For your consideration, I’d like to offer brief clips and quotes from three different stories. Testimony from soldiers, some very young, about a night in which they destroyed a town and massacred their enemies. Our first tale:
“They told us that the elders… had to be taught an unforgettable lesson.” They moved through the villages of the region, slaughtering all those who hadn’t fled. “The human beings who are around you, they have to be killed. People were lined up and stabbed with bayonets, using stones on the heads of the weak ones.”
A mother was instructed to eat her son and was beaten to death with a padlock when she refused; toddlers were tossed into burning buildings; the heads of the disabled were staved in with the butts of rifles; two young boys were told to beat each other to death with sticks while soldiers cheered them on.
Here’s another soldier from a different story:
“First I cracked an old mama’s skull with a club. But she was already lying almost dead on the ground, so I did not feel death at the end of my arm. I went home that evening without even thinking about it.
Next day I cut down some alive and on their feet. It was the day of the massacre… so, a very special day. Because of the uproar, I remember I began to strike without seeing who it was, taking pot luck with the crowd, so to speak. Our legs were much hampered by the crush, and our elbows kept bumping.”
Another soldier from the same act:
“The first evening, coming home from the massacre… our welcome was very well put together by the organizers. We all met up again back on the soccer field. Guns were shooting into the air, whistles and suchlike musical instruments were sounding.
The children pushed into the centre all the cows rounded up during the day. Burgomaster Bernard offered the forty fattest ones to the interahamwe, to thank them, and the other cows to the people, to encourage them. We spent the evening slaughtering the cattle, singing, and chatting about the new days on the way. It was the most terrific celebration.”
Lastly, we have this story:
20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. 21 They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.
24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house.
The first story is from a former child soldier in the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, a quasi-Christian terrorist cult under the leadership of Joseph Kony who believes that everything he does is under the command of God and seeks to establish a theocratic state in Africa under the ten commandments.
The second quotes are from soldiers involved in a massacre at a church in Rwanda. Caught up in racial hatred and political machinations, they joined their fellow Hutus and slaughtered their neighbors, the Tutsis and Hutus who were suspected of giving aid to them.
The last is, of course, the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. I could have picked other stories from the Old Testament, but this particular one, we talk about in Sunday School. An object lesson in obedience to God and acting in faith, trusting that God will do as He has said.
Two of these acts we condemn. The last we celebrate because, if we take the bible literally, God told Joshua to do it. Of course, Joseph Kony believes God has commanded him to do what he does.
Maybe it’s because the official account leaves out some of the gory details of old women being beaten to death by a soldier wielding a club as she begs for mercy or toddlers being thrown into fires or infants run through with a sword or knife.
Or maybe we celebrate it because somehow they deserved it more than others. They worshipped the wrong god. And sure maybe we have another story in Jonah about a people who had done far worse things getting a visit from a prophet and a reported repentance and forgiveness that followed, but who are we to question when God commands his faithful to kill everyone including the old, the disabled, and the children.
Or maybe history was written by the victors for a purpose of establishing a national identity and while we can read the sanitized version of the tale and extrapolate spiritual and life lessons from it 3,400 years later, we shouldn’t mistake it for an action sanctioned by God, no matter what the author says.