Monday, January 27, 2014


Temptation of Christ - by Vasily Surikov- 1872

Noncooperation with evil is as important as cooperation with the good.  This principle of moral theology was a driving force in the work of both Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  It is a hard saying, with implications.   Those who take to heart Jesus’ words, to love the enemy and put away the sword, know that war is always evil.  How can we noncooperate with war, to better be God’s peace?

There are two major personal ways one can choose not to cooperate with the evil of war—by not being its soldiers or manufacturers, and by not paying taxes that support the maintenance of armies.  Neither of these methods are accepted by modern societies.  We preserve our national power and security by making military service and its industry the prime directives of public responsibility.

Our church in its Vatican II documents finally recognized that conscientious objection to war, not being a part of armies that fight for worldly kingdoms, is commendable Christian behavior.   It is not so certain what to do with the nations automatically tithed taxes that go to government war-making, especially since we persist in the theory of “just wars.   Also churches in the U.S. have exemption as institutions from these taxes, though its members don’t.  So if churches protested the payment of taxes for war, they’d call attention to their status exempt from all taxes, and risk losing it.

nce each of us has grown older than the age of usual military service, and made our individual decisions of conscience on whether or how we participate as soldiers, then we have the lifelong questions of how we handle our contribution to the military’s tax money.   Most of us tithe, much more to our military [which takes one half of our federal income tax money], than we do to our churches.

I made a decision years ago to not go to war as a soldier, trying to cooperate with the good, doing alternative service to the draft at Cristo Rey Church Community Center working for farmworker rights and services during the Vietnam War.   The first part of the position paper I wrote for my Jackson, Michigan draft board appears below.
What to do about payment of war taxes in the USA has been an ongoing difficult struggle for myself and family ever since.  There is merit in paying taxes for the common good.  There is also inherent cooperation with the evil of war, inextricably linked to our federal war taxes.   War-making continues, our most important product.  Come Holy Spirit, enlighten the hearts of your faithful.  What should we do as April 15th, Render to Caesar Day, again approaches?


This is the beginning of my answers to the Selective Service form questions for Conscientious Objectors.  They started by asking what are your beliefs that prevent you from participating in all wars.   The opening of my statement is below, as it was when I was 21, six months from graduating from MSU, 45 years ago, as the Vietnam War escalated.  I remember the writing taking a couple of months, putting the brakes to some of my studies.  Another installment follows next week.

Conscientious Objector Application – Michael McCarthy – November, 1968

II. I.        God’s love rules out the imposition of His will.
My belief in the existence of God, in itself, cries out against war as a solution to man’s problems.  Creation is evidence of a God whose love knows no limitations.  He has endowed his creatures with the task of self-sufficiency, and has given them the power of accepting or rejecting Him.  The concept of the “Chosen People” in the Old Testament and the parable of the king’s wedding feast {Matt. 22:1-10} in the New Testament both illustrate this.  God has created a people who can choose to love. Without this free choosing, loving would be impossible.  God, in his wisdom, made the world and does not impose His will upon its inhabitants thus expressing the love He would have us share.  Never in the course of salvation history has the Supreme Being forced a man to take prescription for the happiness He has planned.  Programmed goodness would be not an adoration but a parody.  If God has granted us the freedom to flaunt His plans, then we should do the same for each other.  Only in this way will we come to love one another.  War destroys the chance that this love, and the peace it brings, will ever really happen in the world.  It violently imposes the will of some upon the others.

                War is the judgment man is forbidden to make.

War says that we may live together in somewhat harmony until I consider you a threat to my security, my way of life.  The fact that we retain the right to eliminate each other as one of the tools of our human relations undermines the trusting we must build upon which love necessarily grows.  Jesus Christ has said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” {Matt. 7:1}  An exhortation to trust.  For we have no power to determine the ends of our fellow beings.  In the final sense, judgment is only found in the summation of the individual’s life.  No judgment, based on whatever ideology, can take precedence over the need for trust and love to extend to the point of self-sacrifice.

Monday, January 20, 2014


 ISIS fighters mount a show of force in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, January 2, 2014 -photo by Reuters Yaser Al-Khodor

The little USA Today articles in our local paper, that give some nod to the turmoil in the Middle East, have been hard to follow.   There keeps popping up, when the fighting in Iraq and Syria is the subject, a litany of terms for the groups causing all the trouble.

                Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] *USA Today’s emphasis
                Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS]        
      Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria
                Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

We can leave behind the Sunni / Shiite division.  These groups are all Sunni, and in fact, what is being referred to is basically one and the same group.  The term the media seems to like the most is the first, ISIL, the “Levant,” being a hundreds-of-years-old, Westerners’ term for the fertile crescent area of present day Iraq and Syria, and a bit beyond.  I remember “levant,” from a time when I lived in southern France, as the name they gave a moist, gentle breeze coming from the Middle East side of the Mediterranean.   The term obscures the fact that Iraq and Syria together have been stirred up into a fierce Sunni rebellion.

