Posts tagged: war

They May Get Him Yet, Father Bill

By , April 18, 2014 5:51 am

I graduated from St. Thomas High School in Houston in May of 1949. One of my classmates was a wonderful young kid named Bill Woods. For a private boy’s school, it was a large class – 155 students. Bill and I lived on opposite ends of the town and I never really got to know him very well before we graduated. After graduation, we both entered the seminary. Bill went off to Maryknoll to become a foreign missioner and I went to the seminary of the Galveston-Houston Diocese. After our ordination, although we were in very different ministries in the Church, we became very fast friends and in a very real sense brothers.

Bill was helping to develop my interest in foreign mission work and in about 1962 or ’63 he got me to return with him to Guatemala in an open jeep! After that I was hooked. For the next several years, I made it a practice of buying jeeps in Houston for the Maryknoll Missioners. I would drive them down there for them and then spend two weeks riding in the mountains with Father Bill. I would then return home by plane. It took four days to get down there and three hours to get back!

After a while, the tragic intervention of the United States into the political affairs of Guatemala began to produce horrible results. The United Fruit Company and the CIA worked together to overthrow an elected leftist government. War was on. In those terrible years the United States saw Communists behind every bush and any corrupt government that declared itself to be anti-Communist was immediately a friend of ours and we would help them. That means that we would help them kill their own people.

My friend, Father Bill Woods, would be assassinated. His plane was shot down mysteriously in 1976. Then the reign of terror would begin. Villages would be wiped out, the archbishop of San Salvador would be assassinated, four American nuns would be raped and murdered, Jesuit professors would be slaughtered, etc., etc. For the most part, nothing would be done about it.

Now, however, a U.S. immigration court in Miami is seeking to expel General Jose Guillermo Garcia from the U.S. The American Ambassador at that time, Robert White, is wonderful and testified against Garcia and congratulated the court that “this is the first court that has ever found General Garcia linked so directly to these massacres and these killings.” The court stated that General Garcia held “the greatest power and authority in El Salvador.” The judge wrote, “He rebuffed reform, protected death squad plotters, denied the existence of massacres, failed to adequately investigate assassinations and massacres, and failed to hold officers accountable for the killing of their fellow countrymen.” The general also, “failed to adequately investigate Archbishop Romero’s assassination and encouraged “sham investigations” in the killings of the four churchwomen.”

Guatemala is far from a perfect country today. With the expulsion of Garcia back to his home country it may create the situation where that government will move against him for his countless heinous crimes.

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A Good Night a St. Edwards’s

By , April 1, 2014 4:22 am

Last Wednesday night, St. Edward’s University was honored to have Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, as the speaker in the McCarthy Lecture Series on the Catholic Church in the 21st Century: “Swords into Plowshares: Catholic Teaching and America’s Role in the World.”

Bishop McElroy has been a forceful spokesperson on behalf of peace over the last few years and has written a number of articles for America magazine. In his opening remarks, McElroy stated the obvious but frightening fact that the central foundation of America’s recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was the tragically misguided belief that America can ennoble the world through warfare. Coming from the other direction, the bishop reviewed the pacifist tradition within Roman Catholicism and then went on to develop in some detail the “just war” tradition. However, he pointed out that in the last century Catholic teaching has dramatically strengthened the presumption against war. In addition, he stated that today’s Catholic teachings condemn most of the major decision-making that has led to 13 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bishop McElroy urged his listeners to reject a threatening new isolationism present in the country today and to embrace and work for the Catholic theology of war, which is embedded in a vision of peace.

While describing the agony and suffering that comes from war, the bishop reversed it and told that by turning “swords into plowshares” the agonizing poverty of the world and the unjust and meaningless hunger could be eradicated with but a fraction of the resources now being used for killing human beings. Bishop McElroy used the example that was taking place under the crisis in Crimea giving his listeners an extra interest in his remarks.

I personally want to thank Bishop McElroy for journeying from the distant world of California to the heart of Texas. During his brief visit he was able to make many new friends. May God continue to bless him and his wonderful work.

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More On Fehrenbach and Texas

By , December 6, 2013 5:20 am

Yesterday I called your attention to the recent death of an excellent Texas historian, T.R. Fehrenbach. I bragged that one of his books “Lone Star” was probably the most popular, single-volume history of Texas written to date. I closed my comments by saying that if we are going to understand Texas, we have to know a great deal about Mexico but I want to push that off for a day or two.

The reason for my sticking to Texas itself another day is because I just picked the book up, looked through it and was reminded of a very important sub-thesis running throughout the entire work. Fehrenbach’s thesis is that Texas was born in HATE. That sounds like a harsh thing to say but the fact is that it is a very accurate statement.

Texas was born out of a three way war – first, the Native Americans against the Spanish; secondly, the Native Americans against the Anglos; and finally, the Anglos versus both Native Americans and Hispanics. The Native Americans would lose two of those wars and the Hispanics would lose one. The Anglos would end up triumphant and completely dominate Texas as they do today (although demographics indicate that this may not be the permanent situation).

Spanish pioneers made up of soldiers, ranchers, farmers and priests established forts and cities across much of Texas and you can still see the signs of this period, both from the Southwest’s love of colonial architecture and the continued use of the Spanish names of towns and rivers, e.g. El Paso, San Antonio, Victoria, Brazos de Dios and Rio Grande.

The Native Americans were either slaughtered or pushed into Oklahoma and the Hispanics would lose their status after the defeat of Santa Ana at the battle of San Jacinto in 1836. Anglos would pour in from the Old South by the tens of thousands and, without changing the names of the rivers or the towns, controlled and dominated both those rivers and those towns.

Hispanics, then called always Mexicans, were forced back into Mexico or into a subservient position that would manifest itself in virtually every aspect of Texas life. Happily, dramatic change is going on now and greater equality is advancing quickly but if you were a poor Mexican not fast enough.

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Faith and Courage

By , November 9, 2013 5:54 am

November 10th, Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Throughout human history, there have been countless cases where men and women have heroically suffered and/or given their lives for what they believed in terms of their religious faith. Today’s first reading provides us an agonizing but meaningful example of that reality.

The scene takes place in the 2nd century before our Lord was among us. The Jewish people have not enjoyed freedom for many years. They had been part of Alexander’s empire and when that collapsed they were under the Seleucides, the ruling family replacing Alexander in that part of the world. The Seleucides were Hellenists and despised the Jewish faith. They waged incessant war against Jewish belief and practices. This story was a teaching tool for the Jewish families giving a great example that if one was faithful to Yahweh, they would enjoy eternal life with God forever.

In the story, there is a heroic woman standing there with seven sons and one by one they are tortured in a really horrible manner. But without exception, they clung to their faith and gave up their lives.
You and I are blessed to live in a time when we have freedom of religion and no such challenge besets us. Or is that completely true? We are certainly not threatened with burning irons and having our hands cut off, but we do actually have small temptations that give us the opportunity to exercise discipline, fairness and justice.

I am almost embarrassed to use this as an example but there is truth to it. Do we not frequently find ourselves in conversations where third parties are being maliciously maligned, disparaged or ridiculed? The law of charity and natural truthfulness should motivate us to defend a person who is not able to be there for self-defense. But regretfully, we maintain our silence and even join in the ridicule. Not a great heroic act, is it? But if we cannot exercise courage and fairness in these simplest situations, we may not be able to do it when faced with really terrible persecution.

Martin Luther did not like the book of Maccabees because it shows such strong concern for the afterlife. These brave children and their heroic mother were willing to face evil here because they were so committed and joyful about their faith in eternal life. This book is not contained in the bible used by most Protestants, but we are blessed to have it still and to enjoy this powerful reminder of eternal life.

