Autopsy of a Funeral

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If politics makes for
strange bedfellows, perhaps photo opportunities at funerals make
for something even stranger. As President Bush approached the supine
body of John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica — hoping that some of
the pope's charisma would rub off — the close proximity of the two
men was deeply disturbing. On one hand, there was the pope, a man
who was faithful to the message of the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed
are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
Beside him stood the president, a man who had violated that teaching
by launching an unprovoked war.

Out with the Ten
Commandments, In with Regime Change

To make things
worse, the president was the leader of a faux-religious pro-war
gang that unilaterally had taken upon itself the mantle of an unrecognizably
twisted version of Christianity. In so doing, it had violated six
of the Ten Commandments in a very short time. In addition to substituting
a nationalistic worship of the all-powerful state in place of the
deity, they repeatedly took God's name in vain with bumper stickers
touting slogans such as "God bless America." Furthermore,
in their quest to overturn the warning, "Thou shalt not kill,"
they laid waste to an entire nation and snuffed out the lives of
over 100,000 Iraqi civilians — which have been trivialized
as "collateral damage" by the American press. In addition,
the war has cost the lives of 1,500-plus American soldiers who sought
to honor their uniforms by taking part in a dishonorable mission
at the behest of a representative of one of America's least-respected
professions: a politician. Of course, the pretext for launching
this war was a hallmark case of bearing false witness, and the prospect
of rich rewards in the form of cheap oil was a source of covetousness
whose ultimate end would amount to confiscating the Iraqi oil fields,
otherwise known as theft. Six, count ‘em six violated commandments.

The Pope on Iraq

Having passed away earlier
in the week, the pope was no longer in a position to make known his
feelings about the matter. Then again, perhaps John Paul II did not
have to miraculously rise out of his coffin under his own power, admonish
the president, and point out the long list of ironies that sprang
to mind. The vast crowd of onlookers outside the basilica did it for
him — booing whenever the face of President Bush appeared on the giant
TV screens scattered around St. Peter's Square. Mindful that John
Paul II was the first pope from Poland and that he had vigorously
opposed Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and his successors in the Kremlin,
perhaps onlookers could not help but take note of the many parallels
between Soviet-Polish relations and those between the United States
and Iraq — not to mention those between the United States and the many
nations it has attempted to control throughout the Middle East, Central
and South America, and (let's not forget Vietnam and Korea) East Asia.
As visitors to this website have been reminded, John Paul II and his
representatives chastised the president many times about the war in
Iraq. Just as most Roman Catholic clerics, the pope was mindful of
the centuries-old concept of a "just war," and the facts
about Iraq and the United States did not fulfill those criteria. Consequently,
the juxtaposition of the pope and the president was a sight rich in

Poland after World
War II; Iraq Today

But the list of papal-presidential
ironies goes far beyond the U.S. decision to go to war against Iraq.
In the aftermath of World War II, which the U.S. and its allies waged
in response to Hitler's war of aggression against Poland, the homeland
of the pope was never freed. Instead, that overwhelmingly Catholic
country was handed over to the Soviet Union — beginning a 45-year span
of Soviet domination that was countenanced by the very allies that
claimed to have sought Polish freedom by entering the war in the first
place. Under the domination of Stalin, events in Poland took on a
character that bears an eerie resemblance to what has been happening
in Iraq. Here are a few highlights:

