MSF) after a US airstrike on MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghan
KUNDUZ, AFGHANISTAN -OCTOBER 03: Fire at Doctors Without Borders (MSF) after a US airstrike on MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on October 03, 2015. An Afghan health official has said a U.S. air strike early Saturday morning in the northern city of Kunduz has killed 9 people and wounded 37 people, including 19 MSF staff. (Photo by MSF/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Am I too old for outrage? Too inured to indecency?

I was born during the Cold War, too young for Vietnam but old enough to remember the day we heard that our quarterback cousin from the hills of Pennsylvania had stepped on a mine in faraway Vietnam. We collapsed numb onto the green, nubby couch in the small living room of our Levitt home on Long Island, not so much outraged as exhausted.

I lived through Nixon's resignation without outrage. I was in high school, after all, and had a blonde haired, blued-eyed Lutheran girlfriend to absorb my attention. No energy left for outrage.

I listened as Ronald Reagan apologized for breaking international law, for mining the harbors of Nicaragua, and for outfitting rebels with money he'd gotten from secretly selling weapons to Iran. Still no outrage, just minor discontentment, since I had other things to think about, like finishing my doctoral thesis and finding a job.

Then came two Gulf Wars and a failed effort to find weapons of mass destruction. I met this with bewilderment and mild protest--but only a small dose of outrage. Who had time for outrage? Our daughter was born in 1992, our son four years later.

Now, at fifty-nine, am I too old for outrage? I've learned that my country bombed a hospital in Afghanistan. At 2:30 AM on October 3rd, a AC-130 repeatedly strafed a hospital despite calls to stop. At first, I took my government's word for it: it was a mistake, not a war crime. President Obama even apologized; this is apparently a big diplomatic step. So outrage was blunted by his contrition.

Then I read that our intelligence people had circled the hospital on maps because it may have housed a Pakistani who coordinated Taliban efforts--that the hospital bombing may have been intentional.

I am outraged. I have nothing to keep me from it. I'm not a kid anymore. I'm not raising kids anymore. I'm not building my career anymore.

But what can I do to express my outrage for the patients who burned in their beds and the doctors and nurses and staff who died practicing medicine in a town I'd never even heard of before last week? What can I do to express my revulsion at the thought of an American AC-130 in the dark of night repeatedly bombing, with laser precision, a small hospital in Kunduz? (And now, is it true that afterwards we sent a tank in to get information and equipment? Can that be true, too?)

Here's what I've done. It's hardly the stuff of legend, hardly heroic, barely significant. It's too quiet, too, but these are the weapons I have, and I have no excuses now for failing to use them.

Write, so I write now--a confession, not so much of cowardice as of benign neglect, a lack of outrage. I'm asking you, too, to write something. A letter. An email. A Facebook post. A tweet. Anything to pay attention to the pain. To call attention to the pain. Even if you are unsure, write. It happened. It's tragic. It deserves a hearing.

Sign a petition. I know, it's not much. It even sounds kind of pathetic. But Doctors Without Borders has sent out a petition for an impartial, independent, international examination. Unlikely, but at least I can sign my name. So can you.

Give--more than ever. I believe in Doctors Without Borders. I believe they do what God does and what many people of faith do not: treat the world as a borderless, nationless collection of human beings in need. Doctors Without Borders embodies the ancient prophetic vision of an outpouring of God's Spirit on all flesh--not Christian flesh or white flesh or American flesh. All flesh. So I'll donate again to Doctors Without Borders, though more this time around.

Pray. In church the other day, during one of those songs that was just a little bit too perky, I wrote on a scrap of paper, "We need to pray for the people from the hospital and their families." I stole down the aisle and handed it to our pastor. So we prayed, all of us together. However you pray, or if you've thought you might start, now is the time.

I hope you'll forgive me for doing too little and asking you to join me in doing too little. Once you've forgiven me, however, I hope you'll join me.

  • Write something.

  • Sign something.
  • Give something.
  • And pray something--anything. Make God pay attention to the pain, though I imagine God already has.