Volume 16, Number 1
Letter from the Editor
Bring the War Home
Patriotism Must Not Be a Mask for Ignorance
Hot and Cold Violence
Thoughts on the Terrorist Attacks from Former Common Sense Editors
Overwhelmed and Disenfranchised
Battle Must Not be Drawn Along Ethnic or Religious Lines
Protesting George W. Bush at ND: The Catholic Vote is Not for Sale
Protesting George W. Bush at ND: An Arsenal of Deceit
Protesting George W. Bush at ND: In the Shadow of the Golden Dome
Protesting George W. Bush at ND: Bushwacked
Terror in America
Bush and bin Laden
Against the Strategic Defense Initiative
From Durban to Disneyland
A View From Afar: A Hopeful Response of Youth
Letter from the Editor
We all know of the radical inequality among people in our world. There are small concentrations of tremendous power and wealth-with resources able to raise 110 story buildings-in the hands of a tiny number of people. Most human beings, billions in number, have not the resources to feed and shelter themselves, and they build no towers to commerce and finance that will fall only from a plane crash and fire. A heavy rainstorm will suffice to topple their structures, no technology needed.
The approach to peace involves the study of structural violence, or those systems of oppression and exploitation that deny people adequate housing, health care, water, or food; that entrench injustices in legal codes and practices; that encourage discrimination by race, sex, sexuality, religion, social status; that keep the poor from advancing. It should now be evident to us that all these structural issues are at play behind the scenes since the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. And the role played by the U.S. in such structural violence is significant. This is hardly explored in mainstream media, but it is essential to understanding the why of this horror.
The first edition of Common Sense this semester tries to address this question. We are trying to go beyond the reductionisms, generalizations, and imperialist-minded prejudices on display in so much media coverage. We have seen that under the banner of “America United” FOX News scrolled headlines of war-mongering and prejudice, and implied that aggressive capitalism is the average American citizen’s God-commanded response to terrorism. We are told the best way for Americans to respond to this crisis is to invest and spend money! Brenda Butler of FOX asked, in a report on the reopening of the stock exchanges, “Will Americans buy in an act of unity?” Allegedly, our only course of action as united citizens is via consumerism. It’s great advice to the ears of corporate heads and financiers, but hardly addresses the motives of the terrorists and their sympathizers. Our hegemonic economic system is at the heart of the matter, and such calls to corporate-cradling only fuel the fires of the terrorists’ propaganda, while allowing us--U.S. citizens--to glorify our wasteful, arrogant habits.
Common Sense seeks peace and justice in our nation and in our world. We want a full peace, and so we seek a full justice. All that we publish is to this end. As the War Resisters League said September 11, “Let us seek a world in which security is gained through disarmament, international cooperation, and social justice-not through escalation and retaliation.” We are deeply opposed to the sentiments of violence and hatred espoused by Ann Coulter-and many others in a similar vein-who wrote in the National Review that “Those responsible [for the attacks] include anyone anywhere in the world who smiled in response. . . . We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” A religiously tinted imperialism is hardly a valid solution, and strikes me as terribly anti-Christian, to say the least.
My hope as editor is that Common Sense will add a voice of peace to the discussion at Notre Dame, on the issue of the attacks and every issue we cover. We are committed to the most humane and justice-oriented values of the Christian call, and of the most humane and justice-oriented values of the United States. Humanity is capable of the most glorious of sounds with our instruments of music, but also the most hideous crimes with our instruments of war. Our hope is to be part of the cause of peace, to amplify such instruments, and to place ourselves against the instruments of war, against every form of terrorism, violence, retribution, and prejudice. We are unconvinced when Bush says, “We are planning a broad and sustained campaign to secure our country and eradicate the evil of terrorism.” If we want to talk about evil-and so many commentators seem to have become philosophers of the Problem of Evil in the days after the attacks-then let us start with a serious look in the mirror. Common Sense endeavors to take part in such introspection and refuses to be caught up in nationalist rhetoric of prejudice and retribution. We invite you to join us.
In peace, Paul Ranogajec
Paul Ranogajec is a fourth year architecture and peace studies student at Notre Dame, and the 2001-2002 editor of Common Sense.
The Military Cannot Strike a Death Blow to Terrorism
"Do you get it now?" New York Times reporter Clyde Haberman asked his readers rhetorically following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, thus suggesting that Americans ought now to be able to understand Israel's violence against Palestinians, particularly its assassination policy. The next day, Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote from Jerusalem that since they "hate our existence, not just our policies...we have to fight the terrorists as if there were no rules." The terrorists are "world-class evil," Friedman explained, reinforcing the simplistic, dangerous Manichaean framework that President Bush introduced immediately after returning from his hiding place in Nebraska.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not waste a minute. Realizing that international attention would be focused on the horrific attacks, he gave the Israeli military the green light to invade Jenin, Jericho, and Rammallah. Accompanied by infantry, tanks rolled into the cities, while Apache helicopters flew overhead; missiles were launched and buildings were bombed so that within three days 19 Palestinians were killed -- 2 of whom were children -- and scores were injured.
These recent Israeli actions, not unlike the assassinations, economic strangulation, and the occupation itself are condoned, because they are perpetrated in order to prevent and ultimately eradicate terrorism. The end, according to the twisted logic advanced both by the Israeli government and by the eminent Times writers, justifies the employment of brutal violence, indicating that in their view terrorism is not determined by the nature of the act, but rather by the actor's identity. Israel's assassinations and bombings are, apropos this distorted logic, radically different from the actions carried out by Palestinian militias, if only because states are not viewed to be terrorists.
The Haberman and Friedman articles not only condone Israeli crimes against Palestinians, they replicate and reinforce the military discourse which has managed to colonize the mainstream media in the United States since the devastating attacks. This discourse, as the Israeli case exposes, is extremely dangerous, not least because it helps engender undemocratic practices whose far-reaching ramifications have begun to manifest themselves in America even before the bodies have been counted and the dead buried.
The decision to allow the detention of suspects for an indefinite period alongside the move towards lifting restrictions imposed on the FBI and CIA, exemplify how this discourse and the logic which informs it pave the way for an assault on civil liberties. But civil liberties are not the only rights which are at stake; economic and social rights are also in danger of being undermined as powerful corporations manipulate the situation to advance their avaricious objectives.
Who will benefit from the $40 billion anti-terrorism package -- to be taken from the "sacrosanct" social security surplus -- which lawmakers approved, without blinking, three days following the attack? This sum is, of course, in addition to the $329 billion which the bloated military apparatus already gobbles up each year. Not unlike the Israeli government who recently passed the 2002 budget, slashing all social spending while dramatically increasing the money allocated to infrastructure and military, the House of Representatives and the Senate are now expected to circumscribe spending on health care, education, and other social services, so as to confer billions on the military or, more precisely, on corporations like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, which makes the Tomahawk cruise missile. Not surprisingly, in a week where the Dow Jones posted a 14.3 percent loss, its largest since Depression, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon gained respectively 10.1 percent and 37 percent. These corporations, in turn, spend millions on advertising in the mainstream media, the same media that disseminates the military discourse which supports corporate objectives.
The military discourse, however, is not only used to corral financial and political backing for the privileged few; it is also employed as a concealing mechanism. It is not coincidental that most commentators and political analysts discuss terrorism as if it is caused by an internal disposition which compels the actor towards violence. This view represses the fact that terrorism is often generated by social wrongs, historical grievances, and structural exploitation. In other words, Haberman, Friedman, and friends have yet to realize that people, to paraphrase the French philosopher Simone De Beauvoir, are not born, but rather become terrorists.
Once a structural critique is adopted it becomes clear that terrorism, and more importantly the grassroots support that it needs in order to thrive, frequently arises from social injustices accompanied by a lack of channels through which political groups or even states might have their grievances redressed. The powers that be do not appreciate this kind of critique for it suggests not only that the military cannot deal a death blow to terrorism, but also that they are implicated in its creation. Accordingly, they treat terrorism‚'s symptoms as if they were the root causes, while the actual causes are conveniently ignored.
Insofar as terrorism is determined by the nature of the act and its causes are tied to the structure of social life, then the U.S. is also culpable. It has carried out, financed and supported terrorist acts in the past; it has upheld neoliberal economic policies which have had devastating effects on billions of people around the globe; and it has undermined the establishment of institutions such as the international criminal court or a mediation agency -- which would hear and judge grievances -- that could potentially prevent terrorism by providing non-violent alternatives. The U.S. has also weakened the United Nations itself by it periodic unilateralism. Rather than wreak more havoc by crying war, Haberman, Friedman, and their colleagues in the mainstream media would do well by adopting a long term vision that offers suggestions of how to curb and perhaps even eliminate the social forces that engender terrorism.
Neve Gordon, a graduate of Notre Dame, teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bring the War Home
"The chickens come home to roost"
The destruction in New York on September 11 was a great crime, but it is not an excuse for the leaders of the Bush Administration to kill Arabs or Afghanis.
Those Americans who say that the carnage in New York "changed the world forever" haven't been paying much attention to what their country has been doing in the world. (Of course, they're encouraged not to.) The US government is responsible just in the last decade for enormities around the world that have killed many more people than did the terrorist crimes in New York. Americans may not have noticed, but the rest of the world has. That's the answer to the plaintive inquiry, "Why do they hate us so much?"
If you were to ask Americans, Did the Clinton Administration ever do anything that killed more people than died in New York this week?, most would be shocked at the question. But that administration began with US troops killing perhaps twice as many people in Somalia and continued with the killing of at least as many in Serbia. Against the five thousand thought to have died in New York, we have to count the deaths from sanctions in Iraq, where Clinton's secretary of State said in 1996 that the half-million children's corpses by then were "a high price" but "worth it." In Timor, US-supplied paramilitaries from US-client Indonesia killed thousands in massacres that could have been stopped with a phone call from Washington. In Turkey -- the third leading recipient of US arms -- American heavy weapons and planes were used against Kurds throughout the Clinton years (and on), killing tens of thousands.
