The Common Good

The Tears of War

Sojomail - May 19, 2006


05.19.2006 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week : Darfur: 'You did nothing.'
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: The tears of war
Culture Watch : Is The Da Vinci Code dangerous?
Values for Life : The prom, camels, and Stephen Colbert
Eco News : Jesus People Against Pollution
Boomerang : Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

"I don't want to talk to you. I have given you so many reports, but you did nothing. Many rape cases were reported and you conduct many patrols. But you have done nothing."

- Omar Muhammad Abakar, a village sheik in Darfur, speaking to Maj. Essodina Kadangha, a Togolese member of the 7,000-member African Union force charged with protecting civilians in the region from government-backed militias known as Janjaweed - with approximately one solider for every 28 square miles of the region, according to The New York Times. On May 16, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a U.S.-sponsored resolution to replace the African force with up to 20,000 international peacekeepers.

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HEARTS & MINDS ^top

The tears of war
by Jim Wallis

My dad came to visit last week. He's 82 now but still does pretty well - traveling on his own to see his two grandsons in Washington, D.C. It was the typical yet wonderful grandpa week - going to see Luke's second-grade class and Jack's new pre-school, watching both our Little League practice and the big Saturday game, cheering on Luke's soccer team, checking out the new Sojourners office (he's been to them all), and eating some special Mexican meals.

Having my father watch from the stands as I coached Luke's baseball team felt nostalgic and warm when I recalled how he used to be my Little League baseball coach. I realized Luke wasn't the only one who was glad to hear that he had done very well.

Tuesday was Luke's personal sharing day at school (all the kids have one) and so he brought his grandpa to "share." When Luke told his classmates that his grandpa had been in the Navy during World War II, one kid asked who won the war. When they heard that we did, the class started cheering. (And what was the score?) Of course, at this age, they have almost no idea of what war really is.

Later in the week, I took the day off and went with my dad to the World War II Memorial, now about two years old. It is the only major national memorial or monument in Washington, D.C., that my father hadn't seen. And since I hadn't yet visited it either, we were both curious as to what the enormous project on the Mall, pushed hard by actor Tom Hanks and former Senator Bob Dole, would be like.

We thought the memorial itself was nice (lovely fountain) but not overly impressive. My dad liked seeing the names of all the Pacific islands he remembered as the junior engineering officer on a destroyer-minesweeper. His ship had been scheduled for the invasion of Japan, and casualty rates were expected to be very high. Like many others, my father believed that the atomic bomb might literally have saved his life and made our family possible. His new bride, waiting at home, might otherwise have become a young widow.

The World War II Memorial includes a comfortable stone bench in the shade, where my dad and I talked for a long time about those war years, his school days, and my parent's first months and years of marriage - which were dramatically impacted by the war. Amazingly, he was commissioned in the Navy, graduated from the University of Michigan, and married all on the same day! The Navy was in a hurry to get fresh officers into the last days of the Pacific conflict, which ended only months after he was deployed. He became part of the mop-up operation in that theater of war after the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused Japan to surrender.

My father recalled the visit he made to Hiroshima, just weeks after the world's first nuclear explosion had been detonated there. He was part of a two-man team, surveying the impact of the bomb on major structures such as factories. The devastation, he told me, was like nothing he had ever seen or imagined. Just unbelievable. He described how the nuclear explosion had sucked out all the air in the area, and when it rushed back in everything was flattened - totally flattened, even huge factories.

He admitted that he had not been at all sympathetic to the Japanese after they had attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and especially after they and their German allies had killed so many of his good friends. Along with many of his fellow soldiers, he felt they deserved the atomic bomb - though at the time, he said, few of them fully understood what it was. But then he saw Hiroshima. As the two young Americans were walking through the flattened rubble, they passed by a small pile of bricks that had been fashioned into a kind of makeshift shelter. Suddenly, a little girl appeared from behind a wall. My father remembered her as about 5 years old, with old, dirty tattered clothes falling off her body. As far as they could see, she was all alone with no one to take care of her. As he talked about the child, he seemed to remember her vividly, as if it were yesterday. And he recalled the feelings that welled up inside him: She was just a little child, none of this was her fault, and she had nothing to do with it. They knew she would die soon, if only from the exposure to all that radiation. My dad, an 82-year-old war veteran, began to cry as he remembered a day more than 60 years ago.

"That's war," he said, "and that's why I hate it." He still believes that we had to defend ourselves from a direct attack in World War II. But why did they drop that bomb on civilian targets, he asked, cities with no military significance? They could have dropped them in a desert, he said, or a deserted island to make the point. My dad has opposed every war since then, and is especially upset about the war in Iraq. They just lie about it and it was totally unnecessary, he said, as his tears turned to anger on a sunny day in Washington, D.C.

