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Speak out as U.S. steamrolls into war

The last time the United States lost a war, it did so for two reasons: First, it banked too much on American technological superiority and, second, it paid too little attention to the role of another culture and history.

It appears we are about to repeat those mistakes, whose costs were devastating: 58,000 American dead; 2.5 million Vietnamese dead. As that conflict spun out of control, another 2 million Cambodians perished and millions of other Asians had their lives torn apart.

In the final analysis, the persistent TV footage of dead U.S. soldiers coming home in body bags became too much. The United States was forced to admit defeat.

Back then, U.S. war planners believed high-tech helicopters and B-52 bombers would seek out and crush the low-tech North Vietnamese warriors. They failed to factor in the force of a low-tech idea with which all Vietnamese had grown up: that Vietnamese heroes are those who take up arms against outside invaders.

Without taking into consideration a host of factors that had nothing to do with the advantage of U.S. military might, the United States sank into a deadly quagmire.

We are told today by advocates of military solutions that we must get beyond the “Vietnam syndrome,” by which they mean our nation must not shy away from using its military superiority to have its way. This, however, assumes we have learned the lessons of the Vietnam War when, in fact, it is clear Washington has not.

Few question U.S. ability to unseat Saddam Hussein. Achieving “regime change,” however, will almost certainly force the United States into a protracted military occupation with chances for destabilizing the entire region. This time, particularly, after 9/11, we know war can be “brought home” in more shapes than body bags.

Neither Christian pacifism nor Christian just war reasoning can morally support a preemptive war that is clearly not a last resort.

So what do Christians and others do as their government steamrolls the nation into its second declared war in 13 months? We gather, reflect, speak out.

The weeks ahead are critical to the unfolding history of our nation and our place in the wider world community. How that wider world sees us, starting with those fueled by anger and despair and who wish us harm, is of great significance. We must make it clear to all that the actions of our government do not represent the will of the wide majority of the U.S. citizenry. The U.S. peace movement needs to grow and become a sign that Americans are generous, not bellicose, by nature.

It appears our commander-in-chief, high on war after the Afghanistan sweep, needs no further convincing to pull the Iraq trigger.

U.S. peacemakers, marching in the streets when necessary, need to send a message beyond our shores that our experiment in democracy lives and cannot be torn from the fundamental belief that our nation stands, without qualification, for liberty and justice for all.

National Catholic Reporter, October 4, 2002