In those same years, the principal US client, Israel, which receives half of all US foreign aid, concluded 22 years of illegal occupation of Lebanon with tens of thousands dead; it continues after 34 years its illegal occupation of Palestine, with the deaths of many thousands. In another ongoing US-financed war, tens of thousands have been killed in Colombia (which has now displaced Turkey as a US-arms recipient). On one afternoon in August of 1998 (it happened to be the day M. Lewinsky was testifying) the Clinton administration sent a dozen million-dollar-each cruise missiles into a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, one of the poorest countries in the world, destroying most of that country's capacity to make antibiotics and drugs for malaria, tuberculosis, and cholera, as well as veterinary medicine and fertilizer. It is estimated that many thousands died as a result; the US blocked a UN inquiry into the death toll.
Last week's terrorist crimes in New York are just that -- crimes, and not an "act of war," as the Bush Administration keeps bleating. (Even the insurance companies, who would be let off the hook if the New York losses were the result of war, have admitted that they can't claim that.) We've had some recent examples of how international criminals should be dealt with. In Paris a few months ago, an international criminal responsible for many more deaths than Osama bin Laden was subpoenaed by a French judge. He fled the country while his government asserted that he was in no way subject to French jurisdiction, but Henry Kissinger -- for it was he -- like Bin Laden now has to be careful where he travels. The pattern was set by the UK's detention of the Chilean mass-murderer Pinochet (put in place by Kissinger), although he was eventually released by the man who is now the UK foreign minister.
The real grief of Americans is being turned by the Bush administration into a suicidal flourish of geriatric machismo. "Up to 60 countries face the full wrath of American military might!" exclaims loony Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "Use tactical nuclear weapons on Afghanistan!" says the usual shadowy spokesman for the US "intelligence community." And the putative president of the US threatens to attack any country found "harboring" terrorists. Of course, if that were an excuse for killing a country's civilians, then many in the rest of the world would say that Bin Laden could claim it in regard to America, where Clinton and Kissinger are at large, and the government is purportedly put in place by the people.
A war emergency has advantages to the Bush administration, of course. Its "approval rating" rises, as typically in crises; it's an excuse to send money to large corporations and lessen the capital gains tax while revving up young Americans to kill foreigners; and it justifies further inroads on civil liberties. (In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton signed one of the most repressive pieces of legislation in years, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.) In launching a war on poor Islamic countries, the Bush administration is contributing to the fulfillment of the fevered fantasies of Bin Laden and American "political scientist" Samuel Huntington, who both look to a "clash of civilizations" between Islamic militancy and US hegemony.
The principal beneficiary from the carnage of September 11 is of course Israel. Prime Minister Sharon took the occasion of the world's concentration on New York suddenly to cancel his planned meeting with Arafat and to send tanks and helicopter gunships into Palestinian towns, killing a number of Palestinians; plans for walling off Palestinian enclaves were suddenly resurrected. As it prepared for its war with "Islamic fundamentalism," the Bush administration's feeble attempts to restrain its blood-thirsty client have disappeared entirely, and the Israeli government knows it: the war criminal at its head can do anything he likes. When his opponent (from the right), Benyamin Netanyahu, was asked what the attack means for relations between the US and Israel, he replied, "It's very good."
The US must retract the war it has projected around the world for generations. In New York last week the victims were as usual working people -- janitors, secretaries, firefighters. It will be another and greater crime to continue to kill poor people in the Middle East at an even greater rate in response.
Carl Estabrook taught in the Department of History at Notre Dame in the early 1970s. He now teaches at the University of Illinois. He is a frequent contributor to Common Sense.
Patriotism Must Not Be a Mask for Ignorance
For anyone not born in this country and drilled in its folkways from infancy, the American public response to crisis or calamity is puzzling. The first reaction borders on collective helplessness, which must derive from the way tragedy is thought of as un-American. The most popular President in recent history, Ronald Reagan, is admired precisely because he seems to have had no understanding at all that history is, in many respects, a tragic record. All that mattered to Reagan was his own satisfactory survival and that of his class; otherwise he displayed a vast, genial indifference to suffering or deprivation. Perhaps the relentless consumerism that characterizes the culture has narrowed the country’s emotional range and diminished its capacity to think.
Writing about the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington for The New Republic, Tony Judt speaks of the American domestic response as one of “anxious disorientation. Europeans faced with a terrorist campaign ask ‘Why does this happen?’ Every American I have spoken to or heard on television in the aftermath of the catastrophe, has demanded ‘How could this happen?’ - ie., ‘Who let this happen?’” However, it did not take long for the disorientation, the helplessness to give way to its opposite, namely assertive displays of patriotism and nationalism. These seemed a touch desperate - gestures by people in search of connection in a country where a shared citizenship founded on fairness and real equality is unavailable. A frantic patriotism was filling the vacuum where intelligent public debate ought to be.
Mrs. Pataki, wife of the Governor of New York, following the example of President George W. Bush, opined that the US is the best country on the planet. I was left wondering how this absurd non-sequiter, this patently false claim, honored the memory of the people lying under the rubble of the World Trade Center. (Why didn’t she stick to saluting New Yorkers for the terrific solidarity they have shown in coping with the disaster?) It soon became obligatory for any public person or politician, before speaking of the events of September 11, to make this or a similar obeisance. I could not begin to count the times I have heard the US referred to as the finest country on earth. What is the rest of the world to make of this?
I can say without hesitation, that the circumstances do not exist which could induce me to claim that the country of my birth, the United Kingdom (one winces at the word “ United” given the endless, brutish dispute across the Irish Sea) was the best in the world. Though, having said this, I would add that in some rather obvious ways British culture is more coherent and has the edge over American culture. (This is even more striking when one compares the US with Scandinavian countries.) The lust to own guns, for example, has never taken hold; as a result the British murder their fellow citizens at a fraction of the rate Americans knock each other off. Capital punishment went the way of the thumb-screw and the ducking-stool, decades ago - so, no death-row or execution chamber. In spite of the depredations of the Thatcher years, the National Health System remains in place. Moreover the British are not as reluctant as Americans to pay taxes, mainly because they are more enthusiastic about supporting social services. A notion of the common good has not, as yet, been vanquished by the “.free market.” The British can also take comfort in the certainty that their leaders will never embarrass them by claiming a transcendent superiority for the country - not even the banal Tony Blair. Should the Queen ever be minded to make such an utterance, folk would fall about laughing.
The jingoism which invariably accompanies empire, began its decline in the UK after the Boer War, when it had reached fever pitch; by the late 1940s empire was a spent force and with it lurid patriotism. (Samuel Johnson, in the 18th century, had warned that patriotism was the last refuge of scoundrels.) However, there is still the odor of imperialism in the US. While America does not want the responsibilities of an Imperium, it displays all the grandiosity of one. In such a context, the ignorance of the average America really sticks in the craw. Before the 11 September, few people on the street seem to have heard of the Taliban, let alone how the movement came to dominate Afganistan (about whose geographical location many were unsure). The spouse has an early 19th century map of Southern Africa in his study. The Englishman who drew it, William Burchell Esq., an artist and amateur cartographer, has labeled the huge area beyond the British settlements at the Cape, “Territory inhabited by various tribes of Bushmen.” I think that it is quite possible, for a lot of men and women in this country, that their map of the world beyond the continental USA is, however unconsciously, marked “Territory inhabited by various tribes of Non-Americans.” Bush hit a dangerously wacky low point when he announced that, “Our enemy’s harbors will not be safe.” Apparently Rummy and Condi had omitted to tell him that Afghanistan is landlocked.
If current affairs and geography are not the nation’s strong suit, history fares no better. Tony Judt (again in his New Republic piece) talks of watching American movie epics, “in which the United States wins World War II single-handedly and with valiant aplomb; in an earlier cycle, muscle-bound, bare-chested American heroes, wrapped (often literally) in the Stars and Stripes, re-fought other wars to US advantage.” American revision of history, which once upon a time seemed mildly comic, now seems wildly self-indulgent.
In July 2000, just before Independence Day, the results were published of a survey conducted by the American Trustees and Alumni, a Washington-based non-profit group that promotes liberal arts study. 34 high school level history questions were posed randomly to 556 seniors at 55 leading colleges and universities, including Harvard, Princeton and Brown. According to The New York Times, only one student answered all the questions correctly; the average score was “a sobering 53%.” When asked to name the Father of the Constitution, from a list that included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and James Madison, a miserable 23% got the correct answer. 64% unable to identify George Washington as the General at Yorktown from a list that included William T. Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant and Douglas McArthur, thus demonstrating not only ignorance of the War of Independence but of both the Civil War and World War II as well.
Patriotism is a dysfunctional substitute for the massive educational effort that is now required for Americans to understand the fragile world they have done so much to create. Those of us on the left have been saying forever that US economic and foreign policy would reap a whirlwind, and so it has. I am of the school that believes righting wrongs is not an appeasement of terrorists. Israel should be told to comply with the UN resolution that requires it to return to its 1967 borders (with a military cordon sanitaire guaranteed by the US if it persists in feeling insecure). As for those troops stationed near Mecca and Medina--pull them out, it was aggressive and grossly insensitive to put them there in the first place. Finally, unilateralism and the drumbeat of American national self-interest must go. The US will have to coexist cooperatively with the rest of the world--or the game is up.
Ann Pettifer is an alumna of Notre Dame.
Hot and Cold Violence
In the field of conflict resolution, two types of violence have been identified: hot and cold.
Hot violence is the death and chaos of Sept. 11 in New York and Washington. Hot violence is the Columbine High School massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing. The unspeakable horror is up-close and visible, witnesses emotions are felt, outrage is immediate, the media are quick to the scene.
