Sunday, April 27, 2008

The War in Iraq

Stability in Iraq may never be achieved. The Iraqis say they can’t assume control of their country until the Americans leave. We can’t leave because there will be a civil war. The American military learned many lessons from the Vietnam War, but our civilian policy makers did not.

I am very disappointed in my own clarity of thinking just before the invasion of Iraq. Originally, I was opposed to an invasion of Iraq, based on the principles of Just War theory. But as the buildup came closer to the time of the invasion, I got caught-up in the surrounding emotions, based on what was being reported in the media. In hindsight, I realized that before the invasion, the U.S. and Iraq were behaving like my two sons fighting in the back seat of the car.

I knew that the Iraq war did not meet the necessary conditions of the Just War theory, but I told myself that the theory had not been updated for modern realities. I thought the war was justified on a “greater good” basis because of the crimes Hussein was committing against his own people. However, the Pope had warned Bush that in going to war against Iraq, too many innocents would suffer and that he would not be able to predict or control the course the war would take, the consequences or outcome.

You should only go to war when you have no other choice. We need to deal with people like Sadaam Hussein with negotiation, no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes. Our government does not put enough effort, talent, resources or priority into negotiations in situations like this. We need to be more creative in applying political pressure. To say that one can’t negotiate with the likes of Hussein is a mistake. One should never walk away saying that such negotiations aren’t working. The Bush administration does not negotiate or exercise diplomacy. Their policy towards smaller, non-friendly countries is to simply demand they do things our way, and if they do not, they don’t talk to them except to threaten, bomb, or invade them.

One sad thing about the war in Iraq is that there is nothing like the anti-war movement that there was against the Vietnam War. One reason is that there is no draft. Another is that because of 9/11, and because most Iraqis are Islamic, many Americans wrongly associate Iraq with a general threat against America from Islamic terrorists. But the American military also learned a lot from Vietnam. Journalists are not permitted to embed themselves with troops in Iraq the way they were in Vietnam. That prevents them from reporting on atrocities committed against civilians. Also, the military does not allow the filming of the coffins of returning American dead. Enemy body counts are not reported like they were during the Vietnam War, and we don’t see news footage of piles of the enemy dead stacked like cordwood. With Iraq, it’s a case of see no evil.

Americans don’t know history or other cultures. The people making our foreign policy are all mid-Westerners (Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al) who have no exposure to people different than themselves. They can’t imagine or understand that other people in the world think and behave in ways that are entirely different than themselves. They assume that other people are reasonable, based on their own understanding of what reasonable means. In the 20th century, the British had a long history in Iraq. They understood the tribal culture very well (and got out!). Our leaders chose not to learn from the British experience but that would have required them to acknowledge that they did not understand that part of the world.

Colin Powell had warned Cheney and Rumsfeld about invading Iraq that, “If you break it, you fix it.” I still find it incredible that Rumsfeld actually thought that we could march into Iraq, be greeted by streets full of cheering civilians, that the Iraqis would all go back to work the next day and everybody was going live happily ever after. When will they ever learn? When will we ever learn?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Of Laughter and Confession

In reference to the May 7, 2000 New York Times article, by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, at the above URL:

Earlier this year, I attended a seminar with the author, and he was exactly as he appears in the article—a vaudeville comedian who articulates orthodox, lofty theology with laser like precision, in a way that anyone can understand.

Personally, I have never understood the phenomena of laughter. I always found Freud's explanation of humor depressing and unsatisfactory. The way the Puerto Rican Albacete bundles the teaching of serious topics with humorous stories is outside my Irish Catholic comfort zone. I mean, how can you tell jokes about something as serious as the confession of sins? Nevertheless, I immediately understood Lorenzo's comments about giddiness and laughter. It explains my awful, embarrassing habit of laughing while at funerals and at other inappropriate situations.

Note Albacete's implied criticism of formalism, of which I am guilty. I also appreciate his casting of confession as something that is less of a moral accounting, of which I am also guilty, than it is an act of completely exposing our innermost selves in front of the Ultimate.

Albacete is trying to teach us that a sincere confession of sin is something beyond the mere formal or legalistic expiation of moral guilt. It is a deep, gasping cry of desire to be loved by the Ultimate-- by the mysterious God who loves me, despite my insignificance. And what joy! I may be just starting to understand this laughter and giddiness business.