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Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand
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June 17, 2003 
Vol. 1, No. 12

  Pogo may have been right
"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

Blaise Pascal wrote: "The multitude which is not brought to act as a unity, is confusion. That unity which has not its origin in the multitude is tyranny." As the country goes on wrestling with the implications of the war in Iraq, I'm beginning to understand how important that concept may be to this country right now.

There's a rift in the country today. It's not decisive. But it is defining. The polls are clear about the fact that most Americans are solidly behind the government in the Iraq war -- or at least the war designed and directed by five members of it -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rowe. But far too many - 30 percent of Americans, the polls say -- are not ready to call the issue closed.

The question is not: Who has the numbers? The question for now and for the world to come is: What is really American? What is it to support this Constitution? What is it to call for the imposition of an "American Century"? And should we? Alone? Is it our role to go on a rampage to make the rest of the world just like us? If intimidation doesn't work, can we, should we change things by force? And if so, who's next? China maybe, for what they've done to the Tibetans? Certainly the Congo to avenge the extermination of 4 million people there? Israel perhaps if that's what it takes to decide the Israeli-Palestinian problem (which we have had no small part in creating)? If not these, why not these but so many others?

There is clear opposition to the very thought of "destabilizing," let alone invading, one country after another in the name of "liberating" them. What's worse, every day someone else in the world press reports that this village, that group, this sector, that segment of the Iraqi people are protesting U.S. presence, shooting at U.S. troops, vowing eternal vengeance against the U.S. government. A senior Pentagon official found himself out of favor and out of a job for arguing that the whole Iraqi operation would take more soldiers and last longer than promised and that the country should be told that. But the government backtracking has already begun. Now, they tell us, we need more time, more money, more soldiers to do the job while we pin our public image of liberation on one video of 300 people out of a country of 54 million cheering the fall of a statue. Oh, come now.

One letter writer wrote to ask me why I didn't just admit that I "hated" President Bush. "Hate" is now apparently being defined as anyone who asks questions. I smiled when I read the frenetic little note -- from a dot-gov address, incidentally. I found the name-calling a good indicator of exactly the kind of division that concerns me. But I also found it hard to take seriously. (You know how emotional men are. When women get angry, they say it's "hysteria," put them in hospitals, give them pills and call them sick. When men get angry, they call it war, put them in the military, give them medals for fighting and call in the clergy to bless the bombs.)

One letter writer is horrified that I don't seem to be aware of the barbaric excesses of Uday and Qusay, the two apparently power-crazed sons of Saddam Hussein, in relation especially to women. And if I do know such things, why I would question this so-called war in the face of it?

What the writer forgets -- or never knew -- is that Uday's purported insane treatment of women is not the reason we went to war. But it has apparently become one of the primary ways we know to justify it now. As if women are not being treated as chattel all over the world while we make merry business with the countries that do it. As if we have not supported every repressive government or dictatorship on the globe -- South Africa, China, Chile, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein, right down to providing him with chemical and biological weapons to use against Iran as long as he was on our side. The very weapons we're looking for now.

The fact is, we put this country into war, put this world into division, put the United Nations into disarray and put the integrity of this country in jeopardy for two major reasons: 1) To rid the world of an enemy who was plotting mass destruction -- despite the fact that U.N. inspectors said repeatedly that this particular country was incapable of wielding that kind of military force; and 2) because this particular country had failed to comply with U.N. resolutions for 12 years -- despite the fact that the United States itself, while failing to pay its dues to the United Nations for at least that long, has also not complied with U.N. resolutions, including resolutions on the World Court, environmental safety and women, all of which, incidentally, endanger the welfare of the globe.

Now here's the problem: More than a few people remember these things and are not mesmerized by the gallery of movable motives.

We may be facing the largest single "peace movement" that the world has ever known, which might even prove that democracy really works -- if it's not suppressed. If people aren't fired, that is, for thinking other than the president. If military consultants aren't forced out of the military for giving advice other than what the White House wants to hear. If being "religious" doesn't come to define "Armageddon" as a physical war between good and evil peoples (with you-know-who on which side) rather than as a moral struggle between good and evil within the self. If celebrities aren't blackballed for singing another kind of national song.

The issues of force, power, internal security, so-called "Patriot Acts," and how to achieve peace without making war need to be resolved. To do that, we will have to face each of them squarely, decide who we are and who we want to be and what we are becoming in the process. We need to re-establish some kind of national consensus on these very fundamental constitutional questions.

We need to talk about these things -- not simply shout one another down. If only we will ever allow that again. From where I stand, a 30 percent disaffection rate in the country looks like at least as much of a threat internally as a cadre of terrorists can ever be. Pogo may well have been right when he said, "I have seen the enemy and it is us."

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