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Inside NCR

From Iraq to Guatemala, the perils of intruding

Saddam Hussein is one big conundrum. I have no trouble confessing I profoundly dislike him. Millions of words are blowing in the wind about how to cope: whether to pulverize him and half his country, while wasting some innocents as “collateral”; or to save the innocent and let Saddam build bad bombs to kill other innocents later.

The United States has remarkably few allies in the rush to pulverize. Do they know something we don’t?

Few nations go to war for good reasons. When George Bush’s Iraq war was over, many attitudes could be summed up in the title of NCR publisher Tom Fox’s book, Military Victory, Moral Defeat. Bush said the war was for democracy, in Kuwait of all places. But in a moment of candor his secretary of state, James Baker, admitted it was all about “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Jobs for us, obviously, not for the Iraqis, especially the dead ones.

This brings us to the man on the NCR cover. It’s not an easy decision to put such a picture up front. Guatemala is one of many countries where the United States, in the supposed interests of democracy, has aided repressive regimes in snuffing out opposition. Our man on the cover was presumably a member of that opposition. He looks so harmless now, so pathetic, while the United States forges ahead toward ever greater prosperity and power.

If this sounds like U.S.-bashing, remember that self-criticism is a civic as well as a personal duty. The United States, it should quickly be said, is one of the most generous countries in the world, and one of the most idealistic, and poor people worldwide are grateful for its largess and impressed by its vitality and can-do attitudes.

But every time a foreign power intrudes aggressively in the affairs of another nation, the result is dead bodies and broken nations -- that is in capsule the history of the world. The United States in its idealism doesn’t seem to see that yet. It often takes many centuries for the violence to come home to roost. The former Yugoslavia is a story of old intrusions come home to roost, as is Northern Ireland. The seeds of the massacres in Rwanda were sown by colonialism long ago, as were similar violent seeds in dozens of places around the world.

It’s not that there would have been perfect peace in any case. So what is an idealist to do? If we had an easy answer to that, the world would be beating a path to our door; or perhaps not.

But there is a strong hint here that we should welcome the initiatives of countries, such as Guatemala, which is prepared to look back and face its community memory with all its scars. And likewise South Africa, and perhaps others. They are trying, as few nations have done, to look at the past honestly and learn from it. Here in the United States, it might be the patriotic thing to do.

The Catholic Press Association has announced that “normal professional practices will not be restricted” at future CPA meetings. The statement itself cries out for explanation.

It all began last year when the keynote speaker at the annual CPA meeting in Denver was Clarissa Pinkola Estés, who forbade the journalists present from recording her or taking photos. To repeat, this was a national press convention. The subject of her talk, which must have been tongue-in-cheek, was “The Voice of the Catholic Press.”

We need to declare ourselves here. Managing Editor Tom Roberts, representing NCR, taped every word. No, he didn’t wire himself like Linda Tripp; he boldly placed that old recorder on the table -- the dinner was good, he says -- and the glint in his eye says he secretly hoped someone would challenge him but no one did.

The CPA board’s recent statement declared: “We find it totally inconsistent with our mission and actually insulting to our professionalism that we would be denied the opportunity to photograph or tape record a convention speech without serious cause.” Why nobody jumped in headlong to defend this principle at the time will remain a mystery. But two cheers for this belated clarification.

In this time when news leaks proliferate, here’s one for us: a reliable ear-to-the-ground source in St. Louis reports that the St. Louis University Hospital saga is far from over. Recall that last year, the university board had all but sold the teaching hospital to Tenet, a for-profit chain, for $300 million, when Archbishop Justin Rigali and other prominent U.S. church leaders cried foul .

We’d heard that Rigali and Jesuit Fr. Lawrence Biondi, the university’s president, had been meeting regularly of late. Now Jerry Berger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, said in his Feb. 4 report that a lawyer close to the negotiations promises a “Vatican-sanctioned settlement” on the horizon -- one that will involve “a certain amount of face-saving and a large amount of cash.” Berger says to expect an announcement within weeks.

Our sources tell us that Tenet will get the hospital, despite opposition from Rigali and a pack of red hats. Apparently principal, not principle, will win the day.

If you think this is not important, reflect on all the similar hospitals, universities and other such institutions around the country that could be further bones of contention as religious orders and other Catholics downsize, signs of the times.