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One of the things that my recent “heart event” interfered with was a piece I was working on based on the recently published book by Ursuline Sr. Dianna Ortiz, The Blindfold’s Eye: My Journey from Torture to Truth (Orbis). I plan to return to the project, but in the meantime I feel compelled -- perhaps because of the approaching natural deadline of year’s end -- to say something about it. Some, I know, will consider this a wildly exaggerated claim, but I think The Blindfold’s Eye is one of the most important books to confront American culture in the past two decades (see Gary MacEoin’s review, NCR, Oct. 18).

I say that because Ortiz was Guatemala’s mistake and, by extension, the United States’ mistake in the arena of Guatemala’s vicious civil war. She not only survived the torture chamber but, unlike hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans who died and disappeared, was able to return to the United States and begin a search for the truth of U.S. involvement in the war. In short, she brings back to us the haunting experience of an eyewitness that puts the lie to all the noble rhetoric, particularly of the Reagan era, when Mayans were being butchered in the countryside and the United States was backing it, all under the guise of fighting communism.

The truth is far more horrid and, I believe, if we do not square with that truth all else rings hollow, particularly the bloated bluster of today’s antiterrorism rhetoric. We have the world’s largest megaphone and we are able, to a degree unmatched anywhere in the world, to spin the story our way. Such awesome power to shape immediate history comes with a commensurate responsibility to understand the full truth. Shining light on the dark side of our international involvements is the only way we’ll honestly understand who we are and what is really being done in our name.

As Phil Berrigan put it in a 1970 essay recalled by Colman McCarthy (Page 18) “We are, in effect, a violent people and none of the mythological pablum fed us at our mother’s knee, in the classroom or at Fourth of July celebrations can refute the charge. The evidence is too crushing, whether it be Hiroshima or nuclear equivalents of seven tons of TNT for every person on this planet, or scorched earth in the Iron Triangle or Green Berets in Guatemala or subhuman housing in the ghettoes of America. A substantial share of our trouble comes from what we own, and how we regard what we own. President Johnson told our troops: ‘They want what we have and we’re not going to give it to them.’ ”

That kind of truth telling might not be a bad national resolution for the new year.

My nominee for top wowzer political line of this young century was delivered by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in answer to a question put by Steve Croft of CBS’s “60 Minutes.” According to a transcript, in an interview aired Dec. 15, Croft, speaking of tensions and possible war with Iraq, asked, “Mr. Secretary, what do you say to people who think this is about oil?”

Rumsfeld responded: “Nonsense. It just isn’t. There -- there -- there are certain things like that, myths that are floating around. I’m glad you asked. I -- it has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.”

Maybe he thought Croft was talking about cooking oil.

But let’s not leave the year with that as the last word. As daunting and troubling as church and state themes may be this season, I take great hope, from my vantage point, in the vitality of the broad religious community and its persistence in raising questions and doing the work of justice. The religious community I speak of doesn’t get invited to prime time, its gospel doesn’t promise prosperity or power and it doesn’t equate military might with God’s favor. It works quietly, often on the margins; its gift to us is wisdom and the patience of the long haul. It realizes, as someone I admire once put it, that we live at the intersections of mysterious freedoms, God’s and our own. Such folks make it, in the face of all the impending doom, a wonderful world. Happy New Year.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, December 27, 2002