Tag Archives: peace

Interfaith Resistance Against Nazis & Serbians Must Inform Justice Campaigns Today

I spent last weekend at the Pax Christi USA conference, reflecting on peacemaking and nonviolence for a few days – and there will be plenty to post in coming days. For now, I wanted to share two amazing stories – connected acts of nonviolent resistance given their religious tinge.

The first piece is from Waging Nonviolence, which if you don’t already read is a necessary resource for imagining a new world through peaceful means. The article shares methods of resistance by Europeans under Nazi occupation. A few highlights of the interfaith actions:

“Direct intervention and non-cooperation in Bulgaria helped to save their country’s 48,000 Jews…leaders of the Orthodox Church refused to comply with the deportation orders, staging sit-ins in the king’s chambers and even threatening to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being transported. This pressure eventually encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to stand up to the Nazis and rescind the deportation orders, saving most of the country’s Jewish population…

“Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a Protestant village in southern France, were motivated by their religious convictions to help thousands of refugees escape Nazi persecution by hiding them in private homes as well as Catholic convents and monasteries.”

Aside from the absolute effectiveness of nonviolent resistance against (even) the Nazis, who are often quoted as the reason we would need war as the only solution to mass atrocities such as theirs, there are lessons for interfaith relations today. In essence, in war time, the division existing between Christians and Jews or between denominations of Christianity melted away. Orthodox Christians literally offered their lives to resist Jewish oppression, and Catholic institutions afforded a welcome that broke the strictness of monastic life.

Decades later, the Jewish community in Serbia reacted similarly when an existential threat was posed to their neighbors. The piece is about when it is ethical or proper to withhold a news story for the good of those involved, but within that argument is this story:

“The other story kept was how the synagogue in Sarajevo certified many non-Jews as Jews in order to let them pass through the lines – above ground — out of the city.  As the rabbi told me and others with a smile when we in the news finally did that story, it was the only time he can recall when Jews were not blamed for a war and that they were given passage without harm…As the animosity among the Serbs, Croats, and the Bosnian intensified, Jews were left in a unique position. Independent from each of the warring factions — they were even offered an opportunity to leave Sarajevo at the beginning of the siege of the city — the Jewish community had access to food, medical supplies and other goods during the war that were unavailable to the rest of the population

“A look at the numbers of Jews in Sarajevo before the war – compared to the number of ‘Jews’ who left the city – is a staggering difference. The ruse was clever and effectively.”

Common humanity united Europeans in resistance during both these trying periods. Though anti-Jewish sentiments are prevalent in Christian history including World War II that is not the sole narrative for people of faith. Faced with the ability to leave a war zone, the Bosnian Jewish community remained in solidarity and in active resistance. These communities did not weaken their faith by aiding others, even welcoming them in as honorary Jews or Catholics, and they did not act in spite of faith. Beautiful resistance that was powerful and life-giving was because of strengthened faith among communities!

At times, interfaith work currently seems impossible on matters of justice – like immigration or gun safety laws – because of theological and institutional difference. What if we imagined our common goals of justice, equality, and peace were so very necessary, though not comparable to combating genocide, we could put aside religious differences (though cognizant of them and in dialogue separately!)  for the good of common struggles? These two articles prove it is possible, and even desirable given their positive outcomes.

–Bob

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Obama’s False Choice on Drones, and a Syllogism of Sorts

A few remarks about President Obama’s address last week, specifically relating to his defense of the immoral drone strikes the US government continues to use (You can read the full transcript of President Obama’s remarks here.) Ultimately, I argue President Obama’s defense of drone strikes relies on a false choice between kill or do nothing and some poor logic.

In addressing drones, he sets the stage by reminding Americans of just how remote those the government hunts are considered, hiding in lawless nations like Somalia and in the deserts and caves of the Middle East. Geographic difficulties, national sovereignty concerns, and risk to surrounding populations all mean using troops is implausible most times. The hunt of ‘terrorists’ is necessary, the means are limited, the challenges are many: cue the drones.

