President George Bush has managed to stir the waters again on the role of the United States in Iraq by comparing it to Vietnam. Bush is now saying we should not have left Vietnam so early, despite the fact that Vietnamese themselves are arguing that we should have left much earlier than we did. (See: Bush's invocation of Vietnam War pullout to defend his Iraq strategy rankles Vietnamese.)
From Where I Stand
[Editor's Note: Sr. Joan Chittister is taking a short break, so we have tapped into her archives. This column first appeared May 15, 2006.]
There's something intergalactic about hearing world news -- U.S. news -- in another country. Last week, for instance, I listened to the news in Tokyo. In the space of 24 hours, I heard a series of dizzying reports.
[Editor's Note: Sr. Joan Chittister is taking a short break, so we have tapped into her archives. This column first appeared Aug. 12, 2003.]
I asked a friend of mine what effect he thought the war in Iraq would have on upcoming elections. He paused only so slightly. "None at all," he said. I pressed the point: "Not even in view of the fact that we have alienated some of our strongest allies?" "Joan," he said in the kind of low, patient voice reserved for slow learners, "Europeans don't vote in our elections."
Perhaps one of the best ways to discover who we are as a culture is to go visit some other culture. The experience is an interesting one.
One of the most exciting parts of the excursion is the opportunity it gives us to discover the effects of history on us -- as a people, as a culture, even as a church.
It used to be that if you asked a question about the Catholic church, you got very straightforward answers. No, we did not eat meat on Friday. Yes, we had to go to church every Sunday.
It’s happening everywhere, I know. But I learned last week not to take it for granted. In fact, it may well be our major problem and it is hiding in plain sight.
With a measure of curiosity short of nostalgia but greater than personal interest, I found myself watching a series of local high school graduations on the public service channel last week. Why I paused -- and stayed -- on that particular channel, I’ll never know. But I’m glad it happened.
It was, in fact, a veritable “taste of America” moment that I haven’t seen too often since I left the scholastic world years ago. The graduates were combed, washed, heeled and proper. No goon show kids here. They wore their mortarboards flat and undecorated. Their gowns were pressed and glowing. Their smiles were broad, proud, satisfied.
Frankly, I thought the questions not only completely missed the mark, they trivialized the very subject they purported to talk about.
All right, now we've seen it with our own eyes. So now what?
The picture of a small girl, naked and screaming, running down a dirt road in Vietnam covered with U.S. napalm all over her tiny body galvanized this country against the Vietnam War. For the first time, we could see exactly what was happening there, exactly to what lows the God of War had taken us.
"A real Christian prays," Karl Barth wrote, "with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other." I have never been able to forget that image. There is something about the insight that rings true. After all, if what we learn about the mind of God, the heart of Jesus, in Scripture has nothing to do with the way we live, then the spiritual life is at best an exercise designed to make God a private devotion.
After the violent rampage at Virginia Tech in April, after the dead had been counted and the wounded tended to in hospitals, and after the parents of the young students who matriculated at that campus had finally been assured that it was safe to send their children back to school, the conversation about gun control in our country emerged again. And, as we can see, the idea of gun control is being vigorously rejected.