Dorothee Soelle: Manipulating Human Desire

Dorothee Soelle

“Trivial religion in the age of consumerism” has made human desires totally manipulable. All desires to be different, to become a new being, to relate differently to others, to communicate in a new way, have been exchanged for the wish to possess things. It makes a difference whether a person says at some point in life, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10), or whether the yearnings that take this direction of radical change find no language in which to express themselves. These lines are not promoting some bourgeois inner spirituality. Their context speaks against such an interpretation. It simply states the human desire to be other than one is (“renewed”) and to have a “right” spirit, a less vacillating one.”–Dorothee Soelle, “Rebellion Against Banality”

From The Strength of the Weak:Toward A Christian Feminist Identity by Dorothee Soelle (Westminster Press, 1984)

Vera Brittain: ‘Human Mercy Turns Alike to Friend or Foe’

Vera Brittain
My summer reading includes Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels set in England during and after World War I. Maisie is an intriguing character is an age when much is changing for women–as suffragettes they are taking to the Parliament their fight for the right to vote; at the same time, the war with Germany is bringing many women to a very different “front line.”

Winspear’s novels prompted me to re-read some of the WWI “war poets,” whose description of war’s realities make them anything but jingoistic. Below is a poem by Vera Brittain who served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse and requested to be sent to France in 1917. She was stationed at 24 General Hospital at Étaples, where she nursed German prisoners of war. The poem below reflects her experience:

THE GERMAN WARD by VERA BRITTAIN

When the years of strife are over and my
recollection fades
Of the wards wherein I worked the weeks
away,
I shall still see, as a visions rising ‘mid the War-
time shades,
The ward in France where German wounded
lay.

I shall see the pallid faces and the half-sus-
picious eyes,
I shall hear the bitter groans and laboured
breath,
And recall the loud complaining and the weary
tedious cries,
And the sights and smells of blood and wounds
and death.

I shall see the convoy cases, blanket-covered
on the floor,
And watch the heavy stretcher-work begin,
And the gleam of knives and bottles through
the open theatre door,
And the operation patients carried in.

I shall see the Sister standing, with her form
of youthful grace,
And the humour and the wisdom of her
smile,
And the tale of three years’ warfare on her thin
expressive face-
The weariness of many a toil-filled while.

I shall think of how I worked for her with
nerve and heart and mind,
And marvelled at her courage and her skill,
And how the dying enemy her tenderness
would find
Beneath her scornful energy of will.

And I learnt that human mercy turns alike to
friend or foe
When the darkest hour of all is creeping
nigh,
And those who slew our dearest, when their
lamps were burning low,
Found help and pity ere they came to die.

So, though much will be forgotton when the
sound of War’s alarms
And the days of death and strife have passed
away,
I shall always see the vision of Love working
amidst arms
In the ward wherein the wounded prisoners
lay.

From Verses of a V. A. D. (August 1918)

For more on Vera Brittain, read Vera Brittain: A Feminist Life by Deborah Gorham

McChrystal v Obama: Battle of the ‘Hard Hearts’?

General McChrystal's gold engraved nunchuks. Photograph by Mikhail Galustov for Rolling Stone/Redux

Yesterday U.S. top Afghanistan warrior General Stan McChrystal was very publicly called to the carpet in the Oval Office. Sources say his job is on the line. President Obama wants McChrystal to answer for comments he made in a Rolling Stone interview (July 8-22, 2010 issue).

The short form is that McChrystal disses the counterterrorism strategy advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, calling it “shortsighted,” saying it would lead to a state of “Chaos-istan.” He outright insults Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, and says he feels betrayed by the US ambassador in Kabul Karl Eikenberry. Overall, McChrystal conveys a deep-seated contempt for civilian leadership.

And, despite the “it’s a tough slog, but we are winning the Afghani  hearts and minds” rhetoric from the White House, the civil societies in the countries of our NATO allies have forced their governments to change direction on the failed war policy in Afghanistan. (Having watched The Princess Bride numerous times, they apparently learned the lesson: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”)

In the Rolling Stone article, author Michael Hastings writes:

Opposition to the war [in Afghanistan] has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. …

But facts on the ground, as history has proven, offer little deterrent to a military determined to stay the course. Even those closest to McChrystal know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn’t begin to reflect how deeply f*&^%d up things are in Afghanistan. “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” a senior adviser to McChrystal says. Such realism, however, doesn’t prevent advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big: Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further. “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here,” a senior military official in Kabul tells me.

