WITH BURNING SORROW

A response to the statement of March 24, 1999 on Kosovo of the Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza, Bishop of Galveston-Houston, President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops

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The president of the United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a statement that appears to be a moral defense of the United States' war on the people of Serbia. It begins by conceding that the "humanitarian objective" of this action is "legitimate."

But should we accept the claim of the United States to "humanitarian" intent? This is a culture is replete with images of the cavalry riding to the rescue of beleaguered settlers, the very same image that the Administration is appealing to in this war. Yet, we must remember that this vision is actually a sanitized and self-serving remembrance of the genocide of the indigenous inhabitants of this continent. It is a story told by the oppressors to justify their conduct. In the present instance, the primary result of our militaristic aggression is to dramatically increase the persecution of the poor in Kosovo. Once again, "hello, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you," means that the poor must be murdered for their own good. The statement of NATO and the United States that ground troops will not be introduced into this conflict belies its claim to be a "humanitarian mission" to help the poor in Kosovo.

We should also ask: why the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs? We the people of these United States stand by and watch the poor being murdered every day! It's entertainment for the evening news. We ignored the problems in Rwanda, sat on our hands in Sierra Leone, watched television while the Kurds were massacred. Going further back in our history, we can remember that we did nothing for the Biafrans, and we actually encouraged the Hungarians to rebel, only to turn our backs on them in their time of need.

Have we so soon forgotten that President Clinton and the United States Congress are pursuing a genocidal policy of blockade and embargo against the people of Iraq? How many Iraqi civilians have died since 1990 because of our aggression? Given the known behavior of the United States government and the historical record, Catholics have a moral duty to doubt and question the motives of our government when it goes to war.

The Bishop acknowledges the essential immorality of the persecution of the Albanians, but does not ask what responsibility we the people of the United States have for that persecution. If we are to find the just solution to this conflict, shouldn't we begin by acknowledging our role in creating these circumstances? Do we the people of the United States really come to this table with clean hands and pure hearts?

The Bishop's statement ignores the gross violation of international law that this action represents. I will be the first to admit that international law is very deficient, but structures that over time have evolved to limit war-making should not be lightly discarded. In the present instance, this action represents the first time that NATO has attacked another sovereign state that had not attacked a member state. This is a very dramatic breech of international law. As between individuals, so it is between states: it's hard to find a positive outcome from bringing death and mayhem through lawless behavior. We must ask: why has NATO ignored the United Nations and its established procedures for resolving issues among states?

Does the bombing conform with international law? No, it does not. NATO has no authority to pursue this kind of aggression, the United Nations has not authorized these strikes, the United States Congress has not declared war on Serbia. However bad the situation is in Kosovo, is it prudent to encourage this kind of lawless international behavior?

Can the bombing achieve its aims, and what will happen if it fails? One does not have to be a military strategist to understand that bombing campaigns are very blunt instruments. There is no instance in modern history of a victorious campaign composed solely of bombing, without the use of infantry and armor on the ground. Certainly, nine years of vicious blockade with sporadic spasms of violent bombing have done nothing to bring peace with justice to Iraq. What is likely to follow is: (1) the war will be expanded to use troops and armor on the ground, thus greatly increasing the death, blood, and devastation, or (2) the bombing will be only the beginning of the Kosovar holocaust, as NATO eventually abandons these people to their fate, having made their situation even more dangerous and precarious. Given the history of the United States, the latter is the more likely outcome.

Will bombing protect the civilian population of Kosovo or increase the attacks against them? The ink was hardly dry on the Bishop's statement before this one was answered. Bombing by itself cannot do anything to protect the Kosovars, and in fact, has already greatly increased their suffering and persecution. It is yielding an increase in the flow of refugees, and contingency plans are in place to handle expected movements of many more people fleeing the violence. So to save the Albanians, we drive them out of their homes with violence?

Will the bombing hurt Serb civilians? How can it not hurt them? Bombs and missiles are specifically designed to kill people. We know they aren't always accurate. Serbian military installations are often located near population centers. The war has already been used as an excuse by the Serbian authorities to close down independent newspapers and radio stations in Belgrade and elsewhere. There is concern that the Serbs will use this war as an excuse for displacing the Montenegran government, which does not support the nationalistic aims of the Serbian leadership.

When the Bishop asks, "What are the consequences of failing to act?" it seems to me that we must ask: Act how? The claim that the only choices at this time are to bomb or to acquiesce in Serbian aggression against the Kosovars is a false statement from the talking points of the White House press office. Many options remain, some of which have not even been placed on the table. Instead of seeking peace, the United States is sending more planes, more bombs, more missiles. Trouble and chaos is spreading to neighboring countries. This military adventurism is creating tension between the United States and two major nuclear powers, Russia and China, with Russia threatening to send arms to the Serbians. How soon we forget the dangers of nuclear war, and how major world conflicts can begin from small wars.

The Bishop's statement implies that the moral issues are so muddy that the primary contribution of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church is to piously ask people to "dialogue" with each other. How can dialogue occur when bombs are falling? What about repentance, conversion, prophetic witness, and obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? He seems to forget that he is the president of the bishops' conference of the United States of America -- the richest and most powerful nation on earth, a cruel and violent military empire most recently guilty of the deaths of ONE MILLION Iraqi civilians, with more children sacrificed on the altar of the false and bloodthirsty god Moloch every day! We have contributed the bodies of 30 million unborn children to that same altar of death here in our own country these past 25 years, and the man who is leading us into battle in Serbia fights strenuously against any effort to end the holocaust of abortion. We willingly steal the food stamps from the hands of the poor and collect interest on loans to third world dictators from the rice bowls of the poorest of the poor. We laugh and make fun of the poor -- "Who killed Kenny?" draws laughter from young and old alike. We build political fortunes by demonizing and oppressing the poor. If we ignore this culture of death context of the United State's omnipresent "option for violence," then our moral discernment is incomplete.

In the polity of the Roman Catholic Church, the bishops are charged with the responsibility of teaching the Catholic faith and giving moral instruction to the people. It is deeply sorrowful that during this crisis the voice of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is muddied and unclear. If the Bishops themselves are unable to apply the moral and social teachings of the Faith to the present situation, what then are the lay faithful to do?

In the situation in Kosovo, as always, we are called as Catholics to a preferential love and option for the poor, but it is very hard to see violence as a demonstration of that love. Violence begets violence, lawlessness yields lawlessness, the blood of the innocent cry unto heaven for justice.

Does the end justify the means? All they who take the sword will perish by the sword. Without vision, the people perish. If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will go to battle?

Woe to the wicked, it will go ill with him, for he will be treated as his actions deserve.

O my people, their oppressors pillage them and extortioners rule over them!

O my people, your rulers mislead you and efface the paths you ought to follow!

God has risen to accuse, is standing to pass judgement on the people.

God is about to try the elders and the princes of his people,

'You are the ones who have ravaged the vineyard,

the spoils of the poor are in your houses.

By what right do you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor?'

Says the Lord God Sabaoth.

Isaiah 3:11-15

Robert Waldrop, Justpeace webservant

March 26, 1999

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