Sunday, June 04, 2006

Catching up on old correspondence

Erasmus of Rotterdam, by Hans Holbein the Younger

A couple of new guests have added some late posts to some of the older threads that are due to roll off soon. I think they have good points in them, and I’d like to let some of the more frequent guests here see them and free feel to comment on them too.

Mike McG posted on 'Baghdad ER – The Cost of War'.

Mike McG... said...

Three comments:
1. "We can't kill our way out of this war." So true; a profoundly helpful reframing. Thank you.
2. My wife and I saw Bagdad ER last night. Incredibly moving. We need to see the wages of war. Only regret: too little focus on Iraqi casualties.
3. While observing the stirring recent marches on behalf of undocumented immigrants, I reflected that we haven't seen such a massive outpouring on behalf of a peace and justice issue since the end of the Vietnam war. Commonalities, then and now: there were concrete, personal consequences for not marching. The House bill would criminalize the undocumented; the draft put middle class boys' lives at risk.

I seriously doubt we'd be in Iraq today if there were a draft. Middle class Americans wouldn't stand for sending their children, but somehow the economic conscription of the poor is tolerable, even to us progressives.

Mike makes a good point that the Baghdad ER program could have focused more on Iraqi casualties than it did, particularly Iraqi civilian casualties. I heard one doctor in the program saying that they kept our troops on one side of the unit, Iraqi civilians on the other, and “the bad guys” in between. The progam didn’t focus much on the Iraqi casualties, but the ‘On Point’ Radio program did a bit more. There was an interview with one doctor who related how an insurgent was brought into the unit, “coded” several times, but was rescued and revived. The insurgent was furious to have been rescued by the Americans. For all the suffering we’ve endured and inflicted there, I do think it says something about us as a people that we are willing to give the same level of care and effort to the insurgent casualties as we do to our own troops.

On the third point, Mike is absolutely right. If there was a draft in this country this Iraqi adventure would never have been embarked upon. Not a chance. Due to the fact that these soldiers all volunteered, there is far less reticence on the part of the government to use them, and there is danger in this. Our founding fathers were very distrustful about the idea of professional soldiery. That is why they preferred to see a citizen militia. As it stands now, our all-volunteer military, impressive as they are, are not reflective of the country as a whole. They tend to be “red-state”, southern in style and character, and politically conservative. I’m not saying that this is wrong in and of itself. It just tends to build an atmosphere in which the military feels isolated from the very people it has been assigned to protect. I fear that over time this professional class of warriors will tend to see themselves more and more as an embattled minority which lives in loyalty to itself and its own members, and its own values, and not to the “slackers” they’ve been commisioned to defend.

In the thread 'Greeley on Poland: Does affluence trump traditionalism?', my old friend Joseph has weighed in.

Joe is one of my two best buddies in the world. He has lived in Madrid since 1989. My other best friend, Kevin, lives in Berlin… as in Berlin, Massachusetts. :-)

Back in the 80’s we used to spend long nights talking into the small hours of the morning, exploring mysteries on faith, women, and trying to fix the world’s problems. Faith and the world’s problems were pretty easy relative to the other one. Women are still a mystery to us, and we admit that better men than us have tried to figure them out. ;-D

Joe gives his take on Spain, and I think his comments are eloquent and insightful. Donald Rumsfeld talks about “Old Europe”. There is still some wisdom left in old Europe, as my good friend has discovered.

Joe said...

We are what we eat. Its true in that the food we eat each day (lifestyle, culture, beliefs, biased and unbiased media, stance justification, etc ) shapes our perpective on everything from patriotism to religion. Put another way, its difficult to have the Vision to climb out of the box we live in to see (and accept) the experiences and views in the boxes just around us or in the ones far away from us. In fact, it takes a Visionary to do so, in spite of the fact that information at a global level is more available than ever.

The Spanish post-Franco knee-jerk reaction to the institutional church was predictable. Mass attendance and "practicing Catholicism" is about as low as it can go, yet the real stuff of Faith remains strong just below the surface of the collective Spanish skin.

Living the hard experience of 40 years of dictatorship and forced fed institutional Catholicism is quite a learning experience to have in your knapsack. The Spanish Civil war and the dictatorship that followed is recent enough for people here to have 1st and 2nd hand experiences "fresh" in their minds. Learning experiences can be painful (even unjust). But they always provide us a perspective that we did not have before that experience. In that sense even the painful experience has an extremely positive side in that it provides Wisdom and heightened perspective.

