Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand

June 29, 2005
   Vol. 3, No. 8

?Signup Here For  Weekly E-mail |  1 Archives  | *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.

Staying in Iraq 'at whatever the cost' will cost us plenty

By Joan Chittister, OSB

I played one of those table games last week with a ten year old in which pre-teens clobber adults by asking them to do what they are certain adults can't do: respond with strict logic to the strictly logical. But this time I was ready. I simply refused to get caught up in the parts of the test that distracted me from the larger questions.

Share NCR with your Friends
First, my little friend drew a large X on a piece of paper and labeled it "The Blue Test." Then, in each of its quadrants she put a picture or a word. One quadrant said "The Blue Test." A second quadrant had a series of x's arranged from large to small. The third segment showed a picture of a woman and a baby separated by a road. The fourth had three same size circles.

The first direction was to circle the largest of the X's so I circled the entire configuration-not the X in the first segment--and saw her face drop. Then she told me to circle "The Blue Test" so this time I circled everything on the paper, not simply the phrase in the second segment. She frowned a bit and I saw the mingling of frustration and hope on her face as we moved to steps 3 and 4 of the test. "Here," she said, pointing at the picture of the woman, "is a mother; here is a road; and here is an orphan. Should the mother go to the baby by walking, swimming or flying? I thought for a minute. "She shouldn't go to that baby at all," I answered. "It's not her baby; it's an orphan." Her disappointment was plain. Some adults, it seemed, could see what they were looking at. "Now," she said, "use these three circles to make a dog." I looked at the three small circles -- o-o-o -- from every direction. Nothing. "I give up on that one," I said at last. She brightened and flashed me a brilliant smile. "Like this," she said and used the three o's to print the word "dog" slowly and with a most triumphant flourish. Adults, she confirmed for herself once more, whatever the score, just didn't get it.

Have you missed a column?
Click on the archive link at the top of this page to read past columns by Sr. Joan Chittister.
It was a good lesson and I thought of it again the next day when someone asked me, after the death of the female soldiers in Fallujah, what I thought about the role of women in combat. Answer: I'm opposed to it.

But the whole truth is that I'm opposed to having anyone -- either our daughters or our sons -- in combat in Iraq. Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction; they did not support al Qaeda; they were not planning to attack us. And Iraqis were not even the hijackers. Of the 19 men who hijacked U.S. airliners, at least 14 were Saudis -- none were Iraqis -- but we attacked Iraq to stop terrorism. Where is the logic in this?

Why is it all right for our sons to die as a result of either deliberate deceit or administrative ineptitude -- both presidential and congressional -- but not our daughters? Are young men considered more acceptable "collateral damage" on a battlefield than the Iraqi women who will die in it for nothing? And if so, why? If this is a holy war, isn't it holy for everyone to risk their lives in it? What happened to logic here?

If the argument is that it is the role of men to protect women in war, explain the fact that more than 90 percent of the casualties we create in modern warfare -- the people who die from our bombs -- are now women and children. When we bomb cities and supply depots, who's protecting women and children from the cold that comes with the destroyed electrical grids or the fecal matter in the drinking water or the disease that comes with displacement?

The fact is that we count the "insurgents" we kill every day but we do not count for publication the total number of people around them that die as a result of the fighting, as well. What kind of logic is that?

We're not even counting for public consumption the number of our own wounded who will live with the effects of this war for the rest of their shattered lives.

In "The Psychic Costs of War," Rob Waters writing in the Psychotherapy Networker (Mar/Apr 2005) describes the kind of toll the psychological damage of this war is taking on our own. He calls it "a looming crisis."

E-mail Alerts
To receive an e-mail notice when "From Where Is Stand" by Joan Chittister is posted every week, sign up here for e-mail alerts.
Click on the link at the top right of this page to send the column to a friend or colleague.
To date, 28 percent of soldiers in this Iraq war, military researchers say, have experienced depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. 'More than 17 percent of these (psychologically stressed soldiers) so strongly," according to The New England Journal of Medicine that "it impaired their ability to function."

And how could they not be stressed out? Every person in the street is a potential enemy. Every building is a possible ambush. Every approaching car is a likely mobile bomb. Not to mention the mere fact of the pressures of the climate and the confusion of the culture.

No wonder more than 900 soldiers have been medivaced out of Iraq for psychiatric reasons and "at least" 24 have committed suicide.

Now, of course, we send teams of mental health consultants directly to the battle zones to treat soldiers on site -- and, Waters' article says, return 96 percent of them to active duty.

The import of these figures in years to come, given our already long-time experience with Vietnam veterans is yet to be assessed.

Are we to think this is good news? Is this a logical answer to a logical situation?

We went to Iraq, whatever the scarcity of certifiable reasons, and, the President says, we are going to stay there however high the cost.

If the question is should women be put into combat in Iraq, my answer remains "Should anybody?"

Since the announcement of the formation of a new government in Iraq in April, more than 1,200 people have been killed; more than 1,700 U.S. military are now dead; the number of "insurgents" -- the people whose hatred for the United States is more virulent than ever -- has risen. The number of U.S. wounded, both physically and mentally, is counted in the thousands. The number of Iraqi civilians whose lives have been ended or tragically changed forever is still unclear. And the real reason for which we invaded Iraq -- whatever it was -- seems more elusive than ever.

Saying you were wrong is never easy. After all, the first Crusades went on for over 250 years. And the effects of them are with us still.

From where I stand, it seems to me that the logic of all of this has escaped us, the real questions have been lost in the tumult -- and, who knows, maybe the whole game with it. Wouldn't that be a shame in a nation whose children are constructing games trying to get us to concentrate on the big picture?

In the News
Chittister is the subject of a story in the June 27 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Read the story: A life dedicated to her faith, and to questioning its policies

Comments or questions about this column may be sent to: Sr. Joan Chittister, c/o NCR web coordinator. Put "Chittister" in the subject line. E-mails with attachments are automatically deleted.
Top of Page   | Home 
Copyright © 2005 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 
TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280