The Runaway General and the US Catholic Bishops

Rolling Stone magazine has certainly kicked over a hornet’s nest with its Runaway General article on the numerous issues dividing the aristocratic leadership of our splendid little war in Afghanistan.  It appears like it is the civilians versus the military (this is news?) and unfortunately for the military, the commander in charge in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal, is blunt (even by military standards) and less politically savvy than one would expect of a general of his rank and experience.  He lost his job today as a result of his candor.

The closing paragraph of the article “says it all” —

Whatever the nature of the new plan, the delay underscores the fundamental flaws of counterinsurgency. After nine years of war, the Taliban simply remains too strongly entrenched for the U.S. military to openly attack. The very people that COIN seeks to win over ““ the Afghan people ““ do not want us there. Our supposed ally, President Karzai, used his influence to delay the offensive, and the massive influx of aid championed by McChrystal is likely only to make things worse. “Throwing money at the problem exacerbates the problem,” says Andrew Wilder, an expert at Tufts University who has studied the effect of aid in southern Afghanistan. “A tsunami of cash fuels corruption, delegitimizes the government and creates an environment where we’re picking winners and losers” ““ a process that fuels resentment and hostility among the civilian population. So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war. There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word “victory” when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge. 

After reading that bit of journalistic bluntness, I thought, “Well, I guess it is about time to check up on the US Catholic bishops and see what they might have said lately about Afghanistan.  I’ve actually been staying away from the bishops’ website lately (well, except for the lectionary pages which I use when I select music for Holy Mass at Epiphany Church).  I’ve spent a lot of time reading, analyzing, and commenting upon the statements of the US bishops on Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few years.  Not that any of them ever gave an indication of paying any attention, of course, to my comments.  Even noticing the existence of someone like me would be way below their most august sensibilities.  Well, there was the time I ragged on Cardinal George a bit, and that produced a discussion with my pastor “as ordered by” our local archbishop, I suppose to try to calm me down a bit, but that’s it.

My basic thesis about the US bishops is that they are guilty of material cooperation with the objective evil of unjust war.  See Opposing Unjust War if you are recently wandering in and missed those little screeds first time around.  None of this has ever been refuted theologically, so I continue to maintain this position.  The reason it hasn’t been refuted theologically is because it can’t be refuted, what I have written on the subject is true, even if my rhetoric has been at times over the top “with hair on fire”.  The issues are life and death and the consequences are enormous, so I think screaming “bridge out ahead” at the onrushing traffic is certainly justifiable, necessary even.

So what do the US Catholic bishops, heirs to the apostles, bound by their ordination oaths to teach all of the doctrines and dogmas of the Church, without exception, have to say about Afghanistan?  Well, not much actually.  They don’t even have a link to their various articles about Afghanistan on the International Justice and World Peace Middle East page at their website.

After searching their site for “Afghanistan”, I found a February 2010 “Background on Afghanistan and Pakistan” document.  It is notable only for its theological cowardice (and yes, that’s the most charitable thing I can think of to say about it).  It is also historically inaccurate.  It claims our involvement with Afghanistan dates to 1979, when in fact we helped the British overthrow the only freely elected government Afghanistan has ever had, in the 1950s.  Not one word about bishops using their canonical authority to forbid Catholics from participating in this war.  Not one word about how the Gospel of Life applies to the unjust war in Afghanistan.  Not one word about just war teachings in general.

So it’s bidness as usual down at the headquarters of the US Catholic Bishops.  They are all over the safe issues — abortion, the Gulf oil spill, immigration, and above all, the new English translation of the liturgy.  But not one effective word on the life and death peace issue of this era. 

I always say this when I talk about the US Bishops, so I might as well concude with it here “one more time”:  It is a tragedy of historic dimensions that at this critical time in history, the bishops of the largest and most militarily powerful nation are moral cowards, Cafeteria Catholics, who have betrayed the Gospel of Life for their own reasons.

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