Eye in the Sky is a look at the very difficult moral dilemmas military personnel often find themselves in. How do you weigh the value of one life against the value of the masses? In this particular story, a long desired terrorist target has been found congregating with several other much desired targets. They’d hoped to capture them, but the situation escalates as they learn that the group is putting together a suicide bomb vest and about to strike. They decide to bomb the house. This is a messy enough decision, to go from capture to execution, but the situation gets even more complicated when they realize that if they bomb, there will almost certainly be some collateral damage…worse, it will almost certainly be the death of a young girl. The movie is the tense deliberations among the military and politicians and decision makers as they weigh the pros and cons and costs of both action and inaction.
It’s a tough situation, and unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon one. It’s also a slippery slope. If you decide that one young girl is an acceptable loss to save the lives of 80 or more people that would die in the suicide bombing, then what about two young girls? Or twenty? Really, if you’re measuring acceptable collateral damage, the only stopping point is when the scales tip. So it’s beneficial as long as you save at least one more life than what you lose. Logically, this is the only stopping point (although no one wants to admit this ugly truth).
However, in the movie’s scenario, they were dealing in hypotheticals. The girl was almost a certain loss, but the suicide bombings were a total unknown. So the compassionate people in the argument were concerned for the one definite in the story. The protective, warrior types in the story were concerned with the masses and their people that they were responsible for. Both sides of the argument valued life, but whose life they valued most changed based on their temperament. And, to be fair, the protectives probably lean toward valuing rightness and justice more than individual lives, in this story at least. They’re more able to make tough decisions about one life because of the principles involved and the numbers, the ability to save more lives overall.
There’s one other personality to consider though—the politician. (This is both a profession and a mindset.) While the compassionates and the protectives were very much focused on the practicality of the situation and on its direct outcome, these people were concerned with the aftermath. They weren’t just thinking about what should be done to fix the situation of the moment, but they were looking down the road at the effects of what was done. How would people respond? How would this be received? In some ways, these are the pleaser-types. They are able to consider how other people will think and feel about the actions done. They are able to see things from everyone’s perspective and to realize that they weren’t acting in a vacuum—there would be a reaction to any action. So they weighed every action not only by how it solved the problem at hand, but also by what other problems it might cause down the road.
It’s hard to reach a decision when you have such different approaches to solving the problem as well as such different value systems about what really matters. Is the life of the innocent girl most important? Is the life of the potential bombing victims most important? Is the principle of catching terrorists who have been so elusive for so long and bringing them to justice the most important? Or is the perception of the outside world the most important factor? Depends on who you ask. As frustrating as it is, the best solution solves all of these concerns. It felt like finding a good solution would be impossible (especially to the take action practical types who were constantly being stifled), but the reality is having all those voices was a good thing.
I don’t have answers for these questions, but a few observations. First off, Jesus was both infinitely practical as well as compassionate and He has an eternally long-range view. He’s able to see every point of view. He can be found in every personality in this argument. Secondly, as frustrating as it can be to reach an agreement on hard decisions with so many varying perspectives and values in the mix, it’s actually how God intended it to be. Not only in a situation like this, but also in the body of Christ as a whole. We need each other. (See 1 Corinthians 12.) As for the value of one vs. the value of the masses, Jesus died on the cross for both the one and the masses. He cares about the sparrow; he cares about one little girl just as much as He cares about the masses and desires that none should perish. On the other hand, this life is not the end so His perspective is much more long range than ours. His infinite compassion (surprisingly enough from our perspective) does not mean that everyone gets saved or healed, etc., in this life because He’s looking beyond it to an even greater reality.
Another thing I want to draw attention to is the power of language. When the protective, take-action types were trying to justify firing on the house of terrorists, they referred to the little girl as “collateral damage,” e.g. “You are putting the whole mission on hold because of one collateral damage?” Not one person, one girl, one child… but one “collateral damage.” In that statement she was dehumanized, sterilized, made a more acceptable loss. She wasn’t a person then but a statistic of loss just as the loss of the house or a public road or national monument or any thing might be considered an acceptable loss, a.k.a. collateral damage. Language is so powerful and it changes the way we think and feel about things.
