World War III sniper style
a delusional mob
twisted by hate
throwing a tantrum
strewing pain and death
with hand grenades.
When my Mom was growing up in Jackson, Mississippi in the nineteen twenties, her public high school was next to the one Catholic Church and school. She believed that the nuns wore headdresses to cover their horns. Most of the Catholics in Jackson were immigrants from countries in Eastern Europe that she had never heard of. And their languages seemed strange and scary to her, as were any Blacks that she didn’t know. She ended up with a job in New Orleans and married to a Catholic newspaperman, who also happened to be a strong advocate for integration. She was a naturally kind person who cared about people, so she gradually adopted my Dad’s way of thinking. Though she remained Methodist, she was one of the most active mothers in my Catholic school and became great friends with the nun that taught me in first grade. But when my Dad went away in the army in the nineteen forties, Mom and I went to live with her parents back in Jackson. I went to a public grade school near by. As a new and very scared second grader, I experienced everyone in the school gathering in the gym and being separated into groups by religion. I have no idea why. But out of several hundred children, I was the only Catholic. Not a comfortable experience for an eight year old child.
In the mid-nineteen-fifties, my Dad, now a newspaper editor in Houston, Texas, endorsed the first black to run for a position on the school board. The schools were still separate, but the black schools had never had any representation. Late on the night of the election, the entry hall to our apartment was bombed. The bomb was primitive, but strong enough to make sharp pieces of slate and even the confetti packing all stick in the door and walls. Fortunately, I stopped on the way downstairs to answer the door when the bell rang. It was long after midnight and my dad wasn’t home from covering the election yet, so I stopped half way down just as the bomb went off.
In the sixties, now living in my husband’s home town of Nashville, Tennessee, one of my social friends proclaimed furiously and proudly that as a hospital volunteer, she had refused to carry a black baby out to the car that day. She had done this right in front of the parents. I was horrified that a Christian mother with a college degree would be so cruel. So, I decided to volunteer at a black grade school as a tutor for children having trouble reading . As I grew fond of these delightful small children, I began to consider how limited their future would be, even if they learned to read. So, I joined the NAACP and worked in their offices trying to find employment for blacks in the white community. I happened to be working there on the day the Poor People’s March on Washington came through Nashville. Young blacks, who were in the more extreme Black Protest movements, came through the office where I was working that day. They obviously hated whites and made sure I was very aware of that. I went home stricken by my experiences of the extremes of hatred between the races. How could we avoid a bloody race war? But God sent Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message of non-violent protest. Thanks to him and many other brave Christian Blacks, we live in a different world now and my grandchildren have friends of all colors.
In the early seventies, my husband and I and our five children moved to a very rural area of middle Tennessee. One day, as I came into the little neighborhood grocery that had chairs around a potbellied stove, I overheard one of the men sitting there say, “Yep, If someone hadn’t of killed those Kennedys, we’d have a Pope running our country now and those Catholics you think are your friends would be killin’ us in our beds.” No one argued the point.
Don’t assume that because you are a law abiding white middle class American, you will never experience prejudice.
In the eighties, I had to use a wheelchair because there was no medicine yet for a condition that made walking excruciatingly painful for my feet. About that time, one of our sons went to work for an airline that allowed him to take us abroad for only the tax on tickets. So, we began years of traveling with the challenge of me in a wheel chair. America had already become mostly handicapped accessible, so we were not really prepared for the differences in Europe. In many countries the only accessible bathrooms were in a McDonalds’. In the German speaking part of Switzerland, in Vienna, Austria, and in the Czech Republic we met with open hostility. And the hostility was not just from skin heads. In Prague, when trying to get across a road in the rain and onto an awning covered side walk, wide enough for a wheelchair and other people to walk, several middle-aged, middle class looking women standing together chatting, not only wouldn’t move even slightly to let us get out of the rain, but one scowling, turned and literally hissed at me. I cried that night. I considered myself a kind middle class woman of reasonably pleasant appearance. Why would someone hate me without even knowing me. We learned it wasn’t because we were Americans. Now that the communists were gone, the Czechs were welcoming westerners with open arms. But until that year those with any kind of handicap had been kept inside, sometimes in attics.The new President’s wife was just starting a campaign to help them become an accepted part of the society. Shortly after we returned to America, we read that a German family had sued a restaurant in Germany for allowing a handicapped person to be seated where they were visible to others. They claimed that having to see this person while they ate ruined their vacation. The saddest part is that the court agreed and they were awarded $20,000.
