Saturday, October 10, 2009

A reflection written Oct. 9, 2009

Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, which seems very strange. I can only hope and pray it acts as a kind of cornerstone, continually forming him in the way of peace. The timing is interesting as tonight the Roger's Park Catholic Worker house is hosting a round-table discussion about the role of peacemakers in our present context. Some of the following questions come to mind: how long do we wait for Obama to make good on his promises regarding Guantanamo Bay and Iraq? What about Afghanistan, can all that is transpiring there be considered actions of a "just war"? Is there such a thing as a "just war"?

As I write this my mind keeps revisiting the image of a night when my family was at a lake house visiting with missionary friends on furlough from Spain. Sitting around a campfire, I don't remember if we were listening to a radio or just talking but I know the topic was war. Desert Storm had just been initiated the grown-ups were in the house and we kids were making planes of sticks and dry leaves that we would toss into the fire to be devoured in flame. I remember a mixed sense of unease, sadness and excitement. That is my first memory of war, so distant and safe. Yet, that is probably the most connected I have ever felt to one. It was very present in my mind and in the conversations of those around me. I don't remember people close to me either trying to condone or condemn it. I do remember my younger brother Jonathan, who could not have been more than six or seven, writing a journal entry about trying to love Saddam Hussein and get him to love Jesus and change his ways. He believed that was the only true way to reach a healthy resolution.

My general reaction to war has tended to be avoidance, even in films and conversation. I have always been disturbed by films about war or even action film scenes of vast destruction, not only because of the violence, though that is troubling in itself, but also because of the sense of aching futility and tragic waste. Despite feeling ill at ease and unhappy with questions that feel too wide to be narrowed into words I do little. Resigned to a deeply ingrained pragmatism I find the cry of my heart easily muffled and brushed aside by the louder voices asking, "Well, what else can we do?" I have no answer that sounds intelligent or practical enough to be worth voicing. So, I listen, and leave the decisions up to those who do. This does not relieve my responsibility.

In, Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion, Day and the Catholic Workers are cited as seeing, "militarism, totalitarianism, fascism, and communism as the outcome of centuries of pragmatism and practicality...the state being elevated..." Economist John Kenneth Gilbraith, in his book The Good Society, theorizes that elevation of the state is exacerbated and reinforced through the population of affluent nations (i.e. the United States and Europe) buying into a lifestyle that demands the assistance of the state.

Thus, I am implicated in activating the war machine not only by my reliance on practicality and pragmatism but by, however much I may verbally protest, engaging in a manner of eating, dressing, traveling and general living that stimulates state regulation. A transactional relationship is established in which I become the debtor and thus diminish my power. How does one extricate oneself from such a system? There is the option of "hobo-ing it" which has an appealing dramatic flair, but in the end continues to rely a great deal on the affluence of others. Besides, that option (as with many means of "going off the grid") risks resulting in isolation and alienation, a step I am reluctant to take as a professing Christian. Where is the love in that?

Though I won't pretend it is perfect or even that I perfectly understand it, I am drawn to the Catholic Worker response to this conundrum; addressing the immediate needs the community is confronted with--feeding the hungry, comforting the lonely, confronting injustice--while persistently working toward a long-range plan that "gives the worker ownership of the means of production" (Day), and "makes our world an easier place to be good" (Maurin).


Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Read or heard on TV some comments, going a bit like:

Yeah, ok, it was a bit early, but if we'd waited till next year it might have been too late. Besides, anyone did more for peace this year?

As if peace prize has to be given each year?

James O'Keefe reflects on fact that there are other prizes that are very much more appropriate.

Like economics prize for valiantly disproving the theory government spending can get economy going. Cheeky, but true.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

I actually consider the occupation of Iraq - where a Christian minority faces bloody persecution - far juster than that of Afghanistan.