by Rachel MacNair
This February in 2020 I went on a trip to Israel and Palestine with a group called In the Steps of Our Ancestors: an Interfaith Peace Pilgrimage. In addition to seeing the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i, we spoke with several groups promoting peace in different ways.
(I went just in time – Israel stopped everyone from coming into the country just two weeks after I got home because of the Covid-19 crisis. While we heard of cases, nothing was closed until days after we had visited).
One major point that needs to be understood about the interfaith movement is that it’s most emphatically not asking people to water down their own religions by adding other religions. To the contrary, it helps you reflect more deeply on your own faith tradition and find more insights into it.
Rachel adds a stone to the growing peace mosaic on the Gaza Strip wall, which can be seen at one spot by the people stuck inside. Since they know each stone was placed by a different person, this communicates widespread concern for their plight.
Peace and Social Justice Goals
When people of different religions have violent conflicts, being in greater harmony over religious matters is crucial.
Of course, religion is often actually a stand-in for ethnic conflicts, or used as an excuse for what’s really a leadership struggle or territory grab. This is because people engaged in violence like to think of themselves as virtuous rather than thinking of themselves as people engaged in violence.
Nevertheless, there’s often religious content to brutal conflicts, which turns off onlookers who don’t share the religious views. That’s one reason an interfaith approach helps with conflict resolution or transformation.
Another reason is that social justice movements wanting to convince as large a number of people as possible to support their specific goals do well to have respect for religious traditions. They can use persuasion that takes those different traditions into account.
Expressions and Essentials
One of the basic concepts of the interfaith approach is to make a distinction between what’s essential, and what would be just different expressions. In philosophy they call the different expressions “accidentals,” but since people don’t regard their beliefs system as accidental, it’s probably better to just use the word expression.
Some people pray by bowing their head and folding their hands and closing their eyes. Other people lift their arms up and look to the heavens. Some people bow on a prayer rug with specified motions, some use prayer beads, or prayer wheels, or elaborate set-ups that take 15 minutes to arrange. Others say quick prayers quietly inside their heads. All of these things are different expressions. The essential: prayer.
The things that religions most have in common are the essentials. Many of the differing expressions can be celebrated as a matter of diversity, when people are able to look at their own religion with what’s most important in mind. And we can be entirely pleased with how different people express it differently. Disagreements on specifics remain, but a focus on the essential enriches even those disagreements.
Top: Rachel takes a selfie at Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Islam
Bottom: Rachel at House of Justice in Haifa, Baha’i
Applied to Abortion
As is common in peace groups, on this pilgrimage I felt free to bring up my position on all issues except for the one on feticide. The one time it came up was when one of the tour guides explained that Sister Kelly, our guide at the Magdala museum, had commented to him about what a problem abortion is. He complained that she didn’t know how he felt about it. A member of our group vigorously agreed with him that Sister Kelly hadn’t ought to have brought it up.
In one way, that was rather odd, inasmuch as a devout nun expressing that opinion was clearly practicing her own religion. And we had a custom that people were to be free to express their own religions, with other people being accepting of it rather than being critical. On the other hand, they were treating the issue as a political one, rather than a religious one, which of course is exactly what we want. But I stayed silent for the sake of harmony. As did everyone else.
But the interfaith movement is beneficial to the pro-life movement in the same way that it benefits other social justice movements: we need to make the case to people in terms that they understand.
So, for example, many years ago I was talking to a pro-life woman who was speaking of the importance of the Judeo-Christian ethic. I said to her “you know, every Buddhist that’s a friend of mine is pro-life on abortion.” I could see the wheels going on in her head, and she finally said “Oh, OK. It’s bad karma to kill a baby.” And I said “yes, that’s right.” So she said that she didn’t mean to put down other religions, she just thought that it was a struggle against secular humanism.
Yet the secular case against abortion is also quite important. The National Right to Life Committee recently had a full workshop at its national conference with Kelly Hazzard of our member group Secular Prolife. We need to be able to make the case everywhere.
But another reason why I think this is important is that too many people think opposition to abortion is nothing more than a religious expression – some kind of rigid rule, which some religions have and others don’t have. If their religion doesn’t have this rule, why are people from other religions trying to impose their rule on them? We need to get across instead that our opposition is an essential value having to do with compassion to all human beings, a value shared across religions and ethical atheism.
I remember years ago when I was speaking to a college group and they asked me about contraception. I gave them this answer: “If you’re fertile, and have genital contact intercourse with a fertile member of the opposite gender, you might make a baby. If you use contraception, you cut your chances. But you don’t cut them out, you only cut them down. If you make a baby, you’re a parent. Conduct your sex life accordingly.” The students later said they were pleased I hadn’t lectured them on morality. I found that interesting, since I kind of thought that I actually had. But of course it wasn’t expressing a religious rule. It was laying out the obvious principles – that is to say, the essential.
Concluding from Religious Sources
Taken from a story in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a)
A gentile said he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Rabbi Shammai, who was insulted by this ridiculous request and chased him off with a stick. The man then went to Rabbi Hillel, who accepted the challenge, and said:
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary – go and study!”
Qur’an 49:13 – English translation
[God speaking] People, We have created you all male and female and have made you nations and tribes so that you may know one another. The most honorable among you in the sight of God is the best in conduct. God is All-knowing and All-aware.
