By Joan Chittister, OSB, National Catholic Reporter
May 30, 2003
Is There Anything Left That Matters?
This is what I don't understand: All of a sudden nothing seems to matter.
First, they said they wanted Bin Laden "dead or alive."
But they didn't get him. So now they tell us that it doesn't matter. Our
mission is greater than one man. Then they said they wanted Saddam Hussein,
"dead or alive." He's apparently alive but we haven't got him
yet, either. However, President Bush told reporters recently, "It doesn't
matter. Our mission is greater than one man." Finally, they told us
that we were invading Iraq to destroy their weapons of mass destruction.
Now they say those weapons probably don't exist. Maybe never existed. Apparently
that doesn't matter either.
Except that it does matter.
I know we're not supposed to say that. I know it's called
"unpatriotic."But it's also called honesty. And dishonesty matters.
It matters that the infrastructure of a foreign nation that couldn't defend
itself against us has been destroyed on the grounds that it was a military
threat to the world. It matters that it was destroyed by us under a new
doctrine of "pre-emptive war" when there was apparently nothing
worth pre-empting. It surely matters to the families here whose sons went
to war to make the world safe from weapons of mass destruction and will
never come home. It matters to families in the United States whose life
support programs were ended, whose medical insurance ran out, whose food
stamps were cut off, whose day care programs were eliminated so we could
spend the money on sending an army to do what did not need to be done. It
matters to the Iraqi girl whose face was burned by a lamp that toppled over
as a result of a U.S. bombing run.
It matters to Ali, the Iraqi boy who lost his family - and
both his arms - in a U.S. air attack.
It matters to the people in Baghdad whose water supply is
now fetid, whose electricity is gone, whose streets are unsafe, whose 158
government ministries' buildings and all their records have been destroyed,
whose cultural heritage and social system has been looted and whose cities
teem with anti-American protests. It matters that the people we say we "liberated"
do not feel liberated in the midst of the lawlessness, destruction and wholesale
social suffering that so-called liberation created. It matters to the United
Nations whose integrity was impugned, whose authority was denied, whose
inspection teams are even now still being overlooked in the process of technical
evaluation and disarmament. It matters to the reputation of the United States
in the eyes of the world, both now and for decades to come, perhaps. And
surely it matters to the integrity of this nation whether or not its intelligence
gathering agencies have any real intelligence or not before we launch a
military armada on its say-so.
And it should matter whether or not our government is either
incompetent and didn't know what they were doing or were dishonest and refused
to say. The unspoken truth is that either as a people we were misled, or
we were lied to, about the real reason for this war. Either we made a huge
- and unforgivable - mistake, an arrogant or ignorant mistake, or we are
swaggering around the world like a blind giant, flailing in all directions
while the rest of the world watches in horror or in ridicule.
If Bill Clinton's definition of "is" matters, surely
this matters. If a president's sex life matters, surely a president's use
of global force against some of the weakest people in the world matters.
If a president's word in a court of law about a private indiscretion matters,
surely a president's word to the community of nations and the security of
millions of people matters.
And if not, why not? If not, surely there is something as
wrong with us as citizens, as thinkers, as Christians as there must be with
some facet of the government. If wars that the public says are wrong yesterday
- as over 70% of U.S. citizens did before the attack on Iraq - suddenly
become "right" the minute the first bombs drop, what kind of national
morality is that? Of what are we really capable as a nation if the considered
judgment of politicians and people around the world means nothing to us
as a people? What is the depth of the American soul if we can allow destruction
to be done in our name and the name of "liberation" and never
even demand an accounting of its costs, both personal and public, when it
We like to take comfort in the notion that people make a distinction
between our government and ourselves. We like to say that the people of
the world love Americans, they simply mistrust our government. But excoriating
a distant and anonymous "government" for wreaking rubble on a
nation in pretense of good requires very little of either character or intelligence.
What may count most, however, is that we may well be the ones
Proverbs warns when it reminds us: "Kings take pleasure in honest lips;
they value the one who speaks the truth." The point is clear: If the
people speak and the king doesn't listen, there is something wrong with
the king. If the king acts precipitously and the people say nothing, something
is wrong with the people. It may be time for us to realize that in a country
that prides itself on being democratic, we are our government. And the rest
of the world is figuring that out very quickly.
From where I stand, that matters.
A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a best-selling
author and well- known international lecturer. She is founder and executive
director of <http://www.benetvision.org/>Benetvision: A Resource and
Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the
Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership Conference
of Women Religious. Sister Joan has been recognized by universities and
national organizations for her work for justice, peace and equality for
women in the Church and society. She is an active member of the International
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