Casualties of War
“Join and Navy and see the world.” Maybe that was what James Michener, a seasoned traveler, was thinking. In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and when called to active duty in 1943, he found himself stationed in the South Pacific. There he traveled extensively and learned about the islands’ culture and history. Michener wrote a series of short stories that he hoped would help returning servicemen. In 1947, he published Tales of the South Pacific, a novel that won him the Pulitzer Prize the next year. Though Michener later wrote many best-selling novels, the book always remained his most famous work.
For those who have seen the romantic musical South Pacific, the book will be a fooler. Tales of the South Pacific has its warm moments, but it is not a romantic story. Michener wrote about the casualties of war. Certainly the sailors and Marines were right at the top. Mostly ordinary Joes, they were men, young and old, hoping for a future that never came. They weren’t the only casualties. Survivors struggled with the haunting sights and sounds of battle. They were forced to cope with the sudden losses of comrades-in-arms, some who had become best buddies. The hardships of war took its toll on both morale and morals. In the lengthy idle times during the war, men looked for love in all the wrong places. Stateside marriages and engagements could not compete against the here and now of nurses, native women, and even teens. Rape was a problem. So was alcohol abuse. As was profiteering. War has its heroes but also has its scoundrels. It certainly has its victims.
At its most basic level, war is a breakdown in civility to the point of killing. It can happen among countries or neighbors. It can happen between or within cultures. For years, a war has been raging within ours. Our war pits the culture of death against the culture of life. The formal declaration came with Roe v. Wade and its foolhardy notion that a developing human within a mother’s womb is not worthy of legal protection. Certainly the aborted unborn, all 57+ million of them, are the immediate casualties of the war. They were not allowed to hope for the future, not allowed to be the people God intended them to be. They were the gifts of God rejected by man, as if man somehow knew better than to accept what God gives. As if man could fashion a life story for himself better than what God had envisioned.
We tend to think of legal abortion as purely a woman’s issue. But the right to life is a human right, so the matter of abortion is a human issue. It affects not only babies and women but also men. Legal abortion strikes at a man’s core. A man is a life giver, as essential as is woman to the procreative transmission of life to the next generation. A man takes great pride in his accomplishments. A man thrives on discipline and order, both of which help him to do great things. A man is wired to be a provider. He gets up early, works hard all day, and stays with the job late in order to provide for his family. He willingly gives of himself so that those in his family will have what they need. And a man is a defender. Anyone who tries to come at his family must first come through him. He will protect his family, or die trying. A man faithful to his role is an anchor of the culture.
In our cultural war, legal abortion plays havoc with a man’s natural characteristics. Legal abortion proclaims that the life that he helped to create is expendable. It doesn’t even qualify as a protectable life, at least, not until a later date. With abortion, a man’s sense of order and discipline, the need to provide and protect, is removed. It pulls men out of their normal roles and turns them into victimizers of the women they should be protecting. In our current culture, violence against women by men is rampant. Legal abortion gives men an excuse to be violent, for legal abortion is an act of legalized violence. Some men will take unfair advantage.
Many other men are the victims of legal abortion. Their circumstances take many forms. Some men strenuously oppose abortion but are left with no choice because the mother need not listen. Other men realize that they didn’t oppose it hard enough. Still others support the woman’s choice, but do so uneasily and come to regret it. Some men do not learn of the abortion until it has already been performed. Some learn that a wife or girlfriend had an abortion arising out of a previous relationship. Men must deal with all sorts of feelings, whether anger and the desire to strike out violently, sadness, loss of masculinity, impotence, obsessive thoughts and nightmares, risky behaviors, even suicidal ideation. Whatever, the pain for men is palpable.
One man’s shame is so bad that he can only share his compelling story anonymously. When IVF resulted in triplets, his wife was only willing to carry one. Unable to change her mind, he accompanied her through the abortion procedure. He watched the ultrasound in agony as the doctor injected potassium chloride “medicine” into two babies’ torsos. Both babies crumpled; one died quickly, the other only after ten minutes. Every day the man aches. Every day he thinks of those two. Every day he asks for God’s forgiveness. During the pregnancy his mantra was, “Save one, or save none.” Today that mantra gives him no solace.
A pastor’s story is equally moving, and it comes with a message. Twenty-three years ago, he agreed to his girlfriend’s abortion. The pain still haunts him. Boy or girl? He pictures himself with his baby, knowing that it can only be a dream. So now he understands his mission: to tell the truth about what happened, even if others are uncomfortable and reject him.
That pastor, and Christ, are calling us to take risks. Where have the pro-life homilies gone? When did it become enough to relegate the subject to a Sunday in October — if that? Where is the pro-life teaching in our schools? If we are Church, then we as Church — men, women, and children — are being destroyed by abortion. Our silence means their deaths.
War overflows with casualties. We must not let our Church become another.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.