At the Church of the Beatitudes on the Sea of Galilee where the Sermon on the Mount was supposed to have happened
For our posts with differing religious perspectives, see:
The Vital Need for Diversity / Sarah Terzo
The Early Christian Tradition / Rob Arner
Abortion and War are the Karma for Killing Animals / Vasu Murti
Breaking Stereotypes in Fearful Times / John Whitehead
Ancient Roots of the Consistent Life Ethic: Greece / Mary Krane Derr
by Julia Smucker
Four Ways of Isolating One Issue
Any advocate of the consistent life ethic (CLE) can expect to encounter people who share their pro-nonviolence position on certain issues but depart from it on others. And among those working on various peace and life issues, including those of us who adhere to the CLE, there are many who feel compelled for various reasons to focus their energies on some issues more than others.
Yet I’ve often been puzzled to notice that abortion, more than any other such issue, is frequently singled out from the rest, and from starkly different perspectives. Whether friendly or hostile to the CLE, whether seeking to prioritize or deprioritize opposition to abortion, it seems the one thing many ideologically divergent people can agree on is that abortion is somehow different.
I’ve observed at least four ways this differentiation is made:
On one end of the spectrum is abortion as exception to nonviolence. Those who hold this view may connect certain nonviolence issues but reject the inclusion of abortion as a form of violence, sometimes even purging would-be allies who do include it.
At the other extreme are the purely single-issue, to whom any focus on life issues other than abortion represents an unconscionable moral compromise – at best a misguided distraction from what really matters, at worst a deliberate scheme to preserve abortion.
While the above groups are often sources of open and visceral hostility toward the CLE, there are also more mitigated forms of these positions, which may share their ideological leanings while displaying at least a grudging openness to connecting issues across the conventional ideological boundaries.
Closest to the abortion-as-exception position, without condoning abortion, is a view I call anti-anti-abortion, whose adherents may oppose abortion in principle but take pains to distance themselves from traditional abortion opponents. Those holding this view may identify as pro-life, but in a way that overcorrects from what they see as disproportionate emphasis on abortion, to the point of avoiding the issue, downplaying its gravity, or even disproportionately investing their own energies in overgeneralized complaints about those working against abortion.
Others are quasi-single-issue, conceding that other worthy life issues exist, but rarely doing so without insisting on the inherent, objective preeminence of opposing abortion. Even while allowing for some degree of multi-issue connections or granting that some may legitimately focus on other things, the idea of considering abortion as one life issue among many seems almost as anathema to many of these people as to the purely single-issue.
The former two positions are irreconcilable with the CLE, and their adherents are often overtly antagonistic toward it. The latter two may be marginally compatible with the CLE, but in a lopsided way, prone to zero-sum thinking that assumes the importance of one thing can only be stressed at the expense of another, even when dealing with life-and-death issues.
But why does the divide in this zero-sum dichotomy so frequently fall between abortion and everything else?
The most immediate, though superficial, answer that occurs to me is political: for reasons that have never made sense to me, opposition to abortion has become associated with the political right, and most other opposition to violence with the political left. Arbitrary as these categories may be, political loyalties do seem to have strong pulls in both directions on the weight given to different life issues. But this still doesn’t explain why opposition to euthanasia, also typically associated with the right and often mentioned alongside abortion, isn’t set apart from other issues as frequently or emphatically.
Adherents of the four positions I’ve outlined will offer their own reasons for the differentiation. All of these are real claims I’ve heard from real people, and while I hope to represent them fairly, I haven’t found any of them convincing.
Holders of the “abortion-as-exception” view and maybe even the “anti-anti-abortion” view would claim that in contrast to their altruistic advocacy on behalf of oppressed groups, abortion opposition is all about controlling and oppressing women. This oversimplified narrative fails to account for pro-life women’s perspectives, dismissing them as internalized misogyny or ignoring them altogether. Furthermore, it ignores the ways abortion contributes to gender-based injustice by masking pregnancy discrimination and sexual abuse, facilitating gendercide, and enabling men who feel entitled to unlimited access to women’s bodies.
Those who are “purely single-issue” or “quasi-single-issue” may agree that abortion opposition is differently motivated from other issues, but in the opposite way. In their narrative, it’s pro-life activists who have more purely altruistic motives: they simply love babies and are concerned for the weakest and most vulnerable human beings, even at personal cost, whereas concern for more popular issues might be at least partly to do with scoring political points or signaling membership in an in-group. This assumption relies on a larger narrative of one-sided persecution, ignoring how point-scoring and virtue-signaling cut in multiple directions, sometimes including a perceived need to prove one’s pro-life bona fides.
Aside from questions of motive, the same people often stress the absolute vulnerability of the preborn as a reason abortion deserves pride of place among life issues, to which those who are “anti-anti-abortion” may respond that women considering abortion are often in vulnerable positions themselves and can’t simply be cast as villains in the attack against life. On its face, this is a worthy point (and generally better understood by the “quasi-single-issue” than the “purely single-issue”). This is why the best pro-life groups consider the empowerment of women integral and indispensable to the protection of their unborn children. It’s important to consider when offering pregnancy support or dialoguing with pro-choice people. The vulnerability of children in the womb and women in crisis pregnancies is always worth considering – but using either to rank abortion as of greater or lesser importance than other threats to life is counterproductive.
Another reason offered for prioritizing abortion is that life is a foundational right, without which other rights are meaningless. But why would this not equally apply to other forms of killing? In particular, a similar point could be made about the nuclear danger: if a full-scale nuclear war obliterated all human life on the planet, all the work against other threats to life, including abortion, would come to naught. This point rightly underscores the urgency of averting such a catastrophe, but it wouldn’t be a good reason to deemphasize other threats to life that are occurring now.
Similarly, the fact that abortion happens earlier in the human lifespan than other violence doesn’t make the killing of humans post-birth any less grave, nor the threats to those vulnerable to other violence any less real, nor their lives any less valuable – just as prenatal lives are no less valuable or vulnerable for being less visible.