Don’t assume if you are a liberal Democrat, that you aren’t prejudiced.
My assumptions about my lack of prejudice were knocked silly when I was substitute teaching a seventh grade English class in my small rural town. I called on a young black man and just stood there speechless with my mouth hanging open when he answered in an upper class British accent using four and five syllable words, that I had actually never spoken, only read. I had been totally unaware of my preconceptions, because of my limited experience.
I realized that I had some prejudice against Germans from WWII and years of movies and books about the Holocaust. Though I knew not all Germans agreed or participated in persecuting the Jews, I had not read of many Germans that risked their own their lives for them, except the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of the book The Cost of Discipleship. At first, my experiences in Europe reinforced my prejudice. But, when reflecting back on the many experiences of kindness and generosity by Germans, Austrians, and Czech’s while in their countries, I realized I was focusing on a minority because of my long unchallenged prejudice.
We can and will survive our current fears and prejudices, if we commit to working toward a better America for all people, including both whites and blacks, who cannot afford college or have different gifts more suited to vocational education and also for immigrants seeking sanctuary for their children from wars not of their choosing.
In the 1950s our home in Houston, Texas was bombed, because my newspaper editor father had endorsed the first African American candidate running for a position on the local school board. Though no one was injured, as a teenager it was terrifying to feel so vulnerable to a hatred I couldn’t understand. So, I am certainly not an advocate for terrorism. And as both the daughter of one newspaper editor and the mother of another, I am a strong supporter of freedom of the press, but not of a press without a conscience.
Words can be as inflammatory as bombs, as most revolutions have proven. Certainly sarcasm and ridicule are generally recognized as deadly for peaceful relationships, whether personal or political.
The violence involving the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France seems almost a chicken and egg situation with both sides shooting from the hip at anything they don’t like. We tend to applaud the revolutions seeking democracy, violent or not, because we understand them. Other than the Irish, most of us don’t understand the ones that use a religious excuse for violence as a way out of being helpless as a minority.
So much of the violence in the world, even genocide, grows out of a long and painful history of conflict, that is only known up close and personally by the participants. The rest of us only see the resulting boiling over of centuries of equally shared hate filled interactions.
I certainly don’t know the solution, but in my eighty-two years as an American, I’ve been taught to fear, and thus hate, the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians, the North Koreans, the Russians, the Chinese Communists, the North Vietnamese, the Pot Pol Cambodians, the Communist Cubans, Al Qaeda, the KKK and more.
Though I accepted America’s excuse of shortening World War Two by dropping atomic bombs on two civilian Japanese cities that resulted in at least 250,000 civilian casualties, from much of the world’s view, Harry Truman could be grouped with Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot as a mass murderer of the innocent.
How do we begin to break the unending cycles of fear and hate that perpetuate violence?
I oppose violence in any form, including vindictive, abusive, ridiculing, hate filled and irresponsible writing, cartooning or speech. Again, I wholeheartedly support the right of free speech, but not freedom from conscience or responsibility. Ridicule is not an effective response to any threat. It is self-serving egotism. It simply pours fuel on the fire.
Pouring fuel on the fires of hate and fear, however we do it, is not only immoral, it is self-defeating. Every one of us is called to become a peacemaker in whatever way we can. There are no winners in wars. Violence of any kind kills our souls.
