Tag Archives: Iraq war

Sixth anniversary

Today is the sixth anniversary of the invasion of the war of Iraq. So here’s a meditation for pacifists….

Jesus of Nazareth allegedly said:

“Don’t react violently against the one who is evil: when someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other as well. When someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let that person have your coat along with it. Further, when anyone conscripts you for one mile, go an extra mile. Give to the one who begs from you….” [Scholar’s Version, Matthew 5.38-42]

All these suggestions are, of course, absurd. If someone slaps your right cheek, why wouldn’t you just walk away from that person? — and how does this advice apply if someone slaps you on the left cheek? Absurd, absurd. As for that business about the shirt and coat, you have to remember that in a society where people only owned two garments, wouldn’t that would leave you standing around naked? Absurd. Carry a Roman soldier’s pack for an extra mile? Absurd. Give to the one who begs to you? — also absurd.

OK, maybe these things are absurd. But the alternative is the old eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth morality, e.g., when “Axis of Evil” kills some of our people, we automatically go and kill some of their people. Isn’t that old eye-for-an-eye morality just as absurd, in its own way?

Now I tend to be a pragmatic guy, and if someone slaps me on either cheek, I’m going to just walk away. For that matter, I’m not going to give away all my clothes and be naked, I’m not going to carry a Roman soldier’s pack. But as a pragmatist, results matter, and I don’t see that my pragmatism has done much to bring about world peace, either.

I don’t have the answer. But I am drawn to the clarity and elegance of Jesus’s moral philosophy. I’m not sure I want to try everything he suggests, but I do wish I had given money to the beggars I passed on the street today, just to live out his absurd teaching in a small way.


War? What war?

Over on her blog, Dani has a really nice post on the Iraq War. She talks about how many Americans seem perfectly able to forget the fact that we’re at war:

Thich Naht Hahn has been an author and peace activist that I’ve been reading about a lot lately. I have been practicing mindfulness, and as of yet I have discovered one thing that I realized; I have been quite unaware that we are still in a war. Some discussions in my group of aquaintances or friends have, as of late, the question “We’re still in that war?”

The post continues with some wide-ranging thoughts on the intersection of war, religion, and the individual activist. It’s a little rambling at times, but a passionate and thoughtful post worth reading. Link.

Wesley Clark weighs in

I don’t usually do politics on this blog, but the war in Iraq is so much a part of all our lives that you really can’t avoid it; it’s a part of our culture now, like it or not. I have not been impressed with the shrill exchanges between the Democrats and the Republicans regarding the war, but I was impressed by Gen. Wesley Clark’s recent op-ed piece in the New York Times. Clark disagrees with both President Bush and the Democrats positions on the war:

While the Bush administration and its critics escalated the debate last week over how long our troops should stay in Iraq, I was able to see the issue through the eyes of America’s friends in the Persian Gulf region. The Arab states agree on one thing: Iran is emerging as the big winner of the American invasion, and both President Bush’s new strategy and the Democratic responses to it dangerously miss the point. It’s a devastating critique. And, unfortunately, it is correct.

The complete piece is posted on the Securing America blog, along with questions for Clark, and Clark’s responses to those questions.

There’s a cultural point in all this, too: it feels to me as if Americans of all political persuasions are increasingly isolating themselves from how other countries perceive America. I cannot think that’s a good thing. I believe Gen. Clark offers us a useful new, non-isolationist, direction for American discussions of our place in the world.

I also note in passing that religious liberals have a long history of a bias towards taking an international perspective, which is part of our religious understanding that all human beings are linked beyond the narrow confines of national identity. We used to call it “world brotherhood”; now we call it “the interconnected web.”

Thanks to first cousin once removed Abbie for the link to Securing America.

Quarter of a million?

Washington, D.C.

I arrived in Washington late last night, and stayed with my friend Elizabeth, who is a lawyer, a Quaker, and a yoga teacher (not in that order). Got a call on my cell phone as we were headed over to the peace march and rally — the rest of the contingent from First Unitarian could not make it down due to a mix-up on their bus seats.