While the White House is debating whether or not to fire McChrystal and what the fall-out might be on U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, Rabbi Arthur Waskow frames the argument differently: “The ‘strategy’ is already a failure, and the ‘civil-military issue’ is the Constitution at stake, not a failed and stupid war.”

Waskow sets Obama’s current dilemma in historical context:

Harry  Truman knew what to do: When the issue was insubordination by General MacArthur over whether to escalate a stupid war  with China that MacArthur had brought on (beyond defending South Korea), Truman fired MacArthur. (I remember Congress begging MacArthur to address a special joint session. I remember how he ended with a bathetic, bedraggled song: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”)  Right. Despite the resulting furor, the arrogant old soldier did indeed fade away.   …

McChrystal’s strategy was arrogant & stupid;  it has already failed  because it was arrogant & stupid;  and many of us, including Biden & Ikenberry, did indeed tell them so.  …

The trouble is that Obama accepted the arrogant, stupid advice from McChrystal — and now has to face the consequences in a failing and mistaken war.  When John Kennedy came new into the White House, he accepted similarly stupid & arrogant advice from the CIA about the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba — and when he realized how stupid it was, he fired the lot of them and refused to get trapped into more arrogance and more escalation.

Now we will see what Obama is made of: whether he has the guts and good sense of Truman & Kennedy.

But beyond the political power struggles that are as old as the military strategies of Uzziah in II Kings 15, there is a deeply spiritual issue. It is the issue of arrogance. It is always arrogance that hardens the heart and impedes the ability to listen.

“Refusing to listen breeds stupidity,” writes Rabbi Waskow. “Stupidity arising from a spiritual failure, not an IQ failure, breeds political disaster. There is a deep relationship between the arrogance of the Generals and the CIA in their contempt for China, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan — and their contempt for civilian leadership. And the contempt of BP for the oceans, the forests, the air. The obsessive belief that Conquest and Control are all that matters.”

The consequence of King Uzziah’s failed military strategy is summarized by a proverb from King Solomon: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

McChrystal – who carries around a gold, custom-made, set of nunchuks engraved with his name and four stars –  has got pride and arrogance in spades. (Read the entire Rolling Stone article to get the full experience of this.)

But Rabbi Waskow reminds that pride and arrogance are not the marks of a great military leader. Instead, he says, the Talmud teaches: “Who is the greatest [military] hero? The person who can master his own impulses … and the person who can turn his enemy into his friend.”

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She’s the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood (Apprentice House, April 2010).

e-Vatican: 142 Years of Official Documents Go Online

Benedict and RowanFrom 1865 until 2007. From Pope Pius IX to Benedict XVI. There will no doubt be much scholarly debate on this new online content once these 142 years of monthly Vatican reports get translated out of Latin (!) into something the contemporary world understands.

The initial point of interest seems to be the unofficial texts relating to the period around the Second World War. These documents are separated out in files of their own.

The Catholic Church’s role in WWII has long been a tension between Jewish leaders and the Vatican. One the one hand Pope Pius XII signed the Reichskonkordat between Germany and the Vatican in 1933 to support Hitler’s moves against Communism; and many Catholics at every level of the society aligned with the Nazis in their “purity” campaign, including assisting in exposing and killing Jews. On the other hand, there was a strong underground Catholic popular movement to resist Hitler and to protect Jews from harassment, imprisonment, and execution.

The newly accessible Vatican files should offer greater understanding of the dynamics of the time and hopefully bring greater honesty and authenticity to Catholic-Jewish relations. When Pope Benedict XVI visited the Great Synagogue of Rome in 2009, some Jewish leaders asked him to open “all Vatican archives” regarding the pontificate of Pius XII, from 1939 to 1958, and to thoroughly investigate his policy regarding Jews. Now, that has been done.

The Vatican has proved itself capable of transparency on the very difficult issue of WWII and the Holocaust. Will it be so bold to act with transparency on the pedophilia scandal?

