Today, I want to share a bracing view, courtesy of my mother. She converted to Catholicism (from Protestantism) when she married my dad, but she wasn’t much of a church-goer. When my dad suggested she should accompany him to mass on Sundays, she had a telling rejoinder:
You worry about your soul — I’ll worry about mine.
Excellent advice. Mom had a way of speaking that cut to the chase.
When it comes to religion, too many Americans seek to push their beliefs on others. And often there’s some guilt or a veiled threat in the push. “A good person goes to church.” “These are holy days of obligation.” “You should go to set a good example for the kids.” “Don’t forget judgment day — God is looking down on you right now.”
My mom was having none of that. She also didn’t need church to do the right thing. She was kind and generous and, in my opinion, followed the example of the Gospel without making airs about it.
When it comes to religion, few people want to be pushed into attending “mandatory” practices. Indeed, I’ve always liked Christ’s teachings on praying to God in private, rather than standing on a street corner and shouting your beliefs to the masses. Speaking of which, I once witnessed a man doing exactly that in Oxford, England, shouting on the street, proclaiming the good news. When someone complained, he cited a Biblical passage that enjoined him to proclaim his faith in a loud voice so that others might follow in his footsteps.
That’s a problem with the Bible: So many passages, so many messages, so many interpretations.
Still, I persist in believing in my mother’s aphorism: Focus on the health of your own soul and its relationship to whatever higher power or higher ideals you believe in. Don’t focus on the souls and the beliefs and practices of others.
Or, as Christ put it, “Judge not — lest you be judged.”
Readers of Bracing Views are familiar with Michael Murry’s frequent contributions to our site. One of Mike’s more penetrating comments originated from a discussion he had with the late Sri Lankan Ambassador Ananda W. P. Guruge. As Mike recently recounted, Guruge “certainly had it right when he told me once why his government had refused America’s offer of military aid against the Tamil insurgency in that little island country: If the Americans come, they will just draw an arbitrary line through a temporary problem and make it permanent.”
Not many people have noticed how America’s wars, which used to have clear ending dates, like VE and VJ days in 1945 at the end of World War II, presently never seem to end. In his introduction to Bill Hartung’s new article at TomDispatch.com, “Destabilizing the Middle East (Yet More),” Tom Engelhardt reminds us of how U.S. military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere simply never end. Instead, they fester, they surge and shrink, they metastasize, they become, as Dr. Guruge noted, permanent.
That reality of permanent war is arguably the most insidious problem facing American democracy today. I didn’t say it; James Madison did:
Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debt and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both. No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare …
Why do so many Americans fail to see this? Because believing is seeing. I heard that line on “American Gods” recently, a compelling reversal of “seeing is believing.” It applies here because America’s leaders believe in war, and Americans in general believe in their military, and believing is seeing. A belief in the efficacy of war and the trustworthiness of the military drives America’s “kinetic” actions around the world, and that belief, that faith, serves to make wars permanent.
Believing is seeing. It explains why our wars, despite catastrophic results that are so plainly in sight, persist without end. W.J. Astore
America’s Endless Wars
Not that anyone in a position of power seems to notice, but there’s a simple rule for American military involvement in the Greater Middle East: once the U.S. gets in, no matter the country, it never truly gets out again. Let’s start with Afghanistan. The U.S. first entered the fray there in 1979 via a massive CIA-led proxy war against the Soviets that lasted until the Red Army limped home in 1989. Washington then took more than a decade off until some of the extremists it had once supported launched the 9/11 attacks, after which the U.S. military took on the role abandoned by the Red Army and we all know where that’s ended — or rather not ended almost 16 years later. In the “longest war” in American history, the Pentagon, recently given a free hand by President Trump, is reportedly planning a new mini-surge of nearly 4,000 U.S. military personnel into that country to “break the stalemate” there. Ever more air strikes and money will be part of the package. All told, we’re talking about a quarter-century of American war in Afghanistan that shows no sign of letting up (or of success). It may not yet be a “hundred-years’ war,” but the years are certainly piling up.
