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‘We have built up this anger,’ bishop says


To understand the anger directed against the United States Sept. 11, Americans need to review statements made by State Department official George Kennan in the 1940s, and by Pope John Paul II in a meeting with President Bush July 23, according to pacifist Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of Detroit.

Kennan was a U.S. State Department analyst, and later an expert on the Soviet Union, who in the late 1940s said, “We are 6 percent of the world’s people and we have over 50 percent of the world’s wealth. That’s going to make us an object of envy and resentment.”

But it was where Kennan took that assessment that disturbs Gumbleton, for it illustrates the course of U.S. foreign, political and economic policy ever since.

“Instead of committing the country, committing the United States, to working throughout the world to bring everyone up to our economic and democratic levels, Kennan said the United States must develop the pattern of relationships that would enable us to maintain the disparity,” Gumbleton said. “And we’re still doing it.”

Gumbleton said the pope understands full well “the tragedy of these times,” and challenged Bush (at Castel Gandolfo July 23) to deal with that tragedy. “But all the U.S. media reported from that meeting was stem cell, stem cell, stem cell,” Gumbleton said.

The pope, surveying rapid globalization, told the U.S. president, “The church cannot but express profound concern that our world continues to be divided, no longer by the former political and military blocs, but by a tragic fault line between those who can benefit from these opportunities and those who can seem cut off from them.”

“The revolution of freedom of which I spoke at the U.N. in 1995 must now be completed by a revolution of opportunity in which all the world’s peoples actively contribute to economic prosperity and share in its fruits,” the pope said. “This requires leadership by those nations whose religious and cultural traditions should make them most attentive to the moral dimensions of the issues involved.”

On Sept. 16, the day after Gumbleton spoke to NCR, James Flanigan, the Los Angeles Times’ chief financial writer, provided a per capita income overview of people in the eastern and southern Mediterranean region.

Flanigan reported that in Israel and Kuwait the gross domestic product per capita is $16,000 a year per person, about $320 a week. NCR translated Flanigan’s other figures into weekly per capita incomes: Libya, $140 a week, Saudi Arabia $120, Lebanon $100, Turkey $62, Iran $34, Algeria $30, Egypt $28, Jordan and Syria $20, Iraq $2.

Palestinians, had they been included, would appear near the end of the list; Afghanistan at the bottom.

All these countries, Flanigan wrote, are “without jobs for the growing young populations.”

Gumbleton said, “You have these kids in Palestine cheering” over the Sept. 11 attack on the United States. “They’re products of 50 years of refugee camps. They’ve been kept down for a half-century. Every time they’ve lifted their heads to demand a hearing, demand change, an intifada, they’re crushed back down. Humiliated. They see the United States behind it, operating through Israel. So, they see the United States humiliated. They cheer.”

To find solutions to terrorism, he said, the United States and the West have to look at themselves. “America has gotten to the point that we really are dominating the world. We’ve broadened out to include the Group of Seven, the First World’s top seven industrialized nations, but we’re the leaders. The Group of Seven is one-fifth of the world’s people,” he said, “with 87 percent of the wealth.”

Which means, said Gumbleton, these are the times that try peacemakers’ souls. Activists, holding small meetings and candlelight vigils, are “out there on their own, caught between wanting to be patriotic and yet knowledgeable of other realities.”

The pacifists, when reviewing events of Sept. 11, “are caught in that bind,” he said, “of having empathy and utter compassion for those suffering from what happened in New York and Washington, and trying to get people to begin to think about the terrorism that has gone on in the world before, and who is responsible. That we, the United States, have built up this anger.”

Gumbleton spoke of his trips to Iraq. “Three or four times a week I’ll be telling someone new we’re still bombing Iraq, and they say, ‘We are?’ I tell them of approaching a school in Iraq to meet with the teachers and children. The school had been damaged the week before in a U.S. bombing attack.

“When the children heard Americans were coming they were terrified, they thought we were coming to kill them. Their parents had to come and take them home,” he said.

Americans have to listen to others, he said. “They’re not getting their money’s worth from the media. They have a duty to go around the media, to find out for themselves what’s really happening in the world.

“We need a special session of the United Nations in which the poor countries of the world -- the Group of 77 -- are truly invited into the conversation, and their views of global justice made clear and made public,” he said. “But we don’t listen. We don’t draw them into the conversation. We don’t publicize what they’re telling us.

“Instead, the United States decides what’s best for the international order by deciding what’s best for us, then we go ahead and do it. We’re doing what George Kennan said we should do in the 1940s.”

Almost 60 years later, said Gumbleton, the United States still doesn’t understand what it is really doing to the world. Or the true costs of its economic supremacy.

Arthur Jones is NCR editor-at-large. His e-mail address is ajones96@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, September 28, 2001