Oklahoma City Catholic Worker Fall 2002 Cover story. . .

What Would Jesus Do With Iraq?


Let us be today's Christians. Let us not take fright at the boldness of today's church. With Christ's light let us illuminate even the most hideous caverns of the human person: torture, jail, plunder, want, chronic illness. The oppressed must be saved, not with a revolutionary salvation in merely human fashion, but with the holy revolution of the Son of Man, who dies on the cross to cleanse God's image, which is soiled in today's humanity, a humanity so enslaved, so selfish, so sinful. Oscar Romero of El Salvador

What part of these plain words of Jesus do we not understand? Or do we understand them all too well, and simply reject them as not relevant to the modern world?

Since 1991, we have continually deployed a weapon of mass destruction against the people of Iraq: the economic blockade. More than one million Iraqi civilians have died, half of them children. Our leadership blames all this on Saddam; "It's not our fault, that evil boogerman made us do it. It's completely an accident that so many civilians were killed. That wasn't our intention." But whatever our intentions, those deaths have not been accidental. They are the direct result of US policy, our leaders think that if we can simply kill enough Iraqi civilians, Saddam will somehow change his ways.

One of the most troubling aspects of this is how little we the people of these United States seem to care about the consequences of both our 10 year blockade and the coming attacks of this war. It's like these people don't even exist to us. We want what we want, and we are going to get it no matter the cost we ask others to pay. So we deny that the Iraqi people are our neighbors, and we accept no obligations of justice or morality towards them. Because we are rich and powerful, we can do anything we want to them and get away with it, and so it has come to pass that we have killed a million of them over the past ten years with our blockade against their country, and are gearing up to kill even more with our looming invasion.

Most of us are in full blown emotional denial about our moral responsibility for these deaths. But to God, the people of Iraq are real people, just like us. They have hopes and dreams, pasts and futures, just like we do. They look up and rejoice at a blue sky and feel the rain fall upon their skin. They have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, dogs, cats, hamsters, and goldfish. Most of all they have an unconditional, non-negotiable right to life. They do not plan to die in this war, they hope to live long lives and die in their old age surrounded by friends, family, & children. But many of them will never see this. They will not die cleanly, quickly, peacefully, but rather in great agony, terror, pain, and tragedy. We must pray for them, and also for ourselves, as it is we the people of these United States, a democratic republic, who send the bombs and missiles and embargoes that are killing their children even as our leaders deny their responsibility.

We are justifiably angry about the deaths from terrorism here in the United States. But not a single bit of evidence has been presented to connect Iraq with the events of September 11th. Even so, we are preparing to invade their country. A person who is attacked has the right to self defense; they do not have the right to go to a neighbor's house, who was not involved in the attack, and kill people at random because "in a few years they might attack us." But this is basically what we are doing with Iraq; driven by fear, a desire for revenge for the acts of Sept. 11th, and the demands of our lifestyles for cheap petroleum, we are prepared to kill untold numbers of Iraqi civilians in pursuit of our goals.

How far we have fallen from the days when we turned our back on conquest! If we look for reasons for this war, the unsatiated demand for cheap oil is obviously at the top of the list. We the people of these United States are unwilling to conserve energy and thus reduce our dependence upon oil imports. With less than 6% of the world's population, we use 25% of the world's oil production. As world oil production begins to decline in coming years, while US consumption continues to increase, the only way we can meet our demand for oil is by reducing the amount of oil available for other nations. The logic of our lifestyles thus demands that we have military control of the Persian Gulf oil fields. Conservation is certainly cheaper than invasion, but there is no political constituency for conservation, and the oil companies make no money on it, so the politicians aren't interested. Note also that this policy of military control of oil fields is the antithesis of the free market.

In 2001, a report for the Bush administration prepared by the US Council on Foreign Relations and the Baker Institute for Public Policy came to this conclusion about Americans and oil: "The American people continue to demand plentiful and cheap energy without sacrifice or inconvenience. . . The world is currently precariously utilizing all of its available global oil production capacity. . . Iraq has effectively become a swing producer, turning its taps on and off when it has felt such action was in its interest. . . "This (upcoming) crisis demands a reassessment of the role of energy in American foreign policy. . . Such a strategy will require difficult tradeoffs. . . but there is no alternative, and there is no time to waste. . . . if the US is to prevent any other power from exploiting its dependency (upon petroleum) and seizing the strategic initiative."

We of course will "win" this war, however many casualties it costs. Whether we will win the "peace" afterwards, however, is another issue entirely. We certainly don't seem to be winning the peace in Afghanistan. The new Afghan government stays in power thanks to the guns of the United States and the British. Chaos is increasing, the opium and heroin industry there is booming, and many of the promises of aid we made during the fighting have apparently been forgotten by the United States and its allies.

As with Rome, Germany, France, Japan, and Britain before us, we will sacrifice the flower of our youth, and the wealth and moral credit accumulated through hundreds of years of hard work on the altar of imperial ambition. Our road leads to the same place theirs did: collapse and national bankruptcy.