Dealing with Limits
At this point, it becomes necessary to differentiate between two types of critiques often made of pro-life activists which, though similar, have differing degrees of merit. One critique would seem to require every pro-lifer to spread themselves evenly across all possible issues as proof of authenticity, expressed in statements such as, “Don’t call yourself pro-life unless you’re also doing x, y and z,” or, “If you’re pro-life and not willing to adopt all the unwanted babies, you’re a hypocrite.” People whose most visible work is against abortion are justified in complaining of such impossible demands, which often simply serve as an excuse to dismiss pro-life activism as a whole.
Sometimes, however, the politicization of life issues does lead to genuine inconsistencies in the application of stated values such as reverence for life and concern for the vulnerable, in the form of tacit acceptance or even outright endorsement of violence against certain human lives besides those in danger of abortion. Though far from being true of all pro-life activists, such inconsistencies belie those stated values and give pro-life activism a bad name. Confusing matters further, these two critiques are often conflated, making it easy for those who want to discredit the pro-life cause to dismiss all pro-lifers as inconsistent on the basis of the worst examples, and for those focusing primarily on opposing abortion to in turn dismiss even valid critiques of inconsistency as holding them to an unfair all-or-nothing standard.
If this standard is disproportionately applied to pro-life activism, it’s due not to any unique virtues or vices of pro-lifers but to broad acceptance – from either side – of the dichotomy between abortion and other life issues. The CLE, of course, rejects this dichotomy. But even those who fully embrace the CLE must inevitably deal with practical limits to what they can do.
Some attempt to reconcile this dilemma by advocating equal concern for human beings but unequal concern for human issues. But when the issues under discussion all deal with threats to human life or other particularly grave offenses against human dignity, this distinction contains an implicit contradiction: if certain threats to life are inherently less important because of the life stage or other circumstances in which they occur, then so by extension are the lives that are under threat. Human lives and human life issues are not so easily separated.
This doesn’t mean that all who care about life issues must give equal attention to every one, nor even that all possible issues one could give attention to necessarily have the same moral weight. But these are separate questions. A more helpful distinction, then, is between the question of inherent worthiness of issues and that of practical necessity. Nobody can work full-time on every issue, but whatever one chooses to prioritize should never become an excuse to give other forms of violence a pass, or to insist that the issues one feels most compelled to focus on are objectively worthier than all others.
Even if working on one or two issues more intensely, it’s not difficult to let our passion for protecting human beings from violence show on other things from time to time. Indeed, it should come naturally, if protecting human beings from violence is our driving concern.
Often it’s a simple matter of showing up. I’ve personally attended public events opposing various forms of violence including abortion, war, the death penalty, gun violence, anti-immigrant violence and police brutality, knowing that these events by themselves – let alone my presence there – are not enough to stop these things, but also knowing that showing up sends a message, all the more powerfully if the same people show up for different issues across the expected ideological lines.
One can write about these and other life issues, speak about them in public forums and private conversations, support nonprofits, sign petitions, and share information as the occasion arises, whatever one’s other commitments may be. With inevitable limits on time and resources and the subjectivity of personal experiences, influences and callings, it’s understandable for individuals and organizations not to expend equal effort on every issue. But ultimately, if all human lives at all stages are objectively worthy of respect, then all threats to human lives at all stages must be objectively worthy of opposition. It can only detract from this message to argue what – or who – is worthier.
See other posts from Julia Smucker:
by Maria Horan
It may surprise those outside the Republic of Ireland that Sinn Féin (SF) came in second in the recent Irish elections. However, people voting for a political party with a strong connection to the IRA and many of the murders in the North during the Troubles and which still refuses to condemn violence isn’t so remarkable.
There’s a strong correlation between SF’s popularity and the landslide vote to legalize abortion (“Repeal the 8th”) in Ireland in 2018. Of 18-24-year-olds, 31% voted SF in this election, and 87% of them voted for abortion.
Journalist Róisín Agnew claims these votes demonstrate how “savvy” the young Irish generation is, but they actually demonstrate ignorance of SF’s bloody and violent roots. Instead of being the supposed “woke” generation, Ireland’s young voters chose to sleepwalk through both the 2018 abortion referendum and the 2020 General Election, ignoring the experiences of those who lived through the Troubles and the experiences of other nations with years of legalized abortion. Only 12.2% of those over 65 (who will remember the Troubles) voted for SF, and 58.7% of them voted against legalizing abortion in 2018.
The dancing and singing at Dublin Castle on May 26th, 2018, was a disgrace. Pro-lifers endured gloating abortion advocates celebrating the “right” to poison and dismember children who hadn’t even been conceived yet (abortions began January 1, 2019).
Likewise, the singing of old rebel songs during election time and the shouting of “Up the ‘RA [IRA]),” including by various SF representatives, were insensitive to families who had suffered during the Troubles. Just as abortion was deeply unacceptable in Ireland until recently, IRA songs would once have horrified many Irish people. As Northern Irish journalist Jenny McCartney put it so well: “its voters have [shown their support] not by compulsion, but by choice.”
Sinn Féin’s Role in Legalizing Abortion
SF played a prominent part in the “Repeal of the 8th” campaign two years ago. After the outcome, it rapidly changed its stance from being officially opposed to abortion to not even permitting its members a conscience vote. Former SF members Peadar Tóibín and Carol Nolan were both sanctioned by SF for their pro-life votes and soon left.
SF helped foist abortion on Northern Ireland by refusing to take their seats in the Northern Irish Assembly at Stormont on October 21 but reconvened once abortion was securely in. As Irish Times journalist Breda O’Brien aptly observed: “‘England get out of Ireland’ does not apply to abortion.”
