numbersHow many roads must a man walk down Before you call him a man? Yes, ‘n’ how many seas must a white dove sail Before she sleeps in the sand? Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannon balls fly Before they’re forever banned? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many times must a man look up Before he can see the sky? Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have Before he can hear people cry? Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows That too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

[Blowin’ In The Wind Bob Dylan]

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

[Isaiah 11:6 TNIV]

At last count, 1,743 American soldiers have died in the ongoing war in Iraq. I have friends who have children in the U.S. armed forces. I agonize with them. I pray with them for the safety of their loved ones.

I remember in the early days of the war, each soldier who was killed was mentioned by name in the weeklies. We saw their faces. We knew their names. We got to know a little of their backgrounds.

They don’t do this anymore. Maybe this is now counterproductive for public morale. Maybe they just couldn’t keep up. But the soldiers who fight far away from home are known. They are known by their loved ones. They are known by God.

But what really bugs me is that we seldom get the figures of Iraqi civilian casualties. It’s a bit harder to keep count of course but one source puts it at 22,582. I am sure some of them were supporters of the “insurgents.” But many are the expected innocent deaths of all conflicts.

I wonder why their figures are rarely mentioned? Their stories rarely told? Are American lives more valuable than Iraqi ones? Is it because the international media is by and large controlled by Americans? Is it because, if people are reminded too often of the horrendous number of civilian deaths, it might weaken their resolve to fight the war?

This is not a piece that argues for or against the present conflict in Iraq. The sequence of events that led to it is well documented. Give me a glass of a good merlot and I will expound my take on it. In the meantime you make your own judgment call.

I am not an out and out pacifist. I know the arguments for the just war theory. I am glad the Allies went to war in World War two. I remember the stories my parents told me about the Japanese occupation of Malaysia. No, I believe there are times when we have to wield the sword (Romans 13:1-4).

It’s just that even if you believe that the present Iraqi conflict is a just war, at least be clear about its true human cost. It’s not 1,743. It’s at least 24,325. War at its best is at most a lesser evil. But it is evil.

If we believe that humankind is created by God and bear His image, then the death of every human being is a significant loss, the going of an unique individual who can never be replaced. There should be a sense of awe at the passing of every life.

Unfortunately, it seems we are living in a time when human lives too are merely a commodity, to be created, manipulated, used, and discarded. Perhaps when we lose a sense of the reality of the sacred we also lose a sense of the sacredness and infinite value of human life.

In the meantime we are left with all sorts of paradoxes. There are conservatives who fight to protect the unborn, who seem to have few qualms going to war, or being part of economic systems that dehumanize the weakest in the food chain. And there are liberals who speak often and loud about human value and dignity but who conveniently ignore the dying throes of human unborn.

What is a Christian to do? Sometimes one gets tempted to give in to fatalism and stop caring. And join the rest of the world and watch the next “reality” show.

Indeed these are God sized concerns. But we must continue to believe that He is working out His purposes in history. That prayer really moves the hand of God even if we do not see it. That all he holds us accountable for is to live out His values with integrity. And to show by word and deed, glimpses of another world.

But there are days where I am so tired. So many things are beyond my ken. I keep reminding myself that we might not be able to do many things. But we all can do something.

Today, I just want to say I get so bugged by the numbers. Hope this bugs you too.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan