A Call To Prophecy:
Tell People the Truth About Terrorism
by Most Rev. Dr. Robert M. Bowman,
Presiding Bishop, United Catholic Church
Prophets are always unpopular, because they say hard things. They speak for God — usually indicating God’s displeasure with what the people and their political and religious leaders were doing.
Boy, do we need some strong prophesying today. There is plenty going on that I’m quite sure God is very displeased about: immorality and deceit in high places, for example. And no, I’m not talking about Monica Lewinsky. God would probably not have gotten Nathan involved in chastising David if adultery and deceit were all that was involved. But David went beyond that. He was responsible for the death of Bathsheba’s husband. It was this premeditated murder, brought on by greed, selfishness, envy, and passion, that got God and Nathan into the act.
Similarly today, it is not infidelity, but murder and violence that stir the heart of God. I am talking about the bombing of our embassies in Africa and about our cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan. And it is not Clinton’s dissembling about his sexual pecadillos, but his lying to the American people about the roots of terrorism that calls out for repentance.
First, terrorism is wrong. Whether it is in the Middle East or Northern Ireland or Oklahoma City, it is wrong. There are always reasons for such violence. But there is never justification. It is always wrong. It is always displeasing to God. It is always a sin.
What is terrorism? It is the use of fear, violence, and intimidation to achieve an end. We usually think of it as a tool of small, frustrated groups unable to achieve their ends by other means. But the dictionary doesn’t limit it to that. Mine says that one meaning of the word "terrorism" is a system of government that uses fear to rule. We usually think of it as violence by the weak against the strong. But according to the dictionary, it is just as likely to be violence by the strong against the weak. So the use of death squads by the military government of El Salvador or Honduras or Guatemala or Argentina against impoverished peasants is terrorism. The use by the government of China of tanks against students in Tienanmen Square is terrorism. The bombing of buses in Tel Aviv by Hamas is terrorism. But so is the bulldozing of Palestinian houses by Israel. The bombing of U.S. embassies is terrorism. But so was the mining of the harbor in Nicaragua by Ronald Reagan, the bombing of Baghdad by George Bush, and in all probability the cruise missile attacks by Bill Clinton against targets inAfghanistan and Sudan. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was terrorism; and so is the possession of nuclear weapons and the threat to use them.
It is not my job to pronounce God’s displeasure with the violent acts of terrorists in Arab countries halfway around the world. That’s for their prophets to do. Our job is to speak truth to power right here in our own country.
As one committed to a consistent pro-life ethic, I do not believe that the use of deadly force is ever the correct response to a problem. With Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, the late Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, and many others, I oppose terrorism, war, the death penalty, euthanasia, abortion, the denial of the necessities of life (food, shelter, water, basic health care, and dignity) to the powerless, and all other violations of life. This is what we call a "seamless garment." This is not dogma. We do not condemn those who do not agree with us. But we believe that it is in accord with the will of God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, and we maintain our right to attempt to convince others that this is truth.
I therefore condemn our recent cruise missile attacks as violations of the will of God. Were they also violations of international law? I think probably so, but that’s for international lawyers to debate. Was that "pharmaceutical plant" making chemical weapons, as our government claims, or medicines as the Sudanese claim? I don’t know. I haven’t seen the evidence or the intelligence data. We may never know. Was the bombing of our embassies worse, causing more death and injury? Of course. Hopefully, some Muslim prophet will preach against that. I am not attempting to judge the military appropriateness or political justification for the cruise missile attack. I am merely saying that it was a use of deadly violence, against the consistent pro-life ethic which I proclaim, and (according to my belief) against the will of God.
But there is another matter which concerns me even more, because it bears on the future direction of this country. President Clinton did not tell the American people the truth of why we are the targets of terrorism. He said that we are the target because we stand for democracy, freedom, and human rights in the world. Nonsense! We are the target of terrorists because we stand for dictatorship, bondage, and human exploitation in the world. We are the target of terrorists because we are hated. And we are hated because we have done hateful things.
In how many countries have agents of our government deposed popularly-elected leaders and replaced them with puppet military dictators who were willing to sell out their own people to American multinational corporations?
We did it in Iran when the U.S. Marines and the CIA deposed Mossadegh because he wanted to nationalize the oil industry. We replaced him with the Shah, and trained, armed, and paid his hated Savak national guard, which enslaved and brutalized the people of Iran ... all to protect the financial interests of our oil companies. Is it any wonder there are people in Iran who hate us?
We did it in Chile when we deposed Allende, democratically elected by the people to introduce communism. We replaced him with the brutal right-wing military dictator, General Pinochet. Chile has still not recovered.
We did it in Vietnam when we thwarted democratic elections in the South which would have united the country under Ho Chi Minh. We replaced him with a series of ineffectual puppet crooks who invited us to come in and slaughter their people.
We did it in Iraq, where we killed a quarter of a million civilians in a failed attempt to topple Saddam Hussein, and where we have killed a million since then with our sanctions. About half of these innocent victims have been children under the age of five.
And, of course, how many times have we done it in Nicaragua and all the other banana republics of Latin America? Time after time we have ousted popular leaders who wanted the riches of the land to be shared by the people who worked it. We replaced them with murderous tyrants who would sell out and control their own people so that the wealth of the land could be taken out by the likes of Domino sugar, the United Fruit Company, Folgers, and Chiquita Banana.
In country after country, we have thwarted democracy, stifled freedom, and trampled human rights. That’s why we are hated around the world. And that’s why we are the target of terrorists.
People in Canada enjoy better democracy, more freedom, and greater human rights than we do. So do the people of Norway and Sweden. Have you heard of Canadian embassies being bombed? Or Norwegian embassies? Or Swedish embassies. No.
We are not hated because we practice democracy, freedom, and human rights. We are hated because we deny these things to people in third world countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations.
Tell people the truth, Mr. President ... about terrorism, not about poor Monica. You and your mid-life libido and zippergate will fade from memory with your presidency. But if the lies about terrorism go unchallenged, then the terror war now unleashed will likely continue until it destroys us.
The threat of nuclear terrorism is closing in upon us. Chemical terrorism is close at hand, and biological terrorism is a future danger. None of our thousands of nuclear weapons can protect us from these threats. These idols of plutonium, titanium, and steel are impotent. No "Star Wars" system ... no matter how technically advanced, no matter how many trillions of dollars is poured into it ... can protect us from even a single terrorist bomb. Not one weapon in our vast arsenal can shield us from a nuclear weapon delivered in a sailboat or a Cessna or a suitcase or a Ryder rental truck. Not a penny of the 273 billion dollars a year we spend on so-called defense can actually defend us against a terrorist bomb. Nothing in our enormous military establishment can actually give us one whit of real security. That is a military fact. It reminds me of God’s message to us in psalm 33: "A king is not saved by his mighty army. A warrior is not saved by his great strength. A war horse is a vain hope for victory, and with its might it cannot save."
As a retired lieutenant colonel and a frequent lecturer on national security issues, I often quoted that psalm. And the obvious reaction to it is, "Then what can we do? How can we be secure? Is there nothing we can do to provide security for our people?
There is. It is found just a page or two later in the book of Psalms, in psalm 37: "Trust in the Lord and do good, that you may dwell in the land and have security." That’s it. It’s so simple. "Trust in the Lord and do good, that you may dwell in the land and have security."
Back in the Cold War, it wasn’t easy to sell this aproach to security. Faced with another nuclear superpower (or at least, so we were told), it was tempting to hold onto our weapon idolatry. It was easy to think that only our armed forces and their superior technology kept us safe. Even I found it difficult to give up the concept of nuclear deterrence. But now things are different. The Roman Catholic bishops of the United States are retreating from their conditional acceptance of deterrence. Seventy of them have signed a letter saying that even the possession of nuclear weapons is no longer moral. Sixty retired generals have said that our security will be enhanced by nuclear abolition.
And the "Colonel Bowman" part of me now agrees with the "Bishop Bowman" part of me that psalm 37 is our best path to security. Getting rid of our nuclear weapons — unilaterally if necessary — will enhance our security. Drastically altering our foreign policy in line with psalm 37 will ensure it.
In short, we must change our ways. We no longer face another nuclear superpower. We have run out of real enemies. Our defense budget is 26 times as much as that of all our potential adversaries combined. The only real threat we face is that of terrorism. And if we understand the reason that threat exists (and this is why it is so crucial that the American people be told the truth), then the way to protect against that threat becomes clear. We change our ways.
Instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kill Arabs so we can have the oil under their sand, we send them to rebuild their infrastructure, supply clean water, and feed starving children.
Instead of continuing to kill thousands of Iraqi children every day with our sanctions, we help Iraqis rebuild their electric powerplants, their water treatment facilities, their hospitals — all the things we destroyed in our war against them and prevented them from rebuilding with our sanctions.
Instead of seeking to be king of the hill, we become a responsible member of the family of nations. Instead of stationing hundreds of thousands of troops around the world to protect the financial interests of our multinational corporations (they prefer the term "national interests"), we bring them home and expand the Peace Corps.
Instead of training terrorists and death squads in the techniques of torture and assassination, we close the School of the Americas. Instead of supporting military dictatorships, we support true democracy — the right of the people to choose their own leaders. Instead of supporting insurrection, destabilization, assassination, and terror around the world, we abolish the CIA and give the money to relief agencies.
In short, we do good instead of evil. We become the good guys, once again.
If we abolished our armed forces and used our resources to feed the hungry, cure the sick, and care for the needy — both at home and around the world — who would try to stop us? Who would hate us? Who would want to bomb us?
The threat of terrorism would vanish. "Trust in the Lord and do good, that you may dwell in the land and have security."
That is the truth, Mr. President. That is what the American people need to hear. We are good people. We only need to be told the truth and given the vision. You can do it, Mr. President. The big money people from the multinational corporations and banks paid for your election. But they have given up on you. Forget them. Divorce yourself from the greed which has caused such an unjust division of the fruits of creation. Seek to end the injustice rather than perpetuating it with violence and intimidation. Refrain from terrorism, even in response to the same. Stop the killing. Stop the justifying. Stop the retaliating. Put people first. Tell them the truth, and lead them in God’s way.
(This article is excerpted from a sermon given by Bishop Bowman on August 23, 1998. Portions were published in the Oct 2, 1998 issue of National Catholic Reporter on page 17.)
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