Drones, the Marathon Bombing And Today’s Liturgy of the Word (Sunday Homily)

I got into trouble with a lot of people over the last week or ten days. It all goes back to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15th. The very next morning I found myself writing a blog entry that drew fire from friends who go back with me nearly sixty years, and even from my family members. I had written that the Marathon Bombing paled in comparison with the havoc and destruction the United States’ drone policy creates in the world virtually every day.

For instance, last week in the Senate hearing on that policy, a young Yemeni activist, Farea Al-Muslimi, gave testimony about the destruction in his village brought about by a drone attack that had occurred a few weeks earlier. [Do yourself a favor and see the video of his testimony (above); it went viral last week.] Women and children were killed by the drone apparently intended to eliminate a single person who might easily have been apprehended by local police. Instead, the missile launching killed indiscriminately. In the resulting carnage, the young man said, you couldn’t distinguish the bodies of women and children from their animals which had also been killed in the raid. The human victims had to be buried with their animals as though there were no difference between them.

According to the young activist, drones hovering over villages like his own, ready to release their deadly cargo are a form of terrorism. They have for Yemenis become the new face of the United States, and have caused great anger and hatred towards our country. Drones are what Yemenis now think of when they hear “America.” They represent a highly effective recruiting tool for what Americans understand as “terrorists.”

This means that in the activist’s own village, the drones accomplished in an instant what the propaganda of Islamic jihadists had been unable to do after years of effort.

It was this sort of testimony that I had in mind when I wrote the morning after the Marathon bombing. I was also inspired by the kind of faith-consciousness communicated by the readings in this morning’s liturgy of the word. Those readings call us to embrace an awareness of the unity of the entire human race. All are our sisters and brothers, the readings emphasize; Yeminis are as important to God as we are. Put otherwise, all four readings call us beyond the nationalism that makes us so sensitive to violence directed towards our own people, while ignoring or down-playing much greater terror our country directs towards those we consider “foreign” or “other.”

In fact, today’s liturgy of the word might well be considered a hymn of praise to the God of Love who cherishes everyone and everything equally. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles highlights the expansion of the understanding of God’s Chosen People. Paul and Barnabas extend the concept from the Jews to non-Jews – i.e. to gentiles. God’s people are found not merely in Israel, but in strange sounding places like Lystra, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia, and Antioch.

The author of the Book of Revelation concurs with Paul’s interpretation. In his utopian vision of the “end of time,” John of Patmos hears a loud voice proclaiming, “God’s dwelling is with the human race.” Did you hear that? God’s People are found not just in Israel (or in “America”), but are co-extensive with the entire human race. People of all nations constitute God’s Chosen, John says. In other words, God considers everyone God’s beloved simply in virtue of their being human.

However, John “loud voice” also suggests that God is especially partial to the poor and oppressed. God wishes that tearful people stop crying. God’s kingdom is an entirely new dispensation without premature death, mourning, wailing, or pain. The suggestion here is an understanding of God’s chosen people as those within the human race who suffer the most. (As a nation, Americans, it seems, are not in that category.)

Does this mean that in our assessment of world events, the suffering should be given greater attention than the well-off?

Moreover, God’s love extends beyond humans to all of physical creation. The responsorial psalm describes God as generous, merciful, slow to anger, exceedingly kind, and good to all. That “all” includes everything God has made. In the psalmist’s words, God is “compassionate to all his works.”

Finally, today’s brief gospel reading suggests that the vocation of Christians is to mirror God’s universal love specifically as reflected in Yeshua ben Joseph – who accepted his own death at the hands of the violent rather than defend himself or take the lives of others .

Yeshua’s followers, John the evangelist suggests, must be willing to love in the same way Jesus loved. We must be ready to give our lives for “the least of our brothers and sisters” – to die ourselves before taking the lives of poor Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghanis, Iraqis, Somalis . . . . (That’s what the words of the gospel seem to propose!)

