Who is Tempting Who?
Solders In the News
Two solders were in the news this week. One received favorable quite coverage—Prince Henry. The youngest son of the late Princes Diana and third in line to the British throne is going into battle. He will be following his uncle Prince Andrew who flew helicopters as a decoy to draw incoming missile fire in the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982.
The other solder in the news was Sgt. Paul Cortez. The US Army announced that Cortez would be given a dishonorable discharge after being sentenced to 100 years in prison for the gang rape of a 14 year old girl and the murder of her and her family. Earlier Thursday, tears rolled down Cortez's face as he apologized for the rape and murders. He said he could not explain why he took part.
"I still don't have an answer," Cortez told the judge. "I don't know why. I wish I hadn't. The lives of four innocent people were taken. I want to apologize for all of the pain and suffering I have caused the al-Janabi family."
These two solders stand in sharp contrast. One British, the other American, Crotez military career is ending after serving in combat, Prince Henry's combat experience is about to begin. One succumb to the temptations of violence produced by the stress of war. Prince Henry has yet to be tested.
I feel both anger and sadness for Paul Cortez. There is sadness for relatives of the al-Janabi family. They must suffer terribly. There is sadness for the Cortez family who also ache for their son. There is anger both over the decision made by a political leader who himself avoided combat to send send our young men and women into harms way. There is also anger toward those solders who could have made a different decision; who could have responded differently; who could have resisted temptation.
Learning Repetition Over Time
In reading the story about the trial and the pending trial of the other young men, I thought about another incident that occurred on another continent, in another war. It happened in the tiny village of My Lai, South Vietnam where on March 16, 1968, Charlie Company under the constant pressure of danger and the madness of war, had lost control of their discipline, reason, and humanity, and had begun slaughtering 504 unarmed civilians in the village, most of them women, children, and elderly men. The details the solders inhumanity toward innocent people was regurgitated in newspapers for weeks but I never read one story about the heroic and gallant actions of one solder—High Thompson. He was flying a helicopter that day over the village and saw what was taking place on the ground. Thompson set his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining villagers. At great risk to himself, he got out of the helicopter and confronted the officer in charge, William Calley. He then airlifted the few villagers still alive out of My Lai, and also radioed a report of the scene that resulted a halt to the action, thus saving thousands of civilian lives.
Thompson was invited to speak at the commencement ceremonies at a major university. He surprised the audience and brought them to a thoughtful silence when he told them where he found the moral courage and strength to do what he did that day. He did not take credit for himself. He did not attribute his decision to his military training nor the word of any great leader of history. He thanked his mother and father for instilling him the difference between right and wrong. He said, “We were country people. I was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia and we had very little. But one thing we did have was the Golden Rule. My parents taught me very early, 'Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.' That's why I did what I did that day. It's hard to put certain things into words.” He told the students, parents and faculty, “You're going to have to make many decisions in your life. Please the decisions because we're depending on you. God bless you all.”
One pastor wrote, “Why did he do what he did? Where did he find the moral courage? Words taught to him in childhood, repeated over and over,
"Do unto others . . . do unto others . . . do unto others."
We have forgotten the powerful influence of repetition; of repeated rituals that may seem meaningless at the time but will have a dramatic influence in the future. A friend from seminary once told me that he grew up in a Christian home. His mother and father were devoted followers who insisted that after dinner the family would read Scripture and pray. He told me how he hated those times growing up. Tom rebelled against his family's faith when he went to college. He was expelled from a Christian college for breaking their rules with reckless abounded. He enlisted in the Navy and enjoyed the women at every port and call. But Tom said one thought always haunted him. He said that nearly every time he was about to crawl under the sheet with a new friend, he would recall those evening devotions with his family. Eventually the memory of those family devotions brought him back to the faith. Tom now serves as a pastor of a large congregation.
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1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390
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