Our denials of these realities are as extreme as those of a drug addict. We have no ability as a nation to admit error, and already we falsify our history for propaganda purposes. Thus we are in constant danger of making one historical mistake after another. There is little if any serious national discussion of these matters, the mere mention that the US comes to this table with the blood of the innocent on its hands is enough to raise a chorus of "You're a Blame America Firster" and thus end any rational discussion. Demonizing unpopular messengers as "unpatriotic" helps us feel better about our own refusal to look at the evidence. But sin is sin, whether it is committed by Saddam Hussein or the US government, and while the US generally demands, and gets, a double standard from international institutions, holding others to standards we ourselves are unwilling (or unable) to adhere to, as far as God is concerned, Americans get no "get out of moral hazard free" card just because, you know, we are the Americans and are special.

Jesus said that all those who take the sword would perish by the sword. He called us to be kind to the poor, not to murder them by the thousands. His teaching is "blessed are the peacemakers," not "glory to the warmongers." His advice was to turn the other cheek, to be kind to our enemies, to go the second mile, but America's "better idea" is to murder our enemies, embargo their economies, starve their children, and lay waste their nations. And so it has come to pass that we live in dark, evil, and tragic times, and much worse is yet to come. "Sow not in furrows of injustice," the Bible says, "lest you reap a sevenfold harvest."

How shall we then live in the midst of this culture of death? The first thing is to not give up in despair. G.K. Chesterton said, "In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn." Hope is a theological virtue. If we don't have it, let us pray for it. There are great reservoirs of strength, goodness, honesty, and beauty remaining in this nation. We may yet find the moral strength to live up to our own ideals and to truly become "America the Beautiful" once again.

The second response is to pray without ceasing. This is a spiritual battle, the same demonic hand which guides Saddam Hussein is behind the war preparations of the US government. Prayer and other spiritual practices such as fasting are important for peacemakers. For Catholics, the Rosary and other forms of contemplative prayer are a primary support for peace. We recommend that Catholics embrace the pre-Vatican II disciplines and schedule of fasting and abstinence; people who benefit so much from our government's injustice in the world should regularly deny themselves, lest we find ourselves lost in the spiritual traps of materialism, greed, and gluttony.

The third response is to stop listening to the rich and the powerful, and start listening to the poor and the weak. Jesus said, Blessed are the poor and woe to the rich. Mary sang of a day when the mighty will be confounded, the proud cast down, and the lowly will be exalted. Mother Teresa advised the rich to take less, so that others can have more, but this kind of advice just goes way over the heads of the American people these days. It is basically considered "unAmerican". We prefer the rich, yet throughout history, and today is no exception, the powerful deceive us for their own advantage. By listening to them, we have wars, exploitation, and worldwide misery. We sure don't like what we hear when we listen to the poor: "Why are you killing us? Why do you send bombs and missiles to destroy our schools? Why did you murder my child?" So we close our eyes, deny the evidence, and demonize those who speak for the innocent we have killed by our embargoes and wars. We like the lies the rich whisper in our ears much better. But the Bible says: "Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will themselves also call and not be heard."

Fourth, we must create and strengthen structures of beauty, wisdom, and justice to replace the structures of evil, violence, and death which govern this world. Elsewhere in this issue more is said about this, but the important thing to note is that no one is an exception. No one is such a special person that they have the right to a lifestyle rooted in violence and injustice. Holiness and faithfulness are the proper responses to massive evil. We must endeavor to understand how the way we live our lives contributes to the oppression of others, and then as much as is within our power, change our lifestyles so that we can live in peace and justice with all, and stop our financing of the exploitation of the desperate poor. This is not a counsel of excessive guilt nor an unbearable precept, but rather a reminder that we do have a tremendous amount of control over our household economies, and those household economies have serious impacts, for good or for ill, upon other people and the natural environment. "Much is required from those to whom much is given." As with alcoholism, we got into the present impasse one bad decision at a time, we will not get out of it by continuing to make bad decisions, but rather by learning how to make better choices about the ways we live.

Fifth, as the violence and death rages, we must commit ourselves to works of reparation, mercy, justice and peace. As children are murdered, wells are poisoned, and environments are destroyed, we must heal, save, bless, repair, and protect. For every act of war and evil there must be a thousand acts of beauty, peace, and mercy. As we are afflicted with random and intentional violence and terrorism, we must wage peace and goodism with our own random and intentional acts of beauty and kindness

We did not get into this situation overnight, and we will not get out of it overnight either. We may not see in our own lifetimes the fruit of our efforts, things in fact may go from bad to worse and then on to much worse. Yes, our politics must change, but before the politics can change, we the people must change, for it is our lifestyles which call our government to war and destruction in our name.

Hear then, the words of our God, through the voice of the prophet Isaiah: "If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; "Repairer of the breach," they shall call you, "Restorer of ruined homesteads."" By Robert Waldrop.