But there’s a warning with all this talk of God’s universal love. Nationalism is strong. Criticizing it evokes energetic resistance. This is the thrust of Paul’s words in today’s first reading when he says that “It is necessary to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Evidently some within the emerging Christian community wanted to stick with the old narrow notion of “God’s People” limiting it to a single nation. They thought of the community of Yeshua as a reformed wing of Judaism. As the reading from Acts tells us, they resisted Paul’s more expansive reinterpretation, sometimes violently.

Something similar can happen today when the suffering of “those others” are equated or even prioritized over the suffering of our compatriots.

Nonetheless, today’s readings remind us that in God’s eyes there are no “others.” If they are human, if they are part of God’s creation, they are God’s children every bit as important as “Americans.” Their suffering (especially when it originates from our hands) should be prioritized over our own.

That’s where I was coming from last week.

The Holocaust Museum And the Search for Truth


What keeps us from recognizing the truth when it’s staring us in the face? That’s the question that occurred to me as I visited the Holocaust Museum last week when I was in DC. The answer is complex. Dealing with its ramifications challenges us to remember what we learned in kindergarten and what many of us were taught in church.

Last week’s visit was my second time through the Holocaust Museum. Its four floors of display, film, recordings, and horrific material memorabilia are dedicated to keeping alive the nightmare of the systematic murder of millions of communists, socialists, Jews, trade union leaders, priests, ministers, nuns, homosexuals, gypsies, and disabled along with other “dysfunctionals” and enemies of the state.

This time Peggy and I along with our youngest son, Patrick (age 26) spent most of our time on the fourth floor. It details Hitler’s rise to power. How did the German people allow that to happen, I wondered? They were Europeans. They were “modern,” producers of great philosophers, theologians, poets, novelists, musicians, scientists, and industrialists. Even more puzzlingly, they were largely Christian living in a major birth-center of the Reformation.

And yet they allowed the prison-camp system to emerge. They allowed Hitler to declare war on the world. The majority claimed ignorance of the gassings and incinerations. But surely, no one was unaware of the vilification of the ovens’ victims. Hitler’s speeches were filled with denunciations of “Jewish madness.” The phrase not only reflected anti-Semitism, but was code for the political left inspired at its core by the Jewish Testament – those communists and socialists that Hitler (and the ruling classes across Europe and the United States) hated and feared more than anything else.

And when Hitler declared war on the world, good Christian Germans lined up to fight for God and country. As Elie Wiesel reminds us, Catholic prison guards gassed Jews during the week, and then went to confession on Saturday and received Holy Communion at Mass on Sunday.

Reviewing all of that in the Holocaust Museum made me uncomfortably aware that the specter of Adolf Hitler is stalking our world today. It actually pains me to say that this time the shadow is cast by the United States. As I write, the “Americans” have established the control of the world that Hitler sought. In effect, Hitler (or more accurately Hitlerism) won that Second Inter-capitalist War.

In fact, since 9/11 the U.S. has declared a Hitler-like war on the world. It recognizes no inhibiting law, and will brook no rival. Its law of the jungle prevails. The war’s enemy: the poor who demand a fair share of the resources located where they live. Acting as the Hessian armed force of multinational financial interests, the United States identifies, arrests, tortures, and eliminates those who insist that the oil, minerals, natural resources, and agricultural produce of their countries belongs to them and not to the foreign interests on whose behalf the United States polices the world.

Part of the police-world the “Americans” have established is unending war; another is the world-wide prison system like the one at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisons are entirely reminiscent of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Belsen, and Dachau, though government secrecy keeps us in the dark about the true extent of the clandestine hell-holes. They are centers of torture and degradation that beggar description. They are filled with Muslims, not with Jews. (Ironically Palestinian Jews are spearheading the attack on Muslims. It’s not for nothing that the Palestinians are called “the Jews’ Jews.”)

As for the unending war, according to the highly decorated ex-CIA agent John Stockwell, over the last 60 years, “The Third World War against the Poor” has claimed far more lives than the horrendously iconic figure of six million. In Vietnam alone more than 2 million Vietnamese were slaughtered. In Iraq, the figure of pointlessly butchered reaches beyond 1 million in a war of aggression which the U.N. terms the highest of international crimes.

