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Commentary Last Updated: Mar 20th, 2007 - 23:48:25

After four years: A little contrite but still unrepentant
By Ben Tanosborn
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 21, 2007, 00:30

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As a young boy whose upbringing took place under the aegis of pre-Vatican II doctrinal Catholicism, it was the sacrament of confession -- reconciliation nowadays . . . as if it had something to do with the reestablishment of cordial relations with God -- which had me in a constant state of fluster. And it was during those weekly sessions, as I kneeled at the pew line waiting for my turn at the confessional that I faithfully went through the routine: examination of conscience, contrition for sins, and intent never to sin again.

But my counselor-priest always told me that the key to the sacrament was in the way you felt sorry, and not just simply in being somewhat contrite for your sins. According to him, if you aspire for the eternal vision of God, it must be a perfect act of contrition . . . out of love for God and not just feeling half-heartedly sorry . . . out of fear of placing your soul on the path to hell. The latter, to him, just wasn�t saintly enough.

Well, Father John�s admonitions on contrition came to light once again this last Sunday as our crowd of 10,000 strong -- by some counts closer to 15,000 -- made the well-planned, and for the most part orderly, 20-block pilgrimage for peace in Downtown Portland (Oregon). A crowd that I soon realized was atypical of a regular peace march, my feeling was that the majority of these folks would rather have been caught dead than participating in those peace marches back in late 2002 and just prior to the Iraq invasion four years ago. So why this change of heart for so many . . . and what does it mean for the country, both short- and long-term?

Of these latter-day converts to peace, I�d say that a few had initially swallowed lock, stock and barrel the lies put out by the Bush administration (WMD, terrorist ties, and the rest of Cheney�s menu); however, the majority of these marchers, just like the vast majority of those who had stayed home, were simply hawks who had borrowed a few white feathers from doves. Some had relatives or friends serving in the military in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the idea of bringing the troops home had an appeal to them. Others did not seem to have a major idealistic thrust or specific direction but showed disgust for the inefficient way Bush and his cadre of Keystone Kops had handled just about every issue. One small business owner even confided to me his �economic concern� that the long-term cost to the nation caring for the disabled -- those horribly maimed as well as the anticipated legion of ex-soldiers suffering mentally -- may prove untenable for an economy that will keep having less and less of the pie making up the world�s wealth.

The predominant signs, both in number and size, made up what can be construed as the march�s theme: to end the occupation of Iraq -- �Just Say No to War�; �Bring Our Troops Home�; �Support Our Troops�; �Out Now�; �Give Iraq Back to the Iraqis� and similar text. A few signs were a bit more forceful, mentioning the Pentagon-provided numbers of American casualties to date, or an occasional �Impeach Bush,� but little beyond that. As for Iraqi casualties and dislocations -- over 600,000 civilian deaths and 1 million wounded; 2 million forced into exile and up to 1 million internal refugees -- they did not seem to have sufficient relevancy to command most marchers to talk about them, or to give them the degree of outrage merited.

My two companions and I were walking right next to a small group of musicians who were trying to perk things up a bit by providing new lyrics to an old American classic, �Sixteen Tons.� Recorded by many renowned artists for over three generations -- pea-picking Tennessee Ernie still my favorite -- it was being reenacted in front of us for this century and the ugliness of a new company store which extends the length and width of Old Babylon. The song had graduated from the misery of coal mining in early to mid 20th Century Appalachia to the suffering and destruction that extends to much of the Middle East, carrying a �Made by the USA� label. Not just Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine where peoples� lives have been affected by American actions, but in neighboring countries as well.

The only lyrics I recall being chanted by our co-marchers were those of the four-verse choir:

�You invest sixteen quarters, and what do you get?
Just being four years older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don�t you call us, �cause we can�t leave;
We owe our souls to the empire war . . .�

That morning I had received an email from a Spanish journalist friend who had attended the peace-rally held in Madrid the day before (Saturday). It had been a comparable crowd to ours, in size but not in advocacy, as I deduced from the way it was described by my friend. According to him, the sign which commanded center point of attraction read: �They lie. They torture. They kill. Culpable to The Hague!�

And he also quoted a comment made by a journalist who had just returned from various capitals of the Near East: �Boy, do they �love� Americans in Damascus, and in Amman, and in other communities of Syria and Jordan where the price of real estate has skyrocketed thanks to the way Americans have managed the occupation! And it�s not just real estate but the price of most everything.�

To those of us who live in America�s Pacific Northwest, we appreciate the impact of such exodus by Iraqis . . . here we know them as Californians.

It looks as if those who are seriously concerned about international relations and peace have their work cut out for them in this Hawk Nation, for repentance has not found a way into Americans� lexicon. That act of perfect contrition is not about to happen, not just yet; so we�ll have to settle for those imperfect acts of contrition. Contrition of this sort would not have pleased Father John, but we have little choice knowing we can only change Americans� hearts and minds one small step at a time.

And some thought this Congress might provide a conduit for contrition. How illusory!

� 2007 Ben Tanosborn

Ben Tanosborn, columnist, poet and writer, resides in Vancouver, Washington (USA), where he is principal of a business consulting firm. Contact him at

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