Captain James, the son of the Bellameys in the Upstairs Downstairs BBC series comes home from World War I disillusioned. He knows the war is a massive criminal waste. He is at his wits’ end to process his bitterness. But when dear Rose, the upstairs maid, loses her fiancé and her only hope for a life of her own to the war, Captain James feels constrained to comfort her with the ancient lie. She can be proud; her beloved died a hero’s death for king and country. He can not tell her the truth. It’s too hard for her to hear.
Imagine President Obama addressing the troops at Fort Bragg as US combat forces withdraw from Iraq. Could he have told the truth: the invasion was the most grievous criminal act in international law, a crime against peace itself? Can he tell more than four thousand families that buried a son or daughter or spouse or parent it was all in vain, and worse, a criminal plot to control the natural resources of another country? Or the tens of thousands of families torn apart by PTSD suffering veterans? And what of the Iraqi victims? NPR and Reuters count the Iraqi dead in the tens of thousands. For shame! Multiply that by tens! Hundreds of thousands Iraqi dead, more than a million if excess morbidity is factored in. Between five and six million Iraqis have been driven into exile, many of them impoverished, unemployed in neighboring countries. For them the war is not over. The Christian community, Chaldean Catholics in the majority, a church that traces its origins back to St. Thomas, has been drastically reduced.
Iraqis were the best educated people in the Arab world. The education and the health care systems, once among the finest (and free), are in shambles. Professionals have fled in such proportion as to constitute a brain-drain. Baghdad is in ruin, with neighborhoods cordoned off from each other by road-block and razor wire. After the 1991 bombing, Saddam Hussein was able to get the electric grid up and running in six months. After eight years, the US leaves Baghdad with six hours electricity a day. Basra, Haditha, Fallujah will not soon forget the crimes committed against their civilian populations, nor quickly forgive. For them the war is not over.
It has been the Catholic Worker tradition to contrast the corporal works of mercy with the works of war: to feed the hungry as opposed to destroying farms and foodstuffs, to shelter the homeless as opposed to destroying cities, towns and villages, and so on. Consider the spiritual works of mercy as well, again opposed to the works of war. Instruct the ignorant? No! Lie, deceive them! The first casualty of war is always truth. Counsel the doubtful? No! Draft them, in the present instance through an “economic draft.” Comfort mourners? Only those on “our” side. Reproach sinners, the perpetrators? You might be fired, or even jailed if you put your body where your mouth is. Bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses? Hardly! Revenge! And pray for the living and the dead victims of “our brave fighting men and women”? Not to mention them! If you must, pray for them but quietly, not out loud, not in the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass. The Church thus becomes complicit.
Imagine President Obama making a clean breast of it all and calling for reparations and national repentance! Imagine our bishops taking the Holy Father at his word and doing the same. Meanwhile, the Afghan war goes on and the warlords now take aim at Iran. Fast and pray!