  • Protégés
    in Power
    : As Professor Norman Davies points out in his two-volume
    work, God's Playground: A History of Poland: "the
    political history of post-war Poland is extremely simple. It tells
    how the USSR handed power to its chosen protégés,
    and how it has kept them in place ever since." Similarly,
    for the past 25 years, United States presidents have alternately
    supported Saddam Hussein when he did their bidding (as in his
    war against Iran) and opposed him when he refused (as when he
    rejected a U.S.-backed oil pipeline and later invaded Kuwait in
    response to Kuwait's practice of slant-drilling for oil located
    in Iraqi territory).
  • Puppet Regimes:
    In August of 1944, Joseph Stalin installed loyal supporters in
    key positions of the Polish Committee of National Liberation,
    which became the provisional government of Poland. This resembles
    the process by which the United States, after removing Saddam
    Hussein, installed Ahmad Chalabi as leader of the Iraqi National
    Congress. Chalabi, who manufactured fake "intelligence"
    about WMDs and was subsidized to the tune of $350,000 each month
    by the Bush administration, was convicted of bank fraud in Jordan
    early in 2005. He was replaced by another U.S.-backed dictator,
    Iyad Allawi, who was accused of murdering innocent civilians while
    employed as Saddam Hussein's right-hand man. Will the U.S. tolerate
    an elected anti-American government in Iraq? History tells us
    the answer: no.
  • Death Toll:
    During World War II, nearly 5.4 million Poles were executed, and
    the city of Warsaw was leveled. Like Hitler, Stalin is famous
    for decimating segments of the Polish population — rounding up undesirable
    persons and sending them to no-return concentration camps. Consequently,
    Stalin's regime is recognized as the bloodiest in the 20th
    century, claiming 42 million victims in the Soviet Union alone
    according to R.J. Rummel (Death by Government). While it
    may be true that Saddam Hussein killed hundreds of thousands of
    Iraqis, the number of victims resulting from U.S. intervention
    in Iraq may surpass Saddam's total. As of 1995, the U.N. estimated
    that 567,000 Iraqi children died as a result of five years of
    sanctions on behalf of the U.S. This total continued to climb
    during the last half of the 1990s as the sanctions continued.
    Furthermore, since Operation Iraqi Freedom (sic) has added 100,000
    more civilians to this nightmarish tally, the United States is
    now responsible for 700,000 dead Iraqis. Like Warsaw during World
    War II, the city of Fallujah was transformed into a ghost town.
    Who was more deadly to the Iraqis, Saddam or the U.S.?
  • Censorship:
    Under the Soviet system of pre-emptive censorship, no information
    was free or accessible unless it was specifically prescribed by
    law. Consequently, when the Soviet Union "liberated"
    Poland from the Nazis, it demanded complete submission. Poles
    who resisted were branded as terrorists, bandits, and fascists.
    Does this sound familiar? After suffering for decades under Saddam
    Hussein, Iraqis are now subject to the dictator Iyad Allawi. Those
    who oppose him are called insurgents, terrorists, and militants — not
    patriots. To ensure that the correct words are used to describe
    them, Mr. Allawi "temporarily" closed down the independently
    minded Al Jazeera news service last year in the name of "freedom."
    It remains closed.
  • Militarism:
    In Soviet-dominated Poland, militarism overwhelmed the nation's
    economy. According to Professor Davies, "Eastern Europe was
    turned into an armed camp. Frontiers were closed. Security was
    returned to wartime footing. The economy was converted to military
    priorities. Military conscription…was reintroduced." The
    same can be said of both Iraq and the United States today. In
    Iraq, the monthly total of civilians killed by American soldiers
    on highways and at roadblocks continues to soar, and the nation
    is occupied by the U.S. military and the U.S.-dominated Iraqi
    army. Here in the United States, the national-security state is
    casting a huge shadow on the economy — as it did during the War
    in Vietnam. Companies are making fortunes on security and surveillance
    systems that target U.S. citizens, and the production of armaments
    weighs heavily on the voluntary sector of the economy. Furthermore,
    a revival of the military draft looms over the future of millions
    of young people as the Bush administration promises that the so-called
    War on Terror will be a long one.

The Papal Example

During the period
of Soviet domination of Poland, Karol Wojtyła opposed the tenets of
totalitarian collectivism — whether in the form of Nazism or
Stalinism. In 1942 he entered an underground seminary to fulfill his
religious aspirations, and he was ordained a priest in 1946. Afterward,
he illegally celebrated Roman Catholic Masses and became the youngest
bishop in Poland. After his election as pope in 1978, his support
of the Polish Solidarity movement led Mikhail Gorbachev to claim that
the fall of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without him.
Unlike political leaders in the Soviet Union and the United States,
the pope did not liberate people by killing them. He did not create
"collateral damage" while supporting his Polish countrymen
during the Solidarity struggle from 1981 to 1989. Instead, he led
by example.

Despite the past hypocrisies
of its leaders and the lack of principles on the part of so many
of its citizens, the United States was once considered an exemplar
of freedom, a beacon on a hill. Unfortunately, it has devolved into
a 21st-century stand-in for the former Soviet Union — seeking
global hegemony in a quest for cheap resources. This evil habit
is undermining its few remaining freedoms, and it is bankrupting
Americans both economically and morally. In trading a free republic
for the tawdry rewards of empire, the United States has lost what
once made it worthy of emulation.

When President Bush
attended the pope's funeral, he should have approached the event
with an altogether different set of priorities. Instead of basking
in the halo-effect of John Paul II and gaining a temporary, second-hand
charisma by his close physical proximity to the pope's lifeless
body, he should have taken into his heart the living message of
peace that the pope embodied throughout his earthly journey. Then,
instead of returning home with only a photographic souvenir that
would eventually fade along with the up-tick in his poll numbers,
the president would have carried in his heart the same vibrant spirit
that made John Paul II what he was.

14, 2005

Lawrence Ludlow [send him mail]
is a freelance writer living in San Diego.

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