Saturday, March 19, 2011

lenten journal: coming clean

After I finished writing what follows here, I decided I needed to write a brief preface. I don’t usually do so, but I also don’t get specifically political very often. I am troubled by the bombings that began today because of what it says about who we think we are and who are choosing to be as a nation in our world. I needed somewhere to say so out loud. Thanks for listening.

A number of years ago, Ginger and I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C... I remember, in particular, standing in a small room whose walls went up twelve or fourteen feet and were covered with photographs from a village in Russia. The explanatory plaque on the wall told of this community of Russian Jews that were all murdered. The only things left were the photographs in front of me. The pictures were taken when the people in them didn’t know they were going to be killed. There were wedding pictures, family portraits, and shots of friends probably taken for no other reason than someone had a camera. The photographs hung on the walls in the museum without any relational context other than our common humanity and the reminder of what we are capable of doing to one another. More than once, as we journeyed through the museum, we heard or read the words, “Never again.”

A little over a week ago, my Documentary Studies class watched Ghosts of Rwanda, which returned to the country ten years after the genocide of 1994 in which 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. Europe and America did little more than send in planes to get the white people out. The very few UN “peace keepers” in the country were not allowed to even shoot their guns.

Today, on the anniversary of the U. S. invasion of Iraq, we launched “Operation Oddesy Dawn” and began bombing Libya. The Huffington Post said,

In announcing the mission during a visit to Brazil, President Barack Obama said he was reluctant to resort to force but was convinced it was necessary to save the lives of civilians. He reiterated that he would not send American ground troops to Libya.
"We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy," he said in Brasilia.
During the film on Rwanda, they showed a clip of President Clinton explaining why the U. S. wasn’t intervening. After what happened in Mogadishu, he said, we would not longer intervene unless we had “a compelling national interest.” The truth is we, as a country, can stand by while tyrants and terrorists run amok, as long as they aren’t killing Americans or they don’t have large oil reserves. The civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has gone on for years. Millions have been killed. The armies have consistently used rape as a weapon. In 2004, we said out loud that what was happening in the Darfur region of Sudan was genocide and we still have done nothing. We are bombing Libya for primarily economic reasons, not humanitarian ones. (I’m not sure you can ever bomb someone for humanitarian reasons; that’s too incomprehensible an irony for me.)

In this season of penitence, perhaps we would do well as a nation to come clean about our intentions, at least to ourselves. As long as there were no protesters in Libya, we kept their money in our banks and sold them weapons – not the really nasty ones, but weapons nonetheless. We will care about African nations when they find oil within their borders. We are more interested in things being stable around the world than we are in people being free and fed. Forgive us, Lord, even though we aren’t particularly repentant. Amen.

Peace,
Milton

5 comments:

Joy said...

I have no words, Milton, but I deeply thank you for sharing yours.

We know not what we have not done.

asmac said...

You have spoken truth. Where was that voice in all the deliberations leading up to this decision? Repentance is needed for what we have done, and for what we have left undone.

meg said...

Amen. We must make amends for our actions, taken in self-interest. Thank you for speaking the truth.

Sherry said...

So should we have interfered (militarily) in Darfur and in Rwanda? Or should we just not have interfered in LIbya because our motives are impure? I ask seriously because I am myself conflicted. pacifism is too easy and cheap an answer for me, but I'm not sure how to judge the rationale for interfering in any other country to save lives and end genocide.

don't eat alone said...

Sherry,
Part of what I was saying is our government is disingenuous to say they are on a humanitarian mission in Libya when they've ignored Darfur and Rwanda because we had "no national interest."

I don't know the best way to intervene, but I wish we were having that conversation. I don't see choosing nonviolence as either cheap or easy; responding to violence is the easy, knee-jerk route; neither way is cheap.

We intervened enough in Rwanda to get the white people out and then turned away. We, as Americans, have a skewed self-image: we are not who we think we are and we need to come to terms with that.

Peace,
Milton