Thursday, September 7, 2006

THOUGHTS IN THE PRESENCE OF POLITICAL ARROGANCE

HERE WE GO AGAIN. Our President is once again using the tragedy of 9/11 to polarize the partisan political debate regarding the use of Supreme Court-banned military tribunals to try suspected terrorists long held at illegal secret prisons and now grandiosely transferred to Guantanamo Bay detention center 60 days before mid-term elections. The range of pundits I have thus far heard agree: Bush is trying deflect attention away from the mounting disaster his Administration has created in Iraq by using the fifth anniversary of 9/11 to call for swift justice in kangaroo courts for the terrorists who planned 9/11. Here we go again.

A CLEARER VOICE. I seems fair, at this point, to recall some of Wendell Berry's "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear." Berry wrote this piece shortly after 9/11 five years ago; I consider it prophetic and spot on to this day. Here is a brief excerpt:

THE MISTAKE OF NATIONAL SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. "National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a mistake. It is misleading. It is a sign of weakness. Any war that we may make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine."

DOUBLE STANDARD. "It is a mistake also - as events since September 11 have shown - to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues."

CRISES DO NOT JUSTIFY POLITICAL OPPRESSION. "And surely, in our country, under our Constitution, it is a fundamental error to suppose that any crisis or emergency can justify any form of political oppression. Since September 11, far too many public voices have presumed to "speak for us" in saying that Americans will gladly accept a reduction of freedom in exchange for greater "security". Some would, maybe. But some others would accept a reduction in security (and in global trade) far more willingly than they would accept any abridgment of our Constitutional rights."

REMEMBERING TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES. "In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult."

WAR AND MORE WAR. "Even now we dare not forget that since the attack of Pearl Harbor - to which the present attack has been often and not usefully compared - we humans have suffered an almost uninterrupted sequence of wars, none of which has brought peace or made us more peaceable."

REPEATING THE CYCLE. "The aim and result of war necessarily is not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual 'war to end war?'"

PEACEABLENESS. "What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money."

PRACTICE WHAT WE PREACH. "The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. It is wrong to suppose that we can exploit and impoverish the poorer countries, while arming them and instructing them in the newest means of war, and then reasonably expect them to be peaceable."

KNOW YOUR ENEMY WELL. "We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us."

Read the full text of "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear."

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