TCS Daily

"Don't Rescue Me with a Gun"

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - April 6, 2006 12:00 AM

The abduction and rescue of former British hostage Norman Kember in Iraq made headlines in London recently. A devout Christian, Kember went to Iraq as an extension of his devotion to peace and his opposition to military action in Iraq. As this timeline shows, Kember was abducted and held for ransom, with his kidnappers demanding the release of all Iraqi prisoners held by American and Iraqi authorities. A coalition military effort rescued Kember and two other hostages on March 23.

Kember was a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, which states on its website that it "reject[s] the use of violent force to save [team member] lives should [team members] be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a violent conflict situation." Per this statement of conviction, a controversy erupted over whether Norman Kember adequately thanked his rescuers for their efforts in getting him out of captivity. (A full statement from Kember is found here, where he says that "I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my release.")

Putting aside the issue of whether a lasting peace actually can be achieved in whole or at least in part by armed force, there is a very real danger that activities such as the ones engaged in by Norman Kember and Christian Peacemaker Teams ultimately end up doing more harm than good. No doubt, Kember went to Iraq with the best of intentions; and the courage he displayed in following his convictions is laudable. But to ask not to be saved in the event that one ends up a captive invites all sorts of dangers -- dangers that will be visited on people other than Norman Kember.

For one thing, the wish of the people who are part of Christian Peacemaker Teams not to be rescued via the use of violent force runs contrary to the mission of the military to at times use violent force to preserve innocent life. It is unrealistic to expect that members of professional military corps (functioning under certain honor codes) will put aside their duty to protect innocent life merely because someone like Kember asks them to. Professional soldiers who make up a military corps dedicated to the preservation of life will think such a request incomprehensible, and may balk at it. It is part and parcel to soldiers' jobs to preserve and defend innocents, and that charge will most certainly not be forsaken if another Kember-like situation comes along.

For another thing, to demand that people who make up the Christian Peacemaker Teams be left to their fate if kidnapped or held hostage gives an advantage to hostage-takers. They may feel that they can target with impunity Christian Peacemakers and other individuals making similar non-violent rescue requests. After all, wouldn't they worry less about a military operation if Peacemakers establish a precedent of rescue without violence? In fact, hostage-takers might go so far as to mix hostages who ask that military action on their behalf be forsworn along with hostages who would want to be rescued by any means necessary. (One would hope, in that case, that a rescue mission would proceed.)

To be sure, the rescue of Kember may throw cold water on this theory and it is more than likely, as mentioned above, that professional soldiers will disregard requests such as the one made by members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. But to the extent that such a request actually does cast doubt on the resolve of a country's military to protect its citizens, it becomes ultimately harmful to those citizens when they are in a dangerous environment.

Of course, it will be impossible to stop people like Norman Kember from going to Iraq and seeking to make peace. And there appears to be at best, only a little bit of support for the proposition that Kember and other like-minded individuals should be stopped from going to act as their convictions would have them act. But Kember and like-minded individuals should understand that if they get captured in a place like Iraq, they will place a burden on coalition forces to find and rescue them. It is a burden that is inescapable for those forces, and one that should be considered seriously before they even depart for Iraq.

Pejman Yousefzadeh is a TCS contributing writer.


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