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Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand
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April 22, 2003 
Vol. 1, No. 4

  A Call To Preemptive Patriotism 
"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.

by Joan Chittister,OSB

I saw a newspaper report this morning that troubled me. Dale Petroskey, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, that great all-American sport, canceled a celebration for the 15th anniversary of the movie “Bull Durham” because he considers the public concerns of its co-stars (Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins) about U.S. action in Iraq unpatriotic. “We have to get behind the president in wartime,” the political mantra insists. But I question when and how and why? 
As I read this report, two comments played like a descant in my ears. The first came from the Book of Proverbs: “Loyalty and faithfulness preserve the king, and his throne is upheld by righteousness.” I found myself wondering what real loyalty and faithfulness imply at a time like this. 

My second observation on the article came from Teddy Roosevelt.

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, was not a patriot, at least not by this year’s definition. Roosevelt wrote, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” And Teddy Roosevelt ought to know: he was criticized plenty -- even during the invasion of the Philippines -- and for good reason.

But today in this country, just as during the McCarthy era and its communist witch-hunts, unpatriotic patriotism, devotion to the government rather than to the Constitution, is again rearing its ugly and dangerous head. Other governments of the world debated the legitimacy of Bush’s so-called “doctrine of pre-emptive war” while our own representatives said little or nothing. Journalists were fired for saying the truth. What does ‘loyalty and faithfulness’ really demand here?

The United States with its own “weapons of mass destruction” -- bunker buster bombs, off-shore howitzers, precision-guided missiles and over 8,000 air force bombing runs -- has done what no one ever doubted they could.  Iraq fell in 21 days. Having been led to expect brutal biological-chemical warfare, possibly nuclear attack, certainly increased terrorist activity, Americans woke up to discover that U.S. and British forces had overwhelmed the Iraqi army. Its 1960s and 1970s era weapons “were simply no match for the high tech military campaign of the United States” according to Gen. Wesley Clarke in the course of a regular CNN briefing. They had no satellite guided air strikes, no drones, no air force, no cruise missiles to match our own. However sophisticated their war plans, without weapons of the same quality, Iraqi soldiers in the field, Clarke explained, “simply could not ‘execute.”

What’s wrong with this picture? We insisted to the U.N. Security Council that we were invading Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein. Now, it seems, he was not very well armed to begin with.

But then, that’s what “pre-emptive war” is all about, isn’t it? We attack what might attack us -- just in case they ever get armed enough to do it. So, the world had better get used to it.

In fact, the world had better get used to the new us. From now on, it’s war by-guess-and-by-golly. And, given the relative absence of the US Congress from the debate on Iraq, if this present situation is any model of congressional “patriotism,” war will be planned, launched and conducted apparently at the whim and mercy of one man in the White House.

Clearly, the Roman Empire rises again. Except that this time we’re it. And there’s no telling who will be next to know it firsthand: Korea? Syria? China? Pakistan? All for the best of motives, of course. All in the most humane of inhumane ways, I’m sure. But each and all of them distinct, doubtful, and devastating to the US Constitution itself.

We have captives in cages in Guantanamo Bay. We have invaded and destroyed the infrastructure of two countries, both Afghanistan and Iraq. We have saddled ourselves with a financial burden that may well destroy our own superstructure before it’s over. We have alienated our major European allies who now call us “a rogue superpower.” Coalitions are forming everywhere -- against us.

From where I stand, it seems that if the U.S. “Doctrine of War” has changed, if we are now in the business of waging war “pre-emptively,” then what we really need is a great deal of “loyal and faithful” pre-emptive debate, as well. Without it, real patriotism in this country -- a patriotism based on commitment to the warrants of democracy, not to the persuasions of any then reigning government -- is already a thing of the past. 

More than that, along with this kind of patriotism will go the democracy we intend to impose. By suppressing the voices of people who are patriotically unpatriotic enough to remind us of ideas like these, we run the risk of losing the very society we purport to defend. Worse, we will forfeit, as well, the righteousness which really upholds a government and to which the Book of Proverbs surely refers.

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