Shuck and Jive

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Empire's Sorrows

I attended Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis's presentation on Al Qaeda at King College on Thursday. Dr. Fitsanakis is a Ph. D. in political science specializing in intelligence and counter-intelligence. He offered a great deal of material. What I took from the lecture was how the U.S. funded Al Qaeda to fight its wars for years and years with the simple motto: "We would do anything to stop the Soviets."

Even after the Soviet collapse we continued to fund them. There was no hint of morality to any of this. No concern for the future or for the people who actually lived in the countries for which the U.S. supplied arms, communication, and other support for the enemies of our enemies. We have helped to create the terrorism that we claim to be fighting. Where will it end?

I am troubled by all of this. I have been trying to get a conversation going at Presbyterian Bloggers with other Presbyterian clergy and laypersons about the church's role in all of this. I admit, it is pretty difficult to get a conversation started. I have to conclude that the church is worthless. It doesn't care. It is so wrapped up in internal politics, fretting about finances and loss of members, and disputing theological minutiae, that it has lost its voice.

One person suggested that all we have left is sackcloth and ashes. Perhaps. My friend and colleague (and great lover of peace) who blogs Abundance Trek posted this article by James Carroll. I think he is the same James Carroll who wrote Constantine's Sword, but I haven't checked that out yet. The article is entitled, Americans Face a Moral Reckoning. Here are three paragraphs:

The sorrow is back. Everywhere you go, friends greet one another with a choked acknowledgment of a nearly unspeakable frustration at what unfolds in Iraq. This seems true whether people oppose the war absolutely, or only on pragmatic terms; whether they want US troops out at once, or over time. Even about those distinctions, little remains to be said. Bush’s contemptuous carelessness, his inner circle’s corrupt enabling, the Pentagon’s dependable launching of folly after folly, the Democrats’ ineffectual kibitzing, even your heartfelt concern for the troops — these subjects have exhausted themselves. The “surge” of the January escalation was preceded by the surge of public anguish that resulted in Republican losses in November. That election was a stirring rejection of the administration’s purposes in Iraq, a rejection promptly seconded by the Iraq Study Group. But so what? Bush’s purposes hold steady, and their poison tide now laps at Iran.

Why should you not be demoralized and depressed? But the sorrow of war goes deeper than the mistaken policies of a stubborn president. Next to Bao Ninh’s book on your shelf stands “The Sorrows of Empire” by Chalmers Johnson. That title suggests how far into the bone of your nation the pins of this problem are sunk. In effect, the disastrous American war in Iraq is the text, while America’s militarized way of being in the world is the context. Armed power at the service of US economic sway has made a putative enemy of a vast population around the globe, and that enemy’s vanguard are the terrorists. Violent opposition to the American agenda increases with each surge from Washington, whatever its character. Both text and context reveal that every dream of empire brings sorrow, obviously so to the victims of imperial violence, but also to the imperial dreamers, whether or not they consciously associate with what is being done in their name.

But the word sorrow implies more than grief and loss. The palpable sadness of a people reluctantly at war can push toward a fuller moral reckoning with the condition of a nation that has made its own economic supremacy an absolute value. To take on the question of an economy advanced with little regard for its sustainability, much less for its justice, implies a move away from the focus on Bush’s venality to a broader responsibility. How do the sorrows of war and empire implicate you? (Read More)

I am at the point where sorrow is all I have left.


  1. I struggle every day to muster the energy it takes to do even the little that I have undertaken to create change in our community, in our nation, and in our world. I don't enjoy demonstrating in the streets. I don't relish spending my free time printing and distributing fliers, organizing events, talking to politicians. I don't read Noam Chomsky for pleasure, for God's sake! And I don't like myself when I spend so much time and energy involved in the anger I have as I try to understand our leaders and what they are doing to our great experiment, much less the rest of the world.

    The temptation is great to simply say "screw it", and go dig in my garden, enjoy the beauty that still exists, for me, for now. But to do so would be to admit that I don't care - or can't care - how things will be for my nephews when they are my age, if they make it that long. To do so would be to give up hope on the future.

    But what do we do when faced with such tangled, short-sighted and greedy "visionaries" as the neocons? I desperately want ours to become one of those quiet countries that has no need for unsustainable economic growth - like Canada, or Finland, or Iceland. I wonder if we will ever make it to that point without violent revolution or annihilation. I share your sorrow, John. I feel like we live under a sort of spiritual apartheid, in which a minority is very powerful, yet ravenously hungry for more power, and so they use the weakness, the apathy, the fear, and the ignorance of the majority to help them procure their poisonous food.

    I have a strong suspicion that some who heard Joseph’s lecture would simply conclude “We can’t fix what we have broken. We will never be able to diplomatically extricate ourselves from this tangled web we wove – all the more reason to drop “the bomb” on all of them and be done with it.”, and never allow themselves to think about what that really means. Talk about giving up on the future! So I conclude that I need to keep doing what little I am doing, if not more, and take a day or two here and there for the garden, to keep my sanity, and to keep my sorrow from overwhelming me.

  2. Thanks so much, Sandra, for that. I appreciate and admire all you have done and continue to do.

    No, I have not given up the fight, or in hope for the future; I am just wallowing a bit today.

    At our jazz service we sang the Dixieland tune, "When the Saints Go Marching In" with different lyrics. This was the last verse:

    "When our leaders learn to cry,
    when our leaders learn to cry,
    how I want to be in that number,
    when the saints go marching in."

  3. Thanks so much Sandra for that uplifting message. I needed that too. It made me think of something a friend of mine said.

    "How children are effected defines what is right and wrong."

    So for giving up on making change it would have a negative impact on children and therefore be wrong. Whats good for the adult isn't always good for the children. You must of course though stay engaged with a love and enjoyment of life or you can not do things for the children either.

    Try that test on other things as well, "How children are effected defines what is right and wrong."