Violence can take many forms and can appear hidden to onlookers. There are many concerning stories emerging from within the ranks of SF, including the endemic bullying reported by various members.
Former SF Councillor Noeleen Reilly resigned in 2018, claiming she was the victim of an orchestrated bullying campaign by colleague Dessie Ellis (who has just been voted back into SF and has been linked by forensic evidence to 50 murders in the Troubles) and was assaulted. Reilly said she made several attempts to have the bullying addressed, but each time she was ignored or blamed.
SF Deputy Louise O’Reilly claimed the party doesn’t have a problem with bullying, despite being told by its own legal advisor it needs to change disciplinary procedures, along with the frequent departures of councilors, many of them women, who cite harassment and intimidation. O’Reilly herself has been seen in the Dáil [Irish parliament] “putting manners” (as described on the SF Twitter feed) on other Dáil members and behaving aggressively. One O’Reilly target includes former colleague Carol Nolan, whom she reduced to tears with her bizarre claims that Nolan was receiving funds from a well-known businessman, and that pro-lifers have a visceral hatred of women. O’Reilly wasn’t disciplined by the Dáil or SF.
When 21-year-old Paul Quinn, from just over the Northern Irish border, was brought to Drogheda hospital in 2007, every major bone in his body was broken and his ear was half hanging off. He had been beaten for hours with iron bars and nail-studded cudgels and was left looking like a lump of jelly. The doctors told his parents there was nothing left of him to fix. He died later that evening. His crime? Not showing enough reverence towards the local IRA. Sinn Féin completely denied any IRA involvement, although a subsequent report strongly pointed to IRA involvement in Quinn’s death. SF local politician Conor Murphy claimed Quinn brought it upon himself, a grievous hurt to Quinn’s family. Murphy has only recently apologized,.
Others similarly and brutally killed were Andrew Kearney in 1998 and Robert McCartney and Joe Rafferty, both in 2005. Such murders are a great inconvenience to SF, with the potential to spoil its new public image of pacifism.
Live Action has produced detailed investigations of Planned Parenthood’s cover-up of sexual abuse in at least eight states. SF has also protected sex abusers for years, failing to report such crimes to the police.
Irish Independent journalist Martina Devlin commented, “one of the dirty little secrets of the Troubles now emerging is the way sex crimes were handled within the IRA — and a pattern is taking shape.” Former SF leader Gerry Adams knew about his niece’s rape by her father but refused to do anything about it. As Áine Adams said of her uncle, “I realized it was all about PR and protecting his own image.”
Those who’ve been sexually abused by IRA men have been ignored or had their names slandered. For example, Máiría Cahill waived her anonymity to name her rapist but was forced to attend an IRA “kangaroo court” in an attempt to make her back down. SF has been trying to destroy her reputation ever since.
With its seemingly endless money and power, Planned Parenthood has attempted to destroy the lives of various individuals who have taken them on, including Sandra Merritt, David Daleiden and Mayra Rodriguez. Having been raped as a teenager by IRA leader Seamus Marley, Paudie Gannon could have been describing the abortion industry when he said: “I was taking on a powerful monster with limitless resources and a record of burying anyone who ever tried to expose the truth at the center of its rotten heart.”
As Martina Devlin points out, how can SF talk of protecting the vulnerable in society when the victims of abuse weren’t protected?
A SF chat group referred to IRA victims as “waster[s]” with “sob stories.” Names mentioned included rape survivor Máiría Cahill and the brutally murdered Paul Quinn.
We’re Not Going Away
Irish abortion campaigners want prolifers to go away and be quiet. That hasn’t happened. Vigils continue outside GPs’ clinics that are providing abortions. The Rally for Life is gearing up for its “United For Life” March in Dublin on the 4th of July.
Likewise, Sinn Féin and its many supporters want its critics to disappear: the grieving families, the mothers who mourn their children’s deaths, the women and children abused and raped by those who thought they were too powerful to be held to account for their crimes.
Ireland has made serious errors in judgment in the last two years. It’s time for its people to demonstrate courage and stand against the attempts to quell those who still refuse to be silenced.
See more of Maria Horan’s coverage of Ireland on our blog:
by John Whitehead
American planes dropped firebombs on Tokyo 75 years ago, on the night of March 9-10, 1945, killing an estimated 80,000-100,000 people. The firebombing began a six-month-long American bombing campaign against 66 Japanese cities that culminated in the two atomic bombings and killed roughly 400,000 people in total. This killing campaign was the climax of a war between the United States and Japan characterized by the most extreme racism imaginable.
The Pacific War brought together two of the major threats to life identified in the Consistent Life Network’s mission statement: racism and war. While the Pacific War was hardly unique in this regard, it does offer a vivid example of how war, especially wartime propaganda, encourages racist perceptions of others to make it easier to kill them. Propaganda often draws on existing prejudice and stereotypes about a racial, ethnic, or national group and pushes them to an extreme. Consistent life ethic advocates working against both racism and war would do well to remember this historical instance of how the two merged.
Demonizing the Enemy
Before 1941, Japan and the United States had never fought a full-scale war, but each had negative attitudes toward the other that wartime leaders could exploit. Japanese hostility toward Americans was fostered partly by resentment over western colonialism (a 1943 Japanese propaganda paper declared the war “the counteroffensive of the Oriental races against Occidental aggression”) combined with nationalist ideology that elevated Japanese over others as the “Yamato race,” a spiritually privileged people. Long-running negative American attitudes toward the Japanese existed in a larger context of racism toward Asians and other non-whites and had prompted, almost 20 years before the war, restrictions on Japanese immigration and state laws against Japanese Americans owning land.