Cold violence has little of that. It is beyond view, so routine as to stir few emotions, and so ordinary as to attract the media only rarely. Cold violence is the daily death toll of an estimated 40,000 people who died yesterday, who are dying today, and will die tomorrow, from preventable hunger-related diseases. For years, Oxfam International has documented this reality. But it is a distant and unseen reality, not an American reality, not the destroyed World Trade Center reality. Cold violence is the dying of Iraqis caused by U.S. imposed economic sanctions. UNICEF has reported that as many as 250 Iraqis have succumbed everyday.
We learn to compartmentalize. Two days after the Colorado school killings in April 1999, President Bill Clinton displayed the art form. He went to a public high school in Alexandria, Va., to speak to a student peer mediation club: “We must do more to reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons.”
After the talk, heartfelt and eloquent, he returned to the White House to order up the most intense bombing of Belgrade since U.S. and NATO pilots were turned loose a month before. In speeches, Clinton would keep calling for alternatives to school violence-the hot kind-- while continuing to justify the cold kind: the military violence on Yugoslav civilians in their homes, offices and neighborhoods. His weapons that killed thousands were good, the weapons of schoolhouse gunmen were evil.
The president’s thinking was revealed in “All Too Human” by George Stephanapoulos. When told in October 1993 that American soldiers had been killed by street fighters in Somalia, Clinton said: “We’re not inflicting pain on these fuckers. When people kill us, they should be killed in greater numbers. I believe in killing people who try to hurt you, and I can’t believe we’re being pushed around by these two-bit pricks.”
All of this fits the pattern of double-standard ethics. Hot violence tends to be illegal and unofficial. Cold violence, legal and official. In “Violence: Perspectives of Murder and Aggression,” sociologists Diane Archer and Rosemary Gartner write: “Wars and other forms of official violence are unique in that they wear the mantle of governmental legitimacy. When aircraft bomb a village, when the CIA hires assassins to kill foreign leaders, when a policeman shoots a looter, when a prison firing squad kills a convicted murderer, the killings that occur are the direct result of governmental orders. These orders originate in a hierarchical organization. They are issued by appointed or elected officials and carried out collectively by uniformed deputies who perform the actual killing. Officials killings, therefore, differ from illegal violence in that they result from governmental orders, are usually performed by several agents acting collectively, and are justified as instruments to some higher purpose.”
Similar trenchancy is found in “The Respectable Murderers,” the classic text on nonviolence by Monsignor Paul Hanley Furfey, the Catholic University sociologist a generation ago: “The sporadic crimes that soil the front pages, the daily robberies, assaults rapes and murders, are the work of individuals and small gangs. But the great evils, the persecutions, the unjust wars of conquest, the mass slaughters of the innocent, the exploitation of whole social classes-these crimes are committed by the organized community under the leadership of respectable citizens.”
The solution? Withdraw support--political, financial and emotional-from all double-standard practitioners of violence, hot or cold, illegal or legal, and transfer the support to those working to eliminate violence no matter where it is found or who is madly justifying it.
This is an apt moment, as retribution hysteria grows and the ethic of hit-‘em-back-and-hit-‘em-back-harder is sounded like a battle station bugle call. The nonviolent response to Sept. 11 is in the tradition of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Jeannette Rankin and groups like the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Pax Christi: having the moral courage to say to those behind the attack, we forgive you, we reject vengeance. And then, summoning still more courage, to ask them to forgive us for all of our violence: for being the world’s major arms peddler, for having a military budget 23 times greater than the combined military budgets of our seven alleged enemies, for our bombing of Grenada, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, for supporting dictators--from Indonesia to Chile--and for blindly believing the jingoism of George W. Bush who said, “Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world.”
A model for what? Vengeance, retribution, score settling? That’s what Sept. 11 was about. To perpetuate it is to guarantee more eyes for eyes.
Colman McCarthy, founder and director of the Center for Teaching Peace, teaches courses on nonviolence at Georgetown Law School, American University and the University of Maryland. His forthcoming book is I’d Rather Teach Peace. He is a frequent contributor to Common Sense and lectures periodically at Notre Dame.
Thoughts on the Terrorist Attacks from Former Common Sense Editors
If our government is primarily concerned, as it claims to be, with our nation's safety, then it ought to realize that national security will require not aggression, but justice, abroad. These attacks have produced the worst brand of insular American thinking, and the willingness to look at Tuesday's events in a vacuum and cast this conflict as a war between moral absolutes will get us nowhere. We need to understand these events within their complex social and political context before responding with reactionary and shortsighted solutions.
Bin Laden has displayed a violent disregard for human life. The only appropriate response is to reject this sort of behavior and respond with a commitment to true peace and justice. To respond with violence and aggression would be to enter into a game we should now, more than ever, be unwilling to play. Unfortunately, we are being led by a president who also has a long history of disregard for human life, and a large majority of the population seems to be falling in line behind him. It is going to require a very vocal minority to step out of this line and push for peaceful alternative solutions to this conflict before the toll of death and destruction is increased exponentially.
Joe Napolitano graduated from Notre Dame in May and is now teaching with the Alliance for Catholic Education.
We as Americans tend to act first and think later: Something of this magnitude must be responded to with force, someone must know that you can't “mess with America.” This is the message I am hearing on the news, that someone must pay, other lives must be lost to make up for those who died on September 11. I would hope that America takes its time on this. War means more American lives lost, no matter who "wins." I write "wins" because there are no winners in a war, only those who lost the least. Whoever planned this needs to be punished, and those who helped to execute it need to be punished. But the innocent residents of whatever country housed these terrorists do not need to be punished.
It was heartwarming to see the citizens of New York pulling together to help each other. Everywhere, people seemed to be kinder to each other and more aware of their own actions. People began hanging the American flag on their homes and cars. We seemed to pull together as a nation to show that we are not so easily destroyed.
When I saw the reaction in Palestine, on the West Bank, my heart sank. I saw men shooting guns in the air, celebrating the tragedy that happened. They thought that America deserved this, that it was a long time coming. Regardless of any sort of politics or any country’s policies, the death of thousands of people is a terrible thing. I couldn't comprehend celebrating something like this.
Cassie Carrigan graduated from Saint Mary's in May and now lives near Chicago.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, it didn't take long before the family's reports filtered in. "John is still missing," was the common phrase and as I sat there wondering about my cousin, I couldn't help but think he wasn't missing at all. Despite our hopes, each of us knew exactly where he was and why he was missing. We even had fifteen different camera angles to view it. What we didn't know was who was responsible and how it may have been prevented. And now, it's these disturbing questions that still remain unanswered.
In this country, we have soldiers trained to fight, but now it was the innocent citizen that suddenly found herself in battle. This was not a tolerable situation. The country demanded justice. The government responded. Homes were searched, people held for questioning. Stricter security measures swept across the nation. We wanted an enemy and we wanted to establish an arena. The largest military in the world was eager to take a swing, but we still didn't have an enemy or an obvious way of fighting it.
Matt Hudson graduated from Notre Dame in 2000 and now lives and works as an editor in Chicago.
Overwhelmed and Disenfranchised
I spoke to Joanie on Saturday night. She was sick. A stomach flu, she said. She couldn't hold anything down.
"Do you think that this is a result of internalizing all your stress and anxiety this week?"
No, she said. She was just sick.
After calling my sister, I called Joanie's dad.
"Have you heard from her?"
He hadn't heard directly from her, but Monica had called. She had spoken with Joanie. They were okay.
Weeks earlier, having just moved away from Joanie and Monica and New York City and towards what was supposed to be what I wanted in life, I sat at a bar with two other so-called-philosophers, discussing the possiblity and responsiblity of enjoying American Popular Culture. Two agreed: it's fun. It's ironic. Knowing that it represents so much of what we hate about Capitlism, we take pride in finding it very entertaining.
One was vehement in his disagreement. Britney is a symbol of a world gone awry. One must elevate above the current paradigm in order to create the space for a shift to a new paradigm. My question: Do we intentionally shift the paradigm, through our direct volition, or does it somehow shift without our consent? Was it the occurence of Copernicus's discovery or rather that the world was finally ready that such a discovery occured?
I'm thinking about this conversation on my walk to Arnon and Anat's. They had a television. And I am walking, again, like a New Yorker. Emily had wanted to come, had wanted to bring her coffee, and so I agreed to walk. Ten seconds out the door, and she was already ten feet behind.
Prima facie: I have just been witness to a shift in the paradigm.
George Bush et. al. are talking in terms of a "war on terrorism" and of "good and evil." People wear American flags as though perhaps this is the armor that will protect them in the days to come. I am scared. I am unpatriotic. I am scared.
What is the goal or end of this war on terrorism? Peace? Or is it more to conferr upon the United States the role as "sole appropriator of terror?" If you are with us, you are safe. If not, you will face "the wrath of the US" (these are George's words, not mine).
I am surprised. Living in a post-modern society, I am surprised that good and evil are being used as though they actually referred to something TRUE. People are rapt in their attention. We are good, they are evil.
I find these words untenable. Does it not strike anyone that these sorts of acts do not occur via some irrational faculty that springs to life one day and drives 18 people to board planes and crash them into buildings? Does it not strike anyone that perhaps there is something to be reflected upon, as Americans, in that this country could inspire the instantation of such a nefarious event? Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson want me to be blamed, at least indirectly, for having caused this to happen. This is not what I am talking about.
This is an iceberg. You can destroy the visible, immediate problem. But under the water exisits a world that you cannot simply ignore. It's size is incomprehensible. This is where the terror lays. Where you can not (and do not) want to see it. This is where we have to go, in this new paradigm. We cannot ignore the invisible any longer.
The day after two 767's flew into the towers and caused a shift within the history of the world, I went to class. Discussing the Leviathan and how plausible it is that the sovereign has rights, but no duties. Not even implicit duties, I ask? No, Larry answers. It's the price you pay for staying out of the state of nature. Anything, even totalitarianism, is better than the state of nature, he insists.
