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For the Birds?

Military Intervention - For the Birds?

For years, health officials have warned that a virulent strain of avian influenza could rapidly spread the globe, killing millions. Headlines about such an outbreak now seem to pop up daily, and there is reason for increasing concern. But President Bush’s recent request to Congress, asking for the authority to call in the military as part of the government’s response to such a disaster, is wrong.

To start with, calling in the troops would set a worrying precedent, and not only because it would be yet one more step to a fully militarized state.

We already have public health systems at both the state and federal levels, which, though weakened by years of underfunding, could still be quickly strengthened and expanded by an infusion of congressional aid. These agencies have been operative for years, and the people who direct them are trained and experienced in dealing with infectious disease.

This is more than a medical issue; it is a spiritual one. Are we so blind that we cannot see God’s hand in the recent spate of natural disasters to wrack our shores? Have we not considered that in the end, disease, pestilence, and floods might be a part of God’s will?

I am not suggesting that we should stand idly by. I myself have children and grandchildren and friends whom I dearly love, and would be the first to call for professional medical assistance should such a disaster strike my family or community. But aren’t we a little audacious in thinking, in the aftermath of two terrible hurricanes, that we can somehow avert or prevent such a tragedy?

Quarantine and isolation may indeed be a necessary part of our response, but let us not forget that families and pastoral caregivers must also be part of the equation when many people are dying. Does our government really care for its people—for the human beings entrusted to its care—or do our economists and financial analysts rather worry about such a pandemic more because they know of the devastation it could wreak on the global economy?

If widespread death is truly imminent (some sources suggest that 150 milllion people could die of avian flu) wouldn't it be better to prepare ourselves by paying at least some attention to the fact that we all must die one day, and that dying is going to be terribly lonely, and frightening, if we are quarantined? We need to concern ourselves with this issue because one day death will claim each one of us.

If we die alone, under the control of the military, who will provide the last services of love for us, and who will comfort the loved ones we leave behind? Are we going to sit back while we are denied the chance to lay down our lives for each other, which Jesus says is the greatest act of love we can ever perform? A military response will not bring out the best in people, but only magnify the fear and anxiety we already have about death.

We need to leave our human flurry of activities and become silent before God in the face of terrorist attacks, hurricanes, earthquakes, and outbreaks of disease. We should not forget that God is still in control, and that in the end, it is his will that we ought to be praying for. Why are we so terribly afraid of this, especially when it involves dying?

Only when we are ready to suffer—only when we are ready to die—will we experience true peace of heart. Dying always involves a hard struggle, because we fear the uncertainty of an unknown and unknowable future. We all feel the pain of unmet obligations, and we all want to be relieved of past regrets and feelings of guilt. But it is just here where we can reach out and help one another to pass on to the next world with peace and joy.

Again, enforced isolation is wrong: sick and dying people are often lonely as it is, even in situations where they have a family and friends. How will they feel when the government forces us to treat them like lepers? How will they find comfort, if they are not even allowed to talk about what is happening to them?

Because dying people are always close to God, we should see it as a privilege to stand at their bedsides at the hour of death, not a danger—even if this means that we are eventually taken by the same plague. That is why I feel military intervention would be such a tragedy.

When everything is said and done, the only thing that matters is our personal relationship to God. Once we recognize this, the specter of a worldwide flu epidemic will not make us fear death, but give us pause to consider how we can use our lives to show love, while there is still time.

-as written by Johann Christoph Arnold

well said Johann!