My dad is part of what former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw has named the "greatest generation," and I know two little boys who, after a week's visit, think he is the greatest grandpa. We all missed him after he left for home and wish that we lived closer. Luke gave thanks for him in his prayers before bed, and so did I. But my dad doesn't like the direction his country has gone since his generation has retired. Now he often shakes his head while he watches CNN most days. "How do they get away with it?" he often asks me on the phone.

Sitting with him at the memorial, it was moving to see how this war veteran has so turned against war and still feels the emotions that senseless suffering brings up. Most of those who run our wars now are not really veterans of any war, and have little to say about the senseless suffering that now occurs every day. I wonder what would happen to them if a 5-year-old girl came out from behind the rubble of war to stop them in their tracks. But most of them never get close enough to the rubble to see her.

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Jim Wallis, Anne Lamott, and Richard Rohr - Together Again!
Politics and Spirituality Conference: Outer Witness, Inner Faith
September 8 - 10, 2006: Pasadena, California

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  • CULTURE WATCH ^top

    Is The Da Vinci Code dangerous?
    by Ryan McCarl

    Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has topped bestseller lists, entertained millions of readers, and inspired a major film as well as a host of other books investigating whether the novel's so-called claims about history, art, mathematics, the Catholic Church, and Jesus Christ are true.

    In addition to fans, the book has created some major enemies. The Catholic Church has suggested its followers boycott the movie set for release this week. Many evangelical groups are torn between supporting the boycott and using the film's release as a teaching moment to expound their own views of the truth. The New York Times reports that some prominent evangelicals, such as Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary, are calling for Christians to see and discuss the movie.

    But do Christians really have anything to fear from The Da Vinci Code? It is true that the novel's characters make assertions that challenge much conventional wisdom about Christian history and raise difficult issues for believers. But anyone who loses his or her faith by reading The Da Vinci Code, or any single book, needed a stronger foundation for his or her beliefs before reading it.

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    VALUES FOR LIFE ^top

    The prom, camels, and Stephen Colbert
    by Brian Kaylor

    Students at Kellenberg Memorial High School, a private Catholic school in Uniondale, New York, will not be celebrating prom this school year. The school's principal, Brother Kenneth Hoagland, cancelled the event. While Hoagland was disturbed by the sex, booze, and drugs that have become part of the prom weekend experience for many, he primarily denounced it for "the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake - in a word, financial decadence."

    Hoagland wrote the parents to inform them of the reasons for his decision. He argued, "But we are concerned about how our young people are being educated in the use of wealth and the experience of power that wealth gives.... The current culture of the prom on Long Island does not represent to us a proper Christian use of wealth."

    Comedian Stephen Colbert tackled the prom story on his new show The Colbert Report, a spin-off of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.... "Yeah, I know that this is a Catholic school and Jesus said it's easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. But may I remind Brother Hoagland, our nation is rich enough to buy some really huge needles..."

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    Give Online to Sojourners

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    ECO NEWS ^top

    Jesus People Against Pollution
    from Grist Magazine

    In 1977, a factory in Columbia, Miss., that had been manufacturing Agent Orange was rocked by an explosion. The owner, Reichhold Chemical Inc., shuttered the facility and abandoned or buried thousands of barrels of toxic waste near the water supply of the predominantly poor, African-American neighborhood where it had operated; flooding and leaks followed. In this virtual walking tour, Columbia activist and evangelist Charlotte Keys, founder of Jesus People Against Pollution, describes life near the plant and her fight to win justice for her community.

    + Take the virtual walking tour


    Remembering Environmental Justice Activist Damu Smith

    The life of Damu Smith, an advocate raising awareness of the disproportionate impact of pollution on communities of color, will be celebrated Saturday, May 20, at 5 p.m., in a memorial service at Plymouth Congregational Church, 5301 North Capitol Street NE, Washington, D.C. Smith was founder of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, and drew attention to Louisiana's Cancer Alley. Smith took people on "toxic tours" of the area, where emissions from chemical companies are believed to be causing high levels of cancer deaths among the nearby black population. Smith, 54, lost his own battle with colon cancer, of which the cause is unknown, on May 5. In lieu of flowers, well-wishers can make contributions to the Asha Moore Smith Trust - for Damu Smith's 13-year-old daughter - c/o The Praxis Project, 1750 Columbia Road, NW - 2nd Floor, Washington, D.C., 20009.