We need to admit that these current Islamic fighters are a force born out of our occupation of Iraq--the Al Qaeda in Iraq [AQI].  Al Qaeda never was present in Iraq until our Iraq War.  Our war radicalized Iraqi Sunnis, and was an invitation for some international Islamic fighters to join in.  Now paradoxically they are complemented by, and themselves are part of as refugees, Sunni fighters in Syria that we have been supporting and arming to depose the Syrian [Shiite] government, our current enemy of the day.
 The Middle east borders were a product of the World Wars
{ words from John McCutcheon song "Christmas in the Trenches" }

They don’t acknowledge the border between Iraq and Syria, considering it one Islamic state [which historically has some validity.]   They call it al-Sham, and themselves Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.  All in Arabic of course.  Their cause has been strengthened by the civil war in Syria, in which we unwittingly have taken their side.  They’ve just taken over the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and the Iraqi [Shiite] government we helped install may suffer significant further loses.  And in Syria the battles rage on in stalemate.

t is more complicated than this synopsis [see references below].  The predominantly Syrian Sunni group, al-Nusra, is sometimes allied with this Islamic militia, and shares in its terrorist tactics.   There are many more factions.   All armed and dangerous.   At times our friends, at times our enemies.   We continue to erroneously believe that we can get these factions to point their guns in the direction most favorable to our policies.  And we’re now at the point of sending lots of Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles to the Iraqi government to help them quash what we helped create—these more potent Sunni fighters.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”   -- Dr. Martin Luther King

“Modern technological mass murder is not directly visible, like individual murder. It is abstract, corporate, businesslike, cool, free of guilt feelings. But this big business of death and even genocide is all the more effective because it involves a long chain of individuals, each of whom feels himself absolved from responsibility.” – Fr. Thomas Merton

We live so far away from the Middle East we talk about it using words like Levant, fertile crescent, gentle breeze.  Shouldn't there be a natural extension of the Good Book's Matthew 25?   When did we see you hungry and not give you to eat, thirsty and not give you to drink, blasting each other apart in war and not stop selling you bombs …   

Please continue to pray for the conversion to peacemaking, and contact this fairly neutral site, and the Catholic Relief Services site, to take further action.

Illumination by Kathy Brahney

References ---

“ISIS is also known as the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" and the "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham", al-Sham being a historic Arabic name for the "Fertile Crescent" area and referring to a region comprising areas of modern Iraq, Syria, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.
Levant, a Western term, refers to the same geographic area of the Middle East.”

Sunday, January 12, 2014


 An Iraqi policeman stands over a house, damaged in Falluja battle between the U.S military and insurgents in 2004 on November 12, 2009 in the city of Falluja---Photo by Muhannad Fala'ah--Getty Images
The day we lost Fallujah was not this past week when the flag of al Qaeda was firmly raised above it, but on the very day the U.S. invaded Iraq, for the second time, on March 19, 2003.   The Bush-Enron-Rove-oil politics financials groups have proven themselves incapable of appreciating the lessons of history, realities of human nature, and limitations of military power.
Our soldiers who’ve been there know much better.   After all the bloodshed in Fallujah, infamous battle of 2004, it’s been taken over by Sunni militants again, who’ve kicked the Iraqi Shiite government out of their predominantly Sunni city.   It takes a special scorecard to keep players straight in Iraq and Syria now.  These Sunni militants from Iraq’s northwestern Anbar province have been among the ones we’ve been actively supporting, in a fight against Syria’s [Shiite allied with Iran] government across the border to the north.   We’ve armed them there, and now they take over one of Iraq’s cities our U.S. forces fought hardest to win, a decade ago.  We won no hearts and minds.
Black flags over fallujah--photo from 1-20-14 The Weekly Standard
“’Could someone smart convince me that the black flag of al-Qaeda flying over Fallujah isn’t analogous to the fall of Saigon?’ former Army captain Matt Gallagher asked” quoted in a 1-11-14 Washington Post article, U.S. Veterans despondent over al Qaeda resurgence in Iraq.   There is much soul searching over our lives lost in Iraq—the lives the Iraqis lost remain uncounted and continuing.  Every life lost is remembered, and demands ongoing personal response in those close to them, no matter what side they’re on.   We lost thousands; they lost hundreds of thousands, and in the battlefield that is still their home.

hese recurrent blowback defeats in Anbar province are caused in great part by our arming Sunnis [many who fled our battles with them in Iraq becoming refugees in Syria] to fight Shiites in Syria.  They now return, equipped by us to win back their original homes.  This could eventually overthrow the Iraqi Shiite government it took us a decade of all-out war to establish.   These Sunnis regard the border created between their part of Iraq and Syria as artificial.  It held some respect, until the huge influx of our imported war machine has now thrown the whole region into uproar.

Please read more on this [below] and pray for more healing to this part of our war-torn world.  Also write our President and Congress—no more bombs, bullets or soldiers to be sent or deployed in the Middle East.  An international moratorium on all arms sales to all Middle Eastern countries is desperately needed, as a first step towards beating swords into plowshares everywhere.  Prayer and fasting and active dedication stopped an escalation of the war in Syria.  More is required.  Faith does conquer sin and death.

References ---

1-4-14 NYT  “The violence in Ramadi and Falluja had implications beyond Anbar’s borders, as the Sunni militants fought beneath the same banner as the most hard-line jihadists they have inspired in Syria — the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.”
“Nearly one-third of the American soldiers killed in the war died trying to pacify Anbar, and Americans fought two battles for control of Falluja, in some of the bloodiest combat that American troops had faced since Vietnam.”

1-5-14 NYT -- Qaeda-Linked Militants in Iraq Secure Nearly Full Control of Falluja

Illumination by Kathy Brahney

Words of Dr Martin Luther King, remembered on his Jan. 15th birthday, from the time of his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence speech.

“We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world – a world that borders on our doors.

“If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.”