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Harder Than War: Peacemaking in Twentieth-Century America.

You're a first century Christian trapped in tyrannical Rome. You're empowered by the teachings and example of Jesus, so you refuse to bend a knee to Rome's imperial might or support in any way caesar's military machine, which is ravishing the world. You are willing to die before renouncing your commitment to active nonviolence as a form of political protest.

Then you are handed these pastoral letters from the duly elected head of your new church: "A Catholic citizen cannot invoke his own conscience in order to refuse to serve and fulfill those duties of combat that the law imposes." And: "We are not pacifists; we do not want peace at any cost."

You are stunned.

To accommodate those two cave-ins would entail renouncing your faith in the nonviolent Jesus and probably abort the Christian transformation of the world now under way. Exactly what caesar wants. So you ignore them, put your conscience ahead of all else and continue witnessing against Rome's policies, which led to the murder of your savior.

Only now, you have two opponents: your own church and caesar.

Any discussion of the contributions of 20th century American Catholics to the Jesus-inspired cause of pacifism (not to be confused with passivity) must be filtered through the two papal statements above, the first by Pope Pius XII in 1954, the second by John Paul III during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. With such leadership at the top, it's a small miracle that American Catholics mounted a genuine peace movement at all, much less influenced their church or society in general.

Despite, maybe because of, such an ecclesiastical black hole, the pantheon of American Catholic peace activists is something to behold. And behold them Patricia McNeal does in this well-documented and highly readable panorama of the successes and failures of this 20th century phenomenon.

Rightly so, McNeal, a history professor at Indiana State University in South Bend, posits Dorothy Day as the "mother of American Catholic pacifism." Until Day arrived on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1933, pacifism, for most Catholics, was a word trotted out by the weak-kneed during war only, not a concept that meant a dedicated Christian way of life and a remedy for the evils that militarism inflicted on the poor and oppressed.

But Day's (and Peter Maurin's) Catholic Worker movement, operating inside a force field unparalleled in American Catholic history, dared advance the gospel's message of nonviolent resistance to the barricades of a society intoxicated with its war-making abilities.

Day, a convert, nonviolent to her roots (with the exception of a preconversion abortion), dubbed "Moscow Mary" by that patriotic American Catholic senator, Joe McCarthy (he never could name names), spawned a small army that began putting to earth seeds of peace that may yet bring in a bountiful harvest. Many of them, well-known, are celebrated by McNeal: Thomas Merton, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Michael Harrington, James Douglass, Colman McCarthy and others.

They personify, in various degrees and ways, the chilling conclusion of McNeal's extensive research: "Peacemaking was hard, harder than war."

Day, Daniel Berrigan and Merton knew that better than most: They burrowed within the church, rather than bolt, and began disturbing her peace over her perfidious adoption of the pagan doctrine of the "just war." (McNeal incorrectly names St. Augustine the father of this idea. It was Cicero who first announced it, in the Roman Senate, an irony that would not have been lost on the early Christians. Augustine gave the concept some clerical garb so that Christians could think there was a Christlike way to kill fellow humans. All this led Day to say of her church: "She's a whore, but she's my mother.")

What makes true peacemaking so hard (McNeal confuses pastoral letters with genuine gospel peacemaking), aside from the fact that it could get you killed or jailed, is that it produces so few visible results. The reported 90 percent of Americans who backed President Bush's gulf war bears this out, to say nothing of a taxpaying public that sanctions a military budget of $800 million a day.

That's not to say there haven't been a few bleacher shots. Seattle's Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen (since retired) went beyond the hierarchy's favorite form of peacemaking - letter-writing - by announcing he would "withhold 50 percent of my income taxes as a means of protesting our nation's continuing involvement in the race for nuclear supremacy." What he was saying in 1982 was, in effect, that the taking of life was not one of "caesar's things" and therefore should not be supported in any way, by service or money. James Douglass, a former Notre Dame professor and now a Trident submarine protester, gets much of the credit for Hunthausen's conversion to tax resistance. Had he been joined by even a handful of other prelates, it might have set off a chain reaction in the front pews that would have purified "just war" Catholicism. Instead, he was met with scorn and a trip to the woodshed.

Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister, their courageous stories told by McNeal in all their pathos, compel the Catholic mind to ponder an ominous reality. When they escalated the movement to the destruction of government property, such as draft records, they were reminding us of Jesus' overturning of the tables in the temple and the eviction of its denizens. This is a teaching basic to God's dealings with the Israelites: The misuse of property, land and resources results in its total loss. Why should it not apply to us?

Are we to take hope that in 1992 we elected a Jesuit-trained, draft-resisting president and shelved an avowed war-maker in the process? Is there reason to believe that Pax Christi USA - fully reported on here, including its pioneering antecedents - can persuade mainline Catholics to join the peace movement and help demilitarize American society, now engulfed by the weapons conglomerate (most members of the U.S. Congress, weapons manufacturers and their stockholders and the ever-ready generals)?

Is there reason to think that American Catholic bishops, still clinging to the "just war" blasphemy, yet admitting nuclear war's immorality, ever will forbid Catholics from joining the military with the same fervor they now tell Catholics to shun abortion clinics?

Is there reason to hope that the growing cadre of trained peace educators now teaching in pulic and private high schools and colleges (unfortunately totally overlooked by McNeal) can steer impressionable youth away from America's war ethic?

But this is to pander to the American obsession for bottom-line results, which Merton cautions peacemakers to avoid. Far better that dedicated American Catholic pacifists, like their long-suffering brethren in the genuine peace churches (Quakers, Mennonites and Church of the Brethren) adhere to a Dorothy Day editorial that appeared in the January 1942 Catholic Worker: "We are still pacifists, and our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers."

Those wishing to start climbing that mount might want to take along a copy of this useful book.

Denis McCarthy is the national director of a home-study course, "Alternatives to Violence," for the Center for Teaching Peace, based in Washington, D.C. He has taught Gandhian nonviolence in high school, ashrams and prisons.
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Author:McCarthy, Denis
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 10, 1993
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