War & Peace

01-12-2020Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

In his January 1, World Day of Peace Message, Pope Francis said, “The journey of reconciliation calls for patience and trust. Peace will not be obtained unless it is hoped for. In the first place, this means believing in the possibility of peace, believing that others need peace just as much as we do. Here we can find inspiration in the love that God has for each of us: a love that is liberating, limitless, gratuitous and tireless.”

It seems that when it comes to the Middle East, we have long since given up any hope for peace. After these 20 years of war it seems like war is just the routine condition that we are expected to live with, sort of like background noise that you can do little about. I had thought that President Trump had more resolve than to get sucked into another conflict in the Middle East. His challenge to our NATO allies to step up and do more was a hopeful sign. Likewise, Trump has taken time to listen not just to the Generals but to the soldiers on the ground. In a book by Peter Bergen: Trump And His Generals: The Cost Of Chaos: “It’s unwinnable. NATO’s a joke. Nobody knows what they’re doing,” the SEALs told Trump, according to Bergen’s book. “We don’t fight to win. The morale is terrible. It’s totally corrupt.” And like his predecessor, President Obama, Trump’s instincts seemed to be to bring the wars and conflicts to a conclusion. But also like his predecessor, he got talked into more war, not less.

The question now for the President is, “are you willing to do what it takes to successfully end these wars?” The last President to answer that with an emphatic yes, was President Truman, who brought WWII to a devastating end. Still, today, both Japan and Germany are our allies in peace. You can look back at the end of WWII and think, “no not that again” but that is what it took. So, if a Commander-in-Chief is going to engage in war making, he has to consider what it will take to win and ask if he and the country are willing or not to do. Otherwise we get 20 years of war with no end in sight.

And 20 years of war is a lot of blood and treasure spilled. Over the years, having spoken to many, many Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, I have come to see first-hand the high price we pay in broken human beings, physically, emotionally and psychologically. While we try to abide by the Geneva Conventions, the other side does not. What is a soldier to do when military installations are planted among civilian populations, near hospitals, schools and neighborhoods? Or when children are strapped with suicide vests or when enemy soldiers are disguised as veiled woman? Guerilla warfare and terroristic tactics make fighting wars along conventional rules of warfare almost impossible. So many of our Vets come home with recurring nightmares of having to bomb areas where they knew civilians would likely be killed or having to fire on women and children who were carrying explosive devices and bombs.

If you want to see for yourself just go to the Phoenix VA Hospital and spend some time sitting in the waiting area of the ER. You will see lots of Vets coming in and out, who don't necessarily need emergency care but need care just to cope with the day. Many of them will talk to you and share their experiences and their struggles and the unfair playing field they were sent to and the support they needed that never came. I’ve done it and it is like seeing the same horror film again and again.

One of the differences between today’s wars and yesterday’s is there is little sacrifice required by us. Since there is no Draft, we think, “well they volunteered to go, so…” Unlike with a Draft, the American people have a vested interested in ending a war quickly and bring our sons and daughters home. We also don't have to experience rations of food or heating fuel or gasoline, no blackouts, no Air raid Shelters or Nuclear Fallout drills in schools. So, our leaders get to play war without a lot of push back from us.

Since we started carving up the Middle East after WWI an II, we have tried to impose order and stability with little effect. For decades we were trying to protect the world’s oil supply and lately trying to prevent a terrorist breeding haven. Why are we there now? What is the end game, what does a win look like? It is becoming like the scene in the last Godfather Film, when Michael Corleone says, “just when I was getting out, they pull me back in”. Yep, they pulled Trump back in and now that things have been set in motion that we cannot anticipate, let’s see if he can get us out for good.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, let’s believe in the possibility of peace and work to make it a reality.

Love,

Fr. John B.

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