Lessons from Vietnam

By Mediagonebad

We may see ourselves through rose-colored glasses and convince ourselves that we are right and they are wrong, that we are the good guys and they are the bad guys.

But are we really morally superior to anyone? We reacted to terrorism by becoming terrorists ourselves when we attacked Iraq. We responded to beheadings by becoming torturers ourselves. Their religious fanatics want to kill us, so our religious fanatics want to kill them.

We are reactionaries. We think in the short-term and do not consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We do not consider alternative actions through grassroots discussion as a genuine democratic republic would do, but we let the media corporations and paid lobbyists set the agenda and control the debate. Alternative views are ignored in this country.

Some neocons advocate the use of nuclear weapons in the Arab East, but the use of nukes anywhere will virtually ensure that Washington and Omaha will burn as well. That is an insane argument, a suicidal argument.

The real fight is for freedom, democracy, and liberty under law here at home, not in some foreign land.

Catholic Priest and Vietnam activist Philip Berrigan dictated the following from his death-bed just one day before he died on Dec. 6, 2002:

“I die in a community including my family, my beloved wife Elizabeth, three great Dominican nuns - Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert, and Jackie Hudson (emeritus) jailed in Western Colorado - Susan Crane, friends local, national and even international. They have always been a life-line to me. I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself. We have already exploded such weapons in Japan in 1945 and the equivalent of them in Iraq in 1991, in Yugoslavia in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001. We left a legacy for other people of deadly radioactive isotopes - a prime counterinsurgency measure. For example, the people of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be battling cancer, mostly from depleted uranium, for decades. In addition, our nuclear adventurism over 57 years has saturated the planet with nuclear garbage from testing, from explosions in high altitudes (four of these), from 103 nuclear power plants, from nuclear weapons factories that can't be cleaned up - and so on. Because of myopic leadership, of greed for possessions, a public chained to corporate media, there has been virtually no response to these realities…” [From Common Dreams.]

Philip Berrigan is best known for his opposition to the Vietnam war, which he expressed by destroying Selective Service Files, pouring blood on nuclear missiles at a General Electric nuclear weapons plant, and similar acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. He served seven years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy, burglary and criminal mischief. His motivating philosophy-- that we humans cannot serve both love and war -- has stood the test of time and deserves a reading today:

“When a people arbitrarily decides that this planet and its riches are to be divided unequally among equals, and that the only criterion for the division is the amount of naked power at its disposal, diplomacy tends to be essentially military, truth tends to be fiction, and the world tends to become a zoo without benefit of cages. And war tends to be the ultimate rationality, because reason has been bankrupted of human alternatives….

Our lives, to be agencies of peace, must stand the scrutiny of both God and man, and by man I mean not our peers, but the billions of people suffering from war, tyranny, starvation, disease, and the burden of color prejudice. In our better moments we may pity them, but sentiment has yet to stop bombing or feed starving children. They will hold us to our acts, and if these acts will not bear human analysis, we will be judged and condemned and withstood in the same coin.

If disengagement from the violent aspects of the ‘system’ is one side of peacemaking, service of truth and human rights is the other. As Pope John used to say, ‘Love ought to be the motive, but justice is the object.’ This is a very large order, calling for people who know humanity by principle and by experience, who are as pained by the plight of starving millions in India as by the sufferings of our own poor, by Chase Manhattan Bank investments in South Africa as by the ruthlessness of Detroit car manufacturers, by napalmed Vietnamese children as by rat-bitten Harlem kids. For as they see it, people are one before they are many, they are a man before men, not objects to be manipulated, exploited, cursed, or killed.”

[By Philip Berrigan, Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967.]

1 comment:

  1. Jamie, I agree with everything you write here and very much appreciate your tribute to Philip Berrigan.

    One phrase at the beginning of this piece was understated, as far as I’m concerned.

    “Their religious fanatics want to kill us, so our religious fanatics want to kill them.”

    I’m sure that there are religious fanatics in the Middle East (that’s what we’re speaking about in 2007). There is no doubt that there are religious fanatics in The US. In fact, I submit to you that, when people believe that they’ve closed themselves in an exclusive box with the being that created everything, they set the stage for confrontation. Confrontation over eternity is very serious confrontation. I believe organized religions have set that stage.

    It’s possible that Middle Eastern religious fanatics are actually going out of their way to kill those who are not enclosed in their god-box with them. It’s even possible that what happened on September 11, 2001 was a result of that exclusionary world view, although there’s a great deal of evidence to the contrary.

    Having said that, though, our religious fanatics don’t seem to merely want to kill their religious fanatics. I refer to Pat Robertson’s suggestion that Hugo Chávez should be assassinated.

    This religious leader doesn’t want Chávez assassinated because he strongly speaks out against one religion or strongly speaks out in favor of another. Chávez has been known to criticize the Catholic Church as well Christian “missionaries” to Venezuela who brought our government’s world view with them.

    His country, however, is religiously diverse and a fairly high percentage of Venezuelan’s are, indeed, Catholic. Yet, Chávez was reelected to the presidency of Venezuela with over 60% of the vote.

    Religion did not drive Robertson to call for the murder of the Venezuelan president. Greed was behind that curse. Chávez is a socialist and that’s why Robertson wants him dead. Robertson has become extremely wealthy from his “ministry”. His wealth puts him financially well above most Americans, including those who continue to send him money. As a populist, Chávez threatens the social stature of people like Robertson. As a Democratic Socialist, Chávez truly cares about all of the citizens of Venezuela and has even offered to help the poor in the US.

    Berrigan indeed was a Catholic priest, but, like Chávez, and unlike Robertson, it was his love for all people that drove Berrigan, not his Catholicism. In fact, it’s obvious that Berrigan ultimately had somewhat of a hard time with Catholicism.

    Jamie, this blog entry is well written and actually quite poignant. However, I think you give so called Americans a pass when you refer to them as “religious fanatics”. Yes, people like Robertson appear to be religious fanatics, but the “religious” part is nothing but a veil used to garner support for their fanaticism, a fanaticism driven by their addiction to greed.

    To friendship,