Saturday, March 29

From Zenit today:

Civilian Casualties and Moral Principles

A look at the UN Population Divison's latest downward revision of its population estimates:

Just two years ago the Population Division forecast a world population of 9.3 billion by midcentury. The new report, released Feb. 26, lowers that estimate to 8.9 billion. (The figure is the medium-level variant, which is considered the most probable estimate.) World population is now estimated at 6.3 billion.

The Population Division concedes that fertility levels in most developing countries will likely fall below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman during the coming century. In fact, the medium variant projection forecasts that by midcentury three out of every four countries in the less developed regions will be at below-replacement fertility. This is a well-established phenomenon in economically advanced countries, and the report now acknowledges the dramatic fall in fertility in other nations.

The U.N. Revision also forecasts a worsening of the impact of AIDS, even as it assumes that HIV infections will decline significantly after 2010. During this decade, AIDS-related deaths are expected to reach 46 million. By 2050 the cumulative total of such deaths could soar to 278 million. Outright reductions in population are projected for Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland.

From today's online WSJ

(but I've linked from the original site to save you the trouble of registration)

How the West armed Hussein

In all, the rush to outfit Saddam with mass destruction weapons reveals a lot about national morals. Our organization did a study of Saddam's pre-Gulf War suppliers a few year back. We discovered that Germany garnered fully half the total sales. In fact, just before the Gulf War, Germany was selling complete, ready-to-operate poison gas plants to Iraq and Libya at the same time. The rest of the world divided the remaining half of Iraq's purchases. The Swiss, who have an unreasonably good reputation in the world, placed second in the sweepstakes with about 8% of sales (specialized presses, milling machines, grinding machines and electrical discharge machines found at nuclear weapon sites; procurement of missile parts and supervision of missile plant construction; equipment for processing uranium to nuclear weapon grade). In third place, with 4% each, Italy and France scored a tie.

The U.S. was far from innocent. In 1988, the Unisys Corporation sold Saddam a giant, $8.7 million dollar computer system configured as a "personnel database" - in other words, set up to track Iraqi citizens. Unisys sold it directly to Saddam's Ministry of the Interior, home to his secret police. Unisys also sold high-speed computers to the Ministry of Defense and to the Saddam State Establishment, that cranked out components for missiles and nuclear weapons. Our electronics went to every known nuclear and missile site in Iraq. These included the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, Iraqi sites that made A-bomb fuel and nuclear weapon detonators, as well as Iraq's main missile research complex. Companies like Tektronix (high-speed diagnostic equipment), Perkin-Elmer (computers and instruments for quality control), Finnigan MAT (computers useful for monitoring uranium enrichment), and the U.S. subsidiary of Siemens (instruments for analyzing powders useful for A-bomb and missile manufacture) had sales recorded in government export logs.

If some of this stuff turns up in Iraq after the war, a lot of faces will have egg on them. Some will probably be at the U.S. Commerce Department. It approved virtually all the American exports. The policy at Commerce then, as now, is to put trade interests above everything else, including national security.

I made great progress today, thanks to my wonderful husband, who took care of Joseph for a great part of the afternoon and early evening. I only have a couple of more things to write for this study guide to the Passion in Matthew, then I need to give it a once-over cleanup, put it in the template and then with a click of the mouse it's out of my life - until it comes back for revisions, that is. And best of all, I'm actually fairly pleased with it. But then I still have another two-thousand word project due on Tuesday and three columns of various sorts due around the middle of the week, so I won't be in the clear until Thursday, I imagine. Then I take a breath, revise my Saints" The Sequel manuscript by April 15 and then get to work on a talk I'm giving up in Kalamazoo in early May.

I must tell you about the funniest thing Joseph (who will be 2 on Friday) is doing. Quite frequently, when you ask him if he wants something, and he does, he'll answer with a breathless, "Oh, yeeeessss!" I don't know where he picked that up, but it's very funny. I think he's also confused "thank you" and "okay," in the sense that he never says "okay." You tell him to go sit down and he says, "thank you" and trots over and has a seat. He's either confused, or the most grateful person living in this house.


Today's 1st reading and Psalm, for this 4th Sunday of Lent...

concern the Babylonian Exile:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept remembering Sion.On the willow-trees of Babylon we hung up our harps.

A good news story for you:

About how the world helped rebuild a Salvadoran village flattened by an earthquake

There will lots of scorecards whipped out on the editorial pages and the morning shows on Sunday, so I'll start off with this piece from England's Spectator

In the last Gulf war in 1991, allied forces were dealing mainly with a conscript army with no great interest in fighting for a foreign country, Kuwait. When faced with British and American tanks and armoured columns, the Iraqis had a clear alternative to putting up a fight — they could give themselves up and eventually they would be repatriated to Iraq.

This time the Iraqi troops are more motivated. They are defending their own land, homes and families, and the Iraqi state-controlled media has been playing the nationalism card, calling on soldiers to fight the foreign invaders and defend Iraq not Saddam Hussein. American troops found to their cost in Vietnam how powerful patriotism can be.

But the Baathists are the main source of opposition to coalition forces if only because they have no real alternative. They are not like Kosovan Serbs in 1999 who, however reluctantly, could leave the province of Kosovo for another, safe life elsewhere in Serbia on Great Uncle Milan’s farmholding. The Baathists have nowhere to go and, even worse, they know they face a brutal end if they ever fall into the hands of those Iraqi civilians — the majority of the country — who have suffered so much at their hands. Unlike Iraqi soldiers who can safely give themselves up, surrender is not an option for the Baathists.

Hey! Go to this thoughtful blog - (with which you might not agree, but still...there's interesting stuff there) - its writer is wondering why the war seems to have brought his traffic down...

Here's a great site I just ran across for all of your theological research needs:

Theology Resources on the Internet from the library at St. John's College.

In Sunday's NYTimes magazine:

Garry Wills on religiosity and wartime leaders,

There is ample precedent for such official religiosity in time of war. It was in the period of the cold war with what President Truman always called ''godless Communism'' that ''under God'' was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. It was in World War II that ''God Bless America'' became the country's unofficial anthem. Of World War I, President Wilson said that it showed America marching to heights ''upon which there rests nothing but the pure light of the justice of God,'' reflecting the ''glimmer of light which came at Calvary, that first dawn which came with the Christian era.'' It was in the Civil War that ''The Battle Hymn of the Republic'' was composed, with its echoes of Isaiah 63:3 and Revelation 14:20: ''He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.'' It was in the War of 1812 that Francis Scott Key wrote the words of our official anthem: ''Praise the Pow'r that has made and preserv'd us a nation. Then conquer we must when our cause is just.'' It was during New England's conflict with Native Americans, culminating in King Philip's war, that the jeremiad became a popular sermon form. The sufferings of the colonists were seen as a punishment for sin, so preachers had to rise like Jeremiah to rebuke the people for their falling off from God.

The jeremiad was a sturdy plant, with a long life ahead of it. It is the form of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. The nation as a whole was complicit in the sin of slavery, so God is just exacting the penalty of that sin, proportioning blood spilt by soldiers' bayonets to that shed by slavemasters' whips. A solidarity in sin made the punishment communal, uniting the nation in the sufferings it had brought upon itself. Lincoln sealed the argument by quoting Psalm 19: ''The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.''

Lincoln did not take the next logical step, saying that solidarity in offending God could only be countered by solidarity in worshiping him, but others have been quick and resolute in taking that step. The dynamics of the jeremiad move from rebuke to reform, from communal taint to communal repristinization. The first masters of the jeremiad form said that the purity of worship had been lost. Membership in the churches had fallen off, and those who were members had become lukewarm. The only remedy was better recruitment of new members (by way of preaching and example) and greater zeal in those who were already members.

And after some more historical material, Wills takes on our friend Rod Dreher:

The afflatus of becoming visible saints is intoxicating. It allows one to have great disdain for the manifest sinners who oppose our saintly will. This applies not only to outright enemies but to those (like the French) who do not join our crusade and even to those who dare criticize it. Rod Dreher, a senior writer at National Review, says that clergymen who oppose the war are spiritually disarming us and that military chaplains supporting the war should be heeded, not ''bishops in well-appointed chanceries and pastors sitting in suburban middle-class comfort.'' Dreher, a Catholic convert, must think the pope is one of those cushy bishops, as opposed to the hard-bitten military chaplains who know what God and the devil are up to. We should learn from the ''moral realism'' of soldier-priests, who are ''warriors for justice,'' and not heed ''the effete sentimentality you find among so many clergymen today.'' The priests who do not bow to the War God are, in a chaplain's words that Dreher quotes with approval, reinforcers of the notion that ''religion is for wimps, for prissy-pants, for frilly-suited morons.'' This is what used to be called ''muscular Christianity,'' and Dreher thinks it is the only authentic form of his faith:

''As men and women of faith deliberate the morality of war with Iraq, it is a travesty that more of them haven't had the perspective of military chaplains, that virtually the only religious voices heard in the public square are coming from the antiwar corner. The divide between military and civilian clergy over the Iraq war is philosophically very deep. It cuts to the core of one's belief in evil. . . . Some of the chaplains say the failure of contemporary American society to grasp the true nature of the evil we face means the country is spiritually unprepared for war and its sacrifices.''

Dreher has a view of military chaplains as moral mentors that is quite different from that of Madison, who wrote: ''Look thro' the armies and navies of the world, and say whether, in the appointment of their ministers of religion, the spiritual interests of the flocks or the temporal interests of the shepherds be most in view.'' Madison was aware that most nations have made an instrumental use of God (as the endorser of secular policy) and that this dishonors God rather than honors him. It recruits him to secular purpose and literally ''takes the Lord's name in vain.'' Madison would allow men in danger of death to have chaplains of their own denominations near them if financed by their own denominations. But that is different from putting ministers in government uniform, under government discipline. Dreher tells us, with approval, that the military controls the chaplains and must remove any who show doubt about the war as a danger to ''morale.'' Religion is harnessed to political purpose and is not freely exercised if it does not serve that purpose. That is just the ''cognizance'' of religion Madison called a usurpation by the state.