The president’s first defense is that drone strikes are “effective.” So much for a discussion on ethics. His quotes from al-Qaeda communications that worry about the effectiveness of the drones as evidence, concluding, “Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.” It seems President Obama is making the ethical argument that the ends justify the means, and this discussion seems to be all about effective tactics for the just end of…well, I’m not so sure.

To appease the lawyers, he then references the terrorism of September 11th and the Congressional authorization for the War on Terror as the legal basis for this war of self-defense. Relying on the theory of Justified War, the president concludes: “So this is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.” I have no legal training, so perhaps this War on Terror is legal under domestic and international law (though I’m inclined to think not). I do know Justified War theory and its Catholic roots, and definitively these drone attacks are neither proportional, a last resort, nor in self-defense as the theory traditionally understands imminent threat.

Finally, President Obama admits that merely possessing an effective technology is not actually a moral defense for drones. In his own words:

“To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance…And that’s why, over the last four years, my administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists…”

Unfortunately, he dodges the moral question again. Merely having a framework implemented again does not answer the jarring questions raised by drones. His words are shallow, and painfully ironic, for those who know the truth about drone strikes. The president claims these strikes are constrained, respectful of national sovereignty, used only when capture is not possible for “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people,” and when there is “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” There may be this framework, but it is a failed one and the body count tells a different truth.

President Obama’s defense of drones comes down to the false choice he presents, excluding the voices of nonviolence and peacemakers, development individuals and educators, leaders of civic society and democratic reformers. The choice is between accepting massive civilian death tolls, tacitly acknowledged as a “gap” between official military estimates and those of nongovernmental reports, and not using drones to stop terrorists who would kill us all if only we let our guard down.

As he reiterates, sending in US troops would be too costly and there may be governments who would not allow the US to operate militarily within their nation (shocking). There may be a plethora of reasons why we cannot use conventional means to attack these terrorists, so the only option that is left is drones. For the president, when this choice is all that exists, ” Doing nothing is not an option.” And that something to do is a drone strike.

There is more in the speech I hope to digest, about the killing of American citizens using drones and the expansiveness of their use, about Congress role and the over-empowered Executive branch, about many other issues. I think these are separate issues than the moral justification of a drone strike itself though, and in this moral defense President Obama fails gravely.

Fundamentally, when President Obama made a defense of drone strikes it was this:

(1) Drone technology is effective in getting around the nasty bits of warmaking, like US soldiers being killed, accountability to the American people, or foreign governments rejecting our ‘aid,” and we have a good end to justify this questionable means;

(2) The Obama Administration’s lawyers concocted a way to ‘legally’ justify these drones strikes under domestic, and international law, but there is no need to explain this to the American people. Just trust the Administration that the strikes are ‘legal’;

(3) It is necessary to violently strike/kill at whomever the US government secretly ordains ‘terrorist’ because the only other choice is inaction, and conventional uses of force are impractical for a number of reasons thus necessitating the use of drones;

(4) Therefore, drone strikes are morally acceptable.

That syllogism may not make sense because of my poor articulation, but more likely it may not make sense because the muddling of premises into a cloud of confusion is the only means through which the President can arrive at the unjustified conclusion. The limited imagination at the White House does not allow for new thinking or for the realization violence perpetuates violence.

What if Obama admitted, as we are well aware, that schools, healthcare, democratic institutions and the rule of law, enough food on one’s table from a stable economy, and all the varied benefits of peace will defend Americans and the whole world much more than more drone murder? For this awareness, I continue to pray to God.

-Bob

P.S.Drone strikes remain immoral, illegal, and ineffective – and they’re ongoing! If you’d like to take action consider speaking out against them join the monthly witness at CIA headquarters the second Saturday of every month from 10am-12pm.

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Replacing Memorial Day with True Mourning

Marking Memorial Day, we are meant to honor those in the military who died in war – but I perennially ask myself on this day, “Why?”  Warmaking is a most sinful and barbaric endeavor. Honoring people simply for fighting in war, using language of sacrifice and service, merely perpetuates the myths of militarism. Each year, Catholics are swept up in the dangerous nationalism of this day and lend their voice to the cultic remembrance of soldiers who died in war. Enough. Catholics must stop participating in Memorial Day, and start peacemaking with our lives every single day through mourning.

