Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Two Very Different Anniversaries

Ten years ago today, the Iraq War began.

I was a senior in college, and I remember quite clearly that day as I was watching the opening rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament with friends. Being college students, there were beverages of various kinds being consumed, and I'd like to blame what happened on the beverages, but I can't. Alcohol only lowers inhibitions, so the reactions I observed and did nothing to challenge were indicative of a sickness already inside many of us.

Knowing that basketball fans would get upset if their games were interrupted by breaking news, CBS chose to insert Dan Rather into the commercial breaks instead. A team would take a timeout, and all of a sudden there would be greenish night-vision footage of bombs falling on Bagdad.

If a blind person were in the room, they would have had no way of knowing if guys were cheering for a clutch free-throw or a bright green explosion that probably meant innocent civilians were, at that very moment, dying because of a disagreement over weapons of mass destruction that didn't actually exist.

I didn't join in the cheering, but I didn't do anything to challenge it, either. The scene was so surreal I didn't know what to say, but I'm certain a part of me didn't want to risk a negative reaction from my friends or get accused of being "unpatriotic". So I sat silently as others cheered on a war that, to them, seemed a mere spectacle playing out on our TV screens, just like the basketball games.

This memory becomes even more tragic when I recall that fifty-five years ago today, Thomas Merton wrote about his famous epiphany of the previous day while on a rare journey outside the monastery walls. Merton records in his journal:

Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut (today Muhammed Ali Blvd.), suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream- the dream of my separateness, of the "special" vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me in a special category, juridically. I am still a member of the human race- and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race!

Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being a man! As if the sorrows of our condition could really matter, once we begin to realize who and what we are- as if we could ever begin to realize it on earth. ~Journals, vol. 3 (A Search for Solitude: Pursuing the Monk's True Life), pp. 181-182

I'm not so naive as to believe that one single thing could solve all the world's problems. But if the President of the United States, a bunch of beer chugging frat guys, and everyone else shared in Merton's simple but profound realization that we are all, indeed, one great human family, perhaps we would be much more reluctant to go to war.

At the very least, we certainly wouldn't cheer as bombs exploded on our TV screens during March Madness commercial breaks.

May the epiphany of fifty-five years ago help prevent us from making tragic mistakes like the one that began ten years ago today.

1 comment:

bthomas said...

Everyone remembers, differently.

Had the U.N Security Council and the Allied Coalition finished their job in 1990-1991, there would have been no Gulf II.

Had the U.N., etc. done their job following Gulf I, there would have been no reason to be concerned about WMD’s in the hands of Saddam.

It was unreasonable to take a wait and see attitude toward Saddam given the available information, his possible possession of WMD's, his demonstrated capacity and willingness to use such weapons domestically and against neighboring states.

Mistake? In what way? In Yugoslavia human rights abuses were deemed reason enough for the U.S. to go to war. On a more massive scale even more egregious human rights abuses were perpetrated by Saddam. As well there were actual national interests involved in Iraq.