And yet, our contemporaries, like the good Christians of Berlin and Cologne, are mostly in denial about the extent of the police state that has taken form especially since 9/11. Most deny (at least by their silence) the very existence of secret prisons, torture of suspects, the plain fact of political prisoners, death squads, and systemic cruelty.

Where does that denial come from? Where did it come from as Hitler rose to power? Part of the answer is that the process of take-over was gradual. It took years as Hitler advanced from army corporal, to political prisoner, to best-selling author of “Mein Kampf,” to Member of Parliament, to Chancellor, to dictator.

Similarly, the mission creep of the U.S. National Security State has been gradual as we’ve seen our government claim (and be granted by the judiciary) the right to spy on its citizens, search them without probable cause, imprison them without charge, torture them without limit, and ultimately kill them without trial. In the face of all that, like our German counterparts, most of us have stood dumbly by and have even applauded our oppressors as they expropriate us of our constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Another source of denial is the disruption that truth-telling causes in our own lives. As Paul Craig Roberts has recently pointed out, telling the truth disturbs career trajectories and can even disrupt family relationships. That makes fathers and mothers, ministers and priests, politicians and pundits close their eyes and moderate their speech. Roberts says,

“The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again.”

What to do about this state of affairs? For one we must learn to think critically. At the very least, that means applying daily to what we see and hear the “law of reciprocity.” It’s something even a child of seven can understand, though it seems beyond the capacities of our “leaders” to grasp.

One meaning of the law of reciprocity is that what is good for me is good for you; what is bad for you is bad for me. This means that if the U.S. would consider it unacceptable for Pakistanis to drone their enemies on “American” soil, it unacceptable to drone “American” enemies on Pakistani soil. If it’s wrong for Iranians to have nuclear weapons, it is also wrong for Israel or the United States to have them.

The law of reciprocity makes one wonder what the United States would do if a foreign drone so much as appeared unbidden in American airspace much less if it did its destructive work on the ground.

Besides observing the elements of what we were all taught in kindergarten, it would also help to heed what most of us have heard in church all our lives. That those German prison guards could do their crematorium work during the week and receive communion on Sundays seems somehow contradictory to the teachings of Jesus, don’t you think?

What about the guards at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, the soldiers in Fallujah or Haditha, or the drone pilots sitting at the consoles in their air-conditioned theaters? How are they different from the Germans we condemn?

Help me figure this one out. The question is disrupting my life.

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Our Wake-Up Call

Pakistan Drone Victims

Last Tuesday I shocked some of my blog readers by observing that the carnage of the Boston Marathon bombing paled in comparison with the mayhem the U.S. inflicts daily on anyone who happens to be near designated enemies in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. My observations were dismissed by some as “incredibly insensitive” and as the “garbage” comments of an armchair philosopher unacquainted with the brutality of “those Jihadists.” One former army chaplain accused me of having a screw loose somewhere.

Be that as it may, I was in reality simply trying to highlight the double standard most of us have internalized concerning our own victimhood when tragedy strikes close to home. We wring our hands and ask “Why us?” Meanwhile we exhibit little compassion for those our country’s policies punish with the equivalents of Boston Marathon bombings virtually every day. Our media regularly ignore those tragedies and so insult our country’s victims with the mainstream media’s (and our) own brand of incredible insensitivity.

The implication of ignoring the suffering of the victims of U.S. policy is that “American” lives and children are more valuable than the lives and offspring of “those others.” We seem convinced that our “holy wars” are somehow different from their jihads. Any fool, we imply (and sometimes state) would see that we are good and they are evil. We are, after all, the exceptional, indispensable nation.

That conviction of American exceptionalism seems impervious to fact and memory. It allows U.S. perpetrators of human rights abuses such as wars of aggression, death squads, drone killings, torture, imprisonment-without-charge, voter suppression, and incarceration of whistle-blowers to pontificate about those same human rights violations when they occur in other countries.

Consider the following:

• The Obama administration is currently withholding its recognition of the results of last week’s election of Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela. Maduro was the personal choice of U.S. bête noir, Hugo Chavez. Standing alone in its refusal to recognize his electoral victory (except for the arch-conservative Spanish administration) and despite assurances of international election observers and the Venezuelan National Election Commission, the United States solemnly insists that Venezuelans deserve a complete recount of every single vote.

