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Dilemma of the morally aroused

Imagine if the new fervor for full disclosure in the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky case extended to other records held in secret government archives.

Doesn’t the public have just as compelling an interest in all of the training manuals and videos and films used over the decades by the School of the Americas?

Imagine if the CIA and other agencies decided, without blacking out the most important parts, to release the piles of documents that would fill in the details of our bloody history in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and elsewhere.

One of the tragedies of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky saga is the growing perception that our standing as a moral people, our conduct as a principled nation has to do only with matters of personal sexual conduct.

The problem, of course, is that using the president’s sexual silliness as a measure of our political morality lets us off the hook rather easily.

There is no room for such comfort in the stories of Plowshares activists Frs. Frank Cordaro and Larry Morlan, Kathy Shields Boylan and Dominican Srs. Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert or in the tale of the 18 School of the Americas protesters just released from prison.

The Plowshares group quietly faced their fate in court Sept. 22 and 23 and just as quietly went off to jail.

It was with a similar lack of fanfare that 18 people who had demonstrated against the School of the Americas, located at Fort Benning, Ga., were released from prison just days before the Plowshares trial in Maryland.

There was no danger that their warnings of a culture in deep denial about its role in spawning violence around the globe would ever penetrate the din of endless airwaves yakking about Monica and Bill.

Television news-watching has become an uncomfortable family exercise these days -- we squirm trying to figure out how to keep explaining things to the children. Yet shouldn’t we be squirming at other news -- at the arrest of respectable and moral people whose outrage is directed at the machines of mass destruction and the learning centers for political torture and massacre?

Imagine newscasts that detailed night after night, in the most graphic fashion possible, the real people on either side of the ever-growing gap between rich and poor. Think what we would be confronted with if CNN did daily updates on the weapons we produce, how much they cost and where in this overarmed globe they were being shipped.

Could we feel comfortable if the networks and major papers decided to pound us day after day with stories of the inequity in educational opportunities in this country; with the undisguised racial dividing lines in our cities; with the degrading and inhumane living conditions of many who pick the food we eat?

What if they all decided to tell us these stories, relentlessly, as they do now with Monica and Bill, until the problems were resolved?

They might inspire an honest discussion about being moral people.

National Catholic Reporter, October 2, 1998