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Fifty Years of Progress

By , May 15, 2013 4:31 am

I mentioned the other day that papal social teaching has steadily responded to the constant changing and the increasingly complex mode of international politics and economics. Pope Paul VI and John Paul II expanded in this field in a very excellent manner but I am especially interested in the last document to which I referred the other day, namely Pacem in Terris, Peace on Earth, by John XXIII.
In the fall of 1962, the world was facing the missile crisis and there was a very real chance of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Both President Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev made use of John XXIII in a back channel manner. The pope clearly grasped the seriousness of the situation and urged both leaders to choose peace. Until his intervention, there was real risk of nuclear war. Happily, war was avoided and it is then that the elderly pope began to dream of a world that would develop structures that would ensure prosperity, cooperation and, most of all, peace across this planet. Out of his thinking and prayer came the historic document Pacem in Terris.
When we read the daily papers and watch the evening news there is so much information about wars and the threat of war, about killings, about dangers, risk and conflicts that it is hard to imagine that things really are better today but they actually are. The world of 2013 is a much better organized and cooperative and a more peaceful world than was true in 1962. First of all, human rights have surged to the front and negotiations among peoples all over the world. While there is much to be done, the issue of human rights has become a major factor in international law and diplomacy. Many new transnational agencies and organizations have sprung up. A form of global governance has begun and, like Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, who formally played nuclear brinkmanship but now are both pushing for the removal of all nuclear weapons. This new and profound interest in human rights certainly began to strengthen inside the life of the Church in a way that had not been present before 1962.
While Pope John XXIII was supposedly elected as an “interim” pope, he surprised everyone and was one of the most influential popes of the last century. While I write here today about Pacem in Terris, we must not forget that he is the man who had the courage and wisdom to convene the Second Vatican Council. That Council was a great gift to the Church but its work is far from being completed. Speaking just for myself, I pray fervently that Pope Francis will convene yet another Council in the near future.

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A Tremendous Force For Good

By , October 15, 2012 4:11 am

There is a sour mood moving across this country. There is a great cloud of indecisiveness that hovers over the entire nation. There are certainly plenty of reasons for negative thinking – the Iraq war that won’t end; the conflicts in Afghanistan is now the longest war in American history; spiraling debt that threatens our economic future; the national government blocked by extraordinary divisiveness; a sluggish economy that holds us down.

One underlying cause that has been getting a lot of study of late is what is described as a broad crisis of authority. Our most important institutional structures and the powerful people who run them are experiencing a solid wall of distrust and lack of confidence. A recent Gallup poll reported near record distrust of the medical system, the criminal justice system and organized religion. Less than half of the respondents were willing to say that they trusted religion a great deal. Close to the bottom in all such surveys is the United States Congress. Half of those answering stated that they trusted Congress very little or not at all!

In my opinion, one of the underlying reasons for this distrust is because we citizens know so much more information about these institutions than we ever did in the past, and a great deal of that is personal information about the leaders involved. I cannot definitively analyze just how good a job Governor Schwarzenegger did in California as Governor since last week he was on three different networks pushing his book about his various misdeeds and foibles. In Texas, we have all gotten to know a great deal more about Governor Rick Perry than we ever could have about any governor of the 1920’s.

While we know a great deal about the personal attributes of our leaders, and so much of it is uncomplimentary, heads of corporations, governors and senators do not go around attempting to tell the rest of us how to live. Church leaders do! The Church’s mission is to present, at least to its own members, the life and actions of Jesus Christ and to place Jesus before us as a model. Of course, if you are preaching to others, the preachers themselves must make every effort to achieve as near identification of that model as is possible. We fail!

This inability of some religious leaders to achieve the standards that they present to the rest of the community constitutes a very heavy drag on our evangelization efforts.

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War? War – Never Again! No More War!

By , October 9, 2012 4:11 am

Pope Paul VI was the first pope to ever speak to the General Assembly of the United Nations. When he was there in the early ‘70’s, he made an impassioned push to world leaders to find another way of resolving conflicts and misunderstandings. War is awful. It is destructive. It destroys culture and economic development. Most of all, it destroys people’s lives and generates so much poverty that life goes down, down, down into a vicious circle. No wonder he prayed with all his heart – “No more war. War never again!”

My guess is that this wonderful pope is praying for the human family before the throne of God and he may know the long-term outcome of what is going on here on this planet. Certainly his prayer is not even close to being answered in 2012. From 1941 until 2012, people of the United States were at war almost constantly. Think about it – World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and some of our leaders talk recklessly about Iran. A terrible tragedy in this country is that Americans seem to have taken war for granted. I remember the Second World War so clearly. It consumed the thinking of everyone in the country. Today, the majority of Americans hardly think about the two wars that we have been engaged in over the last 10 or 12 years. U.S. foreign policy grows evermore militarized. Defense spending dwarfs the State Department’s budget by roughly 30 to one. Republicans would love to slash this even further.