Got to the Ellipse for the rally a little before noon. An interesting group of speakers and not the usual suspects — not many aging (white) activists from the sixties, no leftover (white) hippies — instead, more people of color speaking, and a fair number of younger speakers.

The march around the White House and up and down the streets just north of the Mall was supposed to step off at 12:30. The speakers were still going strong, but Elizabeth and I wandered over towards where the march was supposed to start off. I saw a blonde woman walking quickly in the other direction, surrounded by a small coterie, who were surrounded by photographers and videographers. People around us started following here: “Cindy Sheehan! Cindy…”

The crowd kept getting thicker and thicker. Elizabeth, a long-time resident of Washington, said, “There’s a lot of people here.” I had figured there would be maybe fifty thousand people, the march organizers got a permit for a hundred thousand — but Elizabeth’s best guess was that it was more than hundred thousand, based on seeing past events in and around the Mall.

We finally wormed our way through the crowd and got to where the march was supposed to be starting, but all we saw was people just standing there on the street waiting to start walking. I began to think that the sheer numbers of people who showed up had overwhelmed the logistics of the march. We tried to skirt around the beginning of the march route, and after an hour of working our way through the crowd, and taking a wrong turn here or there, we wound up where we could see the marchers coming down the street towards us. Elizabeth has been having back problems, so she kept heading north and caught a bus home. I joined the march.

The marchers were heading along at a good clip, a steady stream of people through the streets of Washington. I looked around to see what kind of people were marching. For the large part, they were stunningly normal-looking. Yes, I saw a few college kids in dreadlocks, a few anarchists dressed in red and black, someone on stilts. But mostly I saw normal, ordinary people. Many middle-aged people, quite a few elders, quite a few younger adults — and a fair number of children and teens.

Being a minister, I noticed the people who announced their religious affiliations: Methodists for Peace, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Quakers for Peace and Justice, Church of the Brethren, Unitarian Universalists for Economic Justice, an Episcopalian group, Ethical Culture Society — in other words, lots of liberal Christians and other religious liberals. A fair number of Muslims, too. One tiny contingent of Buddhists.

I got to the end of the march by three thirty or so — the people Elizabeth and I had seen waiting to start marching were still standing in the same place where we had left them — the pre-march speakers were still going strong. I wandered over to where the post-march “Operation Ceasefire” concert was supposed to happen.

A band called Living Things was playing some pretty good hardcore with a peace and justice message. A far cry from the folk singers you might have heard at rallies in the late seventies, when I first demonstrated in Washington for peace (we were trying to end the Cold War and the nuclear arms race back then) — much hipper, far more upbeat. Living Things were followed by some speakers, including Maxine Waters who gave the best speech I heard all day. Although her speech was clearly a partisan Democratic speech, and al though she didn’t get into religious or moral reasons for ending the war in Iraq, it was still an excellent summary of reasons for getting out of Iraq now.

Maxine Waters was followed by a young woman from Louisiana Peace network — I missed her name — but she made the obvious link between what happened in New Orleans, and the fact that we’ve committed too much money and personnel to Iraq. Two dynamic African American women in a row. For me they were the highlight of the whole event. One of the organizers of the event came on next and announced three hundred thousand people at the march and rally. Then Joan Baez came onstage. It sounded like she hadn’t warmed up her voice — her famous vibrato was not happening, her intonation was way off, her voice cracked — it was past four, so I decided to leave.

So how many people were actually there? The New York Times did its usual weak coverage of Washington political rallies including their trademark statement, “The National Park Service no longer gives estimates of crowd size.” A good reporter could have gotten a crowd estimate from another source — with modern satellite images, no doubt someone has come up with a pretty accurate estimate of how many people were there — but the New York Times wasn’t interested. We’re on our own to come up with a guess. I’d guess more than the hundred thousand that had been planned for, but less than the three hundred claimed — somewhere in that range. A lot of people. A lot of people who are praying for true peace now.

Update 9/26:

The Washington Post had good solid coverage of the march in a cover story yesterday. Reporter Petula Dvorak wrote in part:

Protest organizers estimated that 300,000 people participated, triple their original target. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked the march route, said the protesters achieved the goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it. Asked whether at least 150,000 showed up, the chief said, ‘That’s as good a guess as any. It’s their protest, not mine. It was peaceful — that’s all I care about….’

