Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Peace Comedian Comes to Kalamazoo Friday, Sept 7

Humor and peace, comedy and wisdom on September 7 at 8 p.m. in the Dalton Theatre at Kalamazoo College.

Come together in a night of entertainment presented by Swami Beyondananda, the Cosmic Comic and peace comedian.

Tickets $15 for adults and $5 for students. Buy them at the door or order in advance by calling 269-731-4289.

This program is presented by the U.S. Department of Peace campaign in SW Michigan. and

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Revisionist Just War Theory

Army captain and Iraq War veteran Robert P. McGovern’s new book All American: Why I Believe in Football, God, and the War in Iraq makes the case that “as a lawyer, a soldier, and a graduate of four Catholic schools, I believe that nations are legally and morally obliged to prevent injustices like genocide, military aggression and threats to civilians.” In other words, he believes that the Church’s Just War Theory fits the Iraq situation and provides adequate justification for the war.

I gasped when I saw this. First of all, Captain McGovern’s contention that the Just War Theory justifies this war in Iraq is such revisionist hooey. The fact is that before the war ensued, Pope John Paul II pleaded with Bush NOT to go into Iraq—and to get out—several times. ALL of the U.S. mainline churches openly opposed the prospect of war. Moreover, onlookers claim that Bush never consulted a minister, including one from his own Methodist faith about his decision to invade Iraq.

Secondly, four and a half years of war have gotten us 3,699 dead Americans and between 69,284 and 655,000 dead Iraqis; mass migration and unrest in the region; $451.8 billion of taxpayers money wasted; torture against our enemies and domestic spying; soldiers doing three, four, five tours in Iraq; and the cultivation of more terrorism because of our occupation. Things are so bad that 70 percent of the American people are against this war, almost a complete reversal of support when we started it. Perhaps a look at Just War Theory can help us see through this fog of war that seems to be getting thicker and thicker.

In 387 A.D. Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. The Christians, who had been enemies of Rome, suddenly became allies of the state. Although they no longer had to dodge being eaten by lions, they had a new problem: how to deal with questions of war like: “When is it permissible to wage war” (jus in bello) and “What are the limitations in the ways we wage war?” (jus ad bellum). St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) tackled this problem by formulating his famous “Just War Theory” which claimed that leaders could commit their people to war if it were morally justifiable. Any leader contemplating war had to meet three conditions. First, the nation must have legitimate authority to declare war. Secondly, it must take care not to hurt non-combatants or civilians. Third, the nation must consider a proportional means to achieve its goal.

Even though these rules of war had been layed out, Christians have been waging war through the centuries and making as many excuses for war as there have been wars. In truth, Augustine’s Just War Theory runs counter to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), which preaches that we love our enemies and take care of the poor.

Another unintended consequence of the Just War Theory is the alliance between church and state, which has resulted in the Church’s “horrible history of war that we try to forget by re-interpreting the text,” says Professor Rudi Siebert, religion and society scholar at Western Michigan University. Hitler, for example, reinterpreted the text with the 1933 Concordat, a treaty he made with the Vatican which guaranteed the Church’s right to regulate its own affairs in Germany while the dictator proclaimed that Christianity was “the basis of our collective morals,” the family, and “the kernel of our people.”

Applying Just War principles to the twentieth century has become “very murky” said Professor Siebert because today’s wars may involve weapons of mass destruction and they often include genocidal violence against civilians. For example, during World War I, 10 percent of those killed were civilians. In World War II the number rose to 40 percent. Today, estimates are at 90 percent.

It distresses Professor Siebert that religion has been the source of so much violence and war. However, he is concerned that “when religion fails, what does that leave us?” The state with its laws and secular morality can avert violence and war and international controls like the Geneva Convention, the United Nations, and NATO foster restraint and discourse. However, says Professor Siebert, today even these institutions are losing their effectiveness, especially when President Bush effectively blew them off in his urgency to get the war in Iraq started.

For all his study and experience of war (he was a teenage fighter pilot in the German air force and an infantryman during World War II), Professor Siebert admits that the ultimate paradox about war is that “All wars are bad even if sometimes some wars may be necessary.” So, why so many wars? His answer is threefold. Economically, we fight over scarce resources. Culturally, we have movies that glorify war and killing. Psychologically, we have a death instinct “as if there were something biologically wrong with us.”

“Even wolves have an instinct to stop fighting when it is clear that one wolf is vulnerable and defeated,” says Professor Siebert. “He opens his neck to the other wolf and the aggressor doesn’t bite. We human beings don’t have a mechanism within us to be against war—except the Sermon on the Mount.” Unfortunately, some Christians will quote Matthew 10:34 to justify war: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Finding our way to peace is looking more and more difficult and yet, as Gandhi said to the British governor over India: eventually you will all leave. You will just walk out. And walk out they did—ever so graciously and India gained its independence from Britain in 1947.