I feel overwhelmed and disenfranchised. The world has changed, and I have no means of determining which path it will take. Those we represent me, do not represent me, and they will be the constructors of the paradigm within which I will try to exist.
The other day, my mind stumbled upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oh, that's right. The US actually dropped two atomic bombs on a country less than sixty years ago.
Perhaps this is not such a big deal. Perhaps I am being dramatic--I have been accused of this in the past. Perhaps this can be resolved. Perhaps war will be short. Perhaps this will not become another Holy War, framed in the terms of Democracy versus Terrorism. Perhaps not many more people will die. Perhaps.
And I am scared.
Sophie Fortin graduated from Notre Dame in 2000, is a former Common Sense editor and now studies at Washington University in Saint Louis.
Battle Must Not be Drawn Along Ethnic or Religious Lines
Soon after the terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, video clips of Palestinians celebrating the attack began to appear on television. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the attacks, saying “I send my condolences, the condolences of the Palestinian people, to American President Bush and his Government and to the American people for this terrible act.” Yet, despite the words of Arafat, it cannot be denied that the news reels do represent the feelings of some Palestinians. Following the plane crashes, two or three thousand people demonstrated in favor of the attacks in the West Bank city of Nablus. There were smaller demonstrations in other cities as well. But, let this not obscure the fact that many Palestinians expressed sympathy for the victims of the attack, and still others felt a combination of sorrow for the attacks counteracted with anger at the U.S. government for its long held support of Israel. The video clips of small groups of Palestinians celebrating the attack should not determine our understanding of the Palestinian response, which is both varied and complex.
In a similar event, hundreds of militant Muslims celebrated the terrorist attacks in northern Nigeria. Certainly, however, we cannot believe that the entire country of Nigeria, or even most of the Muslims in Nigeria, shares these sentiments. In both this case and the one of Palestine, Americans must realize that both the Islamic and Arab worlds are quite complex, and and can in no way be properly represented by either the men who committed the terrorist acts, or those who condone them.
The results are all too clear and unjustifiable when we make the mistaken assumption that all Muslims and Middle Easterners somehow share the radical beliefs of those who perpetrated the attack against this country. Across the United States, Islamic and Arab-Americans have faced an increasing amount of prejudice and violence. Many Mosques in the United States have received bomb threats and been forced to temporarily close down. In Denton, Texas an Islamic Society building was pelted with a Molotov cocktail, while an angry mob of about 300 people marched to a mosque outside Chicago. A gun shot was fired into the house of a Muslim Family in Michigan and countless Arab-Americans have become the victims of racial slurs and intimidation. Such discriminatory acts are grounded in a terribly shallow perception of Islam and Arabs throughout the world. We must remember that the terrorists in the September 11 attacks share much more in common with Timothy McVeigh than they do with the average Muslim or Arab.
Darren Kernaghan is a sociology major and a Common Sense staff member.
The Catholic Vote is Not for Sale
This is the text of a speech given at the protest of the 2001 Notre Dame graduation ceremony, in which President George W. Bush was guest speaker and recipient of an honorary degree.
I’d like to thank the Notre Dame students who organized this event. At many colleges and universities, students are considered part of the intellectual life of the campus, and they’re even consulted about who might receive an honorary degree, and who might be speak at graduation. The students who got this protest going haven’t been asked for their opinion about President George Bush’s presence here today --they’ve seized the initiative themselves and stood up to remind us what a Catholic university should stand up for. President Bush is here on campus today to try to lock up the Catholic vote. So let’s all raise our voices to remind him that the Catholic vote is not for sale.
We certainly hear mention of “the Catholic character” of Notre Dame often enough. I am one of those Catholic faculty members who came to Notre Dame believing that this university would stand up for the poor and the weak and the struggling, for “the least among us.” I’m sure many non-Catholic faculty and students were attracted to this institution for the same reason. I like to think we weren’t all naive. I like to think that the students who organized this event remind us that we don’t have to accept a corporate definition of a Catholic university, that if we really want this to be a Catholic university, we can’t accept it. The students haven’t accepted it. They’ve said, by virtue of this very gathering, that a Catholic university can be better than this, more self-critical than this. We at Notre Dame are part of a wealthy institution and, like the wealthy everywhere, we are going to have to guide our big clunky camel through the needle’s small eye. All the more reason to remind ourselves that we have a special obligation to give voice to the voiceless. A powerful institution like Notre Dame must speak for the powerless. We shouldn’t be honoring this President of the United States when we know that he is giving voice to the powerful and the wealthy at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable.
A Catholic university should stand up for the poor. A Catholic university should stand up for the workers juggling two jobs and repeated layoffs, for the elderly who cannot pay for their prescription drugs or their heating bills. At this moment when we stand poised to give yet another tax break to the wealthiest among us, a Catholic university should stand in witness. We need to be the voice for that mother leaving welfare whose minimum wage job will barely cover her childcare and won’t buy her heatlh insurance. We on the faculty have nice cushy pensions coming our way; we should be standing up for those who have no pensions at all. We at Notre Dame should stand up for economic justice, but instead we sit down with George Bush, who stands up for the rich and the powerful. Is that how we want to define a Catholic university?
A Catholic university should stand up for the stewardship of our land. Christ told us to observe the lilies of the field, but at the rate we’re going, there may not be any lilies to observe. The litany of affronts to the earth God has given us has a funereal sound: burn more coal, drill more wilderness, build more nuclear plants. Bush’s new energy policy will enrich the robber barons of the energy industry and impoverish our fragile land. We teach environmental ethics at this university; let’s take our knowledge beyond the classroom. A Catholic university should stand up for stewardship, but instead we sit down with George Bush, who would squander the precious resources we have been given. Is that how we want to define a Catholic university?
A Catholic university should stand against the death penalty. The U.S. bishops have provided real leadership on this issue and Notre Dame should be marching arm-in-arm with them. Our country is changing its mind about the death penalty, hearing the witness of those, like Sister Helen Préjean, who minister to death row prisoners and the victims of violent crime. Our country is hearing the witness of those, like Bud Welsh, who have lost a beloved daughter to murder but know that the death penalty will only widen the circle of vengeance. A Catholic university should stand against the death penalty, but instead we sit down with George Bush, whose support for the death penalty in Texas and across the U.S. has inflamed the passions of those who feel powerless against violent crime. Notre Dame should stand up for the powerless and stand against the death penalty, but instead we sit down with George Bush, who stands up for the vengeance-mongers. Is that how we want to define a Catholic university?
A Catholic university, above all else, should stand for peace. Today’s morning papers tell us that the Bush administration plans to reject an agreement to ban germ warfare. We already know that the Bush administration plans to build a missile defense system that threatens the very stability of the world as we know it. Is that how we want to define a Catholic university?
This is not what a Catholic university should be standing up for, and this is not who a Catholic university should be sitting down with. All of us know that it’s hard to run a big institution and please all its constituencies. But Notre Dame has to answer to more than its constituencies or its donors -- Notre Dame has the gospels to answer to, and the gospels tell us that we must stand with the weakest, not curry favor with the strongest. We raise our voices today for the voiceless and we raise them for George Bush to hear: This will not stand, Mr. President, at a Catholic university.
Valerie Sayers, novelist and critic, is Professor of English at Notre Dame.
An Arsenal of Deceit
In my experience, there is nothing like a political protest at Notre Dame to expose the hollowness of the University’s claim to be a Christian institution ready to witness to the demanding standards of biblical justice. This was so thirty years ago during the Vietnam War when the administration was uncomfortable with anti-war demonstrations on campus and found ways to ham-string them, most notoriously with the “Fifteen Minute Rule.” (Once told to desist, students were given fifteen minutes to disperse or face dismissal from the University.) To take a prophetic stance against the war could jeopardize one’s career. In 1971, a brilliant young historian - Harvard trained and a devout Catholic - was refused a renewal of his contract, punishment for being at the forefront of the protests. Then, for two decades, the Notre Dame Anti-Aparthied Network worked tirelessly, though unsuccessfully, to get the University to withdraw its investments from apartheid South Africa - the University held out to the bitter end. By the mid-seventies there was a surge of support for grounds-keepers and other campus staff trying to unionize. In response the University brought in a union-busting law firm from Chicago.
After the 2001 Commencement there can no longer be any doubt that a clerical/corporate culture under the golden dome is in lock-step with the capitalist world which has contributed to the corruption of American politics and given us a tainted Presidency. In the course of helping to organize a petition objecting to the Rev. Edward Malloy’s invitation to George W. Bush to be the Commencement speaker (and to receive the Honorary Degree which is part of the package), one again encountered a university cozying up to the powerful. When I went to present the petition to Monk Malloy, I encountered the Executive Vice-President, Rev. Tim Scully. He had, I suggested, dropped the ball in failing to dissuade his boss from honoring the Bush Presidency so precipitately. Not at all he replied while cheerfully admitting that he had himself voted for Bush. Scully was confident that Bush would make a fine president and enthused about his education policy. This was not reassuring as Tim’s name is often mentioned on the grapevine as the heir apparent to Malloy. The petition was hardly a call to the barricades. It tried only to remind the university community of George W. Bush’s indifference to most of the basic concerns for justice expressed in Catholic social teaching.
