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January 20, 2005 Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand
Vol. 2, No. 34

  Questions for an inauguration
"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

Try to look surprised.

The official word, according to the report of the Iraq Survey Group released last week, is that the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq is over. Why? Because, as most of the world knew at the outset of the debacle, Iraq didn't have any. So much for the satellite photo of one warehouse with a tractor trailer parked behind it on which we based our pathetic little case for so-called "pre-emptive" war -- and on international television, no less. Or, to put it another way, contrast this presentation of materials to the photos taken from outer space during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Forty years ago we could count every Russian missile in every pile on Cuban soil. Now, on the brink of mass invasion of another country, there was nothing to count and nothing to see. (If you're inclined to be disappointed that, contrary to popular opinion, our photographic technology has not been getting better as time goes on, try to remember that in a case like this it can be very difficult to take pictures of what isn't there.)

George Bush's only response to the complete obliteration of his excuse for the invasion of Iraq is a limp and pathetic remark. Not a regret. Not an apology. Not a resolve never to engage in such mindless warmaking again. Instead, in response to the families of the over 1,300 dead US soldiers who went there to destroy those "weapons" and the over 100,000 dead Iraqis who paid the price for that "mistake," the only thing the president could think to say was "Isn't the world better off without Saddam Hussein?"

Well, the truth is that the world might be better off without a lot of people from someone or other's perspective. Nevertheless, unleashing the power of the gates of hell and invading another country in some kind of desperate need to remove such people doesn't seem, from the point of view of hindsight in this particular situation, to be the better answer.

When history gives its final response to the question of whether or not the world is or is not better off without Saddam Hussein, the answer may very well be "no," however "unpatriotic" it is now deemed to be to say such a thing. Not even we, ironically, may be better off without him, let alone the decimated peoples and places we leave behind at the site of the oldest civilization in recorded history.

In fact, are we really better off now with, according to the National Priorities Project, (costofwar.com) an Iraqi war debt of almost $5 billion a month that will deny our own country for generations to come the human services we need here while we gloat over the destruction of human services there in the name of "freeing" a nation that is now captive to its desolation?

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Are we better off with a globe full of damaged foreign relations and reluctant "allies," especially in the face of the steadily emerging "United States of Europe" now euphemistically called the "European Union?"

Are we better off in the eyes of the human community with our immoral torture policies in place and the appointment of a new attorney general who, as chief counsel to the president, told the boss exactly what he wanted to hear and so gave his approval of them?

Are we better off as a people by refusing to submit our own military policies and tactics to the scrutiny of international tribunals as the respect of the world for what we do and how we do it erodes among their younger generations more and more everyday?

Is Pax Americana with its imposition of "democracy" really any better -- or any longer lasting, in the end -- than Pax Romana was? And, in the end, any more respected and trusted, let alone loved?

Are we better off as a people now that our own younger generation has seen with their own eyes that we can attack and destroy any people, any country we please, with our own weapons of mass destruction whatever we say about morality otherwise?

Are we better off now that, according to the CIA Director's "National Intelligence Council," Iraq, thanks to us, not Afghanistan, is identified as the new terrorist training center of the world.

Are we better off now that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have named us as one of the most blatant violators of human rights in contemporary society? Human Rights Watch in its 15th anniversary report goes so far as to name the ethnic cleansing in Darfur and the torture of Iraqi prisoners by US forces as "the two fundamental threats to human rights in the world today." Given that international reputation, on what grounds shall we convince the helpless poor to turn away from guerrilla war, from terrorism, from insurgency- or from whatever your fatuous expression is for resistance these days?

The fact is that we are in a quagmire of our own making. We can force "free elections" on the Iraqi people at the end of this month -- and we will -- and then leave there triumphantly declaring "victory" in the face of devastation, whatever happens inside that destabilized nation when we do. Or we can stay there day after hostile day and try to restore what we destroyed, all the while alienating an entire other part of the world by the arrogance of our occupation, the baselessness of our claims and the silent usurpation of Iraqi businesses by Western corporations in order to do it.

It's Inauguration Day. It's time to ask that revered old political question again, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" Watch the kinds of things you factor into the answer or you may miss the real effect of 9/11 and a government gone wild in its insane and immoral rush to make someone, apparently anyone, pay for it -- "dead or alive."

From where I stand, the electoral process didn't end on election day in November. In fact, the really hard work of answering the questions raised during the election is only just beginning. After all, we've had all the surprises we can possibly bear.

Comments or questions about this column may be sent to: Sr. Joan Chittister, c/o NCR web coordinator at the address below.

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