Then, of course, there’s Iraq where you could start counting the years as early as 1982, when President Ronald Reagan’s administration began giving autocrat Saddam Hussein’s military support in his war against Iran. You could also start with the first Gulf War of 1990-1991 when, on the orders of President George H.W. Bush, the U.S. military triumphantly drove Saddam’s army out of Kuwait. Years of desultory air strikes, sanctions, and other war-like acts ended in George W. Bush’s sweeping invasion and occupation of Iraq in the spring of 2003, a disaster of the first order. It punched a hole in the oil heartlands of the Middle East and started us down the path to, among other things, ISIS and so to Iraq War 3.0 (or perhaps 4.0), which began as an air campaign in August 2014 and has yet to end. In the process, Syria was pulled into the mix and U.S. efforts there are still ratcheting up almost two years later. In the case of Iraq, we’re minimally talking about almost three decades of intermittent warfare, still ongoing.
And then, of course, there’s Somalia. You remember the Blackhawk Down incident in 1993, don’t you? That was a lesson for the ages, right? Well, in 2017, the Trump administration is sending more advisers and trainers to that land (and the U.S. military has recently suffered its first combat death there since 1993). U.S. military activities, including drone strikes, are visibly revving up at the moment. And don’t forget Libya, where the Obama administration (along with NATO) intervened in 2011 to overthrow autocrat Muammar Gaddafi and where the U.S. military is still involved more than six years later.
Last but hardly least is Yemen. The first U.S. special ops and CIA personnel moved into a “counter-terrorism camp” there in late 2001, part of a $400 million deal with the government of then-strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the CIA conducted its very first drone assassination in that country in November 2002. Almost 16 years later, as TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung reports, the U.S. is supporting a grim Saudi air and ground war of terror there, while its own drone strikes have risen to new highs.
It’s a remarkable record and one to keep in mind as you consider Hartung’s account of President Trump’s fervent decision to back the Saudis in a big league way not just in their disastrous Yemeni war, but in their increasingly bitter campaign against regional rival Iran. After so many decades of nearly unending conflict leading only to more of the same and greater chaos, you might wonder whether an alarm bell will ever go off in Washington when it comes to the U.S. military and war in the Greater Middle East — or is Iran next? Tom
To continue reading Bill Hartung’s article at TomDispatch.com, click here.
General Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Adviser is good news, and not only because of his lack of candor in regards to Russia. Flynn is a believer in religious war. He sacralized the war on terror and saw himself as a holy warrior against radical Islamist terrorists. (Of course, he couldn’t perceive his own extremism and radicalism.)
Both in religious terms and in predatory terms, men like Flynn and Steve Bannon see radical Islamists as the enemy. These “animals” cut off heads! A creed war that treats the enemy as animals is a combustible combination. When you see the enemy as an inferior yet insidious “Other,” there is no opportunity for compromise. Vermin can only be exterminated. Especially when they are allegedly out to destroy your “Judeo-Christian” values.
Flynn’s war against radical Islamists would be unending, driven as it would be by outrage against what he saw as a verminous enemy. In such a “holy” war, killing acquires quasi-sacred meaning. Flynn’s war was not to be a Clausewitzian war of politics by other means. Nor was it a greed-war driven by money and empire. His war was far more insidious.
When you conceive of the enemy as predators who simultaneously have the human ability to enslave you with their own creed (Sharia Law): Well, this enemy is a shape-shifting monster. Small wonder that Flynn infamously tweeted: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”
What was the source of his fear? In theory, what is the biggest threat to humans? Not tigers or snakes or other predators; they can be identified. The biggest threat is something human but not quite human. Something that looks human, has human skills, human smarts, but is ruthlessly inhuman, even as it readily blends in with “normal” humans.
They look like us — act like us — and that’s precisely the problem! Even a five-year-old Muslim refugee, no matter how innocent-looking, is seen by Sean Spicer and crew as an opening to an unstoppable invasion of America, hence Trump’s hurried and sweeping ban on Muslim immigration.