Once war began, racial hatred went into overdrive. Historian John Dower, in his book War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War and elsewhere, has analyzed the language and imagery used. Japanese propaganda literally demonized the Americans and British: “Devilish Anglo-Americans” became a stock phrase. In 1944, a Japanese magazine published demonic caricatures of Roosevelt and Churchill threatening Japan, along with the exhortation, “Beat and kill these animals that have lost their human nature! That is the great mission that Heaven has given to the Yamato race, for the eternal peace of the world.” Another magazine commented that the more Americans “are sent to hell, the cleaner the world will be.” Official newsreels referred to Iwo Jima as “a suitable place to slaughter the American devils.”
American propaganda and popular sentiment were equally extreme. The official 1945 propaganda film Know Your Enemy—Japan characterized the Japanese as masses without individuality: “photographic prints off the same negative.” The Marine Corps magazine Leatherneck ran a cartoon in 1942 featuring a caricature of a Japanese soldier in a gun’s cross-hairs with the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor—Keep ‘Em Dying.” A 1944 edition of Leatherneck referred to an insect called “Louseous Japanicas” and foreshadowed future events by saying that “before a complete cure may be effected the origin of the plague, the breeding grounds around the Tokyo area, must be completely annihilated.” A 1942 parade in New York similarly predicted future American actions by featuring a float that showed bombs falling on yellow rats and bore the slogan “Tokyo: We Are Coming.”
Anti-Japan propaganda differed significantly from US propaganda about Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. Posters, cartoons, and the like generally focused on the European countries’ leaders, with caricatures of Hitler and Mussolini. By contrast, the Japanese people as such were targets of American propaganda. A popular song’s title reflected the contrast: “There’ll Be No Adolph Hitler Nor Yellow Japs to Fear.” Wartime attitudes did not leave room for “good Japanese” as it did for “good Germans.” Leatherneck ran a photo of Japanese killed in the battle of Guadalcanal with the caption: “GOOD JAPS.”
Anti-Japanese sentiment also drew on familiar racist tropes. Propaganda posters featured monstrous Japanese soldiers menacing white women, echoing racist fears about black American men. Simian imagery, frequently applied to black Americans (and sometimes others, such as Irish Americans) in the United States, was also applied to the Japanese. Admiral William Halsey, the commander of US South Pacific naval forces, referred to “yellow monkeys.” Halsey also offered this mission statement: “Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs.”
Halsey was unusually crude, but other leading American and Allied officials provided their own share of extreme rhetoric. Addressing a joint session of the US Congress in 1943, Churchill spoke of “laying the cities and other munitions centers of Japan in ashes…before peace comes back to the world.” A US naval official involved in postwar planning argued at one point for “the almost total elimination of the Japanese as a race,” emphasizing that “white civilization was at stake.” Government official Paul McNutt gave a speech in April 1945, during the US bombing of Japan, calling for “the extermination of the Japanese in toto.” A significant minority of Americans seemed to agree: a December 1944 public opinion poll found 13 percent of respondents’ favored post-war policy was “kill all Japanese.”
Effects of Racism
The Pacific war pushed existing racism to new extremes. How did such extreme racism in turn shape the conduct of the war?
The US-Japanese War was marked by horrifying violence, not only the bombing of Japanese cities and battlefield violence but also the torture and killing of prisoners, the wounded, and other helpless troops by both sides. Extreme racism presumably contributed to this brutality, although the contribution should not be overstated. The war in Europe was also horrifically violent: German cities were firebombed. Also, while Japanese propaganda did not demonize other Asian nationalities, that did not protect those nationalities from massive Japanese violence.
Nevertheless, one can recognize both other wartime violence as comparable to that between the United States and Japan and other causes of violence apart from racism while still identifying pervasive racism as a factor in the Pacific War’s brutality. US policymakers’ own statements point to such a connection. Secretary of War Henry Stimson thought ignorance contributed to the uncompromising American attitude toward Japan and lamented the “complacency, the indifference, and the silence with which we greeted the mass bombings in Europe, and, above all, Japan.”
Justifying the atomic bombings, Truman made the revealing statement “When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast.”
Moreover, the US wartime approach to domestic civil liberties provides a clear example of racism shaping policy. The imprisonment of more than 100,000 Americans of Japanese heritage in concentration camps, on suspicion of disloyalty to the United States, was unambiguously the result of racism. General John DeWitt, the official in charge of the imprisonment, summed up the underlying attitude by saying “A Jap’s a Jap. You can’t change him by giving him a piece of paper.” While some imprisonment and persecution of German-Americans and Italian-Americans took place during the war, it was never on the same scale as with Japanese-Americans.
Following Japan’s surrender and the American occupation, violently racist propaganda faded on both sides. While the occupation was deeply violent and unjust in crucial respects, the United States did not pursue “the extermination of the Japanese in toto” and no longer used such extreme dehumanizing rhetoric and imagery toward their former opponents. Paternalism toward Japan replaced hatred, and the United States and Japan have remained allies in the decades since the occupation. The change in attitudes has both hopeful and ominous lessons.
The hopeful lesson is that racist attitudes are not fixed or unchangeable and that even the most toxic racism can dissipate if the political context encouraging it changes. The ominous lesson is that those in power can promote extreme racism that might not otherwise exist if they deem political needs—such as fighting a war—require it.
Consistent life ethic advocates should remember these lessons. We must be on guard against the racist demonization of people our governments designate as “enemies” and insist on recognizing our common humanity. The Pacific War provides a horrifying example of what can happen when such recognition is lost.
