Sunday, March 10, 2013


"They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."
--George Carlin

To that end, here's some material I've been pondering:

1) A documentary called White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

2) A piece by Jill Lepore in the January 28, 2013 issue of The New Yorker:"The Force: How Much Military is Enough?" A single sentence should give us pause: "The United States spends more on defense than all the other nations of the world combined." [italics mine]

3) A new book: Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, by Nick Turse. Here's an NPR synopsis and a review by Jonathan Schell.

4) An interview in The Sun with Vietnam veteran turned war resistor S. Brian Willson, who lost both legs when a train ran over him as he was protesting munitions shipments. The piece (you have to actually buy the magazine to read it) is called Praying the Price for Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson.

Here's an excerpt from the interview, by Greg King:

King: In Vietnam you accompanied a South Vietnamese lieutenant into a village that had been napalmed just an hour before. Burned and blown-up bodies of women and chidren lay scattered about. But when you broke down, the lieutenant couldn't figure out what your problem was. How was his reaction humanly possible?

Willson: I think we're all capable of being in denial of our humanity. And we're all capable of participating in evil.

When I looked into the eyes of a dead woman I saw there, what I experienced wasn't a thought, it was an overwhelming sensation that hit my body. The lieutenant asked me what was wrong, and my brain and nervous system struggled to come up with words. "She's my sister," I finally said. It was just an interpretation of what I felt. It's like when a father goes home and sees his child and just wants to hug her. It's a response that comes out of your whole being. It's love. It has nothing to do with thought.


  1. Have you ever read REGENERATION by Pat Barker? I just finished reading it after it sat on our shelves for years after my husband read it for a World War I literature class. I don't know the right way to say that I have a special place in my heart and mind for World War I history and art. When I think of the most sacrosanct places I visited in London, I think of St. Etheldreda's Church, tucked away, with its beautiful, but plain monuments to the English martyrs, the still unfinished Cathedral, and the World War I gallery at Tate Modern. In all those places, I would stand, overwhelmed by destruction and loss, but also awed by the hope that could still exist. I read Barker's book at every spare and not-so-spare moment. It is beautifully written and haunting. Set mainly in a mental hospital for British officers, the novel manages to capture the reality and horror of the trenches--and war in general--without ever moving the plot to the Front. I was in solidarity with psychiatrist Dr. Rivers as he faced the job of restoring the officers' "sanity," so they could return to battle, while he realized that they were the normal ones, or at least their reaction to the horror was the only normal way to respond. I was also struck by the disparity between what is declared legal and illegal by officials who are also sending young soldiers out to experience and commit unimaginable things. I highly recommend it as it is historically accurate and not revisionist, but holds truth and relevance for us today. I'm looking forward to reading the next two books of the trilogy, the last of which won the Booker Prize.

  2. S. Brian Willson's comments remind me of those of the grandmother at the end of Flannery O'Connor's short story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Though in a different context, the grandmother views her assailant, the Misfit, through the eyes of love: "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" At that moment, when she reaches out to touch his shoulder, he blows her away.

  3. Yes, just like they/we blew Christ away...realizing everyone is our sister and brother is an extremely dangerous proposition...

    And thanks, Terri, I've read Regeneration and the other two as well, but years ago, so I don't have much of a sense of them now.

    I did save this quote, though!:

    “Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay”...

  4. My daughter-in-law is a Vietnamese-American.Her parents came to the US as refugees. Her father learned to speak English and earned a degree in Chemical Engineering. They do not speak of the war, except that they got out.. and found each other, they visit their homeland once year.. but are glad to come home. They appreciate what the Americans did over there, they feel they were soldiers and they did what they were told to do. They lived it, and they love living in America. It's not about individual soldiers, it's about politics.

  5. I served in the Balkans and Iraq. The young Soldiers that I served with in the Balkans organized coat drives for poor children, and helped cleanup and secure supplies for schools which they adopted. I saw as many American flags flying in front of buildings and homes than see on my own street. The Soldiers I served with in Iraq were respectful to those in which they interacted and behaved with incredible restraint and discipline towards people who often held ill will towards them. Perhaps if more people served their country in uniform, and were willing to pay the price for peace, there would be less exaggeration of the bad and more testimony of the good.

  6. Well that is just the problem, though, JP, we don't HAVE peace. As retired U.S. Army career officer, BU professor of International Relations, and "conservative Catholic" Andrew Bacevich (who lost a son in Iraq) has pointed out, we are now engaged in "generational" war, "The Long War," imperialistic war that has become a seemingly permanent condition of our lives...
    To long for an end to war is to be against war, not against the people who fight it. To not have to lose even one more soldier, to not have even one more soldier return with PTSD, to not have even more more mother or father mourn the loss of their kid is the whole purpose of praying and working for peace...

    Debra, unless I misunderstood, but I couldn't disagree more. That the individual ALWAYS trumps "politics" is the very basis of Christ's teachings, life, and death. The Third Reich was "politics," too.

  7. Here's a great video reflecting on the subjects at hand by Dr. Virgilio Elizondo of Notre Dame Univ. and San Antonio...thanks for weighing in!

  8. My God Heather, that video... probably the best most beautiful summation of Christianity I've ever come across..

  9. Is that not the problem? - that the politics have gained more importance than the lives of the individuals?

    Perhaps this is only true within the social circles I am apart of, but it seems a majority of people do recognize all others as their brother/sister and that the lives of others are of equal worth as any one of us... this being the case it puzzles me that our world has not yet transformed their actions to embrace this perspective - how can we continue to abuse and inflict pain (and even cruel deaths) onto those who are our equals? Either we need to put our hand where our mouths are, or stop lying that we see all as our equals!