Letting Go of Myths & Honor 

To honor someone usually implies they contributed positively to our world and expressed virtuous traits routinely in their life’s journey. I admit that in war individuals may act virtuously in moments that preserve life, but on the whole soldiering is a poor profession to honor. Participation in Memorial Day strengthens the myths that the military is a good force, a service, a suitable career, or worthy of our praise. Catholics cannot hold this view about the US military, the lethal arm of that greatest purveyor of violence in the world which is America, according to Rev. Martin Luther King.

Catholics cannot extol any longer the mythical virtues of soldiering or warmaking. We must jettison this false cult of honor accorded to those in the military. Parades, ceremonies, and moments of silence that speak in the language of service or that pretend these deaths preserve American freedoms merely lend credibility to the myth these deaths had purpose. Or at least purpose beyond the idiocy of anti-Communism, the bloodlust after 9/11, or the protection of US oil interests. World War II may be a justified war, but no other military action our nation took in the 20th century or now even approaches justified.

There is no honor in what our nation has done – sent young people to be killed, and even worse to kill and live on scarred. There is no honor in the routine slaughter of innocent civilians or the use of napalm or drone strikes. There is no honor in waves of homeless veterans who cannot get healthcare for their war wounds, turning to addiction and abuse. There is no honor in using hate speech, racism, and inhumanity to get 18 year olds to murder against their conscience. There is no honor in a military where women are more likely to be raped today than killed in combat. There is no honor in the utter destruction of nations. There is no honor in the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. There is no honor. There is none.

Mourning as Peacemaking 

So what do these war dead tell us? How do we commemorate tragedy? What is the call for Catholics? Their voices from the grave are simple, their message is pure and it is one with Christ’s call for every one of us: peace.

Catholics must rely on our tradition to understand how to move past the myths of Memorial Day – we must not honor, for there is nothing to honor, but we must mourn. Mourning the dead from war – the soldiers of all sides, the innocent children, the civilians cut down -this is a healthy task for Catholic peacemakers. These deaths from warmaking mourned daily drive me to enact peace in my personal interactions while challenging the US government’s violence.

This mourning isn’t wrapped up in layers of the American flag, but it strips bare the reality of warmaking: it is an abhorrent practice, one that can never be justified in the Christian tradition today, and it is the duty of every Catholic to oppose as they can the militarism of American’s empire. Mourning rids us of the hindering language of service, sacrifice, honor, bravery and enables us to speak truly: these war dead died needlessly to fuel the unjust causes of the political elite. Their deaths did not sustain American freedoms nor liberate foreign populations. Their deaths are pointless and void of any good. Their deaths are simply tragedies in the fullest manner.

For the loved ones of the war dead, and for those who support the wars, this reality is a painful endpoint – and yet, admitting pure tragedy as the only meaning to the these deaths is an essential step to peacemaking. To effectively overcome the criminal enterprising at the Pentagon and from war profiteers and to end political will for war, we must deal with the painful truth that American military actions are contradictory to peace and the values of the United States.

And so, as Catholics opt out of Memorial Day, we must fervently turn to mourning as a spiritual practice. We must include American soldiers and civilians in the nations we ravage by name in our prayers, encompassing the pain of their loved ones and the loss to our world of these lives if we can. We must personalize these current losses, set in a context of the millions slaughtered at the altar of the Pentagon in wars past. We must mourn in our tears and anguish that combat persists, and then we must find in this Christ’s peace that will strengthen us to take a step forward and louden our call for love.

-Bob

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Excerpts from Rachel Maddow’s “Drift,” part I

I recently finished reading Rachel Maddow’s book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. I highly recommend all read this book, as Maddow lays out systematically how far US militarism has drifted from the nation’s origins. In this, and a follow-up post, I include excerpts from the book. These aren’t a systematic outlining of Maddow’s argument, but merely passages that I found particularly compelling. I encourage all to reflect on them, as our nation figures out how to reject this permanent, profitable war-making state we’re in and turn towards a peaceful co-existence with the world.

