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Praise for the pope's anti-war message

12/31/02 12:00AM By Ellen David Friedman
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(Host) Commentator Ellen David Friedman thinks that the pope's Christmas message was especially powerful - and relevant - this year.

(Friedman) The day before Christmas, Pope John Paul gave an anti-war speech to 20,000 people in St. Peter's Square. While not specifically naming Iraq, he said that a pre-emptive war can never be just. He addressed terrorism by asking us not to yield to mistrust, suspicion and discouragement, but to grow in tolerance.

How different from the message of our own government: Fear all, they seem to say. Expect terrorism. Look for suspicious behavior everywhere. Harden your heart to the world. And be willing to trade a humanistic culture for an embattled one. I am not a religious person, but I would trade the Popes world view for our presidents in a heartbeat.

Those many Catholic faithful who gathered to hear the pope may not have thought of themselves as part of a peace movement... but they were. They were linked, through the pope's words, to a growing and diverse movement that is straining towards sanity at a time of horrifying irrationality.

I compare this moment to the period 35 years ago when at first individuals, then their organizations, and finally whole countries woke from a complacent sleep regarding imperialism. When the United States took over the war in Vietnam, it may have seemed, originally, that this was just a necessary police action to contain the spread of communism, and that the U.S. was simply better armed than France. But as the wars multiple horrors grew, so did powerful dissent. Buddhist monks immolated themselves and awakened the conscience of other religious orders, of pacifists, of students. Students brought out their teachers and parents. Universities spoke to their corporate and public partners. Eventually the entire world was saying no to this war.

Of course, then is not now. Much has changed. One thing that has changed in this anti-war movement is that we are feeling more hopeless, more powerless, and with less recourse than at any time I remember. It seems not to matter that tens of thousands of voters called on their respective congressional delegates to oppose the war resolution. It seems not to matter that churches, labor unions, academics, retired military leaders, and even many conservative intellectuals are speaking out against the war. It seems not to matter that hundreds of thousands of Americans, Europeans, and Asians turn out to massive peace demonstrations day after day. It seems not to matter to our president and his congress. It seems they are impervious.

But, in truth, they aren't. George Bush is, actually, increasingly isolated in world opinion. That's the good news I want to spread at the beginning of this new year. Throughout the world his dangerous course is being challenged. I wish steadfastness and patience and perseverance to all who call out against this war.

I'm Ellen David Friedman.

Ellen David Friedman is vice chair of the Vermont Progressive Party and has been active in the labor movement for 25 years.

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