In a large crowd, if you suggest working our way out of the Afghan war with diplomacy or in Iran, you will find yourself in serious trouble, possibly being hysterically anathematized as another Neville Chamberlain. A sadly interesting new book on this subject is Useful Enemies: When Waging War is More Important Than Winning Them by David Keen, Yale University Press. Give it a try.

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The Costs of Our Wars

By , July 12, 2011 5:19 am

A few weeks ago, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies made a determined effort to put a price tag on our wars up until the present moment. Naturally, a precise figure is not possible but Brown estimates that to date the costs have been $3.7 trillion and possibly as high as $4.4 trillion. Those are ghastly figures when it comes to wasted and dissipated resources, resources that are so sorely needed in other areas of our life. The horror of the high numbers is nothing compared to the human toll that has been involved.

Others are attempting to assess the cost of war. A few months ago, the Congressional Research Service reported a lower figure than what was mentioned above. The Congressional Budget Office projected costs at $1.8 trillion. Obviously, different people are counting different ways.

Forget the money for the moment. The agony of these wars is the human suffering that has been caused by them. Hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan and thousands of killed and wounded Americans. And how do you estimate the pain and suffering among all of the families that are involved? It totals out suffering, suffering, suffering. And the cost goes on and on. Studies show that when these veterans return home they are more likely to die in suicides and automobile accidents than if they had not gone to war.

Onward through this very dense fog.

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Congratulations and Thanks to a New Bishop

By , March 25, 2011 6:43 am

The new auxiliary bishop of San Francisco has gotten a considerable amount of good press of late and he certainly deserves it. I followed his work from a distance for several years and am very happy that the Holy See has elevated him to the episcopacy. His name is Robert W. McElroy and he has been a bishop for about six months. I was delighted to read a wonderful article by him that ran in America magazine three weeks ago on the subject of War Without End. Bishop McElroy rightly raises a serious and tragic issue, namely that the United States now seems able to absorb almost continuous warfare into its mode of operation. He points out that our extraordinarily large American economy combined with our modern weapons of destruction that minimize American deaths, plus the fact that we operate with a professional army, come together to make it possible for the great majority of the population to live their lives almost untouched by the agonizing suffering that always accompanies war.

Bishop McElroy rightly points out that a major national debate should have been developed once the administration and congressional supporters of the war ignored the promise of troop withdrawals scheduled for 2011 and instead reset their goal to three years later in 2014. Regretfully, the national reaction was DEAFENING SILENCE!

Roman Catholic moral theologians have given enormous thought and study to the issues of war and peace. Principles relating to “just war” have been clear for generations and those principles have been violated tragically in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These two wars have resulted in the deaths of thousands of young Americans and billions and billions in wealth have been dissipated but those costs have been minimal compared to what has been paid by the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Their cities have been destroyed, their economies wrecked and hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. Bishop McElroy strongly urges all Americans, but especially Roman Catholics, to shake off our lethargy and get involved with both prayer and political action to help lessen this development of a national attitude which seems content to tolerate war without end.

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The Modus Operandi of Ex-Presidents

By , March 22, 2011 5:02 am

Once the President of the United States leaves public office, what is he to do with himself?  If the last fifty years is any indication, it seems that there is almost an unwritten law as to how he should move forward.  First, comes the book and then comes the library.  Bush’s book, Decision Points, is now in the bookstores and the library is on its way.  The former president has worked hard at selling the book and the first press run was for 750,000 copies.  He gave media interviews to Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Jay Leno, Matt Lauer, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, FOX, CNN and CBS.  He said, “I want to sell books!”

I have not read the book but I did read a review by one of my heroes, Colman McCarthy (no relation regretfully) of the National Catholic Reporter.  According to that McCarthy, nowhere in the book are there expressions of sorrow or remorse for the loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan civilians.  McCarthy alleges that Bush’s lack of sensitivity of American death as well and that in his eight years in office the president never attended a funeral at Arlington Cemetery!

The Iraq war may have been the worst tragedy in American history other than possibly our own Civil War.  The country is devastated, unmanageable, no one knows how many Iraqi civilians were killed but certainly far more than 100,000.  More than 5,000 young Americans lost their lives and 25,000 were wounded.  Virtually everyone agrees that the war was a terrible, tragic mistake.  May God forgive us.

President George Bush is still a young man and may live for many years.  Let us pray that he can do something to be remembered by other than the agony of Iraq and those terrible statistics.

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