That all was not well under the Golden Dome was also revealed when a number of distressed alumni wrote cogent, compelling letters to President Malloy, pointing out the contradictions between George W. Bush’s socio-economic agenda and the University’s Christian mission as they had always understood it. Malloy, once upon a time a professor of Christian ethics, replied in a perfunctory form-letter in which he was, to put it charitably, economical with the truth. He wrote: “In inviting (President Bush) we honor the office he holds rather than any particular policy choices he makes as our national leader. Since we have a democratically elected president, I see no inconsistency I making this distinction.” First of all, it takes either naivete or chutzpah to call Bush - handed the Presidency by the Supreme Court - a “democratically elected president.” (In a recent issue of The New Republic,, Renata Adler argues that the Supreme Court’s action has done irreparable harm to the Constitution.) But, leaving aside this issue, had Bush been pro-choice the University would have had no interest in honoring the presidential office at this time. Malloy’s assertion that Notre Dame was honoring the office and not presidential policies, was disingenuous. Bill Clinton during his eight year presidency was never honored, for the simple reason that his pro-choice approach offended the Church’s official teaching on abortion. So why did Malloy avert his eyes when it came to the many ways George W. Bush’s politics traduce Catholic social thought - his record as an enthusiastic death penalty advocate being one such instance, his red-in-tooth-and-claw free market economics another? The reason should be obvious: wealthy, influential alumni and trustees of the University were eager to enlist Notre Dame’s reputation to legitimate this particular president’s policies.
While about seven hundred people signed the petition, the faculty response (115) was disappointing. Twenty or thirty years ago, things would have been different. Now, with a bloated endowment and ambitions to be a “National Research University,” Notre Dame is hiring academic entrepreneurs, often more interested in their own career development and the top dollar than in the Christian mission of the University. Other faculty have become risk-averse. Even with tenure as protection, these folk keep their heads down and cross to the other side of the road. An example of the new breed, is a recent recruit to the Mendoza Business School who assaulted my e-mail with reams of capitalist propaganda. Like the Chairman of the Fed., Alan Greenspan, this person appeared to be an Ayn Rand disciple. After repeated efforts to find out how my e-mail correspondent squared these ideological commitments with the Church’s teachings on economic justice, the cat was finally out of the bag - the newcomer knew nothing at all about this field of Christian endeavor.
So, having been invited, how did Bush use the occasion? His handlers used the moment as part of a broader attempt to corral the Catholic vote for 2002 and, even more importantly, for 2004. The President delivered a speech that bore the imprint of neo-conservative Catholic advisers - a hunch that was confirmed when a friend told me that Michael Novak was on the phone minutes after Commencement was concluded, anxious to learn how the speech had been received. Individuals under the Golden Dome had input too. The speech itself was a shameless attempt to appropriate the core theme of liberation theology - a “preferential option for the poor” - while at the same time eviscerating it. Instead of justice, the underclass will receive charity from those “faith-based communities.” However, when Bush quoted Dorothy Day (the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement) in support of this position, he overplayed his hand. In a letter to the Rutland Herald, Vermont, which has been widely quoted, Dorothy Day’s daughter Tamar, and grandaughter Martha Hennessy, felt compelled to speak out: “Dorothy was an ardent believer in social justice, the rights of workers, and care of the disenfranchised. Her life’s work was dedicated to picking up the pieces of human wreckage, the result of policies that continue to be perpetuated by the Bush administration. It is shameful to have her efforts associated with an administration that gives priority to corporate profiteering over human needs. Dorothy understood that a just system was as equally important as her ideal of personalism, where each takes individual responsibility for the well-being of all. The speech writers for George Bush have distorted her message regarding the works of mercy by using her words in their arsenal of deceit.”
There are times when Christian intellectuals and church leaders are called upon to rebuke and resist those holding public office who pursue policies that neglect or burden the poor, undermine the common good and sow the seeds of social conflict. One such moment was in 1985 when prophetic Christian leaders and academics in South Africa issued the Kairos Document. The time had come, they insisted, when a failure to confront the apartheid regime was, in reality, to support the evils of the existing order. In this context, Christians, and all persons of good will, could no longer sit on the fence. In the spring of 2001, Fr. Malloy was not simply sitting on the fence when he chose to honor George W. Bush; he was embracing a protagonist of public policies that have evil consequences. This urge to touch Caesar’s hem ought never to have taken precedence over Notre Dame’s mission to give witness to America on issues of fundamental justice -- particularly at the “liturgy” of Commencement.
Peter Walshe is a Professor in the Department of Government and a Fellow of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame.
In the Shadow of the Golden Dome
This is the text of a speech given at the protest of the 2001 Notre Dame graduation ceremony, in which President George W. Bush was guest speaker and recipient of an honorary degree.
May God be with you.
AND ALSO WITH YOU.
The prophet Isaiah makes clear the Biblical witness "Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless."
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am."
Today, President Bush has been offered an honorary doctorate by a Christian university whose Biblical values are flouted by the very policies he has smilingly put forward in the language of compassion.
For the last 19 years our little congregation, on the South East side of South Bend, at Broadway Christian Parish United Methodist Church-like many congregations around the nation-has fed people a free meal at least once a week. During those 19 years the number of individuals coming to that meal has quadrupled. President Bush's actions place an even greater burden on our neighborhood- a place struggling to hang on against a tide of poverty that threatens to engulf us. With his faith-based initiative, President Bush seems to be saying "Government can't do this job alone!" My question back is: "Since when have you been doing this job alone?" Every day for hundreds-even thousands-of years people of faith have provided hospitality to the poor, the forgotten and oppressed.
For hundreds and even thousands of years people of faith have cried to their leaders about their blindness to those on the margins of their societies. For hundreds and even thousands of years people of faith have opened their homes and places of worship to provide shelter and food and friendship and hope while governments have turned their backs and fiddled. For hundreds and even thousands of years prophets and people of faith have spoken truth to power-a truth that reveals the naked greed and blindness of those in power. For hundreds and even thousands of years governments have tried to give away their responsibility to the sick and the suffering, the poor and the oppressed.
They are talking about cutting $1.3 trillion dollars out of the budget. Think of it! A stack of $100 bills 6 inches high makes one million dollars. A stack of $100 bills 550 feet high-as high as the Washington Monument is $1 billion dollars. And think of this. It would take 1000 stacks of $100 bills as high as the Washington Monument to make 1 trillion. We skipped so easily from talking about millions to billions to trillions that we've forgotten what it means!
While there are growing numbers of people filling food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters in the shadow of this Golden Dome, instead of creating a nation where these centers are unnecessary, we are taking $1.3 trillion dollars out of our national budget! While there are young people who are growing up in the shadow of this Golden Dome whose only job possibility is part time, low pay work at fast food or retail outlets, instead of investing in their lives and gifts for the strengthening of our nation we are taking $1.3 trillion dollars out of the national budget!
While there are families in the shadow of this Golden Dome who go through months without heat in their homes, and are forced to move every few months to stay ahead of the bill collectors, we won't invest in education and hope for these families. Rather we will take $1.3 trillion OUT of our national budget.
I don't want to use the language of the enemy today. It's too easy to simply label someone as the enemy. I would do what religious communities have always done, which is to invite President Bush to sit down at the table with those whose lives his decisions impact-not for photo opportunities-but for a chance to heal and revive this nation. For a chance to truly listen. To listen to what is going on in the lives of people. To become friends. Because a friend would never treat another friend the way President Bush’s decisions are affecting the life of our nation, it's citizens and our future.
OUR NATION IS LONG ON COMPASSION, BUT SHORT ON JUSTICE.
Hear these words from the Prophet Jeremiah: "Seek the welfare of the city and pray to our God for it; for on its welfare your welfare will depend." (Jeremiah 29:7)
May God be with you.
AND ALSO WITH YOU.
Mike Mather is the pastor of Broadway Christian Parish UMC in South Bend.
This is the text of a speech given at the protest of the 2001 Notre Dame graduation ceremony, in which President George W. Bush was guest speaker and recipient of an honorary degree.
Many of you are no doubt wondering the same thing I am - why any institution of higher education would offer an invitation to Incurious George, the alleged president of these United States.
Given our history in the US, you would think that Catholics would be particularly nervous around know-nothings and their heirs at the likes of Bob Jones.
Why does any institution want to give an honorary degree to a man who already has a legacy diploma and a donated presidency?
While legacy degrees are far from unknown at ND, why honor a man who is well set to become the diseducation president?
As far as I can see, Incurious George’s policies are largely dictated by what he doesn’t want to know.
Let’s think about what Dubya doesn’t need to know.
Incurious George doesn’t want to know that while deregulated California has been suffering from rolling blackouts and energy price-gouging, the conservationist Pacific northwest has been expanding its population, maintaining its “life-style” and suffering no shortages at all.
Incurious George doesn’t want to know that some 70% of Americans see (not energy shortages, but) the environment and global warming as a priority.
Incurious George doesn’t want to know that Canada has a single-payer universal health care system with which something like 98% of Canadians are extremely satisfied -- and 100% are covered.
In fact, as far as I can see, Incurious George doesn’t want to know that the US has a northern neighbor at all.
Incurious George does want to know why our inner-cities have infant mortality rates worse than those of many underdeveloped countries.
Incurious George doesn’t want to know that most of Europe has universal, excellent, publicly supported early childhood education, - early childhood education, not babysitting or daycare.
Incurious George doesn’t want to know that the concept of a missile defense system is based not on science but on a sci-fi scenario sold to an acting - excuse me -- actor president with Alzheimers.
Incurious George doesn’t want to know that most of the world is not interested in risking nuclear war for a box office blockbuster- or bust.
Incurious George doesn’t want to know how many people throughout that world are seriously scared of nukes, and scareder of the finger with button access.
Incurious George doesn’t want to know what’s going to happen when the social bill comes due for the so-called welfare reform his predecessor signed into law. But he has me there - that’s something I don’t want to think about that either.
But most curiously of all from my perspective, Incurious George doesn’t want to know about his supposedly favorite political philosopher. Now, I’ve been a professor of NT for almost thirty years, and I’ve heard some pretty strange stuff about Jesus in my time. But imagining Jesus as the philosopher behind these policies strikes me as a new level of weirdness.
Hard to imagine Jesus saying, drink of the water I will give -- a little arsenic won’t hurt you.
Hard to imagine Jesus saying, let them breathe carbon dioxide
VERY hard to imagine Jesus saying, blessed are the rich, they deserve a really big tax cut NOW.