It’s long been my theory that women outlive men, because in our culture we have traditionally been allowed the release of tears.
When men are overwhelmed, they use anger to keep from being vulnerable by showing their fears or hurt. But anger has to be controlled or it will turn into violence, so it isn’t an effective
way of expressing and releasing strong emotions. Instead it just creates more tension and stress.
Though long ago crying made me feel weak, once when doing a project using a friend’s original art, I thought I had permanently damaged all her paintings. Weeping copiously, I struggled successfully to find a way to save them. Once the crisis was over, I realized that weeping didn’t show weakness. The whole time I was weeping, I was coping by problem solving. And having an outlet for my emotions, probably freed me from panic enough to think of a creative solution.
When I was carpooling with an army staff sergeant to my civil service job on an army post, he explained why he had volunteered for a year’s duty without family in Korea. He said that he had a great posting near his wife’s family in Boston. But the first morning he reported to his new position as staff sergeant, he discovered that all his officers were women and in the process of his first staff meeting, they all, at times, cried. He had been through two wars, but he couldn’t handle that. It struck me as understandable, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the officers in all the armies cried instead of being angry and macho, would it cut down on wars?
Another time I was working in a Christian book store and right after my mother died, I had to spend a morning arranging all the Mother’s Day cards. About every fifteen minutes I had to go in the back to cry, not wanting a customer to come in and see me weeping. But a few days later, a young man still in his teens came in to buy a bible. We got to talking and he told me he had just gotten out of the army after serving in our invasion of Panama. He said that his unit was sent to surround a building that reportedly had enemy soldiers hiding there. As they approached the building with machine guns ready, some people started running out and he and the other American soldiers started firing. But it was a school and it was children and teachers running out. I was horrified, but fought back my tears. I did say, “I’m so sorry” and he nodded and left. I wish now I had cried and held him and freed him to weep. Because that is what he needed, someone to free him to weep by weeping with him.
Jesus wept when he stood on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, realizing that he had failed in what he thought was his life’s mission, saving his people, the Jews. He wept because he loved them, yet was unable to reach them.
Tears simply express strong emotion. They are healing, freeing, saving. If we understand that when feeling overwhelmed, we can cry it out and then deal with our situation. If Jesus wept, so can we. Tears are not weakness. They are a healing gift.
From The Upper Room August 6, 2013:
A reflection on Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
I hated the Americans who massacred so many people, including my sister, with the atomic bomb when I was fourteen. For many years I could neither forgive nor forget what they had done. But as I started to read the Bible, I was challenged and changed by the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”(Luke 23:34)
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. We ask for our daily food, forgiveness, and salvation from evil. Then we affirm God’s dominion, power, and glory. For me, forgiveness is a strong and powerful attitude.
Paul said,”Be kind to one another” and “tenderhearted.” When we allow God to make our hearts tender, we become able to forgive. For me forgiveness is given so strongly and so powerfully from God through Jesus, that it breaks through the hatred caused by the atomic bomb. Contributed by Haruyoshi Fujimoto
War and fear breed hatred beyond understanding and war leaves wounds too deep for human healing.
In 2003, I visited the small town of Shrewsbury, England. I went to their tiny, but ancient, Military Museum. There were relics and accounts of literally millennia of wars. There was a captured American regiment’s flag from our own Revolutionary War with England. There were long lists of local men killed in war after war after war. Many of the family names on the lists were the same for generation after generation. Most of the wars were with countries that are now England’s allies. Unbelievably, this small rather insignificant museum had actually been damaged by an IRA bomb a year before. My maiden name is O’Leary, so I felt saddened by that, though after visiting Ireland and seeing the evidence of England’s repression and injustice to the Irish, I did finally understand the conflict. Seeing the lists of those lost to war, of families decimated, of enemies now allies, and allies now enemies, realizing that in all those other countries there were matching lists, I thought of all the little people who bear the brunt of wars and even the survivors who are never the same. My life experiences have taught me that there are no good guys in wars. And now my beloved America was following in England’s footsteps. Sorrow overwhelmed me.
