Tom Beaudoin
Image
During the raucous postseason baseball celebrations near Fenway Park in Boston, a young woman named Victoria Snelgrove from Emerson College was killed by police, who apparently shot her in the eye with pepper spray. The Boston Herald published graphic pictures of her, and much of Bostonand the countryreacted in horror at both The Herald, which apologized, and the police, who in the act of trying to control a crowd killed a woman in the prime of life. An outrageous death, and an appropriately grief-stricken response from Americans.

Can you imagine if such a thing were to happen again in the next few months in Boston? How many police officials would lose their jobs? How much righteous outrage would well up among us? And how else but through such comparisons can Americans begin to imagine what it must feel like for Iraqis to grieve thousands upon thousands of civilian deaths?

The mainstream American media have shown few images of either coalition or Iraqi casualties, including Iraqi civilians. Indeed, the number of stories about dead Iraqi civilians pales when compared to the energy, investment and ink spilled on the horse-race aspects of the recent presidential campaign.

Our media shield us from the realities of war, making it seem as if the suffering caused by the war is something we have the luxury of pondering and debating from a safe distance. Nauseated or outraged responses to the occasional image of the dead or wounded are the exceptions that prove the rule: most of us are purposefully cordoned off from the suffering.

This has occurred despite the large numbers. Estimates range from 15,000 Iraqi civilians dead (from www.iraqbodycount.net) to more than 100,000 (according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Columbia University School of Nursing and Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad), as well as thousands of othersincluding, as of this writing, nearly 1,200 American and scores more coalition fighters dead. This massive suffering, a direct result of the U.S.-financed and directed war, has thus far failed to register as a profound interruption of the lives and identities of Americans, including American Christians.

One reason it is possible for so many of us to imagine that we are only marginally related to this war is that our perceptions of it are so deeply structured by our economic practices. Our present brand economy, focused on the promise of a lifestyle or identity accessible through purchases, systematically keeps us from seeing the bodies of others affected by our purchases. Your local branded coffee shop most likely does not want you even to picture the faces of those who harvest your coffee, nor do the companies who produce most of your shirts, pants and shoes.

In this regard, Christians can learn from the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. He argued that to be human is to be responsible for the person whose well-being our very existence may be threatening. This obligation to others is encountered and symbolized in a unique way in the face-to-face relationship. The faces of others are persons genuinely different from us, but also exposed to us. The vulnerability of the human face presents us with an appeal: do not kill me. In a sense, Levinas says, the bare face of another says, Do not deface me. Allow me, it says, my otherness without violation, shame or indifference.

Wherever we are kept from seeing the face of the other, whether it is the person who stitches our clothing or who dies from our taxpayer-supported bombs, we make it easier for ourselves to act as if we, too, are not responsible for that other. It is an option only the privileged have.

Would we not think of our brands differently if we had in view the faces of those who make our stuff? Likewise, would our outrage and shame not be provoked, our consciences startled more directly into judgment and action, if we were confronted with the faces of suffering Iraqi civilians and all the combatants? Whatever one thinks of the politics of the documentaries Fahrenheit 9/11 and Control Room, their most powerful claims are not theories about American guilt or innocence, but stark images: what wounded, dying and dead soldiers and parents, women and children actually look like.

Dealing with the faces of suffering in Iraq is a necessary condition for allowing the dead, as the theologian Johann Baptist Metz has proposed, to interrupt our falsely consoled distance from the war. It would force us to ask: what kind of Christian experience allows us to keep this interruption at arm’s length?

Living alienated from the faces to whom we are in relation through this war further confirms the imperial psychology into which our economy tempts us. This imperial psychology, a state of soul, prevents many of us from accepting personal responsibility for the suffering caused by this war, and thus from experiencing the outrage that would lead to greater and more varied demonstrations against the war by Christians and other people of conscience. Imperial psychology is the seductive idea that one is not finally dependent on others. It manifests itself in reluctance to question the sociocultural barriers that keep us from experiencing the suffering of those affected by the global implications of our political, economic and military decisions.

Imperial psychology also assumes that the suffering of Americans is of greater spiritual significance than anyone else’s. It has the privilege of choosing not to care about people who might teach us about ourselves, who might interrupt the security of our American and Christian identity. Thus, imperial psychology lacks interest in Iraqi body counts, European attitudes toward the United States or in seeing itself as one member among many of a global community. This state of soul thinks that American security and freedom are the highest forms possible to usespecially because we have worked so hard for them. From this position, no room can be allowed for any ambiguity in our own motives or any vulnerability that we might share with those who threaten our way of life.

In true Ignatian fashion, one important way to make a spiritual exercise of our temptation to an imperial psychology is through our imaginations. We can begin by asking: What sort of imaginations about the other, about Christian patriotism and about American exceptionalism are we already using?

And if we cannot imaginatively empathize with Iraqi civilian deaths, do we have the courage to imagine at least the American soldiers who are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, who die almost every single dayto imagine that these military personnel are other people’s dearest relationships, catastrophically ended?

If we can enter into such a contemporary spiritual exercisethe courage to be responsible to the dead by being accountable to their dearest relativesthen we may be led to the following conclusion: No one has a right to claim that they support this war unless, in good conscience, they would volunteer to send their most beloved family member over there to die. That is, after all, what we noncombatants are demanding of our soldiers’ families.

As the recent presidential election showed us, the cultural landscape of the United States is populated with Christian moral obsessions aplenty. But because imperial psychology is not one moral topic among others, but lies so deeply within us, it is a more profound threat and thus a proper object for Christian concern. Even after this war ends, dealing with this part of ourselves may become one of the most demanding American spiritual exercises of the 21st century.

Tom Beaudoin teaches theology at Santa Clara University and is the author of Consuming Faith (Sheed & Ward).

Comments

Joseph Hilly | 1/28/2005 - 7:38pm
I grieve the maiming and loss of life of both American soldiers and all Iraqi civilians. My daily prayer is that hostilities will shortly end and the Iraqi people will finally live in peace and freedom.

However, I am troubled by Mr. Beaudoin’s article as he neglects to mention the barbarism of the terrorists who are targeting and killing numerous Iraqi citizens every day so as to intimidate them into submission. While the U.S. policy has certainly been less than perfect, targeting civilians for execution is not nor has it been an instrument of U.S. policy.

Further, Mr. Beaudoin’s standard that noncombatants have no right to support the war unless “they would volunteer to send their most beloved family member over there to die” is a spurious premise that is reminiscent of a scene from “Fahrenheit 9/11.” It seems reasonable to assume that when a person volunteers for service in the Armed Forces, they recognize and accept the fact that during their tour of duty, they might indeed be placed in harm’s way.

Finally, what about the more than 300,000 Iraqi citizens who have been tortured, raped and murdered during Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror. Should we not also grieve for them? Although Mr. Beaudoin doesn’t state that we ought to withdraw immediately from Iraq, it seems implicit from his article that he espouses such a deadly course. Let me ask him how many victims would he be willing to accept as his responsibility after we abandon the Iraqis to the terrorists?

Matthew Shadle | 1/19/2005 - 9:45pm
Tom Beaudoin argues that the suffering caused by U.S. actions, for example in Iraq, fails to register for us, and if it did we might pursue different policies. But Beaudoin himself ignores the sufferings of others at the hands of non-Americans. Apparently suffering only becomes morally relevant when Americans are the cause. This is just a reverse sort of narcissism, in which we are the real agents of history and others are simply the passive recipients of our acts, whether good or evil. The truth is, we have a responsibility to defend those who are suffering at the hands of others, and we must weigh that with whatever suffering those efforts will cause. There is no way out of this.

The Catholic Church has ways of reasoning about these things. But this reasoning is distorted when only American actions are considered morally relevant, and any U.S. military action cannot help but appear evil when the evil of those we are fighting is masked.

Two letters from the previous issue of America illustrate this point. Irene Osborne writes that when the U.S. began its attack on Iraq, "What I saw on the ground was shattered bodies, destroyed buildings and little children screaming in terror." Where was her moral imagination when people were being dipped in acid baths, or being placed feet first in industrial shredders so that they could watch themselves be mutilated before they died? When women had their babies shot before their own eyes? She later writes, "the Iraq war may be the greatest immorality of our time." Not the deaths of hundreds of thousands under Saddam? Sudan's Islamist regime's war against Christians and animists in the south that has killed over two million? The wars in central Africa leading to millions of deaths? The state-induced famine in North Korea in which two million people died of starvation and countless others survived only by eating grass? Or not even the deaths of over forty million unborn babies in the U.S. alone since Roe v. Wade? No, because there have been thousands of civilian casualties, most of them inflicted by the people we are fighting in the first place, toppling a brutal dictator and helping a people govern themselves for the first time in history is worse in her world.

Likewise, Fr. F. Anthony Gallagher makes the absurd statement that "people who actively defended themselves against a pre-emptive invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation were curiously called insurgents." There is no mention that they were fighting to defend a regime in which the Sunni minority repressed the other ethnic and religious groups and are now fighting to regain that power. Nor that they have been joined by Islamists who have stated that Iraqis who take part in the upcoming elections are infidels and therefore will be killed. It makes a lot of difference if they don't have a right to what they are defending.

Charles F. MacCarthy, M.D. | 2/19/2005 - 10:59pm
The article by Tom Beaudoin on the Iraq War (“Seeing the Other’s Face”) might have been more accurately titled, “Seeing Only the Other’s Face” – not a larger picture. The article seems to imply that pain and suffering in Iraq started with the onset of a war motivated by a fuzzily defined “emperial psychology”. What about the years of suffering, torture, and denied human rights of Iraqi citizens under a brutal Saddam Hussein regime?

The cover photo of the weeping woman is certainly touching. But, to see only the pain of that moment in time is to miss a very important point. As a retired surgeon, I see her pain as being very much like the postoperative pain of child. This is pain she did not bring on herself, doesn’t understand, and was powerless to prevent. We must care for her, offering medications to ease the pain, rehabilitative therapy, and loving care by family and hospital staff. But, we don’t accuse the surgeon of causing her pain needlessly, or of acting out of “imperial psychology”, even though the surgeon acted from a position of power, knowledge and authority, and could marshall the efforts of a veritable army of medical professionals. No - we know that the underlying illness was painful and carried the possibility of being fatal, wasn’t responding to more conservative therapy, and we know that after recovery, the child has the potential for a longer, happier life. We do understand the reasons for her pain, even if she does not, at that moment.

I was hoping that the author would offer some more thoughtful and practical advice on our responsibility to those in pain. What do we do for those suffering in Sudan, the women and Christians of Saudi Arabia, Christians in China, those threatened by the nuclear recklessness of Iran and North Korea, and so many others suffering in the current world? Is our responsibility satisfied when we have prayed, and the UN has passed yet another resolution? When do we have the right, and the responsibility to step in on their behalf, using our tremendous national resources – and risking our priceless human resources – to help them?

Pious wringing of the hands afterwards is not of much value, if we have neglected opportunities to make a real difference in the lives of those in pain. Hopefully, America Magazine can encourage thoughtful theologians and political strategists to write about these important and troubling questions.

Angie Vogt | 1/31/2005 - 1:20am
Tom Beaudoin (“The Iraq War and Imperial Psychology”) proposes a false dialectic and offers a narrow and very selective form of compassion. He is right to point out the human reality that what we do not see we do not grieve. He hurts for the innocent civilians killed in the Iraq war, without referencing the mass graves of women and children murdered by Saddam’s terrorist regime. He laments how Americans shield their conscience from the loss of Iraqi lives in the war, but seems unable to lend his sensitivity to the suffering of the Iraqis under Saddam’s regime, the random rapes, executions and tortures. Did he suffer for these people before the war? He fails to acknowledge that nearly half of the United Nations’ estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths (between 14,000-17,000) were the result of terrorist insurgents, fellow Arabs, not Americans.

