Included in the "Penitential Opportunity" worship resource

An Outline for a Service Acknowledging War Crimes
Has the United States ever apologized? Or are we too big to apologize?”
—Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, helicopter pilot, U.S. Army

The Chaplains Handbook has no prayer or rite,
Nor Book of Common Prayer nor missalette,
For scrutinies that beg forgiveness from

The mutilated dead. We come contrite
For reports of helicopter gunships.
The Chaplains Handbook has no prayer or rite

For bodies observed in a ditch; the undress
Of a girl who covered only her eyes—
A scrutiny that begs her forgiveness—

Noncombatant gang rape, with bayonette.
Old age we robbed from them, our years condemn.
The Chaplains Handbook has no prayer or rite.

We confess to you, brothers and sisters,
Our Agnus Dei mocked your mutilation,
Lacked sufficient scrutiny to beg you.

“Kill anything that moves,” bloodlust, U.S.
Five hundred and four in My Lai, Son My.
The Chaplains Handbook has no prayer or rite
For scrutinies of war crimes. We beg. Forgive.

Old age we robbed from them, our own years condemn.
We confess to you, brothers and sisters,
We will remember them.

—Rose Marie Berger, poetry editor and senior associate editor, Sojourners magazine, written for the 50th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre. Hugh Thompson was the helicopter pilot who tried to halt the massacre, rescuing civilians while training his machine gun on U.S. soldiers, threatening to shoot if they did not stop the slaughter.

#  #  #

Sorry, sorry, sorry: The political meaning of “collateral damage” repentance

We kill and bomb
Murder and maim
Target and terrorize mostly
      (for high-tech armies)
from great distance
the better not to see actual faces
or severed limbs, or intestines oozing through
holes where belly buttons used to testify
to being a mother-born child

But then we apologize
            So sorry
                  Deeply regret
                        Such a tragedy!
                              Sorry, sorry, sorry

We do everything we can to limit civilian casualties
“This isn’t Sunday school”
      (one politician’s actual words)
Didn’t have those children in our sights
Impossible to see, at 10,000 feet,
      whether Kalashnakovs are present
Smart bombs aren’t flawless
Flawed intelligence
      (as if a test score were at stake)
Military necessity
Rules of engagement need refining
S**t happens
We gave them advance warning
War is hell

The unintended consequences and inevitable
eventualities in hostile force-reduction and
counter-insurgency strategic operations
      (See s**t happens)
Freedom isn’t free
Do unto others before they do unto you
Asymmetrical warfare
      (“Why don’t they come out and fight like men!”)
No independent verification of claims of civilian massacre
      (aka, no one left standing)
“This is no My Lai” (Vietnam, where as many as 504—
      the Pentagon says only 347—unarmed women,
      children and old men were killed by U.S. troops, no
      weapons recovered, for which one soldier was
      convicted, spending 4 months in prison.)

We fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here
      (which is why the U.S. needs 1,000 or so military
      bases outside its borders, dozens with golf courses)

Won’t happen again, unless it does, then
                                    Sorry, Sorry, Sorry
Video, and sentiments, at the top of the hour
      They left us no option
            Forced into this corner
                  Them or us
                        Hearings to be convened
                              We’ll get to the bottom of this
We need to wait ’til all the facts are in

But only eyes, no heads, will roll:
      foreign-born blood being cheap as it is
If war is the answer
      the question must be really stupid

—Ken Sehested, editor/author of prayerandpolitiks.org, written after hearing one too many public officials rationalize “collateral damage” against innocent victims of military strikes

#  #  #

The Bullet

I tried to domesticate the bullet,
To take her with me to school,
To teach her the alphabet
And have her speak.
But she is made of black clay
And stuffed with canned blood.

I tried to domesticate the bullet,
To take her to the water spring,
To the fields of dew.
But she has consumptive lips
That love to kiss the lips of death,
To rummage our wreck
And blow ashes in our eyes.

I tried to domesticate the bullet,
To lead her to the truth,
To wash her copper with perfumes
And replace her gun powder with sweets.
But she refused to be unlocked,
And remained dripping pus,
With poison in her breath.

—written by an unidentified Iraqi soldier following the 1991 Gulf War

#  #  #


In a museum of the city
once called Saigon, are snapshots. One’s
been blown up so we can all see
it clearly. An American,

a young foot soldier, stands on battle
pocked land, his helmet at a jaunty
tilt, posed for buddies as the Model
Grunt. In his left hand he is dangling,

like Perseus, a head by its hair.
Though not Medusa’s, it’s his charm
for turning fear to stone. Its stare
will quiet, awhile, his throbbing chest.

The tattered flesh that once dressed collar
bones hangs rags from this Vietnamese
neck, captured with the soldier’s scar
of grin by a friend’s camera.

Is it enough to see it clearly?
We all know what to think. The whitewashed
walls of a second room show nearly
as many black-and-white shots of

Cambodian atrocities
against Vietnamese. No room’s hung
with what was done to enemies
of Vietnam, just as there’s no

American museum built
to show off snapshots of My Lai.
One pronoun keeps at bay our guilt –
they they they they they they

—Karen Swenson, an award-winning poet and journalist who has traveled extensively in Southeast Asia