The Folly of the Cross

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 26, Advent 2002
By Moana Cole

On October 7 2001, the US launched a war against Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11. New Zealand, in the hopes of finalizing a free trade agreement with the US, contributed SAS troops. Despite the availability of alternatives to military action under international law and the example of the life of Christ, who chose to suffer rather than kill, our church remained paralyzed in its response to the agendas at play.

Our church has not provided leadership when our grief was cynically manipulated to pursue an agenda of racism, hatred and vengeance. Our church did not awake us from our collective amnesia from the fact that al- Qaeda was armed and financed by the CIA via the Pakistani military when it served US global interests in ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan.

Our church has not cried out “Thou shall not kill!” during the eleven months of constant aerial bombardment that has further exacerbated Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis. Over 3000 civilians have been killed; Villages, Red Cross buildings and wedding parties bombed. There is no end in sight to the military occupation of Afghanistan that has terrorised children, women and men.

The latest installment of the ‘war against terror’ is the planning and preparation for another war against Iraq. Again our church has chosen amnesia instead of reminding us that Saddam Hussein came to power via a military coup supported by the US and that his poisonous gasses and deadly arms were happily supplied by the West when he pursued an agenda favorable to Western interests. When Saddam was perceived a threat to US oil interests, the 1991Gulf War subjected Iraq to the most concentrated bombing campaign in history, the Pentagon announcing it conducted 110,000 aerial sorties dropping 88,500 tons of bombs. The war resulted in 67 000 Iraqi deaths as well as grave damage to Iraq’s infrastructure with losses estimated at $170 billion. Deliberate bombing of water treatment facilities during the Gulf War originally degraded the water quality leading to the outbreak of diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Sanctions-based “holds” have blocked the rebuilding of much of Iraq’s water treatment infrastructure. Additionally, sanctions have blocked the rebuilding of the electricity sector that powers pumps and other vital water treatment equipment. This has resulted in 800,000 Iraqi children “chronically malnourished.” Even with conservative assumptions, the total of all excess deaths of the under five population exceeds 400,000. Combined with the deaths of older children and adults, this adds up to a great and unjustifiable humanitarian tragedy.

Since the Gulf War, further military operations have been launched against Iraq, by aircraft and cruise missiles at a rate of one strike per week. Some of these attacks targeted sites in Baghdad or other populated areas and resulted in civilian casualties. The US and UK are once again engaging in cynical manipulation of us to justify another war against the “least of our brothers and sisters”.

As a church we profess much in the way of peace, justice and mercy but rarely witness to the redemption it promises. Members of our parish recently retreated together to discuss what underlies the ‘war on terrorism’, our own complicity by way of our silence and the subsequent despair we feel. Our reflections reveal we are under the obligation to be faithful to the teachings of the non-violent Christ. We are struck with the insight that we learn compassion and justice by what we do “for the least of our brothers and sisters”. We pray to be led by the gospels and teachings of our church when responding to crises, and to be wary of agendas in contradiction with our faith. We want to take our faith to the public domain and speak against the planning and preparation for war. By doing so, we reaffirm our belief in the ultimate victory of good over evil, of love over hatred. It is a path not accepted by the world. As Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker said: “We are trying to spread the Gospel of Peace … [I]n doing this we are accounted fools, it is the Folly of the Cross in the eyes of an unbelieving world”.

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