During WWII my mother was Personnel Director for a large American Army Post. Part of her job was keeping up morale and this required showing movies of our soldiers cornering Japanese soldiers in caves. When the Japanese soldiers came out of the caves with their hands up, our soldiers set them on fire with flame throwers, and the civilian personnel watching these movies would all cheer. Mom came home sick and unable to sleep after having to show and watch these.
Some years ago, I worked in a Christian Book Store. A young man, about nineteen or twenty years old, came in to buy a bible and we got to talking. He began to tell me about being in the army and just returning from fighting in Panama. With tears in his eyes he told me about his squad being ordered to take over a building where enemy soldiers were thought to be hiding. As they approached, people suddenly came running out of the building, and he and his fellow soldiers responded with machine gun fire. It turned out that it was a school and the people running out were teachers and their young students.
Almost thirty years ago, I was a Civil Service employee on an U.S. Army Post. Technically, I was an Education Specialist-Religion in the Chaplains’ Division. I was Associate Director of All Religious Education for the Post and Director of the Catholic Religious Education Program for the 9,000 Catholics on Post. Central America was at that time a hotbed of political revolution with America unofficially supporting various sides. I had many military men and women volunteers teaching in our Sunday children’s classes. I learned quickly to make sure each of our fifty classes had two teachers, with at least one of them being civilian, since overnight without any warning, all the military would disappear and I’d end up with classrooms full of children without teachers. I never knew exactly where they went. Everyone just said people had gone “south.” There were no official declarations of war and often we ended up fighting in support of blatantly evil dictators, because the communists were supporting the rebels.
The individuals I met in the military are amazing people. They spend their lives far away from their families of origin, so they form close bonds among themselves, which they renew when their paths crisscross over the years. With both men and women now serving all over the world, their families and their communities are small versions of the United Nations Assembly. In civilian life, people coming from other countries tend to cling together and to their native cultures. The army life more or less forces the military to live with, work with, learn with, and support each other across races, nationalities, and cultures. Marriage with citizens of other countries and cultures is common place and families are multi-racial and cultural. Frequent separations make marriage harder than normal and many blended families may have children of several different racial and national backgrounds. It is a paradox that the rank and file of the military are the greatest witness to hope for peace among diverse people, I have ever encountered. When we protest against war, these are not the people causing them. These are the people dying in them. War is political. We civilians are just as much a part of the political systems that create wars.
One of my friends did training for Religious Education teachers for the nearest Catholic Diocese. She also happened to be a leader in the local Peace and Justice movement. I invited her to come lead one of our Teacher Training Workshops. I think the title was: Teaching as Jesus Taught, which stressed using stories like Jesus did. Our Religious Ed Department included a large combination Library/Conference Room, which we used for this workshop. It just so happened the room was already set up for a Chaplains’ conference on ministering to soldiers when battles involved limited nuclear weapons. The set up included horrifying photos, that I hoped were only simulated, all around the walls. My friend was a kind and sensitive woman, who did not intend to cause me any problems by being offensively anti-military. She did not need to. As she gently led us in listening to Jesus’s words, one of the teachers noticed the photos and called attention to them. No words could have illustrated the gap between the world’s way and the way of Jesus better. The photos said it all.
God forgive us all, for we know not what we do.
Whom do you see as the “bad guys” in your world? Your parents’ world? Your grandparents’ world? Your children’s world? Your grandchildren’s world?How do we become peacemakers? Where do we start? What helps you be peace filled? What has helped bring about reconciliation in your life?
When I first heard about the horrifying massacre of young children in Connecticut, my response was that I should buy an Uzzi and volunteer to guard the nearest school any of my grandchildren attended. Realizing that I have grands and great-grands in six counties and three states, I decided to start a movement to arm grandparents as guards in the schools of America. When I calmed down a little, reality reared its ugly head. Mental pictures of me (and those like me) forgetting how to get the safety latch off or shooting the maintenance person, because the glare from a window behind him made the mop look like a rifle, squelched that idea.
