The National Catholic Review
Our Drugged Silence

Bishop Robert W. McElroy’s “War Without End” (2/21) should be read and reread by all Americans concerned about the slippery slope of war without apparent consequences. But what is so striking about the war is the silence. President Obama has added first 17,000, then another 30,000 soldiers, all without debate about the mission that has led to 1,140 dead and 3,240 seriously wounded, not to mention 24,000 killed or wounded Afghans.

We call Korea the forgotten war, but Afghanistan is the opiate war—not because it is about heroin, but because the public seems in a trance, oblivious to its deaths and cost. We are told the war is about Al Qaeda. But to read the newspapers from the region is to realize that for Iran, Afghanistan and India, it is not about Al Qaeda, because it no longer has a presence. The issue is power after America withdraws, control over the politics and minerals. The regional powers play the waiting game, while America plays the punch-drunk sailor in a bar being laughed at by the crowd.

During the internal debate on the surge, there was never a definition of success. According to Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s War, the late ambassador William Holbrook said the surge “can’t work”; and Gen. David Petraeus said, despite the withdrawal deadline, “This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives, and probably our kids’ lives.”

Perhaps the best example of our feckless efforts was the widely reported progress we were allegedly making with the Taliban for a peace deal involving power sharing with the Afghan government—only to learn that we were negotiating with and funding an imposter “negotiator,” a shopkeeper who had no connection with the Taliban.

So here we sit in silence. The left’s silence is cowardly, the right’s intellectually dishonest. The military policy is heroic but unprecedented, except for the charge of the Light Brigade of 1854 and Britain’s mad attempt to conquer the same Afghan tribal rage.

Stephen S. Bowman

Syracuse, N.Y.

Moral Disconnection

I thank Bishop Robert W. McElroy for “War Without End” (2/21). The nation needs to hear more of everything he has said. Perhaps the young students in Jesuit universities might have this seed planted and begin to think. We can look back to President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex that remains alive and well today. The Defense Department is happy with the volunteer army, since that keeps the rest of the country disconnected from the wars. There might have been a vague reason for beginning this war in Afghanistan, but today the morality is nonexistent. For those unconcerned about the morality, at least they can concern themselves about the cost.

Marygail Ferris

St. Michaels, Md.

Cogent and Prophetic

Bishop Robert W. McElroy’s “War Without End” (2/21) is cogent and prophetic and deserves to be preached and published in every diocese and parish bulletin. It is almost singular in that he has a much wider view of anti-life issues than the majority of other bishops in the United States. I thank Bishop McElroy and America for publishing it. .

(Rev.) Rich Broderick

Cambridge, N.Y.

Step By Step, Slowly...

Although it is certainly worth trying, I think the universal church council you suggest in “Laity Near the Top?” (2/21) is too big to work. I suggest smaller local councils of laypeople, mandatory diocesan pastoral councils that act responsibly and progressively so as to convince bishops they are worth listening to. I am a member of one in the Rocky Mountains. From these groups, members would come together on the national level and advise the bishops’ conferences. I do not support lay persons choosing the pope, but they should be involved in selecting bishops through the interview process. We should begin with small steps and prayer.

Todd Phillipe

Buena Vista, Calif.

A Visit She Could Not Forget

“Growing Up Berrigan,” by George M. Anderson, S.J. (2/21), reminds me of the first time I met Philip Berrigan One of my students invited him to my high school seminar on man’s duty to the state. Soon after that our family became good friends with everyone at Jonah House; but it was only later, when my daughter was a college sophomore, that I saw the depth of the influence he and Elizabeth McAlister had on our children.

At Vanderbilt, assigned an essay on a national event that affected her, my daughter wrote about the burning of the draft files at Catonsville, Md., in 1968. When I asked her why she chose something that had happened 14 years before her birth, she replied that if that had not happened Phil Berrigan would never have come to my class and she would never have met him, and her life would have been very different. I forwarded the story of that conversation to Phil while he was in prison.

George McCeney

Glencoe, Md.

On Being Dumb

As you say in “Enter the Lists” (Current Comment, 2/28), the writing of seemingly well-educated people, including lawyers, is often appalling. Two things are absolutely essential for good writing skills—reading and clear thinking. As for reading, most students are not encouraged to do much.

A cantankerous literature professor of mine once asked a room full of English majors at a liberal arts college with a strong reputation how many had read Aristotle’s Poetics or portions of it. For me, that and other Greek and Roman classics had been required reading during freshman year. Two or three raised their hands. The professor responded to the class, “You are dumb!” A little harsh, but true.

As for clear thinking, it has gotten worse as we do very little of it before putting words in e-mail, on a Blackberry, computer screen or paper. It is considered more important to “put something out there” than to trouble ourselves with facts or quality content.

Chris Kuczynski

Baltimore, Md.

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