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