Growing up as an American Catholic (in my box) it was pretty easy to write off the European attitude as cynicism. After 17 years of living abroad its been interesting to discover that Wisdom is not so scarce (or cynical) as I might have believed.

I always had my own particular view on the "practice" of the Catholic Faith. I've always asked myself what Christ might have thought of the church born of His name, (which is another rant for another time...) My time in Europe has accentuated that perspective. Its so much about humanity through the perspective of the figure of Christ than about Divinity through the doctrine of an institution called the catholic church.

I honestly don't feel its self justification for where I find myself today. I feel blessed to "find myself" in tune with the journey toward Christ with many of the folks around me here on the old continent.


Paula said...

Concerning what Joe said about West-Europe...I am an Eastern-European and I perceive the West thru different eyes. I see more greys and even black than he, I think.

Liam said...

Wow -- Joe showed up in Madrid the same year I did (although I left in 2000).

Jeff said...


One thing I think you would both agree on is that the affects if living under a dictatorship are long-lasting. The scars can persist long after the dictator himself is gone.


A long time for both of you just the same... The first time I visited Madrid was in 1985. When I went back in 1991, I was struck by how different the feel of the country was. In 1985, it still felt like a country coming out of a deep sleep.

crystal said...

Nice painting, Jeff.

Joe said...

Liam, I guess this town just wasn't big enough for the two of us! (kidding). Its an amazing country and continent which I find myself more attached to as time goes by. I travel extensively for work and have the good fortune of hearing and seeing the views of non-Americans. (Its unrealistic wish but still I wish this could be a prerequisite for high level policy makers). I certainly feel it to be an enriching experience in that getting a more complete perspective (different views) on things is never bad. Its amazing how wide the horizon actually is... If we asked ourselves the question "I wonder what makes him/her think that way?" in earnest, we'd be surprised that there are actually quite good answers.

Liam said...


What part of Madrid do you live in? My last place was in the calle Galileo, but I spent most of my time around Conde Duque.

You are right about understanding other points of view. Many Americans make little effort to see why, say, France and Germany opposed the Iraq war; or why many people in the Muslim world see us as aggressors. Whether or not you think they're right, it's dangerous not to try to understand it. That's why many people across the world see us as arrogant.

Have a bocadillo de morcilla for me.

Joe said...

Thanks Liam. We live about 35km north of Madrid in a town called Colmenar Viejo (just at the foot of the mountains Sierra de Guadarrama.)

I will gladly have a bocadilla de morcillo in your honor, accompanied with a glass of rioja reserva '97 if its OK with you...

Liam said...

Joe, I have about three friends who live in Colmenar Viejo.

I used to work in Tres Cantos.

The wine sounds very nice.

Joe said...

I'll be glad to say hello to your fellow "Comenareños" for you. Just let me know.

Joe said...

By the way Liam. I was just reading the blog "In Today's News"... some commentary from a fellow named Liam. That you? (Sorry Jeff, we've momentarily monopolized your spot with conversation...)

Jeff said...


Do you like Hans Holbein?

Brilliant painter, wasn't he?

Jeff said...

That's OK, Joe. Go easy on this blogging business, now. I don't want you to get into hot water with Paqui. :-)

Yes that was Liam on "In Today's News".

Liam said...

Actually, that must be another Liam -- unless someone was quoting me.

Jeff said...

Seriously? I thought that was you... Shows how much I know. :-)

Paula said...

Jeff,I should add maybe a little story. It is quite telling about my perception of West-Europe.
Some time ago I went with Carmen (a good friend of mine) at a italian restaurant for pizza.
I was speaking my native tongue with my friend. The waiter became curious and asked what language do we speak...we said that Romanian.
He asked immediately: and what do you do in Germany? We said: PhD studies(doktorarbeit in German).
He was really surprised:What????PhD???
Why are you so surprised? we asked back.
His answer: because I heard that Romanian girls come here for, you know, other "purposes"...
I have a little collection of similar stories...

Jeff said...

Hi Paula,

Another insidious effect of the trafficking trade. It's hard to be judged on where you are from instead of your own merits.

I've often heard that in the USA, when people are introduced, the first question asked tends to be "What do you do?" In Europe, the first question tends to be "Where are you from?", or "Who are your family?" Sometimes I wonder which approach is better, and which is worse.

Joe said...

Paula, you are right. As nationalities of people cross borders in increasing numbers here in Europe, there is still a pathetic tendency to label. Its really a shame because it puts high walls between people when at last proximity to one another could/should foment healthier intercultural ties, enriching us all. Hopefully we will learn over time...