War wounds

Here’s a new strategy for victory in Iraq: surrender to the things we say we believe.

Lord have mercy, for we persist in our obstinate ways, and we close our hearts to you, hiding our shame behind our pride. And so this oddly unreal war escalates. But too real to some, surely, since each day the mayhem that is Baghdad streams across America’s media-scape. The blood-thickened mud in the streets of Sadr City marks this adventure’s butcher’s bill in newspaper photos almost every day, just as a new fresh-faced casualty reports for duty in desert fatigues or a high school headshot in the obituaries.

But to those of us not asked to make a sacrifice in blood or treasure for this war, those of us whose duty has been limited to getting on with our lives and standing by while our constitutional rights drain away and our legislative branch continues its self-degradation, this war reverberates only as an echo of something awful happening some place far away. Terrible, horrible, but not touching, even its astonishing cost has been cravenly passed on to succeeding generations.

Is there anything left to say about the unfolding tragedy that is Iraq? About the maelstrom American arrogance has unleashed on its people? About the 34,000 killed last year and the 2 million to 3 million Iraqis who have become refugees in their own homeland?

Those who should speak up, we citizens, grow silent in frustration. But listen as our legislators exploit the president’s obstinance to excuse the Olympian indifference they demonstrated when their vote should have counted against this foolish enterprise. Hillary Clinton deplores the president’s new strategy for victory and calls on him to “get tough” with Iraqi leadership since in “this part of the world” people only understand power, but after a few stammering moments it’s clear that she is flailing, moving blame, worrying over votes in 2008 and not lives in 2007.

She has no real plan to extricate America from this big muddy by the Euphrates. But the president’s plan is worse, merely more of the same. It’s hard to see how U.S. forces could be any “tougher in this part of the world” without replacing the despotism they claim to have defeated.

Most of us already know where this “comma” in world history is heading; it’s a punctuation lesson recalled each time political leaders say that defeat is not an option. Those scratchy video images of desperate people climbing embassy walls and helicopters pushed off aircraft carrier decks and the world’s greatest military power reduced to a frantic mob in full retreat replay before the mind’s eye. We already know in our hearts, despite the stalwart rhetoric, this will all end with a bang and a whimper. How many more will die before we admit that to ourselves?

A war that began in defiance of common sense, diplomatic discretion, and the love and peace of God can never be “won.” It was lost four years ago in its first shocking and awful moments.

What would the Nazarene, who elevated weakness and mercy and the divine imperative of peace, make of our escalating strategy for victory in Iraq? What would he have to say about the follow-up of mindless, futile bloodshed with more mindless, futile bloodshed? That lowly workman was as powerless as a newborn thing, as peaceful as a lamb, but he was powerful enough to overturn our primitive expectations, refute the glamour of violence, rebuke the privileges of authority, celebrating surrender, peace, and mercy.

His is not a complicated message, but one of forgiveness and grace that emerged from a part of the world where “they” only understand violence and power. Why do we harden our hearts to it? We do not have to surrender in Iraq to put an end to this inhuman extravagance, we only have to surrender to the things we say we believe, seeking and offering mercy, embracing divine power by refusing our temporal power, telling our brothers and sisters that we have sinned and are sorry, and asking them to help us sin no more.

There is a plan for victory in Iraq. The carpenter laid out its blueprint 2,000 years ago. Christ have mercy on us, we discarded it a long time ago.

Kevin Clarke is a senior editor at U.S. Catholic and managing editor of online products at Claretian Publications. This article appeared in the March 2007 (Volume 72, Number 3; page 38) issue of U.S. Catholic.

All active news articles