“The framers clogged up the works by making the decision to go to war a communal one. By vesting it in the Congress — a large, slow-moving deliberative body of varied and often competing viewpoints — the Constitution assured that the case for any war would have to be loud, well argued, and made in plain view. The people’s representatives would be forced to take time and care to weigh the costs against the benefits.” [p. 23-24]

“Military action was a first resort for the Reagan team, not a last resort. It’s not like they tried much else. They didn’t even bother to get good information about what was actually happening on the island, or to verify what little they did get…And frankly, this was an administration eager to use the military in a way that would let the president say things like ‘America is back.’…No, the real energy inside the Reagan administration was expended on preparing a full-out combat operation, and preparing to justify it after the fact.” [p. 79-80]

“The toll [of invading Grenada under the Reagan administration] in the end was this: 19 American servicemen killed (17 from friendly fire or accidents), 120 Americans wounded, 300 Grenadians killed or wounded, including those 18 mental patients killed in their beds. And also, precedent: operational secrecy justifying flat-out lying to the press corps and therein to the public. Secrecy, again, and the blunt assertion of executive prerogative justifying a cursory dismissal of the constitutional role of Congress in declaring a war, and even of the need to consult them.” [p. 89-90]

“It’s not a conspiracy. Rational political actors, acting rationally to achieve rational (if sometimes dumb) political goals, have attacked and undermined our constitutional inheritance from men like Madison. For the most part, though, they’ve not done it to fundamentally alter the country’s course but just to get around understandably frustrating impediments to their political goals…By 9/11, the war-making authority in the United States had become, for all intents and purposes, uncontested and unilateral: one man’s decision to make. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” [p. 125]

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Initial Response to Boston’s Tragedy — Peace

Patriots’ Day in my childhood was a spectacle in Massachusetts when the Boston Marathon was run, the Sox played an early game, and every school child celebrated a day off. I never understood the meaning of the holiday, aside from some loose association to a battle at Bunker Hill. Now, Patriots’ Day will be instilled in my adult memory for the modern violence inflicted earlier — and it will gain clear meaning in years to come.

September 11th happened when I was newly in sixth grade, and I still recall the ambiguous fear of that day. My youthful response was a cry for vengeance, modeled after many adults I witnessed nearby and on television who’s blood lust became the narrative. I didn’t know until years later there had been peacemakers immediately calling for a response of love. Now, as a young man molded in a post-9/11 America, I find none of that cry for vengeance or retaliation. I find in myself only a desire to love.

I find too the dusty feelings from September 11th in myself. Those of fear, anguish, and pain for all that is transpiring. The anxiety of the unknown, the inadequacy of the unanswered. Living afar from Boston now, I still know many family and close friends who live, work, go to school there — and would assuredly be partying it up on Marathon Monday. It takes such a tiny connection as this to rupture my calm completely, and cast me desperately on Twitter and Facebook and news sites for a story, an answer, a credible report, a confirmed death toll.

And then, I recall the newness in me that was not there on September 11th or in moments of terror that ensued in my adolescence. The new factor is my awareness now that these feelings, this suffering is the daily experience of millions. Graced with a living situation that is relatively secure, I’m conscious of the daily violence — of conflict and terrorism, of mental anguish and physical malnourishment, of poverty’s deathly sickle — that grind away at the lives of so many millions in our world. The anxiety, fear, pain, suffering, unknown, and everything else is, for me, brought about occasionally, but is the constant reality for too many who are victims of US drone strikes or wayward economic policies favoring the powerful.

This consciousness does not mitigate the feelings in Boston and by those affected today in any way; the pain is real and the implications will be lasting. Instead, our suffering is united out of Boston to join in solidarity with those millions worldwide who are pained today. As Americans, and other citizens attending the Boston Marathon, let us all join together in a too-often rejected humanity common to all. I have no idea what the causes will be or what investigations will find, and I speculate nothing — but I pray for a peace-filled, constructive response when the smoke clears and the reports are issued.

After September 11th, I joined many in supporting wars. Now, I will seek to wage the violence of love instead. I cannot meditate on hate any longer, but only on Christ’s words as he gathered with those whom he loved before a most violent death:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” -John 14:27

This response is all I can muster. No cries for justice, no cries for retaliation, no cries for answers even. Just peace.

-Bob

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