The Least, First

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We scarcely do diplomacy

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Diplomacy is making a headline or two. American diplomats are —wonder of wonders— talking to Iran for the first time in what, forty years? I want to say, “Where have you been?

I’m learning that diplomacy’s near absence is not uncommon in US foreign relations. Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times, illustrates:

The USA has more people in its military <i>bands</i> than in its diplomatic corps (U.S. Army Ceremonial Band)

The USA has more "musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats" (photo: U.S. Army Ceremonial Band)

The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats. […] More than 1,000 American diplomatic positions are vacant, but a myopic Congress is refusing to finance even modest new hiring.In short, the United States is hugely overinvesting in military tools and underinvesting in diplomatic tools. The result is a lopsided foreign policy that antagonizes the rest of the world and is ineffective in tackling many modern problems.

Huh. Then this stunner:  One of the voices pleading for increased US diplomatic ability is none other than Defense Secretary Robert Gates:

“One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win,” Mr. Gates said. He noted that the entire American diplomatic corps — about 6,500 people — is less than the staffing of a single aircraft carrier group, yet Congress isn’t interested in paying for a larger Foreign Service. […] Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

August 10, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Catonsville Nine: “think less of the law, and more of justice”

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Catonsville NineJesus goes so often to the essence of things, rather than the appearance of them. Sometimes, his followers do, as well.

Forty years ago [May 17, 1968], nine committed followers of Christ entered the Selective Service Office in Catonsville. They moved past three surprised office workers, who questioned what they were doing but did not stop them. The nine quickly gathered 378 1-A draft files in wire baskets, then took them to the parking lot and immolated them with a homemade version of napalm. They prayed quietly over the burning papers until the police arrested them 15 minutes later. […]

The catalyst for this, of course, was the unbelievably brutal war in Vietnam.

By 1968, the Vietnam War was ripping America apart. Our actions seemed insane, our rationales ever shifting, our goal never clear. The impact on Vietnamese society as well as on our troops was confusing, demoralizing and deadly. What was clear, however, was that we were dropping more than 9 million tons of bombs on Indochina’s military and civilian populations. We were dropping 72 million liters of biochemical poisons on the land and its people. And, of course, there was hell’s fire: napalm. We used 400,000 tons of it.

By May 1968, the Catonsville Nine had enough. They chose to directly confront the state, to protest where the nation’s leaders had taken us. […]

Controversial? Of course. These are hard and costly decisions. But some of their argument is persuasively Christ-like:

In a play written by another of the nine, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, and based upon the trial transcripts of their conviction, his brother Philip argued: “Let lawmakers, judges and lawyers think less of the law, and more of justice; less of legal ritual, more of human rights. To our bishops and superiors, we say: Learn something about the gospel and something about illegitimate power. When you do, you will liquidate your investments, take a house in the slums, or even join us in jail.” […]

Less of the law and more of justice. Less of legal ritual, more of human rights. So relevant today. Such a deeply Christian sentiment, correcting the self-righteousness questions of legality that infect our dialog about so many issues.

Yes, that could be the voice of Jesus.


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Pete Seeger: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

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Wow . . . here’s one of the most electrifying moments in American folk music: Pete Seeger on the Smothers’ Brothers TV show in February, 1968. Note:

  • He plays a short set of soldier-songs, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy being the last. Waist Deep, I learned recently, was originally censored by CBS, and only allowed on-air months later.
  • His songs are not anti-soldier, despite the growing societal division of the late ’60s.
  • His humble performing style crackles with emotion: this is such a performance! And when he switches from banjo to 12-string guitar before Waist Deep, whew! It’s like an orchestra’s been let loose. The song rolls on inexorably, like the river itself.
  • Most of all, it makes me admire Pete Seeger. He so obviously and innocently feels what he sings; I want to be like that.

Pete Seeger-Waist Deep In The Big Muddy

Amazing, eh? How’s it strike you?


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Written by Monte

March 17, 2008 at 12:06 am