by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
The theme this week must clearly center on Afghanistan. The world’s attention is riveted on the beyond-incredible events of these days there. It is all-important for us Catholics as citizens of this country to educate ourselves about the history and results of this misadventure. Not to do so would keep us “cocooned in American exceptionalism”.
In that light, then, I want to address a broader issue underlying our Afghan debacle, one which will receive little attention in the current debate or afterward – American imperialism.
If there ever was an event which reveals the absolute futility of our country’s reach for global domination, it is this entire Afghan disaster. This proverbial “five-hundred pound gorilla”, the United States, suffered a dreadful wound not only in the thousands killed and wounded on that awful September day in 2001 but to our national psyche. We immediately reacted as would any wounded beast – with overwhelming in-kind vengeance.
Today the monster is again humiliated but remains a monster, threatening “serious reprisals” if the regime which has just run us out of Afghanistan does not comply with our demands to safeguard our departures. We are also warning Pakistan not to allow the Taliban to continue using their country as a refuge and staging area for its operations. The empire even without clothes continues to threaten anyone refusing to obey its dictates.
A vivid image of these damning paradoxes appeared on the front pages of The New York Times and Washington Post this Tuesday. A huge cargo plane with the bold letters US AIR FORCE, loaded with American personnel as well as a few “fortunate” Afghans, struggles to escape from the Kabul International Airport with hundreds of desperate people running alongside and in front (some reportedly clinging desperately to the plane’s gigantic wheels) trying to stop it.
These are just immediate examples of the futility of American imperialism. And as we look back across these two decades only peace people like Pax Christi among a pitiful few (like the courageous Congresswoman, Barbara Lee) got it right. Our voices from that American wilderness cried out, “War Is Not The Answer”. We knew that there were other means of responding to the attack on us. We acted on the obligation to decry, protest, and denounce this kneejerk war in every way possible.
However, the picture of American imperialism is much broader. Since the post-Second World War era and to an extent before, our nation has striven to bend the will of every country on the globe to ours. The list of our imposition is lengthy. It includes obscene militaristic power (remember Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, North Korea), political machinations (regime changes), economic threats, suspicious allies (Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia) and an overbearing presence in the United Nations and other international institutions.
American businesses have profited from U.S. hegemony. While living in Peru I saw that country’s efforts to nationalize its iron ore industry completely blocked. An American company had extracted these minerals there for decades. Peru decided it had the right to this national resource. But if they did so the United States government threatened to end aid to that country; hence, business as usual.
What should be the posture of Christians/Catholics now “in the belly of the beast”? First and above all we must join the several organizations trying to mitigate the humanitarian crises appearing in Afghanistan. There also will have to be constant study, gospel analysis and continuous resistance to this national sin. That resistance now and always will best take the form of living Jesus’s message and not that of the Empire. We have the blueprint for doing this in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount: poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst for justice, mercy, integrity of heart, peacemaking. Living these values we will prophetically and constantly confront the twin hallmarks of the empire: exceptionalism and entitlement.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.