The military decision makers wanted to act. They knew that they had to do everything by the book. They had to make sure everything was legal and they didn’t do anything wrong. However, just because you didn’t do wrong doesn’t mean you’ve done right. As Major Webb explained, “Needs of necessity and proportionality are most certainly met, but I’m trying to protect you and protect that girl. The law isn’t here to get in your way, it’s here to protect you.” He wasn’t worried they would do something “wrong”, but he understood that there’s more at stake. Perception is powerful. He was getting in their way in order to protect them and make sure the most right thing was done. Not just that results were achieved in a technically correct manner, that was already done, but that wasn’t enough. It’s a little like when Jesus showed up and started explaining to people how even though they were following the letter of the law, they were still not doing the right things because their hearts were wrong. He said it wasn’t enough to just not do the wrong thing, to follow things to a technicality…you have to do more than that, you have to do the right thing. It’s not enough to just not have an affair with another woman, but you shouldn’t even be dreaming about having an affair. Jesus wanted to protect us by getting our hearts into the right place, not just our technicalities.
The pilot of the drone was ordered to strike, but he refused until he confirmed the data about the risk to innocent people involved. He knew his rights. He was supposed to follow orders, but he wasn’t required to do so blindly. In many ways it would have been easier to do as told without asking. He could claim a degree of ignorance about the results and blame his superiors for the fall out. He had integrity though, and took responsibility for his actions. It wasn’t enough to him that his commanders approved and ordered the action. HE was the one pulling the trigger, and he knew he would be accountable for that action in the end. So he held his ground and refused to act until he could do so in good conscience. We could learn a lot from him. Even in spiritual matters, we are often so guilty of simply believing whatever our teachers and pastors and favorite authors tell us. We are lazy and don’t double check things for ourselves. Maybe we don’t really realize that in the end, God will hold us personally accountable for what we have believed, not for what we have heard or read or been taught, but for what we have believed. This pilot wasn’t responsible for what his superiors told him to do, but he was responsible for what he did with that order. The same is true for us… in every area of our lives. We need to have his courage and tenacity, to stand our ground, to know our rights, to fight for the truth, to KNOW that we are believing what is true and doing what is right. It’s not enough to say we followed orders.
In trying to fight the war and stop the enemy, the temptation is always there to stop to the enemy’s level. It’s a difficult and subtle temptation. In this scenario, the politicians pointed out an ugly truth, that if they did nothing, and the terrorists bombed a public place, then they are still the enemy who murders innocent people. If, however, they did the air strike and even one innocent person died, then the world wouldn’t think about who was potentially saved by taking out the terrorists, they would look at the US as the villain. One man said, “I’d rather point to Al Shebab as murderers of innocent people, rather than ourselves as killers.” This is a hard fact that sounds really ugly. It sounds like, rather than doing what’s right, you’re trying to do what will look good. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a matter of recognizing that if you give the terrorists a bit of their own medicine, you become just like them. I think it’s recognizing that it’s better to stay the white knight, even if that means the dark knight is free to a little longer to do harm. At least, the white knight stays white, stays pure…doesn’t become dark himself. The practical benefit of this, as the politicians pointed out, is that the people then stay united around a common enemy and a common savior. Public opinion gets very divided when those lines are blurred.
If we can bring Jesus into this, we can also add that we don’t overcome the darkness with darkness, but with light. In order to fight against great evil, we must do so as light. That may mean the battle seems to take longer, but we can trust that we have a God who fights for us. We can trust His ability to defend us, to protect the innocent, to intervene when He sees fit. It’s not enough for us to save the world but lose our own soul. It’s not enough for us to fight evil if we become it by adopting its strategies. We have to fight better, different, as light. Uncompromisingly so. This is the only way there is any true victory.
Questions for Discussion:
- As they were trying to decide what to do about bombing the house, who would you have sided with and why?
- As frustrating as it was to have so many different opinions about what to do, how did each person add something necessary to the discussion? How is this like being part of the body of Christ?
- How does Jesus represent/identify with each of the people weighing in on the decision of what to do?
- What difference does it make calling the girl “collateral damage”? Can you think of other instances where language has been changed to make a hard thing easier to swallow?
- Why isn’t it enough to just not do the wrong thing, to be sure you are technically clear of any wrong doing? How did Jesus encourage people to go beyond that kind of thinking, and to be sure they were doing the best, wisest thing?
- How tempting is it to simply follow orders, believe your teachers, etc.? What do you think you’ll be held accountable for in the end, what they told you, or what you did and believed (regardless of what you were told)?
- It’s always tempting to respond in kind, to do unto others what’s been done to you, but the Bible encourages us to do unto others as we would want to be done by. Which is your usual response? How hard is it to fight against terrorism and not become like the terrorists in the process? How can you fight darkness with light?