Beaudoin preaches that nobody can support the war in good conscience unless he or she is willing to send a beloved family member to die in Iraq. Note to Mr. Beaudoin: it’s an all volunteer military—nobody sends a family member to serve. Those serving in Iraq volunteered for what is arguably the noblest of callings—to have such love for the causes of freedom and justice that they would lay down their lives so others may know such freedom.

As a military veteran, wife of a military man and a Catholic minister who feels deeply committed to promoting democracy in the Middle East, I’m weary of liberal Catholics pontificating on the evils of America. Most of the free world today is free because Americans at some point were willing to die for such a cause. There can be no peace until justice (i.e. the rule of law, self-governance) is established and there will never be justice without first winning for others their freedom from tyranny.

JOE BLISS | 1/26/2005 - 12:06pm
I am not an expert on "imperial psychology" but maybe I can supply the author with information he has not been able to obtain from the "media". The majority of Iraqi casualties have been killed by insurgents, not Americans. Many of our casualties result from an attempt to protect the population. Where is the outrage at killing of civilians, not only in Iraqi but in New York, Madrid, Bal1, etc. Where is the outrage at the millions killed by Saddam.

It may have been a mistake to send our military to Iraqi,only time will tell. But were our motivations wrong? Since we are there, would it be more responsible to leave or to stay and attempt to bring some form of stability? Is not "responsibility" a correct response to "Imperial Psychology".

Joe Gilbert | 1/22/2005 - 11:27am
I was annoyed by Tom Beaudoin's article on the Iraq war and Imperial Psychology. Where was his article when Saddam was doing all the killing and torture? Is that also part of his Imperial Psychology that we look the other way if it doesn't impact us? Where were his articles when there was genocide in Rwanda and Kosovo? Is his solution to just walk away from Iraq and send them back to the old regime as long as it doesn't offend our sensibilities? Sure there have been deaths - lots of them; and everyone is tragic and hurts a specific family deeply. What of the families hurt or destroyed before the war? Don't they count? Would it be OK for that to continue so that we wouldn't be accused of Imperial Psychology? The goal of the US in Iraq is not to kill or hurt families. The goal is to prevent more deaths in the future. Most of the dead have been killed by Iraqi terrorists who desperately want to hold on to wealth and power. Where is the real imperialism?
nancy moran | 1/18/2005 - 11:10am
This article articulates the heavy heart that inhabits my being. My husband served in Viet Nam. Will we never learn? I have e-mailed this article to many including Mr. Bush! Thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel!

Gerard Burford | 1/15/2005 - 9:45pm
Tom Beaudoin's article has made a real impact on me and confirmed again why I do not support this war. I served in the Air Force in Vietnam and I will always remember the picture of the little girl running down the road screaming and burning with the napalm we dropped on her and her country. It makes me sick to this day to think about that. The part that really shocked me was, "No one has a right to claim that they support this war unless, in good conscience, they would volunteer to send their most beloved family member over there to die. That is, after all, what we'noncombatants' are demending of our soldiers' families." Wow...that is powerful and challenging!
Joseph Hilly | 1/28/2005 - 7:38pm
I grieve the maiming and loss of life of both American soldiers and all Iraqi civilians. My daily prayer is that hostilities will shortly end and the Iraqi people will finally live in peace and freedom.

However, I am troubled by Mr. Beaudoin’s article as he neglects to mention the barbarism of the terrorists who are targeting and killing numerous Iraqi citizens every day so as to intimidate them into submission. While the U.S. policy has certainly been less than perfect, targeting civilians for execution is not nor has it been an instrument of U.S. policy.

Further, Mr. Beaudoin’s standard that noncombatants have no right to support the war unless “they would volunteer to send their most beloved family member over there to die” is a spurious premise that is reminiscent of a scene from “Fahrenheit 9/11.” It seems reasonable to assume that when a person volunteers for service in the Armed Forces, they recognize and accept the fact that during their tour of duty, they might indeed be placed in harm’s way.

Finally, what about the more than 300,000 Iraqi citizens who have been tortured, raped and murdered during Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror. Should we not also grieve for them? Although Mr. Beaudoin doesn’t state that we ought to withdraw immediately from Iraq, it seems implicit from his article that he espouses such a deadly course. Let me ask him how many victims would he be willing to accept as his responsibility after we abandon the Iraqis to the terrorists?

