live in a tiny, remote, impoverished, three block
long town in the desert of northeastern New Mexico.
Everyone in town - and the whole state - knows
that I am against the occupation of Iraq, that
I have called for the closing of Los Alamos, and
that as a priest, I have been preaching, like
the Pope, against the bombing of Baghdad.
week, it was announced that the local National
Guard unit for northeastern New Mexico, based
in the nearby Armory, was being deployed to Iraq
early next year. I was not surprised when yellow
ribbons immediately sprang up after the press
conference. But I was surprised the following
morning to hear 75 soldiers singing, shouting
and screaming as they jogged down Main Street,
passed our St. Joseph's church, back and forth
around town for an hour. It was 6 a.m., and they
woke me up with their war slogans, chants like
"Kill! Kill! Kill!" and "Swing your guns from
left to right; we can kill those guys all night."
chants were disturbing, but this is war. They
have to psyche themselves up for the kill. They
have to believe that flying off to some tiny,
remote desert town in Iraq where they will march
in front of someone's house and kill poor young
Iraqis has some greater meaning besides cold-blooded
murder. Most of these young reservists have never
left our town, and they need our support for the
"unpleasant" task before them. I have been to
Iraq, and led a delegation of Nobel Peace Prize
winners to Baghdad in 1999, and I know that the
people there are no different than the people
screaming and chanting went on for one hour. They
would march past the church, down Main Street,
back around the post office, and down Main Street
again. It was clear they wanted to be seen and
heard. In fact, it was quite scary because the
desert is normally a place of perfect peace and
at 7 a.m., the shouting got dramatically louder.
I looked out the front window of the house where
I live, next door to the church, and there they
were - all 75 of them, standing yards away from
my front door, in the street right in front of
my house and our church, shouting and screaming
to the top of their lungs, "Kill! Kill! Kill!"
Their commanders had planted them there and were
egging them on.
was astonished and appalled. I suddenly realized
that I do not need to go to Iraq; the war had
come to my front door. Later, I heard that they
had deliberately decided to do their exercises
in front of my house and our church because of
my outspoken opposition to the war. They wanted
to put me in my place.
I think, is a new tactic. Over the years, I have
been arrested some 75 times in demonstrations,
been imprisoned for a "Plowshares" disarmament
action, been bugged, tapped, and harassed, searched
at airports, and monitored by police. But this
time, the soldiers who will soon march through
Baghdad and attack desert homes in Iraq, practiced
on me. They confronted me personally, just as
the death squad militaries did in Guatemala and
El Salvador in the 1980s, which I witnessed there
on several occasions.
decided I had to do something. I put on my winter
coat and walked out the front door right into
the middle of the street. They stopped shouting
and looked at me, so I said loudly, publicly for
all to hear, "In the name of God, I order all
of you to stop this nonsense, and not to go to
Iraq. I want all of you to quit the military,
disobey your orders to kill, and not to kill anyone.
I do not want you to get killed. I want you to
practice the love and nonviolence of Jesus. God
does not bless war. God does not want you to kill
so Bush and Cheney can get more oil. God does
not support war. Stop all this and go home. God
jaws dropped, their eyeballs popped and they stood
in shock and silence, looking steadily at me.
Then they burst out laughing. Finally, the commander
dismissed them and they left.
military officials spread lies around town that
I had disrupted their military exercises at the
Armory, so they decided to come to my house and
to the church in retaliation. Others appealed
to the archbishop to have me kicked out of New
Mexico for denouncing their warmaking. Then, a
general called the mayor and asked him to mediate
"negotiations" with me, saying he did not want
the military "in confrontation" with the church.
Really, the mayor told me, they fear that I will
disrupt the gala send-off next month, just before
Christmas, when the soldiers go to Iraq.
dramatic episode is only the latest in a series
of confrontations since I came to the desert of
New Mexico in the summer of 2002 to serve as pastor
of several poor, desert churches. I have spoken
out extensively against the U.S. war on Iraq,
and been denounced by people, including church
people, across the state. I have organized small
Christian peace groups throughout the state.
planned a prayer vigil for nuclear disarmament
at Los Alamos on the anniversary of Hiroshima
this past August, but when the devout people of
Los Alamos, most of them Catholic, heard about
it, they appealed to the archbishop to have me
expelled if I appeared publicly in their town.
the end, I did not attend the vigil, but the publicity
gave me further opportunities to call for the
closing of Los Alamos. I receive hate mail, negative
phone calls and at least one death threat for
daring to criticize our country.
New Mexico is the poorest state in the U.S. It
is also number one in military spending and number
one in nuclear weapons. It is the most militarized,
the most in need of disarmament, the most in need
of nonviolence. It is the first place the Pentagon
goes to recruit poor youth into the empire's army.
we are to change the direction of our country,
and turn people against Bush's occupation of Iraq,
we are going to have to face the ire and persecution
of our local communities. If peace people in every
local community insisted that our troops be brought
home immediately, that the U.N. be sent in to
restore Iraq, that all U.S. military aid to the
Middle East be cut, and that our arsenal of weapons
of mass destruction be dismantled, then we might
all find soldiers marching at our front doors,
trying to intimidate us.
we can face our soldiers, call them to quit the
military and urge them to disobey orders to kill,
then perhaps some of them will refuse to fight,
become conscientious objectors and take up the
wisdom of nonviolence. If we can look them in
the eye and engage them in personal Satyagraha
as Gandhi demonstrated, then we know that the
transformation has begun.
the end, the episode for me was an experience
of hope. We must be making a difference if the
soldiers have to march at our front doors. That
they failed to convert me or intimidate me, that
they had to listen to my side of the story, may
haunt their consciences as they travel to Iraq.
No matter what happens, they have heard loud and
clear the good news that God does not want them
to kill anyone. I hope we can all learn the lesson.
Dear is a Catholic priest, peace activist, lecturer,
and former executive director of the Fellowship
of Reconciliation. His latest books include "Mohandas
Gandhi" (Orbis) and "Mary of Nazareth, Prophet
of Peace" (Ave Maria Press). For info, see. www.johndear.org
Posted: December 15, 2003