Flynn’s ideology supported the dynamic of permanent religious war. His writings and tweets were consistent with an exterminatory struggle for existence of the worst kind. His actions and views would only perpetuate jihad, a struggle he apparently sees as inevitable.
Until we neutralize jihadists like Flynn (and Bannon) and his Islamist counterparts, until we see a common humanity instead of viewing the enemy as insanely ferocious predators who are out to destroy our way of life, there is no hope for even a semblance of peace in this world.
What will freedom mean in a Trump administration? During his campaign, why did Trump harp on the Second Amendment but none of the others? How did our country come to define freedom as buying lots of guns and ammo without restrictions, or flying objectionable symbols such as Confederate battle flags? What kind of “freedom” is the freedom to spend lots of money on guns? What kind of “speech” is flying a symbol that is highly offensive and hateful to many Americans?
The “freedom” to fly a flag associated with slavery, rebellion, oppression, and racism doesn’t seem to me to be much of a “freedom.” The same is true of the “freedom” to spend lots of money on guns and ammo. What is so “free” about that?
The “freedom” of the average Joe has come to be defined as the right to carry guns or the right to fly racist flags. But what about the right to a living wage, the right to privacy, the right to good health care, the right to a decent education, the right to clean water and fresh air, the right to have a real say in the political process? These rights are being increasingly abridged, yet so many Americans see no infringement to their “freedom” here.
Surely one of the great triumphs of the power elite has been the redefinition of “freedom” such that the freedoms that are allowed, like buying lots of guns, make no impact on the elite’s ability to rule and to exploit.
A couple of sobering facts. During his campaign, Trump railed against the press, suggesting that he’d work to change libel laws so that he could sue and punish the press for writing critical stories about him. Also, Trump has suggested some kind of national registry for Muslims, and members of his staff have suggested internment camps for unreliable elements, citing the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as a laudable precedent.
What the hell?
As the Trump administration takes shape, apparently with men like Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and retired General Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, Americans would do well to read and re-read the Bill of Rights, all of them, not just rights like the Second Amendment. For what good is it to be able to buy lots of guns if you need to worry about your religion, your right to privacy, your ability to organize and protest, and your right to a press that is untrammeled by the government?
Alarmist? Consider the following facts about retired General Flynn, according to FP: Foreign Policy:
Earlier this year, Flynn Tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” and just last month offered his support for a prominent Alt-Right writer and activist. In his book Field of Fight released earlier this year, Flynn wrote, “I’m totally convinced that, without a proper sense of urgency, we will be eventually defeated, dominated, and very likely destroyed” by Islamic militants, FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Lucenoted in a story about the book.
Sitting in your walled bunker, surrounded by guns as well as the stars and bars and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, is not much of a “freedom” if the government is illegally watching you, or getting ready to intern you in a camp because you worship God in the name of Allah instead of Yahweh or Jehovah, or getting ready to deport you because not all of your papers are perfectly in order.
First they came for undocumented immigrants, and I did not speak out, for I was not undocumented. Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out, for I was not Muslim. Then they came for the protesters, and I did not speak out, for I was not a protester. Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
When I was a lieutenant colonel on active duty, I supervised an officer in the U.S. Air Force who was (and is) an Iraqi-American. He came to the U.S. as a boy after President George H.W. Bush’s call to the Shia to revolt against Saddam in the aftermath of Desert Storm, which was ruthlessly suppressed by Saddam as Bush and company did nothing.
As an Iraqi-American in uniform, he served as an interpreter attached to the 101st Airborne in Iraq in 2004, if memory serves–dangerous times indeed for U.S. troops in Iraq.
He wrote to me, rightly outraged, after Ben Carson made his anti-Muslim comments back in September of 2015 during the presidential primary season. It made him so sad, so angry, as a U.S. Air Force veteran and as a Muslim-American to hear such ignorance, such bias, such Islamophobia. And it made me angry as well.
