In December ’08, I was asked to sort of debate Mgr J S Alker Assistant British Military Chaplain General Land Forces and Principal RC Chaplain at the V1 Form Theology conference at St Mary’s School, Ascot, England.
Well it wasn’t much of a debate I went first and couldn’t rebut. It was more like an exchange of views on the Pacifict V Just War position in the Catholic church (see the movie “The Mission” for an interesting take on this debate!)
I met with the Monsignor in the hall after our presentations and we had a good exchange of views. He was dressed in military chaplain uniform with epitlaps and I was in my dreads and my worn, cigar burn hole Pitstop ploughshares t-shirt. I remarked to him that we looked straight out of central casting! He agreed.
There were approx 120 high school students, very bright from the quality of questions (could be a few future prosecutors and judges in there, if so hopefully they’ll rember me kindly!), and at least one young guy who is being put through VI form by the British military. The Russians and the British are the only Euro countries that recruit and 16! I had a lot of good exchanges with these kids at coffee breaks, lunch etc.
At the outset of my presentation I pointed that all of them had been born after my last haircut in 1988. I got that haircut in Boggo Rd. Jail in Brisbane where I was imprisoned for blockading the crew of the nuclear warship U.S.S. Hoel that had called in to Brisbane on its way back from supporting Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf. This was around the time Bin Laden and friends were being supported and armed by the American CIA and Pakistani Inteligence. Good friends of the US/UK, now the new enemies.
I pointed out that there has been 3 responses to the issues of war and violence in church history….
1. Pacifism for the first 3 centuries, pracitsed and taught by Jesus living under the Roman colonisers and the Herodian collaborators -embraced by the Catholic Worker movement and other remnants of radical disciplehip.
2. The Just War theory thought up by Augustine after the 3rd. century Constantine shift when the church was legalised, patronised by the emperor and was fasttracked to become basic to Roman citizenship. This “Constantine Shift” turned christian ethics on its head. The ethical question of how do you run the Roman (British, Portugese, Spanish, any empire ) in a Christian way? should never have been our problem…like how do you run a firing squad in a christian way? is not our problem either.
Both recent popes have mused that given the nature of modern warfare technology the a just war may now be an impossibilty (eg. your not supposed to kill civilians for starters!)
3 Crusades – “kill em all and let God sort them out”. Theologically discredited in the Catholic tradition but is very much the theology of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment which is basic to the present wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.
I pointed out that where we were gathered at Ascot was once the fringe of the Roman empire with all the brutality and oppression that went with that. Later it had become the centre of the British empire that stretched all the way to my hometown of Brisbane 12,000 miles away liquidating the local tribe there.
As theologian Ched Myers points out where we are situated in empire effects how we do our theology and radical christian praxis. From the oppressed 3rd. World will come a “Theology of Liberation” from the entitled First World will come a “Theology of Repentance and Resistance”.
As the Chaplain pointed out, the 40th. British solider killed in the Iraq/Afghan wars this year was arriving back today. One of the first in 03 was from Ballyfermot/Dublin and the recent 300th. was from County Mayo. The reality is that we don’t know don’t care about British, Iraqi, American Afghani deaths…we live in Western societies disengaged form the wars being waged in our names. This is no coincidence – they have learnt the lessons from Vietnam – how to market and manage wars on the home front. All they want is our silence and sedation and we serve it up in spades not a peep from the church, the campus, youth culture and little beyond the usual opportunism from the left and professional NGO sector. This generation is victim of sophisticated socialisation techniques that we didn’t have to deal with in the ’60’s and ’70’s.
I had woken up that morning in the Catholic Worker hospitality house in Hackney http://www.londoncatholicworker.org with men who had fled from wars and military oppression in the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Algeria, Iran. On the bus to Waterloo Station we passed many monuments to wars and warriors that had built the British empire. As I travelled on the train from Watreloo there were constant security messages about suspicious packages etc. Commuters seemed as disengaged to these alerts as they are to the war in general.
It is our choice to remain awake or asleep to the times we’re in. The state requests us to remain asleep to troop movements through Shannon Airport, the cries from Iraq and Aghnaistan and military familes. Those who continue to resist shake and awake us to our own repsonsibilities of solidarity and resistance Check out www.couragetoresist.org www.witnesstorture.org and www.soaw.org
On the way up on the train I read some feedback from folks I had emailed with requests to help prepare a talk. I’d like to share a couple of them….
Tom Cornel Catholic Worker, Vietnam War draft card burner now pastor reflects on the dillema of Catholic Chaplains in the U.S. enemy. I gave Mgr Alker a copy of this article
Gary MacLennan had written in his email…….
“One of my very favourite speeches and certainly one I would use if I were speaking, is the Roman historian Tacitus’ version of the speech by the leader of the Caledopians just before they went into battle at Mons Gropius against Agricola. Tacitus almost certainly made this up but it is a timeless characterization of war and imperialism. He called the Romans
“Brigands of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder and now they ransack the sea. The wealth of an enemy excites their cupidity, his poverty their lust of power. East and West have failed to glut their maw. They are unique in being as violently tempted to attack the poor as the wealthy. Robbery, butchery, rapine, with false names they call Empire; and they make a wilderness and call it peace. “