Hard to imagine Jesus saying, He who builds the biggest defense system wins.
Hard to imagine Jesus saying, if someone asks you to conserve energy, build a nuclear power plant.
Hard to imagine Jesus saying, I have come not to heal the sick but to grow the medical industry’s profitshare.
Hard for me to imagine how any supposed follower of Jesus could hear him this way.
But then again, I suspect that there’s one more thing about Jesus that Incurious George doesn’t want to know. It’s something that many far too many Christians have found it rather easy to forget.
That Jesus died as a victim of capital punishment.
That Jesus died because the Romans had to sustain the principle of justice and maintain the rule of law in a situation in which their national interest was at stake.
That Jesus died because he came from a community - a so-called race - that was disproportionately impoverished, imprisoned, exiled and executed --for the public good.
And it’s not over yet. Any time you want you can watch Jesus dying again --
• in the gas chamber of the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City,
But Incurious George doesn’t want to know about any of that.
Mary Rose D'Angelo is a professor of theology at Notre Dame and a member of Common Sense.
Terror in America
So it has come to this. The entire modern history of the Middle East--the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Balfour declaration, Lawrence of Arabia's lies, the Arab revolt, the foundation of the state of Israel, four Arab-Israeli wars and the thirty-four years of Israel's brutal occupation of Arab land--all erased within hours as those who claim to represent a crushed, humiliated population struck back with the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a doomed people. Is it fair--is it moral--to write this so soon, without proof, when the last act of barbarism, in Oklahoma, turned out to be the work of home-grown Americans? I fear it is. America is at war and, unless I am mistaken, many thousands more are now scheduled to die in the Middle East, perhaps in America too. Some of us warned of "the explosion to come.'' But we never dreamt this nightmare.
And yes, Osama bin Laden comes to mind--his money, his theology, his frightening dedication to destroying American power. I have sat in front of bin Laden as he described how his men helped to destroy the Russian Army in Afghanistan and thus the Soviet Union. Their boundless confidence allowed them to declare war on America. But this is not really the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about US missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia--paid and uniformed by America's Israeli ally--hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.
No, there is no doubting the utter, indescribable evil of what has happened in the United States. That Palestinians could celebrate the massacre of thousands of innocent people is not only a symbol of their despair but of their political immaturity, of their failure to grasp what they had always been accusing their Israeli enemies of doing: acting disproportionately. All the years of rhetoric, all the promises to strike at the heart of America, to cut off the head of "the American snake'' we took for empty threats. How could a backward, conservative, undemocratic and corrupt group of regimes and small, violent organizations fulfill such preposterous promises? Now we know.
And in the hours that followed the September 11 annihilation, I began to remember those other extraordinary assaults upon the United States and its allies, miniature now by comparison with yesterday's casualties. Did not the suicide bombers who killed 239 American servicemen and 58 French paratroopers in Beirut on October 23, 1983, time their attacks with unthinkable precision?
There were just seven seconds between the Marine bombing and the destruction of the French three miles away. Then there were the attacks on US bases in Saudi Arabia, and last year's attempt--almost successful, it turned out--to sink the USS Cole in Aden. And then how easy was our failure to recognize the new weapon of the Middle East, which neither Americans nor any other Westerners could equal: the despair-driven, desperate suicide bomber.
And there will be, inevitably, and quite immorally, an attempt to obscure the historical wrongs and the injustices that lie behind the firestorms. We will be told about "mindless terrorism,'' the "mindless" bit being essential if we are not to realize how hated America has become in the land of the birth of three great religions.
Ask an Arab how he responds to the thousands of innocent deaths, and he or she will respond as decent people should, that it is an unspeakable crime. But they will ask why we did not use such words about the sanctions that have destroyed the lives of perhaps half a million children in Iraq, why we did not rage about the 17,500 civilians killed in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. And those basic reasons why the Middle East caught fire last September--the Israeli occupation of Arab land, the dispossession of Palestinians, the bombardments and state-sponsored executions--all these must be obscured lest they provide the smallest fractional reason for the mass savagery on September 11.
No, Israel was not to blame--though we can be sure that Saddam Hussein and the other grotesque dictators will claim so--but the malign influence of history and our share in its burden must surely stand in the dark with the suicide bombers. Our broken promises, perhaps even our destruction of the Ottoman Empire, led inevitably to this tragedy. America has bankrolled Israel's wars for so many years that it believed this would be cost-free. No longer so. But, of course, the United States will want to strike back against "world terror.'' Indeed, who could ever point the finger at Americans now for using that pejorative and sometimes racist word "terrorism''?
Eight years ago, I helped make a television series that tried to explain why so many Muslims had come to hate the West. Now I remember some of those Muslims in that film, their families burnt by American-made bombs and weapons. They talked about how no one would help them but God. Theology versus technology, the suicide bomber against the nuclear power. Now we have learned what this means.
©The Nation. October 1, 2001. Reprinted with permission.
Bush and bin Laden
With 7,000 employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation working round the clock and European intelligence agencies activelycooperating with their US counterparts, it is a matter of time before the Bush Administration apprehends the perpetrators of the terrorist atrocities in New York and Washington on September 11.
The US record in such investigations is impressive. The culprits of the explosion in the World Trade Center in February 1993, which killed six, were tracked down and punished. The same fate befell four of those responsible for bombing the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, who were found guilty and given life sentences in New York in July. They were members of Al Qaeda (the Base), an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, the 44-year-old Saudi fugitive hiding in the mountain fastness of Afghanistan, a country administered by the Taliban Islamic movement according to puritanical interpretations of the Sharia (Islamic law) that most Muslims outside Afghanistan find repulsive.
While the Bush Administration pursues its official policy of arresting and trying bin Laden in a US court, however, it must also re-examine its policies in the Middle East: on the Israel-Palestine conflict, on economic sanctions against Iraq, on isolating Iran and on its stationing of US troops and military hardware on the Arabian Peninsula. That is the only sure way to prevent a recurrence of the September 11 tragedy.
In American eyes bin Laden is the epitome of evil. But, sadly and frustratingly, many Afghans and Pakistanis revere him as a veteran of the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, which resulted in the expulsion of Soviet troops. He led the Arab section of foreign Muslims--the mujahedeen, based in Pakistan, who numbered 30,000 throughout the decade--in that campaign.
Working closely with the CIA--which embraced the mujahedeen to further its own cold war geopolitical aims--bin Laden collected funds for the jihad from affluent Saudi citizens, using hard cash in briefcases instead of banks, because of the poor financial infrastructure of Pakistan. These contacts remained useful to him after he was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1994.
After most of his and his front companies' cash assets were frozen in the wake of the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania--in which he was a prime suspect--bin Laden is known to have raised funds by trafficking in heroin and smuggling durable consumer goods from the Persian Gulf port of Dubai into Pakistan, Central Asia and Iran. Instead of using conventional methods of raising and transferring funds through banks, bin Laden and his associates have adopted the informal "hundi" system in vogue in South Asia. A Pakistani or Indian expatriate working in the Gulf hands over his money to a local moneylender, who has agents in Pakistani or Indian townsand villages and who communicates with them through handwritten notes or faxes in coded messages. Last year, for every $27 remitted home by Pakistani workers in the Gulf through the normal banking system, an estimated $100 was transmitted through the hundi system, for a total of $3.7 billion. The hundi system has since been extended to Pakistani immigrants in North America and Britain, thus providing Al Qaeda with greater resources to tap.
The terrorist carnage in New York and Washington gave the hunt for bin Laden greater urgency, but it was already under way. Since the 1998 embassy bombings, he has been at the center of themost thorough intelligence campaign against any individual in recent years. This campaign consists of closely monitoring Afghanistan with US satellites, deploying the most sophisticated eavesdropping equipment to record bin Laden's conversations and using supercomputers to track his bank dealings around the world.
When approached by the Clinton Administration in August 1998 to extradite bin Laden to the United States, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban regime's chief, said: Pass on the evidence against him to us, and we will prosecute him according to Islamic law; we cannot hand over a pious Muslim to a non-Muslim regime for trial. When the United States failed to do so, the Taliban's supreme judge declared bin Laden innocent. It is the same story now. Bin Laden denies any involvement in the September 11 attacks, and the Taliban regime has made repeated claims that, sitting in Afghanistan, he could not have masterminded a highly complex operation in the United States.
Capturing bin Laden without the cooperation of the Taliban willbe no easy task. Let us assume, however, the best-case scenario for the Bush Administration: It captures him, prosecutes him successfully and wins the death penalty from the court. Will that be the end of Al Qaeda, which has an estimated 5,000 members organized in cells in thirty-four countries, from the Philippines to North America--including South Asia, East Africa,the Middle East and North Africa? Not likely.
"I am ready to die for Islam," bin Laden wrote in a letter delivered by hand to Hameed Mir, editor of the Peshawar-based Ausaf daily, after the bombings in New York and Washington. "If I am killed there will be 100 bin Ladens." In other words, bin Laden represents a sociopolitical phenomenon rather than a one-man mission. For bin Laden and Al Qaeda, attacking American targets is a means, not an end, which is to bring about the overthrow of the corrupt, pro-Washington regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan through popular uprisings.
Were the Bush Administration to overreact and perpetrate a slaughter in Afghanistan or another Muslim country, it would likely aggravate the grievances that many Muslims throughout the world nurse against America: its close alliance with Israel againstthe Palestinians and its immunity to the suffering of Iraqis caused by United Nations sanctions, which have claimed an estimated 500,000 lives in eleven years (the Iraqi authorities put the figure at over 1 million). It might raise the temperature to the point of explosion in some Arab capitals, and thus inadvertently play into the hands of bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
Bin Laden's dispute with the status quo in the Middle East started with his native Saudi Arabia. When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and menaced Saudi Arabia, bin Laden proposed a defense plan, based on popular mobilization, to Saudi King Fahd. It was dismissed outright. Instead, the Saudi monarch invited US troops into the country, despite the argument of bin Laden and others that under Islamic law it was forbidden for foreign, infidel forces to be based in Saudi Arabia under their own flag. They referred to the Prophet Mohammed's words on his deathbed: "Let there be no two religions in Arabia." Their discontent rose when, having liberated Kuwait in March 1991, the Pentagon failed to carry out full withdrawal of its 550,000 troops from the kingdom while the Saudi authorities kept mum on the subject.