Matthew Shadle | 1/19/2005 - 9:45pm
Tom Beaudoin argues that the suffering caused by U.S. actions, for example in Iraq, fails to register for us, and if it did we might pursue different policies. But Beaudoin himself ignores the sufferings of others at the hands of non-Americans. Apparently suffering only becomes morally relevant when Americans are the cause. This is just a reverse sort of narcissism, in which we are the real agents of history and others are simply the passive recipients of our acts, whether good or evil. The truth is, we have a responsibility to defend those who are suffering at the hands of others, and we must weigh that with whatever suffering those efforts will cause. There is no way out of this.

The Catholic Church has ways of reasoning about these things. But this reasoning is distorted when only American actions are considered morally relevant, and any U.S. military action cannot help but appear evil when the evil of those we are fighting is masked.

Two letters from the previous issue of America illustrate this point. Irene Osborne writes that when the U.S. began its attack on Iraq, "What I saw on the ground was shattered bodies, destroyed buildings and little children screaming in terror." Where was her moral imagination when people were being dipped in acid baths, or being placed feet first in industrial shredders so that they could watch themselves be mutilated before they died? When women had their babies shot before their own eyes? She later writes, "the Iraq war may be the greatest immorality of our time." Not the deaths of hundreds of thousands under Saddam? Sudan's Islamist regime's war against Christians and animists in the south that has killed over two million? The wars in central Africa leading to millions of deaths? The state-induced famine in North Korea in which two million people died of starvation and countless others survived only by eating grass? Or not even the deaths of over forty million unborn babies in the U.S. alone since Roe v. Wade? No, because there have been thousands of civilian casualties, most of them inflicted by the people we are fighting in the first place, toppling a brutal dictator and helping a people govern themselves for the first time in history is worse in her world.

Likewise, Fr. F. Anthony Gallagher makes the absurd statement that "people who actively defended themselves against a pre-emptive invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation were curiously called insurgents." There is no mention that they were fighting to defend a regime in which the Sunni minority repressed the other ethnic and religious groups and are now fighting to regain that power. Nor that they have been joined by Islamists who have stated that Iraqis who take part in the upcoming elections are infidels and therefore will be killed. It makes a lot of difference if they don't have a right to what they are defending.

Charles F. MacCarthy, M.D. | 2/19/2005 - 10:59pm
The article by Tom Beaudoin on the Iraq War (“Seeing the Other’s Face”) might have been more accurately titled, “Seeing Only the Other’s Face” – not a larger picture. The article seems to imply that pain and suffering in Iraq started with the onset of a war motivated by a fuzzily defined “emperial psychology”. What about the years of suffering, torture, and denied human rights of Iraqi citizens under a brutal Saddam Hussein regime?

The cover photo of the weeping woman is certainly touching. But, to see only the pain of that moment in time is to miss a very important point. As a retired surgeon, I see her pain as being very much like the postoperative pain of child. This is pain she did not bring on herself, doesn’t understand, and was powerless to prevent. We must care for her, offering medications to ease the pain, rehabilitative therapy, and loving care by family and hospital staff. But, we don’t accuse the surgeon of causing her pain needlessly, or of acting out of “imperial psychology”, even though the surgeon acted from a position of power, knowledge and authority, and could marshall the efforts of a veritable army of medical professionals. No - we know that the underlying illness was painful and carried the possibility of being fatal, wasn’t responding to more conservative therapy, and we know that after recovery, the child has the potential for a longer, happier life. We do understand the reasons for her pain, even if she does not, at that moment.

I was hoping that the author would offer some more thoughtful and practical advice on our responsibility to those in pain. What do we do for those suffering in Sudan, the women and Christians of Saudi Arabia, Christians in China, those threatened by the nuclear recklessness of Iran and North Korea, and so many others suffering in the current world? Is our responsibility satisfied when we have prayed, and the UN has passed yet another resolution? When do we have the right, and the responsibility to step in on their behalf, using our tremendous national resources – and risking our priceless human resources – to help them?

