January 16, 1991


Dear Editor:

            The following op-ed piece is submitted for your consideration, to be used as you will. By way of identification, I am a professor of history and Latin American studies at the University of California in Santa Cruz and was a co-founder of Witness for Peace, a church-based movement of opposition to U.S. military intervention in Central America. If you do decide to use it, I would very much appreciate your letting me know.




                                                                                    David Sweet

                                                                                    1322 Laurel St.

                                                                                    Santa Cruz CA 95060

                                                                                    (408) 458-1210



                                    God of Life? God of Death?                       


            On the first day of the U.S.-Iraqi war I find myself remembering a moment of shame that some American Christian friends and I experienced seven years ago in Nicaragua. We were talking about religion and politics with a revolutionary Franciscan nun, seeking common ground, when we heard her contrast her country with ours in the following startling terms: "We Sandinistas worship a God of life, a God of love who expects of us that we devote our main energies to feeding, clothing, housing, healing and educating our people, especially our children, and that we study war only in order to be able to defend them from attack. You North Americans worship a God of death, who requires that you devote your main energies to perfecting the arts of war; so you neglect the legitimate needs of your people. Your idols are the MX missile and the B-52 bomber (today she might have said the Stealth fighter). You have offered most of your wealth and your reputation in the world to them, and you are prepared to sacrifice your children (or at least the children of your poor) to them as well." We sought in our discussion to take the edges off that horrifying characterization, by finding fault with the Sandinistas and pointing to signs of life and love back home. But none of us, I am sure, have ever forgotten it.

            Today is a culmination of our national idolatry of violence. The high priests of our death cult speak in clipped and confident, arrogant tones about the near-absolute success of our country's military technology in raining death upon the Iraqis. They expect that we will easily kill Saddam Hussein and the high priests of his less formidable war-cult, and "take out" their factories, their "hardware," the temples of their militarism. On television this spectacle seems like a Nintendo game; and one wonders whether the war itself is not being fought as a game by men who are inveterate players of such games. There is not a word from the Middle East about the terrible consequences of such technologically superior war-making for either soldiers or civilians. It is difficult while watching to remember that all of them are human beings like ourselves. A year ago, government spokespeople issued similar reports on our massive intervention in tiny Panama.

            The day after it authorized the President to launch the attack on Iraq, our Congress restored its program of military assistance to El Salvador, which it had diminished a short time ago because of the murder by the armed forces of six Jesuit priests there. We stand ready even in times of crisis, it seems, to sell expensive weapons to anybody who can buy them -- as we did once to Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran, Anastacio Somoza, Ferdinand Marcos, Manuel Noriega. We have shown again that we are prepared and willing to intervene with overwhelming force at any time, and at whatever astronomic cost, in the affairs of any unfriendly country from which we expect no effective military resistance. Is Cuba next? The Philippines? An "unstable" Egypt or Mexico?

            Meanwhile the numbers of our homeless, our sufferers from AIDS, our users of crack cocaine, our practitioners of domestic violence, our unattended mentally ill, our indigent senior citizens increase steadily. Schools and parks and health care facilities go begging. Our rich get vastly richer. Our political leadership is less and less accountable to the people. A majority of our potential voters don't vote. Our ability to produce and sell anything other than weapons languishes. Our economy teeters on the brink. Can anybody really believe, deep inside, that war is a game that can be won and that this is our moment of triumph?

            Dr. Martin Luther King foresaw in his most prophetic hour that this allocation of our resources and energies to war was the way to national self-destruction. God of Love, help us in his memory to reestablish our priorities. Let us set out resolutely on the peaceful way of healing and nourishing and rebuilding. Please. Beginning right now.