Louis Armstrong: ‘What a Wonderful World It Would Be If Only We’d Give it a Chance’

Some of you young folks been saying to me, “Hey Pops, what you mean ‘What a wonderful world’? How about all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? That aint so wonderful either.”

Well how about listening to old Pops for a minute. Seems to me, it aint the world that’s so bad but what we’re doin’ to it. And all I’m saying is, see, what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.

Love baby, love. That’s the secret, yeah. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then this world would be better. That’s wha’ ol’ Pops keeps saying.–Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong

This quote is from the founding father of American Jazz Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong from the spoken word introduction to the 1970 recording of “What A Wonderful World.”

Sergeant Jackie Talks About the War

I’ve had some lovely email exchanges with Portland magazine editor Brian Doyle. He’s a thoughtful, thoroughly human writer (see his newest collection Grace Notes). Portland magazine is the wildly popular “alumni magazine” from the Catholic University of Portland (Oregon).

Last week I received a copy of Portland‘s Summer 2011 issue in the mail. Brian’s opening essay speaks volumes about thousands of war survivors in our country and in the countries of our “enemies.”

He writes, “Recently I met a quiet woman who didn’t say much but what she said was wry and pithy and direct, and after a while I asked if I could take notes as she talked, and she said okay, and this is most of what she said.”

My name is Jacqueline. You can call me Jackie. Until recently you could call me Sergeant. I am now retired from the service. I will be twenty-seven years old on Sunday, at fourteen hundred hours. I was a hematology nurse, I am in good health, considering. I have a dog named Gus. I live near the beach. I drink tea. I learned to love tea in Kirkuk. Some days we had tea ten times a day. We found a samovar and learned how to use it. There was a man among us who could play that thing like a guitar. It got so we couldn’t drink anything other than the tea he summoned from that samovar. He vanished one day when his truck was hit by the bandits. Another man took his place. He vanished too. I took his place. After a while I forgot everyone’s names. For a while I called people by their numbers but after a while I didn’t call them anything. That’s when I knew I had war sickness, big time. I never got hit by fire but pretty much everyone I knew did. For a while there I thought it was me, that as soon as I said hello to someone or shook hands or learned their names they were doomed, so I stopped touching people and learning names. You would think wigging out in the middle of a war would be bad but it’s just normal, No one talks about what happens to the people nothing happens to, but something happens to them, and no one talks about it. Probably because we don’t have any words for what happens. Wars kill words, but no one talks about that. …

Read Brian’s whole essay here.

Zainab Salbi: Invest in Women, Invest in Peace

Zainab Salbi is the founder of Women for Women International. In the mid-1990s, I worked with her advocating for Bosnian women in the middle of the Bosnian genocide. At the time, she and I were one of the few women in the DC-area who were organizing for peace in Bosnia. Zainab’s an Iraqi refugee and we bonded over Christian and Muslim women coming together for Christian and Muslim women in the former Yugoslavia. Zainab’s team at W4WI lifts up the stories of women in war zones around the world.

As the U.S. and others once again go to war in Libya – under the guise of “redemptive violence” – I’m prompted by Zainab to call to mind the women and children in Libya, the doctors, the pacifists, and all those who refuse to fight for any side. Pray for them. Look for their stories.

Below is a TED talk by Zainab from Oxford last summer.

I grew up with the colors of war — the red colors of fire and blood, the brown tones of earth as it explodes in our faces and the piercing silver of an exploded missile, so bright that nothing can protect your eyes from it. I grew up with the sounds of war — the staccato sounds of gunfire, the wrenching booms of explosions, ominous drones of jets flying overhead and the wailing warning sounds of sirens. These are the sounds you would expect, but they are also the sounds of dissonant concerts of a flock of birds screeching in the night, the high-pitched honest cries of children and the thunderous, unbearable, silence. “War,” a friend of mine said, “is not about sound at all. It is actually about silence, the silence of humanity.”–Zainab Salbi

“There are women who are standing on their feet in spite of their circumstances, not because of it. Think of how the world can be a much better place if, for a change, we have a better equality, we have equality, we have a representation and we understand war, both from the front-line and the back-line discussion.

Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet, says, “Out beyond the worlds of right doings and wrong doings, there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” no longer makes any sense.” I humbly add — humbly add — that out beyond the worlds of war and peace, there is a field, and there are many women and men [who] are meeting there. Let us make this field a much bigger place. Let us all meet in that field.”–Zainab Salbi

Cindy Sheehan Says “Don’t Go, Don’t Kill”

A few weeks ago I ran a commentary on Huffington Post titled Christian Support for DADT is a Double Edged Sword. This week anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan added her twist on this same theme with a piece on Al Jazeera titled Don’t Go, Don’t Kill. She says:

Some of us in the peace movement work really hard to keep our young people out of the hands of the war machine that preys on disadvantaged young people in inner cities and poor rural settings.

To see a demographic that is (without appearing to stereotypes) traditionally better educated, more politically progressive, and economically advantaged fight to join this killing machine is very disheartening.

I can see how one could view the repeal as a step forward, framed in the context dictated by the political elites of the Washington beltway. I can imagine much displeasure amongst the military brass – but I cannot reiterate enough how this is not a progressive moment in the social history of the United States.

The US military is not a human rights organisation and nowhere near a healthy place to earn a living or raise a family. My email box is filled with stories of mostly straight soldiers and their families who were deeply harmed by life in the military.

I also appreciated the response from Hank Stuever, a Washington Post writer and author of the book Tinsel, to Sheehan’s piece:

Here’s something you would never hear from the gay-rights crowd about DADT, certainly not here in the epicenter of defense spending and military careers, but nevertheless, I find it curiously spot-on: Just because you CAN join the military, is it the morally just thing to do? Cindy Sheehan (remember her?) making a very good point in an essay for Al Jazeera — THAT’s how fringe this thinking is. But it begs the question: Are there ANY peace activists in the gay-rights movement?

Authentic movements for social justice build allies across lines promoting human dignity.  As Dr. King said in Montgomery, “This is a conflict between justice and injustice.” The only real question is which side are you on.

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.

Merton versus The Bomb

thom41Catholic monk, mystic, writer, and justice advocate was very concerned about the rise of atomic weapons. In 1962 he wrote a book called Peace in the Post-Christian Era addressing the immorality of nuclear weapons. He was forbidden from publishing it by his order’s abbot. It wasn’t published until 2004 and has a wonderful foreword by Jim Forest.

Below is an excerpt from Merton to French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain on the topic.

[To Jacques Maritain, Feb, 1963] I do not want to bother you with a multitude of things of mine, but I am putting into the mail a mimeographed copy of my “unpublishable” book on “Peace in the Post Christian Era.” Unpublishable because forbidden by our upright and upstanding Abbot General who does not want to leave Christian civilization without the bomb to crown its history of honor. He says that my defense of peace “fausserait le message de la vie contemplative” [would falsify the message of the contemplative life]. The fact that a monk should be concerned about this issue is thought-by “good monks”-to be scandalous. A hateful distraction, withdrawing one’s mind from Baby Jesus in the Crib. Strange to say, no one seems concerned at the fact that the crib is directly under the bomb.–Thomas Merton

From The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers, edited by Christine M. Bochen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993, p. 36)

Empower Women, Empower Nations

041133aswaneehuntAmbassador Swanee Hunt has a great post on the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security held in Monrovia, Liberia, last weekend in honor of International Women’s Day.

I’ve admired Swanee Hunt since I met her in Sarajevo during the war years and saw the work she was doing with Bosnian women war-survivors. I interviewed her for Sojourners in 2004 about the Women Waging Peace project she founded and her book This Was Not Our War.

Here’s an excerpt from her blog post A Historic Gathering in Monrovia:

I thought the most powerful speaker was Governor-General Michaelle Jean of Canada, representing Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. Haitian by birth, she spoke eloquently of what she has learned “from the incredibly courageous women of Liberia … Female leaders who see every ordeal as an opportunity … who measure their success by what they give, rather than what they take. You exclude women, you fail. You empower women, you empower a nation. Women never forget that life is our most precious asset.”

To read the Democracy Now! interview with world-renowned human rights lawyer and advocate and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson on her perspective from the Monrovia women’s meeting, go here.

