National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
?Signup Here For  Weekly E-mail

 1 Archives  | 

 Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand

 April 15, 2003
   Vol. 1, No. 3 

*Send This Page to a Friend    3Printer Friendly Version

"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is what makes us important to the people around us."

A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer.  She is founder and executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  Sister Joan has been recognized by universities and national organizations for her work for justice, peace and equality for women in the Church and society.  She is an active member of the International Peace Council.

* The Web link to Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA, is provided as a service to our readers.

What Are We Losing by Winning?

by Joan Chittister,OSB

I meet a lot of depressed people these days. They are thousands of miles away from Baghdad but very enmeshed in it at the same time. They’re troubled not simply because of the violence that is going on in Iraq. They’re disheartened about the amount of violence that is creeping into U.S. society itself in the name of achieving the peace. 

The truth is that there’s a great deal more violence in war than simply the violence we pay for with public money. War raises a great many more questions than simply whether or not we should begin one. These other dimensions of war -- civic violence and hidden questions -- are clear in this society now. Most frightening of all, perhaps, is that both the violence and the questions are being masked in the interest of the violence that is being glorified.

In Pittsburgh, Pa., according to the statements of the people involved and the Pittsburgh City Press in an online article dated April 2, 2003, police broke the nose of a woman demonstrator, struck another with a baton and maced a third.  The first question is clear: Are singing, sign-holding adults really such a danger to the state that they have to be roughed up by the local police to protect the citizenry of the country? And if not, how is it that we can claim to liberate the citizens of another country by suppressing our own?
On the other hand, marchers rocked cars, and the police attacked marchers. Demonstrators blocked traffic, and the police filled paddy wagons with innocent people. Scene after scene made the second question clear, too: If we are really fighting this war to impose democracy on Iraq, what kind of democracy shall we preserve for ourselves in the meantime?
Peter Arnett, a veteran American journalist, said on Iraqi television what everybody already knew from commentators everywhere: that the first military strategies of the U.S. Army had not been successful and so had to be re-evaluated, and that the sight of American war dead fuels the American peace movement. For speaking an obvious truth that sponsors did not like to hear, Arnett was fired from NBC. 

Before that, two Congressmen went to Iraq to see the situation for themselves. Worst of all, they had the nerve to report that at least part of the destitution of Iraq stemmed directly from 12 years of the American-led sanctions of food, medicines and supplies to that country. As a result, fellow legislators accused them of giving comfort to the enemy. So much for attempting to be prepared to discuss a major issue knowledgeably on the floor of the U.S. Congress. 

Obviously, in these situations, the question became “How much truth are the truth-tellers allowed to tell?” How shall we know that we are really getting the truth from either the press or our legislators if they’re vilified or fired for telling it? What happens to both the freedom of speech and freedom of the press that these legislators and major news channels pride themselves on preserving? 
There must be reasons for all of this, of course. Maybe the police are afraid of crowds and so are impatient with peace demonstrators. Maybe some of the crowds are more populated by anarchists than pacifists. Maybe legislators are more concerned with being perceived as “patriotic” than critical. Maybe journalists should say what they have to say -- but to us, not to an Iraqi TV anchorman. But maybe, too, we all need to stop a moment and decide whether what we claim we’re fighting for we intend to maintain here. Right here. 
From where I stand, the questions look significant and the answers look tenuous. In fact, it looks as if what is happening to us may be at least as serious as what is happening in Iraq. Maybe we’re winning the war and losing it at the same time. No wonder people are depressed.
Comments or questions about this column may be sent to:
Top of Page   | Home 
Copyright © 2003 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 
TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280