Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Basic Black for War
distributed 3/6/03 - ©2003

My friend Ralph is a true radical and an activist. Last Sunday, when he asked me, "What should we do when the war starts?" I knew that he wasn't talking about a prayer service or a letter writing campaign. He was looking for thoughts about how to take a mass protest into the streets.

Many of us have been working for months to pull the US government back from its plans for war in Iraq. We have written letters, made phone calls, visited our Senators, marched in protests, planted signs in our yards and stickers on our cars, talked to friends and co-workers, studied and deliberated, signed petitions, prayed, preached, e-mailed, read Lysistrata, mailed rice, taught classes, donated money, struggled with our consciences and our deepest values, gone to meetings, held banners over highways, composed poetry, found the strength to laugh and the courage to be compassionate, and engaged in any other behavior that we hope can stop this war.

And our efforts have made a difference. Citizens and politicians around the world have reconsidered the threat, and the appropriateness of war under these circumstances, and decided that now is not the time.

But many of us now feel that President Bush and his circle of advisors will refuse to heed the calls for peace. Going against the counsel of most of the nations of the world, going against the moral guidance of religious leaders, going against the impassioned voice of the millions of citizens who have protested around the globe, going against the reasoned wisdom of many military heroes and conservative commentators, going against the historic international prohibitions about preemptive war -- Mr. Bush seems set on launching the missiles, dropping the bombs, and sending the tanks and the troops.

Within days, the US will call on the UN Security Council to vote on a resolution authorizing war. Weeks of lobbying and coercion have not lined up enough votes to assure that the resolution will pass. France and Russia stand ready to veto the resolution if it does pass. Still Mr. Bush proclaims that he has the right to wage war, even if the UN stands strongly against it. And still the troop build-up continues, and the bombing from US and British planes "patrolling the no-fly zones" intensifies day by day.

We have worked hard for peace, and we will continue to work for it until the firestorm rains down on Baghdad, because we continue to believe in the cause, and because we continue to live in hope.

But Ralph's question has an urgency that can no longer be denied. What do we do when the war starts?

At that moment, we will have to deal with a different set of strategic and moral questions. Once the destruction and turmoil and destabilization begin, do we call for an immediate end to the hostilities? Or do we try to find some way to pull the best possible solution out of the mess -- a solution that may involve letting the war run its course.

Once Baghdad is flattened, where is the path to peace and justice?

I'm not sure. But I am sure that we need to start talking earnestly about that question -- even as we do everything in our power to make the question unnecessary.

I do have one suggestion, though, for a strategy that can move us into deeper reflection and conversation now, and that can provide one response should the war begin.

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Reaching into my dresser drawer, I felt tears come to my eyes, and a sob rise into my throat. The emotions were powerful, even though I was only lifting out a small piece of cloth.

That piece of cloth is a black armband that I wore every day during the Gulf War a decade ago. I wore it as a public and personal symbol of my ongoing grief. That traditional marker of mourning was one way that I could witness against the carnage in 1991, one way that I could stand against those who found joy and pride in the killing of tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Today, I took the armband back out of my drawer. I will now carry it with me everywhere I go -- as a painful reminder to myself of the tragedy that may soon break forth, and so that I will be prepared to once again wrap it around my sleeve at the moment that I hear the announcement of war.

I suggest that we equip ourselves -- our families and churches, our communities, our nation and the world -- with simple black armbands.

By that act of preparation, let us acknowledge the hovering presence of mass death only a few days into the future, and feel the grief and the horror of that dreadful prospect. As we share armbands with others, let us communicate to them that war, above all else, demands mourning and lamenting -- never pride or joy.

At a time when the vast global movement for peace faces the possibility of fragmenting into conflicting goals and strategies, let us claim a symbol that still can unite us in our rejection of war.

Let us offer that symbol, as well, to those who have not been part of the peace movement though these months. For there are those who, in good conscience, have believed that this war is a tragic necessity. Let us find common ground with them in our mourning, and in our prayers for a quick and stable resolution to the hostilities.

If war should come, let us also bring the black cloth that symbolizes mourning into our churches. We can drape the altar or the cross in black. We can hang black cloth on the entry doors, or the outside sign.

So, too, at our homes, on our cars, and at our offices. Basic black to express the upwelling of a basic human emotion. Basic black to give voice to our grief.

I pray, from the depths of my soul, that we will not need to wear our armbands, and to drape the cloths.

But should war come, let us be prepared with one public response, one sign of our ties to the global community, one heartfelt expression of our basic grief.

Shalom! Peace!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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