There were more Americans at the march than we have sent to Iraq. Dvorak goes on to report that,

Roughly 147,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. Since the war began in March 2003, 1,911 U.S. members of the military have been killed and 14,641 have been wounded.

Peace march

Getting ready to head off to the peace march in Washington, D.C., tomorrow. A small group of people from this congregation are heading down to witness for peace.

When I was trying to decide whether or not to go down, I called my friend Elizabeth, who lives in DC. I asked her if this peace march was worth going to — Elizabeth has connections with the world of political activism, and since I can’t afford to head down to Washington every five minutes, I’m cautious about which actions of public witness I’ll get involved in. It’s not like I have a lot of money to throw around, and of course I could give that money to a charitable organization.

I called her, explained that I was thinking of heading down, and asked, “So is it worth my while to go?”

“I’m going,” said Elizabeth decisively. “It may not be all that well organized. But this war has gone on too long, and we’ve got to do something.”

As she often does, she helped me clarify my thoughts. From a religious point of view, I am willing to say there is a possibility of a just war, but there is no possibility any longer that this is a just war. We are sending our servcemen and servicewomen into risk of serious bodily harm, no doubt about it. But when a war can no longer be considered just, we are also sending them into risk of serious moral harm, causing them to make impossible moral choices. For they cannot say that at least their actions are in service of a just war.

If the war in Iraq can no longer be considered a just war, the implications for our country are serious. To use traditional language, even a just war requires repentance and penance by religious persons — but war that is neutral in terms of justice or even unjust will require even more repentance and penance. At this point, much of this country is not even ready to engage in repentance and penance for a just war, let alone a war that cannot be considered just. I am beginning to think of my upcoming trip to Washington in terms of a pilgrimage and a beginning act of repentance. Or if you prefer less tradititional religious language, I might say that this is a first step towards the healing of the web of relationships that has been damaged by the war.

Yikes. Who knew I felt so strongly about all this?

In any case, don’t know if I will be able to post to this blog while I’m in Washington, but I should be able to post again no later than Monday.


Mr. Crankypants is back, and all nice and rested after a long summer vacation. But all the bad news has made him mean and cranky again. There can be nothing good about an entire city getting devastated by a hurricane. Lots of bad news about rising gas prices, too, but Mr. Crankypants has managed to find a silver lining in that cloud. What could be good about rising gas prices? Nothing, you say? Think again….

As Mr. Crankypants gets into his twelve-year-old Toyota Corolla (32 mpg around town, 36 on the highway), he sees someone drive by in a huge, brand-spanking-new Hummer (8 mpg on a good day). Mr. Crankypants just spent $26.37 filling up the Toyota’s gas tank, which caused serious feelings of crankiness. Ah, but watching that brand-spanking-new Hummer drive by, that made everything better. Mr. Crankypants imagines a conversation with the driver of the Hummer….

Hey, look at that brand-spanking-new Hummer! Wow, bet it’s loaded, huh? A/C, power-everything, that looks like a sunroof. Hey, when ja buy that? Three months ago? You mean when gas prices were below two dollars a gallon? Ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha, ha! Hee hee. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha! Too bad, sucker.

There now. Mr. Crankypants feels much better.

Mr. Crankypants, evil alter ego of Dan, to the rescue. First it was birds, now it’s this Duelfer report. Good grief. Mr. Crankypants has always fancied himself as an investigative reporter, so here’s a hard-hitting interview with the alleged perpetrator of this blog…

Mr. Crankypants: Why the sudden intrusion of politics into what used to be a nice little religion blog?

Dan: Look, this is still a religion blog. But democratic principles are at the heart of who Unitarian Universalists are as a religious people. Yet we can’t even talk openly about the war in Iraq, let alone anything else, without getting into name-calling — or worse yet talking behind people’s backs. Our inability to engage in dialogue has become very divisive.

Mr. C. But why choose such a hot button issue as the Iraq war?