So many Muslim-Americans have served this country with distinction, troops like Navy veteran Nate Terani, who has written an eloquent article at TomDispatch.com on the prejudice he faced as an Iranian-American. Terani is doing his best to fight a new enemy, Islamophobia, the irrational fear of Islam fed by the unhinged rhetoric of candidates like Ben Carson and Donald Trump.
In Iran, theocratic fundmentalists sowed division and hatred of outsiders–of Westerners, Christians, and other religious minorities. Here in America, the right wing seems to have stolen passages directly from their playbook as it spreads hatred of immigrants, particularly Muslim ones. This form of nationalistic bigotry–Islamophobia–threatens the heart of our nation. When I chose to serve in the military, I did so to protect what I viewed as our sacred foundational values of liberty, equality, and democracy. Now, 20 years later, I’ve joined forces with fellow veterans to again fight for those sacred values, this time right here at home.
As America builds walls and weapons and wages war all over the globe, as our leaders look outward for enemies, we’re forgetting the enemy within America, the enemy that is a much more serious threat to our national security. That enemy, which exists right here in America’s heartland, is ignorance, hatred, fear, aggression, compounded by a cowardly desire to “get even” and to “make America great again” by ostracizing other Americans who are considered “different” and “untrustworthy.”
But spreading fear and bigotry is not a way to national security; it’s a way to national insanity. Islamophobia, like all other irrational fears, must be fought and defeated.
When Hillary Clinton called out half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables,” to the point where some are “irredeemable,” I shook my head at her elitism even as I was surprised by her lack of political acumen. Her comment lumping these “deplorables” into a “basket” came at a fundraiser on September 9th, even as her podium touted the message “stronger together.” As I wrote in a Facebook post on September 10th, “Painting half your opponent’s supporters as [potentially] irredeemable is just bad strategy.”
But it’s worse than that. First off, Hillary should have known better. After all, she went aggressively after Barack Obama when in 2008 he made his comment about bitter rural folk clinging to guns and religion. (And Obama’s comment is considerably milder than Hillary’s.) By calling out Obama for his comment, Hillary was able to win that year’s primary in Pennsylvania. Second, for a seasoned pol Hillary showed a surprising lack of discipline. She herself prefaced her remarks with the phrase, “to just be grossly generalistic.” Grossly generalistic? That’s supposed to be Trump’s sphere, not Hillary’s.
But third and finally is that word, “irredeemable.” Having been raised Catholic and having studied evangelicalism and American religion, that word instantly caught my attention. For Christians, to suggest that someone is “irredeemable” is in itself deplorable. It’s as if you’re limiting the agency of God. God determines who is redeemable and who isn’t. No sinner, i.e. human, has the probity or power to do so.
All Christians know the story of the thief on the cross next to Christ as He was crucified. Christ chose to redeem that man, saying to him that “today, you will be with me in paradise.” As I type these words, an old hymn plays in my mind: “Christ, Jesus, victor. Christ, Jesus, ruler. Christ, Jesus, Lord and Redeemer.” For God, no one is “irredeemable,” nor should any person make such claims, for God’s ways are past searching out.
You don’t [use that word, irredeemable] — America is built on redemption. People came here because things weren’t working out.
My generation, the old, oldest fart generation, OK, 13 percent of us were in favor of same-sex marriage 15 years ago, now 41 percent. On civil rights, America has changed dramatically and profoundly. We believe in redemption, not just because you’re a liberal, because you’re an American.
And that — when you write off people and blame the customer, that is really bad.
And the person who was at the Emanuel Baptist — AME Church in Charleston, they believe the guy who shot and killed their close friends was redeemable, but she thinks millions of Americans aren’t?
And that speaks and I think it plays, because there is a brittleness there. And I don’t know if there is a brittleness within. I sort of doubt it. I think she’s probably a very good person within. But there has been a brittleness to her public persona that has been ungenerous and ungracious. And it plays a little to that and why people just don’t want to latch on [to her campaign].