Apparently, the Obama folks have forgotten the 2000 election of George W. Bush when its country’s own government refused to perform a recount, even though the eventual loser had verifiably received more votes than the winner. That victor was finally selected not by popular vote but by the Supreme Court dominated by his cronies.

In the light of such irregularities, not to mention gerrymandering, legalized vote-buying sanctioned by “Citizens United,” voter suppression of minorities, and refusal to set up the paper trail the Venezuelan system has so firmly established, wouldn’t you think our government would recognize that it’s lost all moral ground to lecture others about or adjudicate “free and fair” elections? No – not when inconvenient truths can be successfully flushed down George Orwell’s memory hole. Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans are still convinced their election system is the world’s gold standard. Go figure.

• The week before last Beyonce and Jay-Z decided to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary in Cuba. Their decision drew immediate response from Miami expatriates of Cuba who descried the couple’s implied support for such an egregious violator of human rights as Cuba.

Apparently, the objectors had forgotten that the U.S. has a higher percentage of its population in prison than Cuba or any other nation in the world for that matter. Additionally, the “Americans” maintain a world-wide system of secret jails for political prisoners. Practically all of the 166 incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are currently on hunger strike protesting their inhuman treatment there. The “American” torture and even murder of its political prisoners is better documented than any alleged mistreatment of prisoners in Cuba or anywhere else you might care to name.

And yet, U.S. patriots somehow feel free to lecture Cuba about respect for human rights. Can you say “denial;” can you say “1984” or “memory hole?” Once again, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Americans are still convinced that the United States is somehow the world’s leading defender and observer of human rights.

• Last week the Obama administration’s press secretary, Jay Carney sanctimoniously justified (with a straight face) the refusal of visas to 18 Russian citizens. The banned individuals were all linked to the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blower lawyer who had exposed widespread corruption and theft of national resources by high officials in the Russian government. Magnitsky had died in prison while awaiting trial. His death sparked congressional passage of the “Magnitsky Act” to protect whistle-blowers – in Russia.

Carney intoned,

“This administration is committed to working with the Congress to advance universally recognized human rights worldwide, and we will use the tools in the Magnitsky Act and other available legal authorities to ensure that persons responsible for the maltreatment and death of Mr. Magnitsky are barred from traveling to the United States and doing business here.”

Apparently, Carney wants us to forget the fact that untold (literally) numbers of incarcerated individuals have died in U.S. political prisons – many of them directly under torture. He wants us to forget that the Obama administration has virtually transformed whistle-blowing (i.e. the exposure of government and military crimes) from an act of virtue to a felony.

More specifically, Carney’s consigned to the memory hole the fact that the Obama administration has indicted more whistle-blowers than all previous administrations combined. In doing so he has criminalized the prophetic act of speaking truth to power. This is best illustrated in the case of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army whistle-blower who obeyed his conscience and Army regulations by going public with the war crimes he observed. His reward? Imprisonment without charge, torture, and a possible life sentence. Here again we’re expected to believe that the United States respects “universally recognized human rights worldwide.” We really respect them universally only in places like Russia.

You see, it’s not just that official hand-wringing over the Boston Marathon Bombing highlights U.S. hypocrisy concerning the injuries and deaths of the innocent people it’s responsible for killing; it’s that such hypocrisy has become a way of life. It has blinded U.S. citizens to the fact that their country is not at all exceptional except in its disregard for universal human rights and international law.

It’s time for “Americans” to realize that their country long ago lost any moral ground they once believed it occupied. It’s time for politicians to observe humble and repentant silence about human rights, election validity, and whistle-blowers.

As it turns out, the Marathon Bombing is only a faint “retail” reflection of the wholesale mayhem the United States routinely wreaks in every corner of the planet. Cuba is a paragon of virtue compared to the U.S. Nicolas Maduro owns far more legitimacy than did George Bush who committed those war crimes Bradley Manning has been punished for exposing.

The Marathon Bombing was a wake-up call.