Memorial Day is a time to remember soldiers who gave their lives and some noncombatant heroes as well, such as Michael Kelly.
Kelly was an established journalist on the left when he started seeing value in conservative positions. He was an established editor when he decided to embed himself with U.S. troops at the beginning of the Iraq War.
Kelly's mother Marguerite recently posted an online article (theatlantic.com) about her son's willingness to enter into danger: "He believed in this war. . . . He knew what Saddam Hussein had done to that country. He had seen all those gaudy, golden palaces he had built for himself while Iraqi children went hungry; he had met some of the families whose lives he had wrecked and he knew about the killings he had ordered-the hundreds of thousands of killings."
Mrs. Kelly continued, "Mike was in Iraq in 2003 because he had been in Kuwait City on Liberation Day in 1991. He saw what Saddam's troops had done. He saw the rape rooms. He saw bodies in the morgue with their eyes gouged out; their skin scalded; their lives taken in terrible ways. He was there because he believed there are times-not many, but some-when it is more moral to go to war than to wait for more people to be gassed, more mass graves to be dug."
Believing that this war was worthwhile, Kelly journeyed to report on it. Theodore Roosevelt had come to a similar conclusion in 1898 when he favored war with Spain and said, "My power for good, whatever it may be, would be gone if I didn't try to live up to the doctrines I have tried to preach." It all worked out for Roosevelt: He became a war hero and then president. It didn't work out for Kelly. He was killed soon after the war began.
Kelly's death, along with thousands of others, raises the question of theodicy: Why do massively bad things happen in a world created and sustained by our good and omnipotent God? Kelly's reason for heading toward death suggests a partial answer to that question: He knew that those who fear giving up the pleasures God has bestowed upon them tend to cry peace, peace, when there is no peace-and they thus become enablers of disaster.
Fighting evil brings its own evil. Over 600,000 deaths in the Civil War. Over 400,000 American deaths in World War II. But Marguerite Kelly says her son would have considered those huge costs worthwhile: "Would he say that we should have cut our country in two and let the South have slaves? That we should have let Hitler rule all of Europe and let him kill any Jews that were left?"
She says her son "knew that holocausts start small; that evil is real; that somebody has to stand up and stop it, and that others must watch and tell the world that evil had really been stopped. And sometimes, he said, good people would die in the doing."
She writes, "That our son was one of them still breaks our hearts, but we can't say that his death was unfair. If we did, we would have to say that it was unfair that he had enjoyed life so thoroughly; that he had such a fine career, such an excellent wife and such jolly, healthy sons." She quotes the homey image offered by her husband, Michael's dad: "Life is a fabric, woven out of all our sorrows and delights. If we pulled out the threads we didn't like, there would be nothing left but fuzz. The thought consoles us, but it never consoles us enough."
No, that cannot console us enough. Only faith in Christ can console us enough. I don't know where Marguerite Kelly stands theologically, but she writes of gratitude and hope: "Even though our own halcyon days are done, we are immensely grateful that our son gave so much joy to us and to others. And we hope that he will give it to us again someday, somehow, somewhere."
And she ends with the sadness that lingers, the sadness that made Jesus weep. She writes of her son, "For now, though, he lives in the land that was, and we are left alone."