For more of John Whitehead’s posts on World War II and its aftermath, see:
by Andrew Hocking
While Tom Hanks plays Mister Rogers in the 2019 movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the plot centers on a journalist named Lloyd Vogel. When assigned to write a short piece depicting Fred Rogers as a hero, he would much rather uncover moral failure and write an exposé. His cynical approach and Rogers’ authenticity provide insight for the consistent life movement as we engage a pessimistic society.
A Cynical Assumption
As Lloyd protests his assignment to his editor, the audience learns that no other interviewee would talk with him. People knew his reputation and feared that they would be presented in a negative light. Despite knowing this possibility, Rogers agrees to be interviewed.
Lloyd believes the compassionate man on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is a character dissimilar from the man playing him. He says “Well, there’s you, Fred, and the character you play, Mister Rogers.” Lloyd hopes to expose that Rogers struggles with the burden of other people’s problems, that he’s motivated by money, or that he didn’t parent like the TV personality would suggest.
Lloyd represents our society. Others perceive low levels of trust in public institutions and other people today. Compounding pessimism with rampant political polarization, people regularly assume the worst of anyone who holds contrary political beliefs.
I imagine that anyone who identifies with the consistent life movement gets frustrated, as I do, every time they see a Facebook friend criticize the pro-life position on the basis that pro-life people only care about life before birth. I just want to jump up and down and say, “I care. There’s a lot of us.”
To make matters worse, many imagine other people to have the most nefarious motives. Many progressives say that conservatives don’t care about the unborn, but only want to control women’s bodies. Many conservatives argue that progressives don’t care about immigrants and refugees, but only want them to become citizens in order to vote Democrat.
What can we do when political opponents want to assume the worst?
A Consistent Authenticity
First, we need a consistently loving political philosophy that protects all life at all stages. To help educate ourselves and others regarding the consistent life ethic, I read and refer people to the Consistent Life Network website as the organization supports the unborn, the prisoner, the refugee, the minority, the foreign civilian caught in a war zone, and even the foreign combatant.
A political philosophy, however, only goes so far. We need to live authentically. I’ve commented in a previous post on Mister Rogers that our belief in the dignity of all people must transcend political beliefs as part of an underlying worldview that affects our every interaction. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood highlights Rogers’ consistent authenticity, as he would spend a long time caring for his guests in the studio or fans on the street. As a movement and as individuals, we need to ask ourselves if we’re truly defending everyone or if we are neglecting certain people.
In the example of Vogel’s cynicism, the film reminds us that others will mistrust us. As Vogel had interviewed a lot of people who required an exposé, society has seen a lot of hypocrisy.
Consequently, trust must be earned. It doesn’t help to feel bitter about this burden. Whether we like it or not, we must patiently work overtime to make up for the hypocrisy of others.
For Lloyd Vogel to believe Fred Rogers has compassion for all people, he especially needs to know Mister Rogers cares for him. In every interview together, Rogers naturally turns the conversation back to Lloyd and his feelings. This isn’t a tactic. It’s genuine compassion.
For our political opponents to believe we truly care for all people, they need to know we care for them. This requires respectful discourse, and that we avoid demonizing or assuming the worst about them. It means our attempts to persuade must be motivated by a desire to help others value all life and not by the goal of proving ourselves right.
Imperfect Is Good Enough
As I write all that we need to do, I feel overwhelmed. After all, who could act like Mister Rogers?
Mrs. Rogers, however, shuns describing Fred as a saint, as she explains to Vogel that we can all live like him: “You know, he works at it all the time. It’s a practice. He’s not a perfect person. He has a temper. He chooses how to respond to that anger . . . He does things every day that help to ground him. Reads Scripture, swims laps, prays for people by name.”
We don’t need to attain (or fake) perfection, but we can find peace in humility. Like Mister Rogers choosing to broadcast the footage of himself struggling with a tent, we can honestly reveal our failings as well. Authenticity does not require perfection.
As Fred Rogers endeavored to have compassion for all, let us do so in our personal and political lives. We must show cynics around the world that people can (in the words of one consistent-life-ethic organization) be “pro-life for the whole life.”
See more of our posts from Andrew Hocking:
For other posts on movies, see:
Hollywood Movie Insights (The Giver, The Whistleblower, and The Ides of March)
by David Cruz-Uribe, OFS
The death penalty, the state-sanctioned killing of criminals, continues to be a part of the American justice system. While 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, including every other industrialized democracy (except Japan and Taiwan), executions are still regularly carried out in the United States.
Its application, however, is uneven. Most executions are carried out by a handful of states, and in the last 15 years, the death penalty has been abolished by seven states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington). There is some hope that it will be abolished in two more states, Colorado and Wyoming, in 2020. For supporters of the consistent life ethic, this has all been good news.
History of Racism and the Death Penalty.
But the possibility of complete abolition of the death penalty remains remote. The reason for this is that the death penalty in America is closely linked to another life issue: racism. Racism in America, whether through overt social bigotry or through institutional structures of discrimination and oppression, has long played a role in the death penalty. If we in the U.S. are going to abolish capital punishment, then we need to acknowledge and confront racism in our nation, particularly in our system of justice.
Capital punishment has a long history in the United States. The first execution in the American colonies was in 1608, in Jamestown. The colonies, and then the newly independent U.S. states enacted death penalty laws. An abolition movement waxed and waned, with Michigan being the first state to abolish the death penalty in 1846, closely followed by Rhode Island (1852) and Wisconsin (1853). But for the last 200 years the death penalty has continued and in some places expanded.
In many places, this was because it had become intertwined with slavery and institutional racism. Throughout the old South, the death penalty existed not just to punish the most severe crimes (murder, rape) but as a tool for the oppression and control of the black population. In the 1830s, Virginia punished five crimes committed by whites with capital punishment, but over 30 crimes committed by blacks.
