America’s Forgotten War

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The front page of this morning’s Chicago Tribune reported the death of U.S. Army paratrooper Michael Isaiah Nance of Chicago. He was killed in combat in Afghanistan, a country whose war the United States has been active in for the past 18 years. (“‘The worst day in our family’s history’,” Chicago Tribune, August 1, 2019)

Americans have all but forgotten that our soldiers are fighting and dying in this protracted war on the other side of the world. A recent deployment of National Guardsmen to Afghanistan has reminded us. So, too, have the deaths of our young soldiers. More than 2,000 service members have died in Afghanistan since 2001. It’s time to rethink our involvement there.

When President George W. Bush ordered troops into Afghanistan on the heels of the 9/11 attacks, there was near unanimous support for military action against the heinous group of al Qaeda members hiding out in the mountains there. Justice for the lives of those lost in the cowardly attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania demanded it. And while al Qaeda still poses a terrorist threat, it has greatly diminished over the past couple of decades. Many of the masterminds of the 9/11 attack, including Osama bin Laden himself, have been captured or killed.

Afghanistan, unfortunately, is still a dangerous and unstable place. But history should teach us that it is also an unconquerable place. Just ask the former Soviet Union, whose bloody war there in the 1980s cost them 15,000 lives and caused massive displacement of the Afghani people. Ironically, the Muslim insurgents who bedeviled the USSR for nine years were supported militarily by the United States. Now we are engaged in a war against Muslim insurgents ourselves.

No matter the direction of U.S. policy, however, let us never forget the human cost of sending our loved ones into harm’s way. Twenty-four-year-old Isaiah Nance had wanted to join the Army for years before his mother finally relented and let him sign up. He was deployed to Afghanistan only a couple of weeks before being shot to death, possibly by an Afghan soldier. (Tribune, Aug. 1, 2019) Also killed was a 20-year-old Ohio soldier named Brandon Jay Kreischer. As Nance’s uncle put it, “It was the worst day in our family’s history.”

May their sacrifice be remembered and appreciated, and may their loved ones take comfort in the knowledge that they died for something they believed in.

 

 

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I Know You Are, But What Am I?

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Donald Trump’s entire strategy for defending himself against any charges is to go on the offensive. Essentially, he lobs at his critics the playground retort, “I know you are, but what am I?”

In the past few weeks, the president has actually told U.S. citizens of color to go back where they came from. More recently, he decided to attack his critic Rep. Elijah Cummings by denouncing Cummings’ district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” The comment was akin to his description of certain African nations as “shithole countries.” The more blatantly racial Trump’s attacks become, the quicker he is to label his critics as racist or un-American.

And instead of calling on the president to refrain from such remarks, his apologists get into a dissection of the victims. First they analyzed and called into question every statement made by the four Congresswomen who were the subject of Trump’s vitriol: women of color, all of them U.S. citizens and only one of them born outside the U.S. And as pundits pointed out, even that naturalized citizen had been a U.S. citizen longer than Trump’s own wife, Melania.

In the case of Trump’s attack on Baltimore, Rep. Cummings’ home turf, pundits started in on the Democratic failures to solve endemic poverty in big cities. Again, all this serves as a dodge to avoid confronting the fact that they support a small-minded racist.

The Trump strategy of counterattack is a brazen and shameless one. Despite the fact that there is ample evidence he obstructed justice in his attempt to derail the Mueller investigation, Trump has managed to turn the investigation against itself, demanding that U.S. justice and intelligence agencies be investigated for pro-Hillary/anti-Trump bias.

Aside from the fact that the “I know you are, but what am I?” tactic is the mark of a man with stunted emotional maturity, the repeated attempts on the right to distract the American people from legitimate concern and criticism of this president are disturbing and dangerous. It seems clear that the Republicans in power, their media mouthpieces, and Trump’s diehard base will ignore any level of impropriety, dishonesty, and meanness from this president.

It’s up to the rest of us to keep focused on what we see right in front of us: a divisive, mean-spirited, and narcissistic bully who must be called to account – in 2020, if not sooner.

Man on the Moon and Other Milestones

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In a person’s life, there are many memorable events: births, deaths, marriages, rites of passage, and historical events. One such event from my childhood was the sight of Neil Armstrong stepping out of a space module and landing on the moon with the famous words, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

It was July 20, 1969. My family was visiting my father’s brother and his brood of nine kids. We were clustered around a small television set in the living room, and although the summer day beckoned, we were riveted to our seats. Space travel was a feature of my early years. Ever since the USSR had beaten the US into space with Sputnik, we were in a Cold War competition to travel farther and dare more than our Communist foes.