D. Because war has been a religious issue at least since Augustine’s justification for just wars.

Mr. C. But you hate Agustine.

D. Only because he’s a prig.

Mr. C. A while back, you spoke of the “divisiveness” that results from a lack of productive dialogue. Just what’s wrong with divisiveness, anyway?

D. Stop trying to be so evil, evil alter ego.

Mr. C. You still haven’t answered — why the emphasis on the Duelfer report? Why not some truly divisive issue like abortion or gun control, where people are so angry and shrill there’s no hope of any rapprochement in our lifetimes?

D. Exactly because there’s so little hope of understanding. With the Iraq war, there’s still hope of open, productive debate.

Mr. C. Chicken.

D. Evil alter ego.

Mr. C. Come on, I’m your alter ego — I know. ‘Fess up. Give the real reason you chose the Duelfer report.

D. I thought the report was very readable, if long…

Mr. C. [Hard stare from Mr. C] The real reason.

D. Oh, all right. I thought “Duelfer” was a cool name.

That concludes Mr. Crankpants’s investigative report. As with all investigative reporting on blogs these days, the goal has been to make the debate more shrill, and contribute to the general atmosphere of hatred and divisiveness. This is Mr. Crankypants, signing off — for now [bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah!!]

Neither right nor left

I’ve been skimming my way through the 1,000+ page Duelfer report. Fascinating reading. Wow.

It presents a far more nuanced view of the origins of the current Iraq conflict than I have been getting through the news media. Unfortunately, partisan political points of view have had the tendency of obscuring actual events. I mean, we all know the New York Times is blatantly Democratic, and the Wall Street Journal is blatantly Republican — and frankly, I’ve long felt their news reporting has lost some nuance because of partisan bias.

The Duelfer report seems far more balanced — plus it places the entire Iraq conflict into historical context. If you want to blame someone there’s plenty of blame to go around — or to be more blunt, if you want to blame the opposite political party, you’ll find plenty of ammunition no matter what your party affiliation. But I think that misses the point of the Duelfer report. Blame is less important at this point — understanding is what we should be striving for. Given the expense and the cost in human lives, obviously we all want to avoid another conflict like this one if at all possible.

Unfortunately, what I get out of the Duelfer report is how simple misunderstanding was a major contributing factor leading to the Iraq conflict. For example, in my post yesterday, I quoted from a section of the Duelfer report that pointed out how badly Saddam Hussein misunderstood the United States. You can also find examples of how we in the United States managed to misunderstand Saddam Hussein — for example, how we misunderstood how Saddam Hussein had to maitain a fiction that Iraq was capable of producing weapons of mass destruction even when it wasn’t, in order to save face and to keep Iran aggression at bay. It also seems we in the United States misunderstood the extent to which Saddam Hussein posed a threat — he was worse in some ways than we had expected, and not as bad in other ways.

I continue to be bothered by the fact that the Democrats and the Republicans — the “liberals” and the “conservatives” — continue to point fingers of blame at each other, continue to indulge in shrill rhetoric rather than reasoned debate that might lead to a deeper understanding of the situation in Iraq. I find this increasingly unacceptable. We need to understand what’s going on in Iraq in order that we may end the Iraq conflict safely, effectively, and as quickly as possible. I am concerned that reasoned debate about the Iraq conflict, and about foreign affairs in general, has degenerated to the point where liberals and conservatives have essentially stopped talking with one another — particularly within Unitarian Universalist circles. We all need to get over being angry with each other. That’s just a waste of our time. We need to re-learn how to have effective, and openly democratic debate and conversation.

So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this — 1. Read the Duelfer report. 2. Find a Unitarian Universalist who has the opposite political position from you (liberals, find a conservative, and conservatives, find a liberal). 3. Ask that person what s/he thinks — then, before you respond, repeat back to them exactly what they said, and ask them if you got it right. 4. Then ask them what we, as Unitarian Universalists, can affirm about the religious implications of the Iraq conflict — again, before you respond, repeat back to them exactly what they said and ask them if you got it right.

In other words, let’s see if we can move towards dialogue — and understanding — as “seekers after truth and goodness,” and as “not agreeing in opinion.”