Seems to me that we have a solution for ending the war in Iraq: we simply walk out. Better that it happen sooner than later!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hiroshima Remembered—and Forgotten

Keyoko was there during the bombing of Hiroshima on Monday, August 6, 1945. At 8:15 a.m. just before the glass of her house shattered into tiny pieces, her baby started screaming. Shards of glass covered her scalp. Keyoko looked out the window and saw the mushroom cloud hanging in the air over the city. She went outside her house looking for relatives among the piles of bodies and animal carcasses killed by the intense, radioactive heat, she saw buildings and concrete streets with vaporized shadows of human figures etched on them. People were running around begging for water.
* * * * *

“Little Boy” had been dropped from the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that flew over Hiroshima. Upon impact, the bomb generated an enormous amount of air pressure and heat and a significant amount of radiation (gamma rays and neutrons). A strong wind generated by the bomb destroyed most of the houses and buildings within a 1.5-mile radius. When the wind reached the mountains, it ricocheted and again hit the people in the city center. By the end of the year 140,000 civilians were dead. Another 60,000 people eventually died from the bomb’s effects. Three days later a second bomb, “Fat Man,” was dropped on Nagasaki resulting in the deaths of approximately 70,000 people by year’s end. On August 15, Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered.

* * * * *

Howard served in the Army during the Korean War. He is convinced that dropping the bomb on Hiroshima “was the right thing to do” because the war cost the lives of many Japanese and American GIs. Today, Howard is concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. “If we can’t negotiate with them, they’ll attack South Korea.” He also recognizes that North Korea is more of a threat to the United States than the Arab countries. “I fear more for my family and not myself. I could cope, but I don’t want something drastic to happen to them.”
September 11 shocked Howard. Hearing about the lost lives made him very upset, especially since it happened on U.S. soil. Nevertheless, Howard is tired of hearing about 9/11 because he doesn’t think it compares at all to the trauma the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused.

“I lost a friend at Pearl Harbor and it still hurts,” he says.

* * * * *

Sister Barbara taught English in Hiroshima 1974-1994. As a volunteer at the A-Bomb Hospital where the 1945 bomb victims were still being treated, she saw people who were still badly scarred and some who were blinded or made deaf.
“The hospital patients changed my whole attitude toward life,” says Sister Barbara, who grew up during World War II and was “gung ho” to win it. “But I could see how war affected people’s lives.” Sister Barbara used to go to the Hiroshima Peace Museum every August even though it made her physically ill.
“It hurts you inside,” says Sister Barbara. “You realize that people are human beings and that something terrible happened to them.” For Sister Barbara, the atomic bomb no longer means the end of a terrible war. Instead she understands that it has become a mechanism that allows one people to hold tremendous destructive power over another people.
“I’ve seen the results of atomic weapons,” she says. “It’s enough to make you ask: why did it have to happen?”

* * * * *

Every August 6 the city of Hiroshima holds memorial ceremonies to remember those who died from the bomb. Tens of thousands of people attend. The memorial ceremony begins with a march from the Peace Cathedral to the Cenotaph, the central monument of the whole complex and the site of the stone coffin that holds the Register of A-Bomb Victims. During the ceremony the name of each victim is read. At night the city holds a lantern float on the river and people buy candles for every family member lost to the bomb attack. Peacemakers all over the world have adopted the lantern float as a memorial of this day in their towns and cities. They insert prayers, thoughts and messages of peace in their lanterns.

The Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima provides a tangible record of the grim reality of that day and about the powerful impact that weapons of mass destruction can have on a city. The first half of the museum gives visitors a sense of life before the bombing; it showcases children’s toys, books and magazines as well as a model of the city before the bombing. The second half of the museum holds shocking wax figures of the victims: their clothes burned right off of them, their skin hanging in strips like tattered rags, flesh burned raw and sometimes exposed down to the bone, eye sockets gouged out.

Many pregnant women delivered deformed babies and women who carried eight-week-old fetuses bore children with smaller heads and lower intelligence. Children were also muted, that is, their bodies stopped growing. As a result, many young women exposed to the radiation vowed never to marry or to have children because they feared what they might produce. The message of the museum is “Ban nuclear weapons and make peace in the world.” Unfortunately, the world has not seen fit to heed this message. Here is an accounting of the nuclear weapons stockpiles in the world, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and published in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

Number of warheads and year of first test

United States 9,960 (5,735 active) -- 1945

Russia 16,000 (5,830 active) -- 1949

United Kingdom 200 -- 1952

France 350 -- 1960

China 130 -- 1964

India 70-120 -- 1974

Pakistan 30-52 -- 1998

North Korea 1-10 -- 2006

Israel 75-200 -- undeclared