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Joan Chittister: From Where I Stand
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April 22, 2003
Call To Preemptive Patriotism
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, the 26th president of the United
States, was not a patriot, at least not by this
years 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 Bushs 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
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.
Whats 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, thats what pre-emptive
war is all about, isnt 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, its 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 were it. And theres 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, Im 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
its 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
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.
May 27, 2003 Vol. 1, No. 9
there anything left that matters?
By Joan Chittister,OSB
This is what I don't understand: All of a sudden
nothing seems to matter.
First, they said they wanted Bin Laden "dead
or alive." But they didn't get him. So now
they tell us that it doesn't matter. Our mission
is greater than one man.
Then they said they wanted Saddam Hussein,
"dead or alive." He's apparently alive
but we haven't got him yet, either. However,
President Bush told reporters recently, "It
doesn't matter. Our mission is greater than one
Finally, they told us that we were invading Iraq
to destroy their weapons of mass destruction. Now
they say those weapons probably don't exist.
Maybe never existed. Apparently that doesn't
Except that it does matter.
I know we're not supposed to say that. I know
it's called "unpatriotic." But it's
also called honesty. And dishonesty matters.
It matters that the infrastructure of a foreign
nation that couldn't defend itself against us has
been destroyed on the grounds that it was a
military threat to the world.
It matters that it was destroyed by us under a
new doctrine of "pre-emptive war" when
there was apparently nothing worth pre-empting.
It surely matters to the families here whose sons
went to war to make the world safe from weapons
of mass destruction and will never come home.
It matters to families in the United States whose
life support programs were ended, whose medical
insurance ran out, whose food stamps were cut
off, whose day care programs were eliminated so
we could spend the money on sending an army to do
what did not need to be done.
It matters to the Iraqi girl whose face was
burned by a lamp that toppled over as a result of
a U.S. bombing run.
It matters to Ali, the Iraqi boy who lost his
family and both his arms in a U.S.
It matters to the people in Baghdad whose water
supply is now fetid, whose electricity is gone,
whose streets are unsafe, whose 158 government
ministries' buildings and all their records have
been destroyed, whose cultural heritage and
social system has been looted and whose cities
teem with anti-American protests.
It matters that the people we say we
"liberated" do not feel liberated in
the midst of the lawlessness, destruction and
wholesale social suffering that so-called
It matters to the United Nations whose integrity
was impugned, whose authority was denied, whose
inspection teams are even now still being
overlooked in the process of technical evaluation
It matters to the reputation of the United States
in the eyes of the world, both now and for
decades to come, perhaps.
And surely it matters to the integrity of this
nation whether or not its intelligence gathering
agencies have any real intelligence or not before
we launch a military armada on its say-so.
And it should matter whether or not our
government is either incompetent and didn't know
what they were doing or were dishonest and
refused to say.
The unspoken truth is that either as a people we
were misled, or we were lied to, about the real
reason for this war. Either we made a huge
and unforgivable mistake, an arrogant or
ignorant mistake, or we are swaggering around the
world like a blind giant, flailing in all
directions while the rest of the world watches in
horror or in ridicule.
If Bill Clinton's definition of "is"
matters, surely this matters. If a president's
sex life matters, surely a president's use of
global force against some of the weakest people
in the world matters. If a president's word in a
court of law about a private indiscretion
matters, surely a president's word to the
community of nations and the security of millions
of people matters.
And if not, why not? If not, surely there is
something as wrong with us as citizens, as
thinkers, as Christians as there must be with
some facet of the government. If wars that the
public says are wrong yesterday as over
70% of U.S. citizens did before the attack on
Iraq suddenly become "right" the
minute the first bombs drop, what kind of
national morality is that?
Of what are we really capable as a nation if the
considered judgment of politicians and people
around the world means nothing to us as a people?
What is the depth of the American soul if we can
allow destruction to be done in our name and the
name of "liberation" and never even
demand an accounting of its costs, both personal
and public, when it is over?
We like to take comfort in the notion that people
make a distinction between our government and
ourselves. We like to say that the people of the
world love Americans, they simply mistrust our
government. But excoriating a distant and
anonymous "government" for wreaking
rubble on a nation in pretense of good requires
very little of either character or intelligence.
What may count most, however, is that we may well
be the ones Proverbs warns when it reminds us:
"Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they
value the one who speaks the truth." The
point is clear: If the people speak and the king
doesn't listen, there is something wrong with the
king. If the king acts precipitously and the
people say nothing, something is wrong with the
It may be time for us to realize that in a
country that prides itself on being democratic,
we are our government. And the rest of the world
is figuring that out very quickly.
From where I stand, that matters.
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.
Comments or questions about this column may be
sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
3, 2003 Unless
I ask you to write, please don't
May 27, 2003 Is
there anything left that matters?
May 20, 2003 Reading
peace in the signs of the times
May 13, 2003 Religion:
One part solution, one part problem
May 6, 2003 Truth
Stumbles in the Public Square
April 29, 2003 The
Liberation of the Spirit
April 22, 2003 A
Call To Preemptive Patriotism
April 15, 2003 What
Are We Losing by Winning?
April 8, 2003 A
New Moment in Time
April 4, 2003 A
New Low In Congressional Leadership
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