Joan Chittister: America, be American
- "The United States of America is looked at... as the most dangerous
and destructive nation in the world by civilized global societies."
An appeal for America to be American
By Joan Chittister, OSB
09/30/04 "National Catholic Reporter" -- I have discovered that
there is a lot you never find out, even about your own country,
unless you go somewhere else.
For instance, Aug. 31 during the Republican National Convention, 203
Asian scholars from 13 countries published a public declaration,
endorsed by 42 Asian organizations, appealing to U.S. voters "not to
vote for a president who will turn Asia and the global society into
America's enemy." The statement, they tell us, was released
simultaneously in both New York and Japan, a nation that understands
first-hand what war can do to a people for generations.
"Another America is possible," the declaration insists.
Maybe you heard about it but I didn't. Instead, they handed the
document to me in Tokyo, amazed that I knew nothing about it at all.
Which, it seems to me, too, is strange, given the fact that the
declaration purports to be the work of groups such as the
International Movement for a Just World, the Women's International
League of Peace and Freedom, the Friends Service Council,
Sociologists Without Borders, the Center for Research on the
Environment, the Japan Lawyers International Solidarity group and
the Korean Professors Union.
It is embarrassing to have to explain how it is that a "free press"
is simply free to disregard so important a story. After all, John
Kerry had said early in the campaign that world leaders preferred
his presidency to four more years of another Bush regime.
The Bush camp challenged Kerry to prove the assertion, of course.
They had no reason to believe that other world leaders weren't fully
committed to the policies of George Bush, they insisted, and, in
fact, knew that it was just the opposite. It took months before the
press even attempted to test the truth of the statement but when
they did, lo and behold, they finally announced that "30 out of 35
major countries were solidly pro-Kerry, and only Poland of all the
countries of Europe, was pro-Bush."
This statement of Asian concerns they never published at all.
In the light of these recent findings of world-wide defection from
present U.S. policies, I read it carefully. After all, even if the
American response to such an appeal is "Who cares?" -- which in John
Wayne's America, it may well be -- someone ought to at least
acknowledge the concerns.
Most surprising of all, perhaps, is the fact that it is neither rant
nor screed. It simply appeals to Americans to preserve the moral
leadership that Americans have been seen before now to exert. The
declaration makes four major points:
1. With the war in Iraq, America's leadership and its influence have
crumbled worldwide. The Iraqi war, they say, is "immoral, unlawful
The real news about such a position as this is not that others are
saying what the circumstances clearly demonstrate but that
Americans, who claim to be the ultimate defenders of the rule of
law, don't seem to mind the fact that they are in violation of
international law. Nor does it bother them that the war was launched
on insufficient and old -- very, very old --data. Nor does this
church-going nation seem to think that the moral dictums they teach
their children -- as in "thou shalt not lie," for instance, -- has
anything whatsoever to do with politics and the standards we set for
our politicians even when thousands and thousands of innocent people
die because of it.
2. The unilateralism and militarism of the United States in this mis-
directed war has evoked "broad and seething rejections from all
corners of the globe." It is, they argue, only the first attempt of
this new kind of United States to achieve US domination of the
Most ironic of all, they maintain, is the fact that because of US
militarism, the world is much less safe than it ever was before the
US launched its new doctrine of preemption. There is "unprecedented
political unrest to the Middle East," they argue. And, most ironic
of all, this campaign to "make the world safe for democracy" is now
being used as an excuse for whatever political goals other
authoritarian governments may have-as in the amendment of the Peace
Constitution and the military rearmament of Japan.
They maintain that in its anger over 9/11, the United States has
simply unleashed another arms race all around a world that is now
using the fear of "terrorism" to justify it.
3. In a globalized and interdependent world, they insist, they have
a right to make this appeal because this election is no longer a
What we do politically, as they see it, effects their countries as
much -- sometimes more -- than it effects us. If the United States
maintains its present policies, they mourn, "peace and democracy in
Asia will be only a dream long gone" as other governments use the
same tactics to eliminate human rights and suppress their own
"By the rest of the world, your country is looked at as an Empire,"
the document goes on, "looming large over the globe with pre-emptive
strike doctrines and blind anti-terrorism policies depending heavily
on macho military measures and ignorance of human rights ..."
It is easy to see how this letter could have been written to Julius
Caesar, or Nikita Kruschev. But to George Bush II? To us? Have we
really fallen this low? "The United States of American is looked
at," the document says, "as the most dangerous and destructive
nation in the world by civilized global societies."
4. Another America is possible, they remind us. The one that
struggled against Hitler and Stalin, against Nazism and Communism,
for the rights of all people everywhere.
It is an appeal for America to be American.
From where I stand, this is one of the saddest letters I have ever
read in my lifetime. What else besides arrogance or ignorance can
possibly account for the fact that as a nation these things don't
seem to bother us at all? Most of all, how is that such positions
never see the light of day in the very democratic country that
stands to lose the most by being unaware of such anger, such pain,
such global despair?
You may want to read these documents: The Declaration of Asian
Intellectuals, a press release explaining the declaration and an
open letter to Americans.
A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a best-selling author
and well-known international lecturer. She is founder and executive
director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for
Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the Conference of
American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership Conference of
Women Religious. Sister Joan has been recognized by universities and
national organizations for her work for justice, peace and equality
for women in the Church and society. She is an active member of the
International Peace Council.
Copyright © 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
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