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Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand
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April 4, 2003 
Vol. 1, No. 1

  A New Low In Congressional Leadership
"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

Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., suggests a show of “in your face” to the French for failing to support America’s desire to go to war now, immediately, at this minute and because we said so. Her proposal asks for financial aid for families who want to remove from U.S. cemeteries in France their World War I and II war dead, of which there are 74,000, for reburial in the United States. (Brown-Waite filed the bill, the American Heroes Repatriation Act, on March 13.)

I think we’re all supposed to breathe a sigh of relief at such a suggestion. As in “that’ll show ‘em.” I haven’t heard a get-even proposal of quite the same quality since I was in grade school. At least not since the renaming of french fries and french toast to freedom fries and freedom toast in the congressional dining room.

Such moves strike me as considerably below the level of gravity demanded of a U.S. Congress on the brink of exterminating a country.

In the first place, the land on which U.S. soldiers are buried in France is the United States. France gave us the land in perpetuity at the end of the wars in which U.S. troops joined brave Europeans who had been resisting armed aggression and fighting to preserve democracy and freedom for all of us for two years before we ever entered the fray.

In the second place, the war in Iraq and the World War II are anything but analogous. In France, we were defending the world from blatant, bold and flagrant military aggression. No one could deny the need for some kind of self-defense. In Iraq, on the other hand, we created a monster who has now refused to be a pawn. It isn’t what Hussein has done, it’s what he might do that troubles us. And we ought to know: We made Saddam Hussein a buffer between Iran and us. We armed him. We gave him the chemical weapons, the “instruments of mass destruction” he now says he doesn’t have and which we now fear. But we never said a word when he used them against the Kurds instead of against the Iranians. We share a good deal of responsibility for the present situation. We say that he has weapons of mass destruction and that we are afraid he will use them. Yet, ironically, we are the only nation on earth ever to have used weapons of mass destruction. No wonder so many other nations fear an unbridled United States.

Finally, we argue for “freedom of speech” and the principle of “popular vote.” Are we now saying that we support it only when people use it to agree with us, that anyone who votes against us is, by virtue of that very fact, wrong, evil, enemy? Have we forgotten how many times the United States used its veto in the Security Council to block the Soviet Union during the Cold War?

If this is the level of congressional discussion these days, it is embarrassing.

By the way, my uncle was killed in WWI -- in France -- and I do not want his remains brought back here. I want them right where they are: a symbol of human interdependence and a reminder of the end of every war, foreign graves in foreign nations.

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