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  • BOOMERANG ^top

    Readers write

    Dr. Susan Colilla writes from Cherry Hill, New Jersey:

    I would like to commend you on your article regarding our public's current acceptance of corruption as part of the norm ["Flipping the corrupt tables," SojoMail 5/11/2006]. I, like you, am totally outraged by the blatant corruption that exists within our politicians in office and the lobbyists and government contractors who work with them. What frustrates me is that I am not sure what steps I can take to change this pattern. Waiting for the next election is too slow. I have attended protests of the war, actively campaigned against the politicians, and signed many petitions urging our public officials to do the right thing. None of this seems to have made much of a dent. Only now, after six or more years of blatant corruption is the media even recognizing these atrocious acts. Perhaps in your next article you could suggest some actions which would be helpful in changing the tide in the direction of regaining integrity for our country.

    ----------

    Karen Eddy writes from Billings, Montana:

    My cousin in Wyoming was hired by Halliburton to go to Iraq in 2005 to help oversee some of their construction projects. After five weeks, he was so disgusted with the way the corporation was abusing their contracts that he resigned and took the next flight home. He told us that the U.S. soldiers involved in his projects were treated badly, with food-supply problems and having to sleep in the backs of trucks because the soldiers were provided no supplies for basic daily needs. He tried to make arrangements for improving the soldiers' supply needs but in the end he was able to do little to improve their situation, and it made him angry. He was apparently the only local staffer trying to make improvements, and that the troops cried when he told them he had resigned. On the flight home, Halliburton called him repeatedly, offering to transfer him to other projects. My cousin told them "where to stick it." If it takes a hard-boiled, hard-working Wyoming-raised contractor only five weeks to resign from Halliburton, you know it's bad!

    ----------

    Mr. Theodore Opderbeck writes from Hawthorne, New Jersey:

    I agree with Mr. McLaren that open dialogue can only benefit the kingdom ["Brian McLaren on The Da Vinci Code," SojoMail 5/9/2006]. However, I disagree with many of his points in his interview discussing The Da Vinci Code. It seems that many people have not been brought closer to Christ through reading the book. In fact, a huge number of Christians have actually decided to turn their back on the faith as a response to a book that blatantly contradicts scripture. Even though Brown's book is cloaked as fiction, the author himself purports his work to be based on indisputable fact. Hopefully, many people will be drawn to Christ as presented in the inspired, God-breathed, historically accurate gospels, and not to some marginalized, watered-down interpretation based on weak evidence.

    ----------

    Fran Rossi writes from Nyack, New York:

    While I am the first to acknowledge that we need to examine a misogynistic, male-dominated form of Christianity, do we need a vehicle as weak as The Da Vinci Code to do it? As a Catholic I am opposed to much of what Opus Dei represents in my church, but I couldn't justify Brown's portrait of them, let alone anything else. There are many more powerful and meaningful ways to get this conversation going. Let's use those as the catalysts, follow with action, and leave the pulp fiction to the airport bookshop.

    ----------

    John Berry writes from Northampton, Massachusetts:

    Subramanian Venkatraman is not alone when lamenting immigration protests as a big insult to legal immigrants who spend time and energy running the maze of paperwork [Boomerang, SojoMail 5/11/2006]. It seems natural to feel that others should run the same gauntlet we do. When we work hard, and "play by the rules", it boils our blood to see others get what looks like a free pass. It certainly boiled the blood of the older son in Luke 15 in the story of the prodigal son. That parable clearly shows that God knows we desire our law-abiding deeds to be mimicked by our brothers, but that he desires foremost their acceptence and yes, if need be, their amnesty. Are we so proud that we would feel humilated by amnesty toward the law-breaker? Is it more important to us that the laws we obey be the very reason we shut our brother out?

    ----------

    Marjorie Hodgson writes from Leesburg, Florida: I believe one would call the reference to people being criminalized for helping illegal aliens by giving the necessities of life as a "straw man" since Congress has offered to change those provisions of the law. That, however, is never mentioned by those intent on putting immigration changes in the worst light. I believe we can make changes in a Christian way and not only keep our country safe, but make it better for legal immigrants. The real enemies in this struggle are those who bloat their bottom line by abusing the use of illegals. This greed of the business community is at the bottom of many problems in this country. If Congress really wanted to do something Christian they would pass a minimum-wage law that would include the people who cut lettuce in the fields and those who work as nannies, taking them out of the category of slave labor. Close the borders first and enforce the present laws. Those two things would go a long way to solving our problems.

    ----------

    Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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