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We must not turn away or stop speaking out.

It's a matter of opinion whether the world needs more words about Kosovo, the Balkans, ethnic-cleansing Serbs or Albanian refugees. This same dilemma rises to meet us in many directions. The experts say there are 30- or 40-odd wars in progress just now but even the experts can't agree. Anyway, it's easier not to bother noticing. Such conflicts are all a nuisance: so complicated. For starters, it's hard to lay blame for old hatreds that go back a thousand years. Eventually we run out of clarity and patience and resort to the even-handed but unfair prayer: a plague on all their houses.

Yet NCR sent Special Report Writer Patricia Lefevere off to the Balkans to write more words (story, page 15). Conscience says we can't hide from the wars until peace comes. Lefevere's account sifts again amid the rubble for winners and losers and causes and casualties, for hints of hope. This is an excellent account of the misery, but light on hope.

And that may be the challenge for now: not to solve what centuries have failed to solve, but at the very least not to turn away. People of conscience must bear witness. Suffering is one thing, but abandonment greatly multiplies the suffering. We owe it to our common humanity not to abandon those suffering this year's misery. Injustice, violence and pain will have won when good people stop noticing and stop speaking out.

The testimony will be more worthwhile if the reader feels the same obligation to read.

At the Plowshares trial (story, page 3), Judge James T. Smith Jr. refused to allow expert testimony. One such expert was Sr. Rosalie Bertell, who wrote as follows to the judge:
 You must be somewhat disturbed over the trial of Philip Berrigan, Susan
 Crane, Stephen Kelly, SJ, and Elizabeth Walz. Your sentencing was so
 excessively vindictive that I would guess that the action of these men and
 women deeply challenged your "faith" and belief that Catholic doctrine
 supported U.S. military activity, regardless of the judgment of the
 church's more prophetic members.

 By eliminating expert witnesses in this case you eliminated my testimony. I
 am a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, and also president of the North American
 Association of Contemplative Sisters. I am also an epidemiologist with 30
 years' experience with communities exposed to uranium mining and milling,
 and related polluting activities. I have been working for the last three
 years with the veterans of the Gulf War who are seriously ill....

 In your better moments you must find that shooting radioactive waste at
 one's enemy is outrageous behavior. How much more outrageous is it to
 undermine the health of one's own military personnel, and the women and
 children of the land which you have polluted. There is no war theory which
 condones indiscriminate poison....

 I hope that even though you expressed your moral distress and confusion in
 an inappropriate way in the court, you will on sober reflection realize
 that your silencing of the defendants did not make the depleted uranium
 problem go away. As a Catholic judge, you should be prepared to hear
 unwanted truth and respect the righteous actions of those who clearly see
 and denounce a wrong. I will pray that you find a way quickly to redress
 the wrong which you have done and reduce the sentences of the Plowshares
 defendants. Silencing the messengers and prophets has long been the pattern
 of behavior of false leaders. Do not continue on this wrong path.

Another barred witness, Francis A. Boyle, professor of international law, wrote: "Smith gave Phil Berrigan 30 months. May the mark of Cain be upon Smith's head for the rest of eternity should Phil die in jail!"

My e-mail address is
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Author:Farrell, Michael J.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Apr 7, 2000
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