Here’s an excerpt from Luigi Sandri’s article on the new online content:

The documents show that during the pontificate of Paul VI, from 1963 to 1978, there was concerted discussion on accusations of “silence” by Pius XII during the Second World War on the Holocaust.

Accusations were that Pius XII never openly and unequivocally protested against the Holocaust and some historians have accused him of accepting actions of Nazi Germany under its dictator Adolf Hitler.

The Vatican has often rebutted this accusation by saying that while it did not condemn the Holocaust, Pius XII strongly encouraged a wide network of Roman Catholics – in parishes, families and monasteries – throughout Europe to help thousands of Jews escape death.

Documents show that Pope Paul VI entrusted a group of four Jesuit historians, headed by the Rev. Pierre Blet, to edit the Acts and documents of Holy See regarding the Second World War.

From 1965 to 1981 the group published 12 volumes. They contain not only official documents, but also letters of the secretary of state, of papal nuncios, and private letters of bishops to the pope. On the whole, according to the Vatican, these documents show that the Holy See did a lot to help Jews during the period.

Read the whole article here.

Nonviolence: What About Hitler?

12whiteroseIn any in-depth conversation about the effectiveness of nonviolence as a strategy, this question always comes up: Would these nonviolent strategies have worked against the Nazis? What about Hitler?

Even the great Mohandas Gandhi – progenitor of modern nonviolence – knew that nonviolence against Hitler would cost many lives.

“The doctrine of Satyagraha works on the principle that you make the so called enemy see and realize the injustice he is engaged in. It can work only when you believe in God and the goodness of the people to see that they are wrong. As a satyagrahi, I  do believe that non-violence is a potent weapon against all evils. I warn you however, that the victory will not come easy- just like it will not come easy with violent methods such as fighting with weaponry.”

(Also read Gandhi’s 1939 letter Is Non-Violence Ineffective? on the actions of Martin Niemoeller and the Confessing Church.)

Jørgen Johansen, a lecturer in conflict studies, has led nonviolence trainings in Israel, Mozambique, India, and Chechnya. He recently posted an essay called Hitler and the Challenge of Non-Violence that briefly takes on this issue.

“What effect could nonviolence have had against Hitler?” says Johansen. “This is one of the most frequent questions I get when I lecture on nonviolence. And it is a good one. To answer we need to look at different phases of the conflict and recognise the complexity of a world war.”

Below is an excerpt:

The German army was well prepared to meet armed resistance, but less able to cope with strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts and other forms of nonviolent action. A famous example is when the Norwegian teachers were told to join the Nazi party and teach Nazism in schools or face the consequences. When 12,000 teachers signed a declaration against the new law, 1000 were arrested and sent to prison camps. But the strike continued and after some months the order was cancelled and they were allowed to continue their work. In a speech, Quisling summarised: “You teachers have destroyed everything for me!”  We can just imagine what would have been the consequences if many professions had followed in the footsteps of these teachers. Or if they had prepared such actions well in advance and even had exercises prior to the invasion.

Independent news is crucial for any opposition movement. That is why censorship is enforced when a regime wants to control the masses. Despite threats of brutal punishment, illegal newspapers were published by many clandestine groups in occupied territories during WWII. In France the first leaflet was published as early as September 1940. In Munich, the “White Rose” students initiated a leaflet campaign from June 1942 to February the following year calling for active opposition to Hitler’s regime. The original group was arrested and executed but later their manifesto was distributed in Scandinavia and the UK and even dropped over Germany from Allied planes. What would have been the result of such actions if they had been well planned and executed in most cities suffering under German atrocities?

Despite massive propaganda and brutal punishment for those who refused to take part, many opposed this genocide. In Denmark almost all Jews survived because they were helped by the resistance movement to escape to Sweden and avoid the gas chambers.

In Bulgaria most of the country’s 48,000 Jews were saved when leaders of the Orthodox Church and farmers in the northern stretches of the country threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This pressure encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country’s 48,000 Jews.

Even in Germany itself people opposed the arrests. In one famous example 6000 “Aryan” German women took part in a nonviolent protest in February and March 1943, outside the prison in Rosenstrasse in Berlin, to get their Jewish husbands and friends released. Thanks to these brave women 1700 prisoners were indeed released. These examples illustrate that some groups have more impact than others. It was difficult for the Nazis to attack German women.

Read Johansen’s whole article here.