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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Wednesday, October 30, 2002  
Useful idiocy as an article of faith

Left-wing activism has become as much a badge of office as the staff and the miter in Massachusetts' Episcopal Diocese, which has become more or less the Green Party at prayer. Pictures of cassocked bishops leading peace demonstrations on the steps of the cathedral in Boston are highlighted at the diocesan website, which is touting an anti-war rally Nov. 3 on Boston Common that is being mounted by the usual suspects.

Any sense that Bishop Thomas Shaw is preaching to anyone but the choir is readily dismissed by a reading of his latest column in the diocesan house organ.

As our country moves closer to war with Iraq, I am hearing an uncharacteristic unanimity in the Episcopal parishes I visit in eastern Massachusetts. I have not heard anyone say, "It's time to strike. We ought to be supporting our President." Instead, what people most often express is a sense of unease with the talk of war. There is a feeling that as a nation we ought to be more concerned about our negative image in the world. We ought to ask what we might do with our power and wealth besides wage war.

The bishop needs to get out more. The most recent Pew Forum poll has six in 10 Americans supporting military action on Iraq.

There is no doubt that the Iraqi leader is a brutal dictator who has murdered his own people and threatened the security of the Middle East. We must remember, however, that we supported and armed him during the Iraq-Iran war. And, according to the authoritative oil journal Middle East Economic Survey, as much as 90 percent of Iraq's estimated 1.8 million barrels of oil per day is purchased by U.S. Gulf coast refineries.

Our national addiction to oil continues to support Hussein's regime. That same addiction is driving the Bush administration toward war. We are part of the problem.

The "war for oil" canard is dispatched by David Frum in this column in the Telegraph. And for kicking the pins out from under the whole jerry-rigged claptrap of arguments the fellow-traveling Left raises against war in Iraq, it is hard to surpass Christopher Hitchens.

But something even more fundamental is going on in the escalating rhetoric of war in this country. What is really leading us into war is anxiety, fear, an overwhelming need for security.

Well, jetliners used as missiles to kill thousands of Americans would spark concerns for security. Same for suicide bombings, hostage-takings, intelligence of planned biological attacks... Here's one Saddam scholar's prognosis: Unless Saddam experiences ''a total personality metamorphosis,'' once he has nuclear weapons the world will face a ''100 percent'' chance of catastrophe.

But back to Bishop Shaw:

Saddam Hussein has replaced Osama bin Ladin as our demon. The Bush administration tells us that eliminating him will make us safe, and our way of life will go on as it did before September 11. Our wealth and power will be intact. We may continue to consume the world's resources at will with little consideration for poorer nations. A more likely outcome of war will be devastation to Arab nations and Israel-and more terrorism. The people of the world who have little will continue to hate us.

Yes, we're just fat, coddled children being told bedtime stories by the president. And Saddam and Osama are either phantoms of our own devising, or heroes of the poverty-stricken who have been stirred to act by our oppression.

If the twentieth century taught us anything, I would think, it was that war solves no fundamental problems. World War I was a cause of World War II, which was a cause of the Cold War, and so forth. A compelling argument has been made that strategic nonviolent action is a far stronger response to brutality and aggression than violence.

Actually, the exact opposite has been the lesson of the 20th century. Or did the Neville Chamberlain Brigade, copies of the Kellogg-Briand Pact at the ready, bring down Hitler, and a legion of origami-folding Quakers, the Iron Curtain?

War against Iraq is about us, not about changing regimes.

Our militaristic response to the tragedy of September 11 has not brought increased security, nor has our rush to curtail civil liberties and target "foreigners" for investigation and detention. War against Iraq will also fail to restore our faith in ourselves.

Faith in ourselves can only be restored by a new national inquiry into who we are and what our obligations to the world are. I believe that we are called in these days to spiritual renewal, which begins (and has already begun) in our diverse communities of faith and fellowship, not in lashing out against enemies.

The surest self-defense: Navel-gazing. After all, if they hate us, it must have been something we've done.

Let us have a national conversation on the United States as an agent of reconciliation in the world. Let us begin it by refusing to go to war against Iraq or anything else.

Let us refuse to go to war against anything. Contrast these words in time of crisis with Churchill's: "[W]e shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…"

Or with Lincoln's: "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Or with John Kennedy's: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

To Bishop Shaw, nothing is worth fighting for.

This is moral idiocy – and for the enemies of this nation, useful idiocy.


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