I’ve followed the responses and proposals in the media and on the internet and thought a lot about violence and counter-measures, that I’ve witnessed in my seventy-five years.
I don’t have statistics to compare the amount of violence in the decades since I first experienced it personally in 1954 (See post: My Introduction to Violence), but I remember the Kent State student shootings by the National Guard, innocent young black children killed over integration, a father shooting five or six elementary school children on the school playground in my neighborhood in Houston in 1959, The Texas University sniper killing students from its Campanile, and of course the killing of the children in the preschool in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. If there seem to be more of these now, perhaps it’s partly because of increasing population, partly because of the impersonal anonymous climate of larger and larger institutions, and partly because we don’t imprison the mentally ill in insane asylums any more, but haven’t found a viable alternative for those who are a danger to themselves and others.
But with the killers being students, parents, outsiders, extremists, and even the National Guard, it appears to me that while we certainly have to try to make our schools safer, there really isn’t any way to prevent an insane homicidal/suicidal child or adult from killing groups of children. Groups of children are vulnerable in the school, on the play ground, going from building to building between classes, on school buses, waiting to load onto school buses. They are vulnerable at Science Museums, Chucky Cheeses, Disney Land, Park playgrounds, Zoos, Skating Rinks, Little League games, school sporting events.
Several thoughts confuse the issue of gun control. The guns that killed in these cases were not in the hands of known criminals. And some were ordinary guns, not repeating rapid-fire guns, and then some were bombs. And just about anybody that can read, can make a bomb today.
The problem calls for more than just arming personnel in schools or curtailing the sale of certain types of guns or turning school buildings into bunkers.
My concern is not just the tools of violence, but the hatred that fuels it, a hatred that now comes out in elections, in sports, in marriages, and even in the name of religion. What is the source or catalyst for so much hatred?
To find that answer, we can only begin by looking within.
About 1954 when I was seventeen, someone set a bomb off in our entrance hall. It was the night of an election with a black woman running for the school board in Houston, Texas. Segregation and the myth of separate, but equal schools were still firmly in place, and the black schools had never had representation on the board. I believe she was the first black candidate.
My father was a newspaper editor and had written editorials supporting her.
The bomb was not like bombs today. It didn’t destroy walls or knock down the door, but it had enough impact to cause the confetti packing and sharp pieces of slate to become embedded in the door and walls. It was set off about three in the morning, my father was still at the newspaper covering the election, and I was half-way down the stairs before I decided not to go to the door. That was my first personal experience of the human capacity for senseless violence.
Though my mother was from Mississippi and my father was from Louisiana, they had taught me that prejudging people on the basis of their skin color was not only wrong, it was ignorant. And ignorance was THE mortal sin in our family.
When I married and moved to Nashville, Tennessee our friends were mostly doctors and lawyers and college professors. In the middle sixties I decided to join the NAACP after one of my friends, who was a volunteer at a local hospital, informed us all angrily that, “There was no way in hell, she was going to carry that n_____ baby out to their car. And she told them that right then and there. She didn’t care who heard her.” Obviously, a college education isn’t always a cure for ignorance.
So in 1968 I was working at the NAACP office when the Poor People’s March came through Nashville. There were many young blacks from out of town, who belonged to more militant organizations like SNCC and CORE, going in and out of the office where I was answering the phone. Their obvious strong hatred of whites, even those of us working for the NAACP, was frightening.
It seemed to me that America was headed for a bloody race war where many innocent people on both sides would be destroyed. I began to pray fervently for a miracle that would prevent that.
I have come to see Martin Luther King as that miracle. I believe whites should be as grateful to him as blacks.
I thank God for Martin Luther King.