We were just wondering...

How many British troops have been killed by Iraqis and how many by Americans? And is anyone seeing this as a problem in the UK?

Just a few thoughts before I embark on what I hope will be a fruitful weekend of work. Doubtful, because despite all my big dreams, I hardly ever get any work done on the weekends, although this time, the weather's lousy and the older kids are away, so maybe....

I have to be honest with you and say that as the days go by, almost every time I turn on the news, I wonder, Who the HELL ever thought this war would be a good idea?. I really think that the only way this would have worked is if the Coalition had killed Hussein and as many of his fellow creeps right away. If we can decimate the defenders around Baghdad quickly, there's still hope, but once we're fighting in there, even if we "win," I can't help thinking that we are bound to lose. The longer this goes on, the less it looks like the war the Administration promised. It looks more like a war against the Iraqi people, instead of just the regime, and more like a burgeoning regional conflict. The longer it goes on the more civilians will be killed and the more images of those killed civilians will be played on television throughout the Middle East, over and over and over.

But that's just the opinion of one midwestern civilian chick on military strategy, which means you probably should have skipped it, anyway.

What follows is random, because that's what I'm feeling these days, a feeling perhaps generated by the fragmented nature of the coverage I'm admittedly immersing myself in.

Critics of the anti-war protesters have quite correctly wondered where the heck all these people have been when protests against various outrages against various regimes have been necessary. Good point, but where have the rest of us been?

The Church scandals of the past year and this war have birthed a feeling of dis-ease within me, to be honest, and not a dis-ease with what I see outside, but with what I see within myself. I am a witness to terrible evil and tragedy. It's in the newspapers, it's on television, it's on the internet..but it's over there. It's in that diocese. It's about those people.

A typical cocooned middle class Westerner, I go about my business here in the Summit City, ferrying my children about, preparing meals, writing my books and commenting on a world gone mad.

But what I feel is a pull in another direction. The events I am witnessing call me not towards more commenting or the importance of me establishing the correct views, but towards awareness of my ties to the suffering and my responsibility for them. This is hard to explain, but bear with me.

It is common and traditional for Christians to contemplate the sight of the crucified Christ and use it as an opportunity to consider our own sins - the sins that put Him there. That is the feeling that fills me when I contemplate the sight of the crucified today - the victims of abuse, the young men and women facing death in the desert - their own and that of others, Iraqi children trembling under a hail of bombs, Iraqi victims of Hussein and his thugs. There is such a thing as direct personal responsibility for sin, but there is also a sense that the world keeps birthing sin, over and over, and we are a part of the world, so we are midwifining it. Our sins put Jesus on the cross, our sins - the sins of humanity, of which I am a part, not separate from - let evil people do evil things.

One of the things that most disturbs me about some supporters of this war, especially those that use religious arguments and imagery to support it is apparent reluctance to admit that war is the result of sin - and not just the "enemy's" sin. Iraq is where it is today because of the pride and greed and short-sightedness and arrogance of generations of people, from Hussein and his supporters, to the Stalinists who inspired him to the American interests that supported him to the British that created the country to the tribes and competing religious visions that have inhabited the land for generations engendering an ethos of retributive justice and mutual hatred.

So perhaps we are "right" in trying to "liberate" the people of Iraq - an argument I can understand but still profoundly doubt, both for moral and practical reasons - I cannot be comfortable with a vision of this action that fails to take into account that war is, indeed, an expression of a failure of humanity. It may, in the end, turn out to have been "necessary" and God can certainly bring good out of anything, but even so, while some see the action as evidence for the goodness of the Coalition nations, and evil of the other, but I can't shake the general grief for humanity as a whole that this evokes in me. Do you see? This is not an exercise in "moral equivalency" at all. It is a recognition of the way that war tells us all, in the boldest relief, that we have failed.

So back to the beginning. The events of the past year have shaken me - not in the sense that I found out things that I didn't know, or that I was shocked. I'm an historian and a realist. But they've shaken my complacency about what I'm here to do. The Church is crying out for seriousness and reconciliation. The world shivers on the brink - the clash between civilizations is real and the explosion comes closer every day. Where am I in this? Am I just an observer? Am I a victim? Or am I called to be something more, to accept what responsibilty I have, as part of the Body of Christ, as part of the human race, for the sin that runs rampant, and to involve myself more than I am?

Pope on the war today:

Pope John Paul said on Saturday he hoped that the human tragedy of the war in Iraq would not set Christians and Muslims against each other and spark "a religious catastrophe." "War must never be allowed to divide world religions," he told visiting Roman Catholic bishops from Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country. The Pope said good inter-religious relations were important "at this moment of heightened tension in the entire world community." "Let us not permit a human tragedy to become a religious catastrophe," he said.


I'm stunned.

And honored - that goes without saying. I guess I'd better get busy and try to be worthy...

Talk about pressure.


Blog Archive