|"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is what
makes us important to the people around us."
A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Joan Chittister is
a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer on topics of justice, peace, human rights, women's issues, and contemporary
spirituality in the Church and in society. She presently serves as the co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women,
a partner organization of the United Nations, facilitating a worldwide network of women peace builders, especially in the Middle East.
A speech communications theorist, Sister Joan's most recent books include The Way We Were (Orbis) and Called to Question (Sheed & Ward),
a First Place CPA 2005 award winner. She is founder and executive director of
Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary
spirituality in Erie.
|By Joan Chittister, OSB
I think it was Yogi Bera, the New York Yankees own Mrs.
Malaprop, who made famous the line, Here we go, its deja vu
all over again. Everybody laughed then.
President George Bush looks as if hes about to make the line
common parlance again. Only this time people arent laughing.
What may be the buildup to an attack on Iran, the new breeding ground of
terrorists according to the U.S. lexicon of evil nations, appears to be in high
gear. Its a ritual now of recognizable parts:
First we have a nuclear standoff -- which this time may be real for a
change -- given the fear generated in the Middle East as well as in the States
as a result of our last unsubstantiated preemptive strike.
Then, we have the declaration of the new, but now theologized and
therefore holy, doctrine of pre-emptive war. Meaning that if we
decide that another country has something that is dangerous to us, they have it
and we will respond accordingly.
Then we have the parade of sabers and spears, of bombs and bombers.
This, of course, is designed to intimidate the rest of the world and embolden
the United States itself. I mean, if nobody can beat us, what difference does
it make whether were right or wrong again. Well win anyway.
Then we have the swashbuckling speeches of a president already defeated
in one war and attempting, perhaps, to distract from that debacle by creating
The only question now is whether or not the public, the Congress, the
world will risk another frightening U.S. fiasco in the name of freedom. Whose
freedom, were never told. To what end, no one knows. With what success,
given our present record, is anyones guess.
The problem is that this time we are being asked not only to be afraid
but also to be nonsensical, absurd, fatuous, inane.
We are being asked to forget the blunders in Iraq:
Forget the embarrassment of the intelligence that
Forget the old reservists who did double duty for the troops who could
never be convinced of the valor of the war and so never enlisted.
Forget the number of U.S. soldiers who fell in the sand and never rose
Forget the pictures of Iraqi families streaming out of broken homes and
pockmarked cities, saved by us, we say, only to be abandoned by us, they
Forget the blood spattered children in whom the seeds of another war
have already been planted.
Forget the burst water systems, the streets running with sewage, the
downed electric grids, the sabotaged oil fields.
Forget the wounded in body and the shattered of soul.
Forget the fact that we made things worse rather than better for a
country that was bad enough off to begin with.
Forget the evolving anti-Americanism that now festers even among our
most traditional allies. Americans are very shocked, the young
Irish woman said to me, when they come to Europe and find out we
dont like them. Why are they shocked? she asked. And she meant
Somewhere in the gospels the line echoes over and over again ominously
and unendingly, And the last state shall be worse than the
Why have we suddenly abandoned the decades of deterrence and containment
that guided U.S. foreign policy and out-waited the cold war for over 50 years?
The U.S. prospered under it; the world balanced on an unsteady peace for years
because of it; talks went on unceasingly during it until understanding
increased and alliances formed and bonds developed and old enemies outgrew
their enmity as a result of it.
If there is such a thing as national neurosis, are we in it? Will public
paranoia be the disease that defeats us in the end?
While we frisked little old ladies in wheelchairs in our airports on the
grounds that they might be foreign agents, we would have allowed our commercial
seaports to be serviced under the auspices of the very people we said we were
trying to keep out of the country.
While we preached the fear of foreigners, we spied on our own.
While we assumed the right to invade the borders of every nation on
earth, we tightened ours against the poor whose poverty came as a result of our
While we preached life, we practiced death in its name.
Has our hysteria reached the point where, like a blind giant, we are
raging around the world swatting flies with a pile driver?
Is this the United States that won the respect and admiration of the
world as recently as 50 years ago and lost it more recently because of torture
chambers and kennels full of uncharged prisoners in leg irons?
Who are we now? Who do we want to be? Who will our leaders insist that
we be? Or shall they be the very ones who lead us into more ignorant
Have we, in all our power, forgotten all of our ideals? Are ideals only
for the poor and the powerless? Is power the only foreign policy the powerful
need to apply? And is it really working in Iraq -- a country on the verge of
civil war, crippled physically, full of anger, and unsafe -- both for us and
From where I stand, these are the questions real patriots ask. But are
According to The Irish Times, (Denis Staunton, March 17, p. 10) a
poll by the Pew Research Center asked U.S. respondents to suggest one word that
described the president. Up to this time, the word most commonly chosen has
been honest. In this poll, the single characteristic most
closely associated with Mr. Bush in the current poll is
But I dont know. When it takes six years of international bungling
to change peoples perceptions of current policies, you have to wonder,
dont you, whos really been incompetent and whos really been
Our one best hope may lie in soon being able to answer that
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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