Following a truck bombing in June 1996 near the Dhahran air base in Saudi Arabia, which killed nineteen US servicemen, the Saudi authorities grudgingly acknowledged the presence of 5,000 American troops on their soil. This figure is widely believed to be only a quarter to a third of the actual total.
That is when bin Laden, then based in Afghanistan, issued his call for a jihad against the Americans in Saudi Arabia. "The presence of the American Crusader forces in Muslim Gulf states...is the greatest danger and [poses] the most serious harm, threatening the world's largest oil reserves," he said.
"The ordinary Saudi knows that his country is the largest oil producer in the world, yet at the same time he is suffering from taxes and bad services," he added. "Our country has become a colony of America. The Saudis now know their real enemy is America." Then, taking advantage of the series of crises between Baghdad and Washington on the question of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, bin Laden widened his political canvas.
"Despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the Crusader-Zionist alliance...the Americans are once again trying to repeat the horrific massacres," he said as the leader of the International Islamic Front, consisting of militant organizations from Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in February 1998. "The Americans' objectives behind these wars are religious and economic; their aim is also to serve the Jews' state, and divert attention away from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there." The eruption of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000 gave further fillip to bin Laden's rhetoric.
In July an Al Qaeda recruiting videotape, released in the Middle East, intercut gory images of Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed Palestinian protesters with Al Qaeda volunteers undergoing military training in Afghanistan.
To counter such propaganda effectively, the United States would need to address certain specific issues urgently. One is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Interestingly, the Bush Administration dropped its insistence on "total quiet" for one week by the Palestinians as a precondition for the peace talks to resume. But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rebuffed a personal appeal by President Bush and vetoed Shimon Peres's scheduled meeting with Yasir Arafat on September 16. In response, the least Bush can do is to publicly ban the use of US-made and -supplied F-16s and Apache attack helicopters against the Palestinians. This would make Sharon sit up and take notice. And it would go some way toward pacifying popular opinion in the Muslim world.
Second, there is the question of the presence of American troops on the Arabian Peninsula. Is it absolutely essential to station 170 US fighters, bombers and tank-killers on the soils of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? Those who say yes, and argue that they are needed to enforce the no-fly zone in southern Iraq, must remember that these planes complement the ones parked on US aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. There is no military reason why the Pentagon cannot shift the responsibility for monitoring the no-fly zone exclusively to these carriers, and thus deprive bin Laden and company of an effective propaganda tool.
Most fundamentally, the United States must sensitize itself to the feelings and perceptions of Muslims everywhere. President Bush's use of the word "crusade"--a highly loaded and negative term from the Muslim viewpoint, referring to the Christian crusades intoMuslim lands, and mirroring bin Laden's labeling of Americansas crusaders--illustrates the enormous gap that exists between the White House and the Islamic world. One way for Bush to counter the rising popular animosity toward the United States in the Islamic world would be to appoint a Muslim American to a high-profile Administration post.
Those who argue that now is not the time for Washington to review its Middle Eastern policies for fear of appearing to appease the terrorists miss the fundamental point: Cause precedes effect. To remove the symptom you must tackle the root cause--and the sooner the better.
©The Nation. October 8, 2001. Reprinted with permission.
Against the Strategic Defense Initiative
In a recent Nation column Eric Alterman forwards a series of criticisms of mounting journalistic enthusiasm for the Bush administration's version of the Reagan era fantasy know as "Star Wars." The central theme of this crtique is that the program is technologically unfeasible. One of Alterman's most compelling arguments hinges on an analogy drawn between enthusiasm for Patriot missiles during the Persian Gulf war and the giddy support thrown towards the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program by conservative pundits following a "successful" test. Alterman points out that when all was said and done the Patriot missile actually worked less than ten percent of the time. His suggestion is that a similar fate is likely in store for SDI.
While this is all well and good, analyses of this sort beg a number of far more important questions. The lay person's (or even expert's) capacity to determine what is technologically feasible is, to say the least, limited. Prior to the invention of the internet, whether by Al Gore or some teenager with a lot of RAM, I probably would have scoffed at the idea. I suspect, without really knowing, that at some point this project may very well become technologically viable. If this turns out to be the case then the thrust of Alterman's argument is undermined. With this in mind I would like to suggest several more durable reasons for opposing SDI.
One important reason to object to this project is the prohibitive cost. So far over $70 billion has gone into the R & D phase of SDI. Projections as to how much more will be spent range from $250-$500 billion. This all at a time when government spending is, relatively speaking, at a 30 year low. While I certainly wouldn't claim that there is a direct and immediate connection between piling large sums of money into a program such as this and scaling back on important entitlement programs, or promoting creative thinking about alternatives to such programs, the money has to come from somewhere. So, if we are going to have tax cuts in the future, and we are going to plow heaps of money into exotic defense systems, then something else will have to give. I suspect that the financial beneficiaries of the program will be engineers and executives at companies like Lockheed and Honeywell and the victims will be those struggling in a state of poverty or simply trying to get a decent education.
Another problem with a program like this is the contribution that it makes to the re-creation of the arms race. If the logic of the cold war holds true in phase II of the new world order, the SDI project will inspire equally ingenious counter projects amongst nations who perceive it to be a threat. This leads to a systematic, albeit irrational, series of one-upping your opponent. The U.S. deploys a version of SDI. Some "rogue" nation figures out a cleaver way to penetrate the system. The U.S. has to either upgrade the system or deploy an entirely different system to meet this challenge, and so on. While Dr. Strangelove II may look more like a video game than a feature length film in the 21st century, the scenario I have described is all too familiar.
Building upon the previous point, it is also important to recognize that massive defense projects have frequently led to a sense of global instability. The simple reason for this is that defense advantages provide the nation in possession with relative first strike impunity. This, quite naturally, makes for nervousness around the world that could lead to additional conflict and abuse of power. Part of the Bush administration's rationale for the program includes the idea that this will be a defense system that we will share with other nations. This is the point at which incredulity begins to set in (as opposed to at the point of technological feasibility).
What exactly would sharing this technology entail? Who would have access to the override switch? Would the U.S. be willing to turn over the operation of the system to some international organization such as the U.N.? This seems unlikely. If my surmise that the U.S. would retain effect control over the system is correct, then an already massive military advantage that it has over its allies and foes would be enhanced. This would provide additional clout to the advancement of our foreign policy and economic agendas. The simple knowledge that we can strike wherever we wish without concern about conventional forms of retribution provides us with a significant advantage. Such advantages have in the past led opponents of our policies to engage in terrorist and other types of destabilizing acts that are destructive and keep everyone on edge.
My final point extends my first, concerning cost, into a more general commentary on the relationship between defense spending and the U.S. economy. We appear, at present, to be teetering on the brink of recession. One sure-fire way to nip a recession in the bud is to proliferate defense spending. The beauty of defense spending is that the market, by definition, can never be saturated. It can, however, lead to significant growth in certain sectors of the economy, create some jobs and generate a more consumption-friendly economic atmosphere. It is unlikely, however, to rectify the more serious problems with our economy which are related to distribution. Is the Bush administration likely to use the SDI project as a way to stimulate the economy? I don't know. Could it involve a high enough volume of government expenditure to help turn around a faltering economy? Possibly. Would the benefits of such a turn around be widespread? Only if we believe in the trickle down theory. So, even if we assume that this is an economy that we want to save, there seem to be more equitable ways to do so.
My analysis here relies heavily on the hypothetical. This could also be said of Alterman's critique and the SDI project in general. The hypotheticals that I have laid out are rooted in recent U.S. history. Past events are certainly not accurate predictors of future affairs. But they can serve as useful tools for identifying red flags. When viewed through this lense it should be clear that the red flags hovering over SDI go far beyond the question of technological feasibility.
George Trey teaches Philosophy at Saint Mary's and is a member of the Common Sense Board.
From Durban to Disneyland: Thoughts on Returning from the U.N. Conference on Racism
I just got back from the United Nations World Conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, and I feel like I've landed in Disneyland.
You know how the kingdom of Disney is always so clean, no mess anywhere, and no messy conflicts either? Certainly no problems of racism in Orlando or Anaheim, where the jolly pirates of the Caribbean quaff their grog and cavort with the local maidens as if, as if....
As if African slavery had never happened, as if the native Taino and Arawak had never been systematically exterminated, as if the U.S. and England and France and Spain and Portugal, and even little Holland and Denmark, hadn't made fortunes off the millions of blacks they brought to the Americas. As if Haiti had never had a revolution. No, Uncle Walt didn't want his guests to worry about things like that.
Maybe it's jet lag, but after a week at the conference the whole U.S. has that same Disneyland "what, me worry?" feel, at least where the subject of racism is concerned. The media echo the Bush administration's claim that the conference was "hijacked" and diverted from its proper mission of promoting racial harmony. Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos obediently heels on the White House leash, claiming that the conference "condemned itself."
Why? Because Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was condemned at Durban? I'm sorry, but I don't think so. While the "Zionism-equals-racism" equation is undoubtedly in part a cloak for anti-Semitism, Israeli policies can reasonably be seen as a latter-day colonialism. Those policies do merit serious criticism, and the US is well positioned to receive a good measure of those barbs, for it backs Israel to the hilt.
