Anniversaries are a time for storytelling. Each year we are afforded an opportunity to expurgate, embellish, tweak. It is a kind of spring-cleaning for our collective psyche. Some bits of the narrative get swept away, allowing others to come into clearer focus. It is a time to tidy up, to get the story right.
Sunday, March 16: The Antiwar Pope
Pope Benedict XVI appeared in a crowded St. Peter’s Square and “issued one of his strongest appeals for peace in Iraq on Sunday” according to the Associated Press. The wire story was carried throughout the west.
Here is what he said:
“At the end of this solemn Celebration in which we have meditated on Christ’s Passion, I wish to recall the late Archbishop of Mossul for Chaldeans, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, who tragically passed away a few days ago. His beautiful witness of fidelity to Christ, to the Church and to his people, who he did not want to abandon, notwithstanding numerous threats, urges me to raise a strong and heart-rending cry: stop the murders, stop the violence, stop the hate in Iraq! And at the same time I raise an appeal to the Iraqi People, who for five years now are marked with the sign of war that has provoked the disruption of its civil and social life: beloved Iraqi People, lift up your head and be yourself, in the first place, builders of your national life! May there be reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and respect for civil coexistence among tribes, ethnic and religious groups, the jointly responsible way to peace in the Name of God!”
The Iraqi people have been “marked with the sign of war.” How this happened, who did the marking, or when it was done, is not relevant and is therefore not mentioned. It is possible that the “beloved Iraqi people” simply have a predisposition to social and civil dissolution. Christians are particularly moved as they celebrate the commemoration of Christ’s passion to issue a vigorous — even heart-rending — exhortation to the people of Iraq to “stop the hate” and to urge them to step onto the “responsible way to peace.”
Tuesday, March 18: The Antiwar Candidate
Barak Obama delivered a speech on Tuesday that The New York Times dubbed his “Profile in Courage” in which Mr. Obama “illuminate[d] larger, troubling issues that the nation is wrestling with.” Walter Earl Fluker of Morehouse College said that “Like King in the past, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression, he spoke directly to the complexity of the issue at hand, and translated it so it’s part of our nation’s story.”
Here is what he said:
“I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
“As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.”
Fighting wars, especially a war against terrorism, requires strong national unity. Courageous leaders help us achieve that unity by translating complex, troubling realities into language that can be incorporated into our national story. While Mr. Obama has “opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning” he vigorously condemns anyone who would sow seeds of divisiveness by claiming that the war is firmly rooted in anything other than the “perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”
Wednesday, March 19: The Antiwar Movement
A number of antiwar and peace groups have been preparing to mark March 19 as the fifth anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. United for Peace and Justice is among the organizers and has been sending regular email messages. The latest was from Leslie Cagan.
Here is what she said:
“We are approaching 2 tragic milestones — the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War and the 4,000 U.S. soldier killed during it. What the Iraqi people have lost is beyond counting.”
The war is a tragedy. We know that because of its length and because of the number of U.S. soldiers killed. The loss to the Iraqis is beyond counting. While we are appalled by callous statements from the military (“We don’t do body counts!”), and while we respect the efforts of people who have tried to count Iraqi deaths, we come back to reliable milestones that the American people can understand. Number of years we fight. Number of men and women we lose.
ANDREW WIMMER is member of the Center for Theology and Social Analysis in St. Louis. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.