If Hillary loses the election in November, it may very well come back to her “grossly generalistic” comments on September 9th, when she anointed herself as the judge of who is redeemable and who isn’t.
In May 1968, nine Catholic activists set fire to draft records in Catonsville, Maryland, in a deliberate act of sabotage and protest against the Vietnam War. For the crime of destroying government property, a crime they freely admitted, they were tried in federal court in Baltimore and found guilty. I’ve been reading the edited trial transcript (with commentary) by Daniel Berrigan, one of the Catonsville Nine and a Catholic priest. What unified these nine people was their moral opposition to the Vietnam War, a moral revulsion to the acts their country was committing in Vietnam, a revulsion that drove them to burn draft records with a weak brew of homemade napalm so as to gain the attention of their fellow citizens.
On this Easter Weekend, I would like to focus on a few of the statements made by the Catonsville Nine, as recorded by Daniel Berrigan in “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.”
Statement by Philip Berrigan
We have been accused of arrogance
But what of the fantastic arrogance … of our leaders
What of their crimes against the people … the poor and powerless
Still no court will try them … no jail will receive them
They live in righteousness … They will die in honor
For them we have one message … for those
in whose manicured hands … the power of the land lies
We say to them
Lead us … Lead us in justice
and there will be no need to break the law
Let the President do … what his predecessors failed to do
Let him obey the rich less … and the people more
Let him think less of the privileged
and more of the poor
Less of America and more of the world
Let lawmakers … judges … and lawyers
think less of the law … more of justice
less of legal ritual … more of human rights …
Statement by Thomas Lewis
We were speaking as Americans
We were proud to be Americans
Yet we have representatives in Vietnam
who do terrible things in our name
We were saying to the military
This is wrong … This is immoral … This is illegal
And their response to this was
they were only obeying orders
Question from the Judge: But they did respond to you, did they not?
Thomas Lewis: It was an atrocious response.
Statement by Marjorie Melville
I know that burning draft files
is not an effective way
to stop a war … but
who has found a way
of stopping this war
I have racked my brain
I have talked to all kinds of people
What can you do
They say yes … yes
But there is no answer
no stopping it
the horror continues
Statement by Thomas Melville
I hear our president … confuse greatness with strength
riches with goodness … fear with respect
hopelessness and passivity with peace
The clichés of our leaders
pay tribute to property … and indifference to suffering
We long for a hand of friendship and succor
and that hand
clenches into a fist
I wonder how long we can endure
Statement by George Mische
We were not out to destroy life
There is a higher law we are commanded to obey
It takes precedence over human laws
My intent was to follow the higher law
My intent was to save lives … Vietnamese lives
North and South American lives
To stop the madness
That was the intent
Statement of Daniel Berrigan
Question from the Judge: You say your intention was to save these children, of the jury, of myself, when you burned the [draft] records? That is what I heard you say. I ask if you meant that.
I meant that
of course I mean that
or I would not say it
The great sinfulness
of modern war is
that it renders concrete things abstract
I do not want to talk
about Americans in general ….
I poured napalm [on the draft records]
on behalf of the prosecutor’s
and the jury’s children
Closing Statement by Daniel Berrigan
When at what point will you say no to this war?
We have chosen to say
with the gift of our liberty
if necessary our lives:
the violence stops here
the death stops here
the suppression of truth stops here
this war stops here
Redeem the times!
The times are inexpressibly evil
Christians pay conscious … indeed religious tribute
to Caesar and Mars
by the approval of overkill tactics … by brinksmanship
by nuclear liturgies … by racism … by support of genocide
They embrace their society with all their heart
and abandon the cross
They pay lip service to Christ
and military service to the powers of death
And yet … and yet … the times are inexhaustibly good
solaced by the courage and hope of many
The truth rules … Christ is not forsaken …
At the end of the trial, as all nine defendants were found guilty, a “member of the audience” cried, “Members of the jury, you have just found Jesus Christ guilty.”
That last statement, and the words of the Catonsville Nine, give us much to ponder on this Easter Weekend.