The Toll of Our Revenge

On the sixth anniversary of my nephew Chase’s death in Iraq, 30 Americans, most of whom were Navy Seals, died in Afghanistan, their helicopter shot down by insurgents.

Barack Obama appeared, saying what we have heard so many times: “Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families.”

Gen. John R. Allen, US commander in Afghanistan, paid tribute, adding that we will “continue to relentlessly pressure the enemy … and bring lasting and enduring peace to this historic land.”

Billy Vaughn, the father of one of the Seals, Aaron Vaughn, said:

He grew up loving his country, he loved his family and he loved his Lord, and he died a believer, and he believed in this country and the liberties that we have here. And he believed it to the point that he was obliged as a Christian believer to fight fundamental Islamic terrorists around this world because he believed it was a threat to his children and to his wife and to all of our western civilization way of life.
Aaron Vaughn’s grandmother said: “He was doing what he wanted to do and he was a true warrior.”

Aaron Vaughn’s wife said: “He loved his job.”


I’m shaking my head as I always do when I hear reactions from a president, a general, some member of Congress, the corporate media, stringing together standard issue sentiment for military deaths, responses as canned as field rations. Almost ten long years of platitudinous justifications to continue a course of action that is shamefully dead wrong.

I shake my head as I always do when I hear the personal expressions from family members that a son, daughter, or spouse is in a better place or died doing what he or she loved.

I think about my reaction to September 11, 2001, the acknowledgment of blowback, that we were staring into the eyes of an evil come full circle, our own depravity. I hoped, finally, that we’d examine the hatred inspired by our racist and conquest-oriented foreign policy.

But no.

On that day, and those that followed, the world mourned the loss of three thousand people. Since then, more than 6,000 American troops have been killed in operations called Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn, titles crafted with intent to enthuse nationalism, titles imprudent and deceptive in the packaging, marketing, and selling of souls.

No one knows the huge toll our revenge has taken on the people whose lands we’ve destroyed with our weapons of mass destruction. A million dead? Two million? Including children.

The commission to investigate the attack failed epically and ethically. There has been no justice for the families.

When 30 Americans are killed on the same day in a flash of missile fire, another moment is seized to perpetuate myths. Bring it on—the parade of solemn faces and extolling of atrocities committed in our names. Extraordinary sacrifice. Threat to our way of life. Freedom. He loved his job. Bringing peace by pressuring the enemy. Yet no one, among our “representatives” and mainstream media screen fillers, can muster a mention of an Iraqi or Afghan child, any Iraqi or Afghan, a husband, a father, sister, daughter, son, fellow human being, someone, anyone, among our species, except to label that Iraqi or Afghan an insurgent.

Sick at heart and filled with shame, I challenge the raising of warriors, the use of this language that conjures images of glory to our young, in an insidious drive to recruit and condone savagery.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A warrior.”

“My son wants to be a Christian warrior. There’s no greater honor.”

This is beyond appalling, a job title whose description is a litany of criminal offenses.

I am sick at heart and filled with shame.

Troops deployed to kill and sacrifice are not protecting our freedom. They’re deployed to kill and sacrifice to enrich those who profit from war.

I am sick at heart and filled with shame when I hear the grieving say that their son or daughter is with Jesus or “obliged as a Christian believer to fight fundamentalist Islamic terrorists.” I am sick at heart and filled with shame that there is no recognition that Christian terrorists are flying thousands of miles or using a joystick to operate a drone to kill for Christ.

I am to-the-bone sick and ashamed that the message of the Christ is now being interpreted: “Thou shalt kill.”

I am bone sick and opposed to anyone’s killing anyone. Period.

Parents and spouses who have heard the words my brother received on August 6, 2005 must stop lying to themselves. To the world. They should shout their pain and say that they want to collapse from the crushing, suffocating dead weight of death news.

I want to hear them admit that the lies and greed of the deciders link their loss forever with the relatives of those their loved ones slaughtered?

I want their hearts to scream for sons and daughters taken by violence while committing violence.

I want them to wail for this to end, not just for themselves and military families but, also, for people, more like than unlike them.

Please, make this end.

Missy Comley Beattie can be reached at


Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: