I was sitting in class at Creighton University in Omaha when the war in Iraq began. Along with many others, I had been writing to the president and to my representatives in Congress not to begin a war in the Middle East. Tensions had been high and the rumors of war had grown louder. Still it seemed sudden that day when it was announced that the United States was at war. Many of us had advocated for peaceful means to resolve the growing tension and mistrust. It was a profoundly sad day, I drove home filled with grief and apprehension.
It has now been a little over five years since the beginning of the war. Beginning the war had been opposed by the Catholic bishops and the pope. There were a few heroic voices in the Congress who refused to sanction the war. But a culture of fear had silenced the voices of the majority of Americans. Over 4,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi have been killed. Thousands more will live out there lives with great physical and psychological wounds. Many billions of dollars continue to be diverted from our economy to war.
When the war first began there was a strong feeling in the country that being "pro-war" was patriotic. If someone was opposed to the war, they were judged to be unpatriotic. Now that a majority of Americans want an end to what could be an endless conflict, how we define being a patriot is taking on a new meaning. To be patriotic is to support what is best for our country and for the other nations of the world. It would be naive to say that there is any simple solution, but it is becoming clearer that ending the war in Iraq is the beginning of a solution.
The fact that things are not so clear now to Americans is a sign of our growing awareness, Regardless of our military strength, we have come to know that military actions cannot win a just or lasting peace. We see the cost of the war in the faces of every mother, father, spouse and child who holds the flag that was draped over the coffin of their loved one. People of good conscience and love for our country will disagree on issues surrounding the war in Iraq; but our common experience of loss makes us wonder about what the right path is now.
We have a unique opportunity to bring up these questions publicly. There are candidates who oppose and support the war. There are generals and soldiers who oppose and support the war, just as there are people in every community and congregation who hold differing views. This is a time to wonder together about the present policy in Iraq. The truth is: the path is not clear and the solutions are complex. This cannot be an excuse for inaction however. We all must speak from our deepest convictions and moral conscience to help move the discussion forward. From the beginning, I have believed that diplomatic efforts to avoid going to war were not pursued, and that the present policy will never achieve peace. Such honesty is the beginning, not the end, of our responsibility to act on our conscience and conviction.