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March 24, 2006 Joan Chittister: From Where I Stand
Vol. 3, No. 38

  No one’s laughing at this deja vu all over again
"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, it’s deja vu all over again.” Everybody laughed then.

President George Bush looks as if he’s about to make the line common parlance again. Only this time people aren’t 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. It’s 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 we’re right or wrong again. We’ll 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 another one.

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, we’re never told. To what end, no one knows. With what success, given our present record, is anyone’s 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 wasn’t.

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 again.

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 say.

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 don’t like them. Why are they shocked?” she asked. And she meant it.

Somewhere in the gospels the line echoes over and over again ominously and unendingly, “And the last state shall be worse than the first.”

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 wealth.

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 ignominy?

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 for them?

From where I stand, these are the questions real patriots ask. But are we?

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 ‘incompetent.’”

But I don’t know. When it takes six years of international bungling to change people’s perceptions of current policies, you have to wonder, don’t you, who’s really been incompetent and who’s really been clever?

Our one best hope may lie in soon being able to answer that question.

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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