Pious wringing of the hands afterwards is not of much value, if we have neglected opportunities to make a real difference in the lives of those in pain. Hopefully, America Magazine can encourage thoughtful theologians and political strategists to write about these important and troubling questions.

Angie Vogt | 1/31/2005 - 1:20am
Tom Beaudoin (“The Iraq War and Imperial Psychology”) proposes a false dialectic and offers a narrow and very selective form of compassion. He is right to point out the human reality that what we do not see we do not grieve. He hurts for the innocent civilians killed in the Iraq war, without referencing the mass graves of women and children murdered by Saddam’s terrorist regime. He laments how Americans shield their conscience from the loss of Iraqi lives in the war, but seems unable to lend his sensitivity to the suffering of the Iraqis under Saddam’s regime, the random rapes, executions and tortures. Did he suffer for these people before the war? He fails to acknowledge that nearly half of the United Nations’ estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths (between 14,000-17,000) were the result of terrorist insurgents, fellow Arabs, not Americans.

Beaudoin preaches that nobody can support the war in good conscience unless he or she is willing to send a beloved family member to die in Iraq. Note to Mr. Beaudoin: it’s an all volunteer military—nobody sends a family member to serve. Those serving in Iraq volunteered for what is arguably the noblest of callings—to have such love for the causes of freedom and justice that they would lay down their lives so others may know such freedom.

As a military veteran, wife of a military man and a Catholic minister who feels deeply committed to promoting democracy in the Middle East, I’m weary of liberal Catholics pontificating on the evils of America. Most of the free world today is free because Americans at some point were willing to die for such a cause. There can be no peace until justice (i.e. the rule of law, self-governance) is established and there will never be justice without first winning for others their freedom from tyranny.

JOE BLISS | 1/26/2005 - 12:06pm
I am not an expert on "imperial psychology" but maybe I can supply the author with information he has not been able to obtain from the "media". The majority of Iraqi casualties have been killed by insurgents, not Americans. Many of our casualties result from an attempt to protect the population. Where is the outrage at killing of civilians, not only in Iraqi but in New York, Madrid, Bal1, etc. Where is the outrage at the millions killed by Saddam.

It may have been a mistake to send our military to Iraqi,only time will tell. But were our motivations wrong? Since we are there, would it be more responsible to leave or to stay and attempt to bring some form of stability? Is not "responsibility" a correct response to "Imperial Psychology".

Joe Gilbert | 1/22/2005 - 11:27am
I was annoyed by Tom Beaudoin's article on the Iraq war and Imperial Psychology. Where was his article when Saddam was doing all the killing and torture? Is that also part of his Imperial Psychology that we look the other way if it doesn't impact us? Where were his articles when there was genocide in Rwanda and Kosovo? Is his solution to just walk away from Iraq and send them back to the old regime as long as it doesn't offend our sensibilities? Sure there have been deaths - lots of them; and everyone is tragic and hurts a specific family deeply. What of the families hurt or destroyed before the war? Don't they count? Would it be OK for that to continue so that we wouldn't be accused of Imperial Psychology? The goal of the US in Iraq is not to kill or hurt families. The goal is to prevent more deaths in the future. Most of the dead have been killed by Iraqi terrorists who desperately want to hold on to wealth and power. Where is the real imperialism?
nancy moran | 1/18/2005 - 11:10am
This article articulates the heavy heart that inhabits my being. My husband served in Viet Nam. Will we never learn? I have e-mailed this article to many including Mr. Bush! Thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel!

Gerard Burford | 1/15/2005 - 9:45pm
Tom Beaudoin's article has made a real impact on me and confirmed again why I do not support this war. I served in the Air Force in Vietnam and I will always remember the picture of the little girl running down the road screaming and burning with the napalm we dropped on her and her country. It makes me sick to this day to think about that. The part that really shocked me was, "No one has a right to claim that they support this war unless, in good conscience, they would volunteer to send their most beloved family member over there to die. That is, after all, what we'noncombatants' are demending of our soldiers' families." Wow...that is powerful and challenging!