At the end of the Civil War the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments ended chattel slavery and attempted to bring racial equality, but after the failure of Reconstruction and the resurgence of white supremacy, the law continued to be used to oppress blacks, including the death penalty. Capital punishment, meted out by white judges and all white juries, was applied overwhelmingly to blacks. Between 1910 and 1950, 75% of the people executed in the South were black, even though blacks comprised less than 25% of the population.
The death penalty was complemented by the widespread use of lynching. The Equal Justice Initiative has documented over 4,000 lynchings in the South between 1877 (the end of Reconstruction) and 1950. These killings, the product of mob violence, may seem very different from the legal imposition of the death penalty, but lynching had widespread social approval and often implicit consent (if not outright cooperation) of local law enforcement. It played the same role in practice that the death penalty played in law: terrorizing and oppressing blacks in the name of white supremacy.
The Civil Rights movement brought an end to widespread lynching, and the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty nationwide in 1972. The court ruled that all existing death penalty laws were unconstitutional.”
The Death Penalty and Racism Since 1976
In 1976 the court reversed itself and allowed executions to resume. Thirty-seven states responded by passing new death penalty laws that they hoped would pass the additional scrutiny that the Supreme Court imposed.
However, in many of these states the death penalty was a relic, used infrequently or not at all. For instance, Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Wyoming have each had one execution since 1976.
The states most anxious to start executing again were in the South. For forty years, they have made the death penalty a central part of their criminal justice system. Since 1976 there have been 1,515 executions, with more than 77% (1,169) occurring in the 11 states of the former Confederacy. Of the top 10 states in terms of numbers of executions, 7 of 10 are in the South; the other three are the border states (bordering the former Confederacy) Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arizona.
In these states, the racism underlying the death penalty is barely concealed. Multiple examples show the ways in which racism is an integral part of the death penalty, and support for the death penalty, in the South.
A brutal example comes from the case of Clarence Brandley, an African-American man from Texas who was falsely convicted of the rape and murder of a white teenager. Arrested along with a white co-worker, he was told by a police officer, “One of you is going to have to hang for this. Since you’re the nigger, you’re elected.” Brandley spent nine years on death row before being exonerated.
But in every state with the death penalty, both North and South, race plays a role in determining who lives and who dies. Since 1976, 34% of defendants executed nationwide were black (though during this period blacks were only about 12% of the population).
Most capital punishment statutes require the prosecution to establish “aggravating” factors (that is, specific features of the crime that make it especially grievous, such as killing a minor) in order for the death penalty to be applied. But repeated analyses of hundreds of cases shows that the unspoken “aggravating” factor is that the defendant is black.
Successful death penalty prosecutions play upon this latent racism. One method is to aggressively strike potential black jurors. Another is to court media coverage that paints black defendants as monsters or savages, as happened with the Central Park Five. (Though not a death penalty case, it is worth noting that there were loud calls for the defendants, all later exonerated, to be executed.)
The race of the victim also plays a decisive role in determining which crimes deserve the death penalty. In all the cases since 1976 resulting in execution, more than 75% of the victims were white, even though white victims account for only half of all murder victims. Blacks kill whites (approximately 15% of all homicides since 2001) at a higher rate than whites kill blacks (8% of homicides since 2001) but black defendents are executed at a much higher rate. Of all inter-racial murders, 21 in which a white defendant killed a black victim resulted in an execution, while 294 black defendants who killed a white victim were executed. When it comes to the death penalty, white lives seem to matter a great deal more than black lives.
Racism has had a corrosive impact on the justice system in America — so much so that Michelle Alexander entitled her groundbreaking study The New Jim Crow. And this is most apparent in capital cases: who gets arrested, who gets charged, and who gets the death penalty is heavily influenced by the race of the victim and the defendant.
As part of the consistent life ethic, we want to end the death penalty. To do so, we need to acknowledge the fundamental role of racism in sustaining the death penalty, and make ending racism a fundamental part of our work.
For more of our posts on the death penalty, see:
Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Death Penalty / Destiny Herndon-de la Rosa
Will for Life – Double Down / Tony Masalonis
For more of our posts on racism, see:
Movies with Racism Themes: “Gosnell” and “The Hate U Give” / Rachel MacNair
Eugenics in Roe v. Wade / John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe
by John Whitehead
The U.S. government’s assassination of Iranian General Qasem Suleimani began the year 2020 with violence, and the possibility of more violence.
The assassination, in retaliation for Suleimani’s alleged involvement in attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq (and supposedly to prevent further attacks), threatened to escalate into open war between the United States and Iran. Peace activists and others responded with criticism and protests against the United States’ actions; I and other Consistent Life Board members have participated in some of these protests. This reaction was encouraging and may have contributed to the danger of war decreasing somewhat.
One piece of anti-war commentary provoked by the Suleimani assassination disturbed me, however. The commentary was an unusually direct articulation of an unfortunate attitude I have encountered among a few critics of American foreign policy. Further, this attitude reflects a kind of partisanship that can be displayed by activists for other causes, as well.
In his newsletter Nonzero, journalist Robert Wright lamented certain media commentary on the Suleimani assassination. Wright, who opposed the assassination, wasn’t concerned with pundits who supported the killing. His main complaint was that too many people, while criticizing the U.S. assassination, also engaged in criticism of Suleimani. Condemnation of Suleimani for having “blood on his hands” prompted Wright’s concern:
[P]eople who note the blood on Suleimani’s hands go on to raise doubts about the wisdom of assassinating him. Condemning Suleimani seems to be a ritual that commentators and politicians must perform before condemning, or even questioning, the killing of Suleimani.