Al-Zaidi’s Shoe Protest and “Weapons of the Weak”

There is something of the biblical prophets in Iraqi journalist Mutadar al-Zaidi’s protest against President Bush at yesterday’s news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Bush was in Baghdad to sign a “security agreement” with Prime Minister Maliki, which calls for U.S. troops to leave Iraq in 2011 – eight years, and thousands of lives, after the America’s 2003 unwarranted invasion.

Al-Zaidi, a cameraman for Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV, who had been kidnapped last year by Shia militants, apparently just snapped when President Bush said that the Iraq invasion had been “necessary for US security, Iraqi stability, and world peace” and that the “war is not over.” Al-Zaidi hurled his shoes – a devastating cultural insult – at President Bush’s head from a distance of about 12 feet, before he was thrown to the ground and hauled away. (Video.)

While most news reports have turned the incident into a joke and focused on President Bush’s quick evasive action and his quip about the shoes being size 10, it’s worth looking at what al-Zaidi actually said.

President Bush: “The war is not over.”

Mutadar al-Zaidi: “This is a farewell kiss, you dog!”

When the first shoe missed its target, al-Zaidi grabbed a second shoe and heaved it too, causing the president to duck a second time.

Mutadar al-Zaidi: “This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq!”

There is something of the biblical prophetic curse in al-Zaidi’s actions and words.

In Deuteronomy 27, Moses says: ‘Cursed be he who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Proverbs 26 is disgustingly clear about fools: “As a dog returneth to his vomit, [so] a fool returneth to his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11)

Lamentations 5 reflects the desperation of a conquered people: “Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach. Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens. We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers [are] as widows. We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us. Our necks [are] under persecution: we labor, [and] have no rest.” (Lamentations 5:1-5)

Al-Zaidi is currently being “questioned” (God help him and us!) by security forces to determine whether he acted alone. The streets of Baghdad are filled with people in support of al-Zaidi’s prophetic protest.

This “shoe protest” against President Bush is an example to me of a particularly effective symbolic  protest against the oppressor by the oppressed. It’s an example of using “the weapons of the weak“, everyday acts of cultural and political resistance by those who would otherwise be viewed as powerless, against the the powerful.

Remembering Cardinal Bernardin

Twelve years ago today, the Catholic Church lost one of her great and humble leaders, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Bernardin grew up in the South. Born in South Carolina, he served for many years in Atlanta until he was asked to lead the U.S. Catholic bishops as their General Secretary. He held that position in the critical and turbulent years between 1968-1972, when Catholicism world-wide was trying to get it’s footing in the Post-Vatican II era.

Bernardin captured the vision of the second Vatican council: Carry forward tradition, not traditionalism; cling to the faithful first, and the dogma of faith second. He was a rigorous intellectual and philosopher, but, above all else, he was a pastor.

Cardinal Bernardin is probably best remembered for introducing the concept of “the seamless garment of life.” In his 1983 speech at Fordham University, Bernardin put forth an inquiry to the audience: How can Catholics address the need for a consistent ethic of life and probe the problems within the church and the wider society for developing such and ethic? He made this address in the context of the bishops’ letter on war and peace issues (The Challenge of Peace), which had been recently released. He said:

Right to life and quality of life complement each other in domestic social policy. They are also complementary in foreign policy. The Challenge of Peace joined the question of how we prevent nuclear war to the question of how we build peace in an interdependent world. Today those who are admirably concerned with reversing the nuclear arms race must also be those who stand for a positive U.S. policy of building the peace. It is this linkage which has led the U.S. bishops not only to oppose the drive of the nuclear arms race, but to stand against the dynamic of a Central American policy which relies predominantly on the threat and the use of force, which is increasingly distancing itself from a concern for human rights in El Salvador and which fails to grasp the opportunity of a diplomatic solution to the Central American conflict.

The relationship of the spectrum of life issues is far more intricate than I can even sketch here. I have made the case in the broad strokes of a lecturer; the detailed balancing, distinguishing and connecting of different aspects of a consistent ethic of life is precisely what this address calls the university community to investigate. Even as I leave this challenge before you, let me add to it some reflections on the task of communicating a consistent ethic of life in a pluralistic society.

I encourage you to read Cardinal Bernardin’s full address, especially in these days when the current cohort of American Catholic bishops seems to have lost sight of the “seamless garment” and of the delicacy of pluralism..