Mortar Shells

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One of the most terrifying pieces of Civil War field artillery was notoriously inaccurate.

The eight-inch mortar, for all intents and purposes, was a stubby, sawed-off cannon.  It fired an eight-inch-diameter explosive shell – approximately the size and shape of a bowling ball.

Mortars were pulled into position by teams of horses.  Shots were essentially high arcs that resembled those “win-$25,000-with-a-basket-from-midcourt” contests we see during halftime at basketball games.  The cannoneers didn’t need to get much closer than one mile to the enemy.  You could line up a row of mortars and simply fire away, day and night.

It was almost impossible to predict where the shells would land.  That’s what made them so scary.  Those who lit the fuses and those in the enemy trenches were equally in the dark. 

Mortars therefore weren’t really tactical weapons, designed with win battles.  They were weapons of terror. 

In that regard, they worked beautifully.  You could break an army’s spirit from a mile away.    

We still have mortars today.  They’re known as social media. 

If you have a laptop you can launch projectiles of rumor, gossip, and criticism with just a few keystrokes.  You can be 10,000 miles away.  Send out a Tweet or a Facebook post, sit back, and see where your messages land.  Wait to see who responds.   

It can be a nightmare, especially if you’re a middle school or high school girl. 

As Nancy Jo Sales reveals in her book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, it’s painful to be an adolescent sitting on her bed at midnight, watching as a digital mortar shells land on her smartphone.  Someone, or a group of someones, has delivered the flat screen verdict that she is a tramp, a prude, a pretender, or merely irrelevant. 

Such “anonymous” correspondences are the preferred weapon of the bully. 

You don’t have to be there.  You don’t have to deal with someone else’s body language or facial expressions.  You can execute an emotional hit-and-run.  Sales believes this is almost certainly linked to the sharp rise in adolescent suicides over the past 10 years.

What can we do?

Stop shooting mortar shells indiscriminately into someone else’s life.  Refuse to hit Reply All when you’re facing a personal issue that calls for one-on-one sensitivity. 

Among the many things made harder by the pandemic, it’s now more challenging than ever to find appropriate ways to approach someone.  Alone.  Just the two of you.  In search of healthy ways to go forward. 

Check out Jesus’ blueprints:  “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” (Matthew 18:15-17) 

Think how many wars would never need to be fought, and how many casualties we could avoid, if we all retired our mortars.

Or if we voluntarily switched ammunition. 

If people started lobbing messages of encouragement and kindness, we’d suddenly hear a new standing order:

Fire at will.