    The quote from Regeneration about the caterpillar/butterfly is right on - transformation does consist almost entirely of decay! I don't know yet how to make sense of that, but the proof of it is all around us.

  10. I know, isn't that video beautiful? I love that he remind us that Christianity is about something NEW, something ALTERNATE, something ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. While we live, as always, in the midst of the world...

    That his father used to go before the Cross at the end of the day and tell Jesus all the good jokes he'd heart that day...that probably nothing got Christ killed faster than the company he kept...we are all in this thing together. It's never me vs. you or us vs. them, it's how we can we work toward the Peace of the Kingdom together?

    I'm very mindful that when I say I hope not even one more solider has to die, the soldier may be thinking Thanks for taking away my job. I don't know how to reconcile that. I don't know how to reconcile Love thine enemies with war, and I don't know how to reconcile either of those with the fact that I am a grateful beneficiary of all the U.S. has given me.

    I just know that if, with the Church, I am going to pray for peace, I should know something of what war looks like.

    As Dr. Elizondo says, We won't see peace in our lifetimes. But just to plant a seed is everything...

  11. The job thing is tough to reconcile, though I was reflecting on kind of the same issue when I was flying home for break and passing through security. There were just so many TSA agents, and obviously most of them were doing their job well and honorably and with politeness, but I was still struck by just how MANY attendants there were, and how extensive security measures are today (with seemingly mandatory pat-downs and such).

    I've been helping out at a kindergarten in Philly recently in a classroom which could definitely use multiple more helping hands to attend to specific kids in the classroom, to teach some groups how to read, to challenge kids who are excelling to do more. I have no doubt that each of the TSA officers could do a job like this, and I have no doubt that it would in the end be an infinitely valuable, edifying service to both to our society and to one's individual soul. It seems to depend on choices we make as a society; there are always other jobs I think, even if to conceive of them requires a complete reorientation.

  12. What do you do, though, when an enemy is bent on your destruction? As is the case today with Islamic terrorism.

    That is not a rhetorical question. I seriously would love to embrace pacifism but always come up against that.

  13. Heather, your comment that if i am going to pray for peace, I should know what war looks like, reminds me of Thomas Hardy's comment that, "If a way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst." He says what you says, so aptly.

    The analogy of the prised-open chrysalis, with a decaying caterpillar inside ... it bothers me. I love metaphors, analogies, because they are so powerful when they are true. But to work, they have to be absolutely true. A sloppy one bothers me, because it robs the idea of all its power.I found myself turning this one over in my mind. How could it be that a caterpillar literally decays before it become a butterfly. Surely its the very substance of the caterpillar which changes, which must be transformed into a butterfly. If the caterpillar decays first, what's left to become a butterfly? Has someone actually opened a chrysalis and found a rotting caterpillar in it? I really want to know. I don't believe it! I don't think there's a mythical creature in there with the front half of a butterfly and the back half all soft-bodied with stubby legs like a caterpillar - but I think it must be something unrecognizeable which is neither caterpillar nor butterfly.

    I would never prise open a chrysalis so I may never know. I would like it to be true that the caterpillar decays first, but I don't think it is.

  14. Lydia, were we not bent on the destruction of Christ? Did not even His own disciples betray Him? Was it not his followers - those closest to Him - who had Him beaten and eventually crucified?

    Maybe that's not an answer to your question or what you were wanting to hear. It definitely doesn't ease our desire to fight back, but I can't help to notice that Christ set the example of peace despite our determination to destroy Him.

  15. Check out Andrew Bacevich, Lydia, about whom I have to write more...while being deeply mindful of "the terrorist threat," he points out that our deepest problems are not from without, but from within. I think that's always true at the individual level and it's also true at the national level. I think we could do with a deep and prolonged examination of conscience, at both levels...I pray that Pope Francis leads us in that direction....

  16. Hi Jane, from a Scientific American article entitled "How Does a Caterpillar Turn Into a Butterfly?"

    "How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly? What happens inside a chrysalis or cocoon?

    First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on. In some species, these imaginal discs remain dormant throughout the caterpillar's life; in other species, the discs begin to take the shape of adult body parts even before the caterpillar forms a chrysalis or cocoon. Some caterpillars walk around with tiny rudimentary wings tucked inside their bodies, though you would never know it by looking at them.

    Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth. The imaginal disc for a fruit fly's wing, for example, might begin with only 50 cells and increase to more than 50,000 cells by the end of metamorphosis. Depending on the species, certain caterpillar muscles and sections of the nervous system are largely preserved in the adult butterfly. One study even suggests that moths remember what they learned in later stages of their lives as caterpillars.

    Getting a look at this metamorphosis as it happens is difficult; disturbing a caterpillar inside its cocoon or chrysalis risks botching the transformation"...

    here's the link:

    So I guess you could call digesting your own body to soup SOME kind of decay. "Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies"...I took the quote to be a reflection on the paradigm of death and resurrection...the death of the old life, our old identity (which if we're lucky happens many times before we actually die); the birth of the new...

    What I really love is that to observe the process too closely wrecks it...transformation takes place in some "hidden" realm...

  17. At the risk of offending everyone-we spend more money on our military-because, unlike many countries-we are always defending everyone else. When the war in Sarajevo was going on and ethnic cleansing was again, rearing its' ugly head- the nations in Europe did almost nil to stop it. It was in their backyard. We had to stop it.

  18. You know, I think we should also pray every day for those in government whose job it is to make judgments about national security.

    This was brought home to me very strongly after 9/11 as I watched officials talking on TV. The burden on them then was almost unbearable, and some couldn't bear it and cracked.

    And things haven't gotten easier for them. Take a look at this, Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence, prepared for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. And that’s just what’s available for public consumption.

    I can't imagine what it must be like to deal with stuff like this day in and day out.


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