Seeing footage of the moon landing, the flag planting, the gravity-defying leaps of the astronauts, the deep craters that from Earth looked like holes in Swiss cheese: it was awe-inspiring.

Other things about that summer of ’69 stand out for me. The Chicago Cubs were in a rare race for the National League pennant. In those days, you could go to the airport and watch planes land and take off just for fun – no boarding pass required. My dad used to take us on occasional Sunday afternoons to greet our heroic Cubs on their return from an away series. We got to see the greats up close: Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, and, of course, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. On these trips my dad, still dressed in his Sunday suit and tie, was sometimes mistaken for a Cubs manager and once even asked for an autograph.

That magical season ended in a defeat at the hands of the New York Mets, a team I detest to this day for “stealing” the pennant from my beloved Cubbies. Still, I cherished the baseball cards I’d collected and reiterated in my head the lifelong Cubs mantra, “Wait ’til next year!”

We all have unique milestones in our lives such as those I recall from 1969. There was the Blizzard of ’67, for instance, when record snowfall paralyzed the city of Chicago. There were the riots in ’68 that occurred at the Democratic National Convention being held in Chicago. Later in my life I witnessed a rare sighting of Halley’s Comet, saw the Berlin Wall get torn down, and lived through the Y2K scare of the new millennium. Most of us alive today got to see the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama. And, of course, my consolation prize for the disaster of the 2016 election was the Cubs’ winning the World Series – after a 108 year drought!

The 50th anniversary of the moon landing has created a renewed interest in space travel. There is even an entire line of gear with the old NASA logo to purchase. Still, there’s nothing like being able to say, “I was there.” I hope the newest generations of Americans get to witness some spectacular and inspiring events in their lifetimes.

Normalizing Hate

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Twitter has done at least one beneficial thing since its inception: given us a glimpse into the mind and heart of our current president. And it’s not a pretty picture. The president’s latest tweet attacked four women of color, all U.S. citizens, with the admonition to go back where they came from. The House of Representatives rightly voted to condemn this racist and xenophobic rant on the part of our country’s supposed leader.

The president has done everything in his power to attack and marginalize immigrants of color. Muslim travel bans, cruel treatment of Latin American migrants, labeling them criminals and rapists: This is classic scapegoating. It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, and it must not be normalized.

I know I’m not supposed to haul out Nazi Germany as a comparison, but the same tactics were used to victimize and ultimately exterminate millions of Jews during World War II. First they were attacked for being dishonest and mercenary. Cartoon depictions of Jews made them seem less than human. These tactics made it easier for ordinary citizens to stand by while Jewish people’s possessions were taken away and ultimately they themselves were rounded up.

I used to be opposed to going through the trauma of impeachment proceedings against our current president. It’s not that I don’t think there is ample cause for impeachment. I just felt that Democrats needed to focus their efforts on defeating the man in 2020. However, allowing this president to spew vitriol and hate for another year and half is unacceptable and runs the risk of normalizing such attitudes. The Congresswomen cited in the latest hateful tweets have been dealing with death threats. Let’s not wait for someone to make good on such a threat before we take action.

The American people must not allow hatred against certain religious or ethnic groups to take hold in our national psyche. It goes against everything our great nation stands for. Let’s not normalize hate but condemn it whenever and wherever we find it, even at the highest echelons of our government.

 

Good Samaritan

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700446167Yesterday’s gospel reading at Mass was about the Good Samaritan. Most people know the story of the man lying by the side of the road, beaten and robbed, while the religious leaders of the day passed by without helping him. The Samaritan, a kind of outcast, was the only one who took pity on the victim and hastened to his aid.

There are many lessons to take away from this parable, but the one the priest focused on in his sermon was this: There is a difference between knowing the right answer and doing what is right – a difference between following the letter of the law and practicing compassion. The pastor’s sermon had special poignancy at a time when President Trump is stepping up deportations of illegal immigrants, detaining large numbers of migrants at the southern border, and failing to unite separated children from their families.

It’s true that there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Many Americans believe that accommodating these millions has become far too heavy a burden and that border enforcement needs to be increased. Donald Trump’s call for a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico became a rallying cry for these frustrations.

Border enforcement is one thing. Separating children from their parents and keeping unaccompanied children in inhumane detention centers is just wrong. Many border officers have voiced disquiet at the conditions these migrant children are living under and their role in enforcing President Trump’s policies. Like the Good Samaritan, they see that the fact something is legal does not necessarily make it right.

The priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable are following the law as well. Ancient Jewish law prohibited them from exposing themselves to human blood. So in the strictest sense, they were following the rules. The Samaritan, whose mixed ancestry and religious practices made him anathema to the Jewish people, depended less on rules and regulations and more on his heart. There are times when compassion and love trump the law.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbor?” Like many lawyers, this man was trying to get Jesus to misspeak, to contradict the law of Moses and thus bring condemnation on himself. How often have human beings insisted upon following the letter of the law to the detriment of others?

I believe that if someone were to ask Jesus that question today, he would respond with a similar story that might involve our treatment of minorities, would-be immigrants, and other marginalized people.

Who is my neighbor? The one who needs my help, my compassion, and my love.

USWNT Strives for Equity

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The other day I did a Google Images search for the U.S. Women’s National Team that is poised to bring home the World Cup on Sunday. To my chagrin, the very first image that greeted me was a shot of Alex Morgan in a bikini. Here is a professional soccer dynamo who has scored over 100 goals in her career, including 2 in the 2011 World Cup and 6 in the current contest, being reduced to a sex object. (An image search of the U.S. Men’s National Team yielded no corresponding beefcake photos.)

Sexism also seems to be at the heart of the pay differential that the current USWNT is challenging with both FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation. The USSF has been claiming that men’s soccer yields higher profits and therefore higher payouts to male players. Yet the “U.S. women’s team generated more revenue for the federation from 2016-18, bringing in $50.8 million compared to $49.9 million by the men’s squad.” (“Pay dispute resurfaces as U.S. women prepare for World Cup final,” Reuters, July 3, 2019)

The lawsuit against the USSF argues that in addition to the pay differences, women’s soccer gets inferior treatment in publicity, travel and training conditions, and medical attention as compared to the men’s team. Yet the women’s team has been far more successful in the past several years than the men’s team has.

During the semifinal game against England the other day, when Carli Lloyd made her way onto the field towards the end of the game, she was greeted with rock star level adulation. The two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, and 2015 & 2016 FIFA Player of the Year is just one of the superstars that have made this year’s Women’s World Cup such an exciting event.

It’s disheartening to me that in 2019, almost 50 years after the historic Title IX legislation that addressed inequities in education and athletics between males and females, women athletes still have to fight for better pay, working conditions, and respect.

The women on the USWNT are our daughters’ heroes. Let’s give them their due.

Divas in Cleats

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When the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team takes the field against France today in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, millions of fans will be cheering for their own red, white, and blue team. If France were to win the World Cup this year, it would be the first time that both men’s and women’s teams from the same country held the championship at the same time. (Sports Illustrated, June 3-10, 2019) But I’m placing my bets on the irrepressible U.S. team.

The U.S. women came out roaring with a 13-0 trouncing of Thailand in their 2019 World Cup debut. Critics assailed their “running up the score” against a clearly overwhelmed Thai team, and many questioned the U.S. players need to celebrate each goal with such glee. But these soccer divas left no question in anyone’s mind about their dominance on the world stage.

The word diva has developed negative connotations, conjuring images of difficult and temperamental female stars. And certainly some Americans might take issue with Megan Rapinoe’s strong anti-Trump stance. But I refer to the USWNT as divas in the original sense; the word comes from Latin and literally means “goddesses.”

Women’s sports are infamously underpaid and under-appreciated, especially team sports. Despite the fact that the USWNT scored more goals in one game than the U.S. men’s team scored all season, professional female soccer players in America make a fraction of the money their male counterparts make. Even in the World Cup, the $30 million in prize money for the women’s tournament looks pitiable when compared to the men’s $400 payout. (SI, June 3-10, 2019) In fact, the discrepancy in pay has been an underlying topic during this year’s Women’s World Cup. Let’s hope the excitement and dazzle of the women’s performance in the tournament leads to an improvement in gender pay equity.

I have watched more soccer games in my lifetime than I ever dreamed I’d see. All of my four children at one time or another have played the game. And my youngest is determined not only to play throughout high school, but to find a spot on a college soccer squad. My daughter has been working relentlessly toward that goal: sacrificing time with friends, getting up early, traveling to tournaments and soccer clinics across the country, keeping herself physically fit and mentally hungry.

I’m delighted that my daughter and countless other girls and women are getting a front seat to the greatness that can be achieved by a group of women out on a soccer field. I’m thrilled to witness the strength, athleticism, and camaraderie that the U.S. women’s team has displayed on the world stage.

Regardless of the outcome of today’s match between the U.S. and France, I will have only one thing to say about the fearless women of soccer: “Brava!”