Open Letter: My Burden of Conscience
I have struggled to write anything of significance since This Is Counterterrorism, Senator was published at National Review Online. For days, I have thought that it was due to being tired. It was, however, the fact that parts of that article re-opened a personal wound, a burden of conscience that I have carried since 1991. I will always carry it, for the consequences of America's actions that year are irreversible. But the prospects of repeating those actions have blocked me from writing and thinking on anything else of significance until my mind had properly addressed what has weighed so heavily. Sitting in "quiet solitude," what spilled forth was not simply the expressions of the powerless, but rather a plea to those who hold the power to act.
Fittingly published at the same venue where I had unwittingly re-opened my own wounds, at National Review is an open letter to Senators Reid and Schumer (et al). In part:
...Yet your very public words convey to those Sunni Iraqis that they may have made the same monumental and lethal mistake the Shi'a in Southern Iraq made in 1991. Recall - as they do - that it was American political leadership that betrayed their trust once their American-encouraged revolt against a murderous tyrant was irrevocably under way.
On what principles of conscience are we to base a repeat of such national behavior?
Just seven short months ago, an Assyrian priest, Father Paulos Iskander, was kidnapped and beheaded. A 14-year old child and parishioner was crucified. Their crime? Christianity. What unspeakable horrors then await the families of those who are now openly betraying al-Qaeda in Iraq if we abandon them now?One is left - outside the Beltway - with the firm and undeniable sense that the burden of conscience would be borne far more greatly in the hearts and minds of men like me, with little power beyond the conviction of principle, than upon the hearts and minds of those in Washington attempting to abandon the Iraqi people while astoundingly calling it "counterterrorism." ...
We dare not avert our eyes once again.
In writing that letter, the personal burden is not lighter. Nor is it in recess. But it has returned to a form that is productive going forward, not debilitating.
What happened in 1991 cannot be changed, nor the lives brought back or the families restored. The burden itself, after all, is caused by the violation of core principles.
Acknowledging these facts, carrying that burden is, in a difficult way to explain, comforting.
For which is truly the greater burden, the absence of a sense of collective guilt or the absence of the principles which inspire it?