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December 26, 2019
Something about silence makes me sick
‘Cause silence can be violent
Sorta like a slit wrist
Zack De La Rocha (Rage Against the Machine)
Last week Congress impeached the president. The day before Congress impeached the president for abuse of authority, they handed him a $1.4 trillion budget, half of which was for the military. Included was funding for the first new military agency authorized in decades – Space Force, and, of course, at least part of the bill for the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Remember that one?
A week before the impeachment, the Washington Post published a series of stories about the war in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Papers came from secret interviews commissioned as part of an internal study about war planning that the Post got wind of and then sued to get access to. The interviews make clear that three presidents have lied to us: Bush, Obama and now Trump have lied about casualties, lied about assessments of various strategies employed, and lied to us about the prospects of success (which most of the commanders apparently see as ill defined and probably not achievable by most measures – certainly not a military victory). For example,
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
No hearings have been scheduled.
The war in Afghanistan has been going on for 18 years. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in this war – and civilian casualties have been increasing again in recent years. Afghan security forces are constant targets of the Taliban – who killed 15 members of the security force in a single attack on Tuesday in Balkh province of Northern Afghanistan. Nearly 2,400 U.S. service members have died in the war – including Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Goble, a Green Beret killed this Sunday, the 17th U.S. service member to die this year. Over 20,000 U.S. service members have been wounded. There are 2.7 million people from Afghanistan living as refugees outside the country’s borders, 90% of whom are in Iran and Pakistan. Another 2.2 million people are internally displaced. Most U.S. Americans act as though there is no war. Indeed, unless you’ve served, or a family member has, there seems to be no impact on your life. Certainly no one in office likes to talk about the war. The reception of the Washington Post stories, in substance, similar to the Pentagon Papers, has been a national yawn.
Meanwhile, in October, the United States admitted zero refugees. That is zero; not a single one of the 78 million displaced people on the globe at the moment, admitted as a refugee even though we are a participant in, if not primary instigator of almost every war these people are fleeing – including Afghanistan. Last month, we admitted the lowest number of refugees counted in any November since 2001.
I’ve been reading Shusaku Endo’s book Silence this week. The book is a fictional account of two Portugese priests in Japan during the violent suppression of Christianity in the 17th Century. Endo, himself a Christian, is critical of the missionaries. However, the central theme is not so much east vs west, but the silence of God amidst the suffering of the Christians being persecuted; a silence that tests the priests’ faith throughout.
Of course, the book leaves open the question of whether the silence is a product of God’s quietude, or the refusal of people to listen.
It seems that Christmas is not a bad time to reflect on this. The Jesus of history, and the earliest Gospel traditions, called into question the structures of domination that characterized Roman colonial rule in Palestine and challenged them. For this he was killed. If you believe that God was speaking through Jesus, who challenged the people then, and us today, to confront the violence of empire with non-violence, it seems correct to wonder if anyone was/is listening.
We live in the heart of a global empire, a massive system of domination under which millions of people are suffering. $700 billion for war and nothing for the refugees that these wars create. From positions of power in this country we are being lied to daily about all of it. To riff from Zack de la Rocha again, they fill the air with “silent sounds.”
This particular system of domination will collapse or be torn down eventually. They always are. But how do we tear it down, and what replaces it?
I guess that depends on who you listen to.