But the Bush administration was already looking for an excuse to abandon the conference; the Middle East simply provided one. What worried the White House about the Durban conference wasn't the West Bank. It was the race problem in the U.S. It was the continuing legacy of African slavery and of Native American genocide that the Bushies did not want to hang on the line for the whole world to see. Months ago, before the West Bank had even surfaced in the planning for the UN conference, the administration was already saying that the conference should "not focus on the past," but rather "look toward the future." In fact, the Clinton administration took that same view in its preparations for Durban. Neither Clinton nor Bush wanted to face criticism about the sorry state of race relations in the U.S. Like Walt Disney, they wanted their theme park to appear squeaky clean, sparkling with happy faces.
But you don't have to look very far in the U.S. to see that racism is a way of life. Where shall we begin? In the prison system, which brutalizes and tortures black and Latino inmates as a matter of course? In the sphere of education, where what Jonathan Kozol called "Savage Inequalities" are routine? Indeed, using any sociological indicator you can find, from life expectancy to infant mortality, from poverty and unemployment rates to income and wealth distribution, the data on racial inequality and racial injustice in the U.S. could not be clearer. And though a favored bunch of academics and policy wonks labors mightily to spin the story in a different direction, there is no blaming racial minorities themselves. Again, the data are clear: comparing black and white "returns to education," using the statistic that measures the benefits gained as a result of educational achievement, we find that equally skilled, equally capable graduates are systematically differentiated along racial lines. In the labor market, in housing, in health care, in education, in access to the ballot, at the car dealer, in a court of law. Indeed across the board, racism lives.
Yes, it's a legacy of the past. But we don't want to think about that. That would be too messy, too scary. We don't want to face the facts about our country's history: 42% of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. Almost all those who didn't own their brothers and sisters benefited fairly directly from the economy generated by slave labor. Enslaved black hands built the White House and the Capitol. Today as we contemplate the involvement of Elihu Yale (Yale University's founder) with slavery, or see the records showing that our most venerable insurance companies insured slave masters' human "property," or consider what the 20th century might have looked like if emancipated slaves and their children had been allowed to vote or had received the farmlands they were promised in the South after the Civil War, we somehow discover that we'd prefer to look toward the future than honestly contemplate the past. Our worst nightmare is that we might have to apologize! We might have to make efforts at repairing the damage for all the valuable goods we stole, all the lives we sacrificed to achieve our prosperity.
As we consider all these matters we can easily see what was really at stake for the U.S. in the World Conference Against Racism. It was the prospect of resurgent anti-racism and demands for reparations that worried the Bushies. Imagine a world where transnational solidarity among the "wretched of the earth" was on the rise, where the movement opposing global apartheid started to link up with the movement opposing the WTO.
This was the deeper logic of Bush's withdrawal from the official UN conference. Playing to the folks back home, the administration depicted the conference as anti-Semitic. This move, the administration clearly hoped, would serve to deflect attention from its total abandonment of civil rights, not to mention affirmative action or the effort to increase racial equality. Driven by domestic political concerns, the administration used this strategy to escape its responsibilities to confront the continuing dilemma of racism. They did it by playing Jews off against blacks. Sound familiar?
Bush and Co. left Durban because they could not make their own rules. The big kid may have gone home crying because the other players couldn't be bullied, but in the view of many delegates, including many thousands from the U.S., the discussions and networking that happened at the conference were invaluable. Yes, Virginia, there is a worldwide movement out there! It's concerned with injustice and intolerance, colonialism that is still around (the Israeli occupation of the territories, maybe?), and the huge, indeed growing inequalities between the world's North and South, between the whites and nonwhites, between the mighty corporations and the vast numbers of impoverished people across the globe.
Funny, those poor folks are mighty dark-skinned; maybe we better not let any more of them into Disneyland.
Howard Winant is Professor of Sociology at Temple University and author of The World is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy Since World War II, Basic Books. He was a delegate to the UN World Conference Against Racism at Durban.
Copyright 2001 Howard Winant. All Rights Reserved.
A View From Afar: A Hopeful Response of Youth
I was reading the announcements over the P.A. system of Resurrection Catholic School in Pascagoula, Mississippi, when the first plane struck the North Tower. Students were just beginning their first period class. I left the office to get some overhead transparencies copied for U.S. History. We were going to learn about the nascence of U.S. Imperialism over a century ago.
The overheads would have to wait, of course. Miss Betty, our secretary, pulled me into the office to tell me what had happened. We were all confused and concerned, but then we were horrified, together with millions of others, as the second plane hit on live television. We saw it all on a four-inch black-and-white screen in our inner office. I spent the next hour and a half, my planning period, watching with Katie Rakowski, my housemate, friend, and fellow teacher, in my classroom, as the rest of the day’s events unfolded in surreal bursts. The Pentagon. The collapses. Shanksville. The first pictures of those who had survived. The first thoughts of those who hadn’t.
My classes spent the day watching Peter Jennings and Dan Rather narrate events as they unfolded. Every channel-28 covering the story all day-repeated the images over and over, looped continuously, chillingly shocking. The overheads went unused. I gave a quiz to the ninth graders in Mississippi Studies. It was about the slave trade and broken treaties with the Choctaw and Chickasaw.
The school went on lockdown. Students were not to leave the classroom unattended. Sirens went off throughout the day. The Jackson County Building across the street was shut down. Pascagoula is the home of Ingalls shipping, where the big boats of the navy are built and repaired. The U.S.S. Cole is currently docked here. The students are aware that Pascagoula is high on the list of targets to be attacked if an enemy truly sought to face down the U.S. in conventional military engagement. My thoughts were miles away with my friends in Manhattan, working in investment banks or consulting firms or other corporate offices near the Towers, but I knew this could very well be the most important teaching day of the year, to allay the fears of my students and to guide and inform their response to the tragedy.
We spent the first day basically talking about what seemed to have happened, getting the facts down. I explained things they didn’t understand from the broadcasts. When they returned to class on Wednesday, their startup assignment was to tell the story of 11 September 2001 as if they were writing for a history book published in 2050. By this point Bush had made his evening address condemning the attack and pledging retaliatory vengeance against whoever might be responsible, with his direct attack on the Taliban and Afghanistan for “harboring” Bin Laden.
My thoughts in giving this quick assignment were to reveal to them the importance of being a sieve for the news, not swallowing the conclusions leapt to by most of the analysts they saw on television (on FOX that evening I had seen a somewhat terrifying conversation about how difficult it would be to win our impending war on the ground in Afghanistan, despite the fact that virtually no substantial evidence had been found at that point). I felt a great feeling of hope for our country when the first question asked, by Victor Martin, about the assignment was not “How do you spell Osama?”. It was, rather, “How can we do this? We don’t know what happened.” It was the most intelligent thing I had heard about the story all day. And from an eleventh grader.
I had been very glad to find, in my class discussions, that most students are not as eager as the talking heads to point fingers. They are even less eager to embark on a prolonged and violent crusade of retributive justice that they see as futile and counterproductive. While they recognize that unconditional forgiveness of the attackers by Americans is impossible, students like Jamie Olsen question the efficacy of an approach that is wholly aggressive and militant: “Wouldn’t that just lead to more violence, from both sides?” Yes, I told her. Yes.
And she’s right. When I heard polling data that nearly ninety percent of Americans would support decisive and strong military response against whomever we think did this (again on FOX), my heart sank. But when I talked about it in class, the students were far less eager to embark on this quest for blood vengeance. The United States needs to ask itself the same question Bob Polchow asked me: “What should be the purpose of our response? To stop punish the terrorists or to prevent these things from happening again?” Other students mentioned their fears about war itself-they are, after all, eighteen.
One of our topics of discussion was in response to the Palestinians shown celebrating the attacks. “Why would they do that?” asked Hilary Zelenka. I gave a brief summary of events in the Middle East since 1948. They were astounded to discover that the U.S. has policies that lead to intractable cycles of violence all over the world, and that people live their everyday lives in fear of the kinds of things that happened in New York and Washington, albeit on a smaller scale. With this information, their responses were tempered: if an attack might kill some terrorists but also some innocent civilians, and even then do little to ensure our own security from future attacks (maybe even arouse greater resentment around the globe), why is the U.S. rushing into such an aggressive and violent posture?
I was glad that my students, for the most part, were not as taken up in the quick fervor that has swept our country in response to these tragedies. Yesterday we had a service for victims and families, a service that has been replicated, no doubt, many thousands of times across the nation. While the repeated singing of “Proud to be an American” makes me a bit uneasy at times, the reverence and real respect I saw in my students when the Rosary was said spoke volumes about what our response ought to be.
Emotional responses to such events are certainly unavoidable. But the reflexive tendency to anger and vengeance should not supercede feelings of compassion. If our mission is truly to avoid such suffering in the future, America’s leaders might have much to learn from America’s youth.
Tom Ogorzalek graduated from Notre Dame in 2000 and was a Common Sense Editor. He is teaching with the Alliance for Catholic Education.
Unknown Soldier Uncle
As many times as his brothers
Two days and nights listening in the dark,
The morning after Pearl Harbor, he was first
Bareassed, he walked into no man's land, looking for
I only met him once; an overexposed snapshot
my uncle's body burning from the inside out--
Max Westler teaches English at Saint Mary's and is a regular contributor to Common Sense.
These Are Your Eyes
The author dedicates this poem to the children and the people of Kenya who showed me a love unlike any I had ever received before, returning me to an innocence I realized I had never lost.
I walk in darkness
You stand there
I look upon you
I shield my flame from the wind
I watch you
I have passed the time
Blessed are you who walk tonight
I look closely at your face
My heart burns in longing
I see you now; I know your name
Gracious are your youthful ways
The radiant glow of candles
You turn and look at me
You stand beside me
I know who sent you
Never shall I want again
Innocence was never taken
And all this, child
Always will you be my love
To meet my Lord again I go
These are your eyes.
John Bauters is a senior psychology and government major at Notre Dame.