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 Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand

September 30, 2004
   Vol. 2, No. 24

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"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.

An appeal for America to be American

By Joan Chittister, OSB

I have discovered that there is a lot you never find out, even about your own country, unless you go somewhere else.

For instance, Aug. 31 during the Republican National Convention, 203 Asian scholars from 13 countries published a public declaration, endorsed by 42 Asian organizations, appealing to U.S. voters "not to vote for a president who will turn Asia and the global society into America's enemy." The statement, they tell us, was released simultaneously in both New York and Japan, a nation that understands first-hand what war can do to a people for generations.

"Another America is possible," the declaration insists.

Maybe you heard about it but I didn't. Instead, they handed the document to me in Tokyo, amazed that I knew nothing about it at all.

Which, it seems to me, too, is strange, given the fact that the declaration purports to be the work of groups such as the International Movement for a Just World, the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom, the Friends Service Council, Sociologists Without Borders, the Center for Research on the Environment, the Japan Lawyers International Solidarity group and the Korean Professors Union.

It is embarrassing to have to explain how it is that a "free press" is simply free to disregard so important a story. After all, John Kerry had said early in the campaign that world leaders preferred his presidency to four more years of another Bush regime.

The Bush camp challenged Kerry to prove the assertion, of course. They had no reason to believe that other world leaders weren't fully committed to the policies of George Bush, they insisted, and, in fact, knew that it was just the opposite. It took months before the press even attempted to test the truth of the statement but when they did, lo and behold, they finally announced that "30 out of 35 major countries were solidly pro-Kerry, and only Poland of all the countries of Europe, was pro-Bush."

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This statement of Asian concerns they never published at all.

In the light of these recent findings of world-wide defection from present U.S. policies, I read it carefully. After all, even if the American response to such an appeal is "Who cares?" -- which in John Wayne's America, it may well be -- someone ought to at least acknowledge the concerns.

Most surprising of all, perhaps, is the fact that it is neither rant nor screed. It simply appeals to Americans to preserve the moral leadership that Americans have been seen before now to exert. The declaration makes four major points:

1. With the war in Iraq, America's leadership and its influence have crumbled worldwide. The Iraqi war, they say, is "immoral, unlawful and unjustifiable."

The real news about such a position as this is not that others are saying what the circumstances clearly demonstrate but that Americans, who claim to be the ultimate defenders of the rule of law, don't seem to mind the fact that they are in violation of international law. Nor does it bother them that the war was launched on insufficient and old -- very, very old --data. Nor does this church-going nation seem to think that the moral dictums they teach their children -- as in "thou shalt not lie," for instance, -- has anything whatsoever to do with politics and the standards we set for our politicians even when thousands and thousands of innocent people die because of it.

2. The unilateralism and militarism of the United States in this mis-directed war has evoked "broad and seething rejections from all corners of the globe." It is, they argue, only the first attempt of this new kind of United States to achieve US domination of the world.

Most ironic of all, they maintain, is the fact that because of US militarism, the world is much less safe than it ever was before the US launched its new doctrine of preemption. There is "unprecedented political unrest to the Middle East," they argue. And, most ironic of all, this campaign to "make the world safe for democracy" is now being used as an excuse for whatever political goals other authoritarian governments may have-as in the amendment of the Peace Constitution and the military rearmament of Japan.

They maintain that in its anger over 9/11, the United States has simply unleashed another arms race all around a world that is now using the fear of "terrorism" to justify it.

3. In a globalized and interdependent world, they insist, they have a right to make this appeal because this election is no longer a local affair.

What we do politically, as they see it, effects their countries as much -- sometimes more -- than it effects us. If the United States maintains its present policies, they mourn, "peace and democracy in Asia will be only a dream long gone" as other governments use the same tactics to eliminate human rights and suppress their own peoples.

"By the rest of the world, your country is looked at as an Empire," the document goes on, "looming large over the globe with pre-emptive strike doctrines and blind anti-terrorism policies depending heavily on macho military measures and ignorance of human rights ..."

It is easy to see how this letter could have been written to Julius Caesar, or Nikita Kruschev. But to George Bush II? To us? Have we really fallen this low? "The United States of American is looked at," the document says, "as the most dangerous and destructive nation in the world by civilized global societies."

4. Another America is possible, they remind us. The one that struggled against Hitler and Stalin, against Nazism and Communism, for the rights of all people everywhere.

It is an appeal for America to be American.

From where I stand, this is one of the saddest letters I have ever read in my lifetime. What else besides arrogance or ignorance can possibly account for the fact that as a nation these things don't seem to bother us at all? Most of all, how is that such positions never see the light of day in the very democratic country that stands to lose the most by being unaware of such anger, such pain, such global despair?

You may want to read these documents: The Declaration of Asian Intellectuals, a press release explaining the declaration and an open letter to Americans.

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