Thus: “Suleimani was responsible for unthinkable violence and the world is better off without him. But…” (Rep. Adam Schiff). Or “Suleimani was a terrible man who caused terrible violence in the world. But…” (Rep. Jerry Nadler)
Even a scathing critique of the assassination by Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council was objectionable to Wright:
Or this doozy of a first-paragraph disclaimer in a generally excellent New York Times op-ed by Barbara Slavin: “Few tears will be shed in many parts of the world for Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, whose Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ruthlessly spread Iranian influence and contributed to the deaths of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians, as well as hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq, over the past decade and a half. But…”
He goes on to say,
I think the compulsory recitation of his crimes has a big downside. Even when it precedes a critique of heedless American militarism, it can wind up reinforcing the narrative that sustains that militarism.
Wright points out, quite correctly, that the United States also has a great deal of blood on its hands and has committed more crimes than the Iranian regime has. He also makes the reasonable argument that the U.S. bears the larger share of blame for hostility between the two nations. Many of Iran’s actions can be understood as attempts to protect themselves against the U.S.
Yet how is recognizing any of this incompatible with recognizing Suleimani or other Iranian officials’ responsibility for violence or human rights violations?
Wright asserts that criticizing Suleimani fosters a simplistic view of Iranian leaders as evil:
[F]rom the point of view of warmongers, depicting a country’s leaders [as evil and implacable] is a twofer: it makes violence against them seem justified, and it makes exploring their perspective—an exercise that might undermine that justification—unlikely…
The various kinds of moral disclaimers that critics of Trump’s killing of Suleimani engage in—he has blood on his hands, but; the world is better off without him, but; the killing was morally justified, but—also, in some small way, help sustain the image of Iran that has brought us to the brink of war.
While much of Wright’s analysis is well taken, his conclusion about the dangers of criticizing Suleimani strikes me as questionable. Wright isn’t claiming such negative comments were false, that Suleimani was actually innocent of wrongdoing and didn’t have blood on his hands. Within the same newsletter, he acknowledges (I think sincerely) “There’s no denying that Suleimani does (or did) have a lot of blood on his hands. He is responsible for many deaths, including the deaths of innocent civilians.”
His position seems to be (to put it in my own words) that condemning Suleimani will complicate the larger picture of American guilt for the conflict with Iran, and make it harder to empathize with the Iranians. So we shouldn’t talk about Suleimani’s misdeeds, even though they’re real. Such talk apparently undermines opposition to assassination and war.
This seems misguided to me. Moreover, this misguided thinking isn’t unique to Wright, although he is more matter-of-fact about it than other anti-war commentators. Self-identified “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone made essentially the same argument as Wright, except with regard to Bashar Assad’s Syria rather than Iran. Glenn Greenwald, a well-known critic of the American national security state, has also responded to criticism of human rights violations by anti-American regimes and groups by changing the subject, either emphasizing America’s many crimes or attacking his ideological opponents for supposed hypocrisy.
To be sure, unqualified, passionately asserted claims have advantages. They’re simple, forceful, and provocative. They attract attention, and can sometimes serve as effective rallying cries to action. The importance and urgency of a cause—in this case, stopping a war—seems to demand a firm, unequivocal stance that makes no concessions to the other side.
Also, in a political environment where everyone tends to express themselves this way, there’s a strong incentive to follow suit. Facing aggressive advocates of hawkish American policies, anti-war advocates can easily be tempted also to go on the offensive, to bring up America’s many crimes, to accuse the hawks of hypocrisy, and generally not to yield an inch. More qualified, measured statements tend to get drowned out or come across as wishy-washy.
Such uncomplicated rhetoric has two major flaws, however.
- Preaching to the Converted
The first is that such rhetoric does little to convince those on the other side. In this case, I doubt a foreign policy hawk who supported the assassination, and perhaps outright war with Iran, would be moved to rethink that position by someone who refused to even acknowledge crimes by Suleimani or the Iranian regime.
Such a refusal’s most likely effect would be to undermine the credibility of the anti-war advocate, who could come across as an apologist for the other country’s regime. Or at least the anti-war advocate would seem unwilling to acknowledge information that didn’t clearly promote the anti-war cause.
Even someone who isn’t a hawk, who’s on the fence about assassination or other aggressive actions, might react skeptically if an anti-war advocate seemed to be ignoring inconvenient facts. (A more fruitful approach might be to point out the tremendous cost and disastrous long-term consequences of escalated conflicts with Iran or other nations.)
By contrast, the kind of “Yes, but” approach Wright objects to might actually get someone not already converted to the anti-war cause to listen. A “Yes, but” approach establishes at least some common ground with the unconverted. It also shows the anti-war advocate is careful and reasonable enough to recognize complexity. Indeed, at one point in his commentary, Wright even acknowledges the rhetorical value of such recognition.
- Ignoring Complexities
The second flaw with these kinds of unqualified claims is perhaps more abstract but no less significant. They take a toll on the person making them.
Deliberately ignoring qualifications, complexities, or facts because acknowledging them might somehow hurt your cause is a good way to undermine your own intellectual and moral integrity. Insisting on a simplistic, partisan view of an issue while dismissing inconvenient facts can become a habit, and a very bad one.
It’s especially dangerous when the inconvenient facts being ignored are deaths or suffering that don’t fit into the preferred partisan narrative.
Falling into this trap is a hazard for all activists, not just those opposed to war but those working on all the issues covered by the consistent life ethic. A commitment to that ethic should involve recognizing every person’s shed blood, whoever’s hands might have shed it.
For more of our posts from John Whitehead on foreign policy, see:
by Lisa Stiller
Fifty years ago I was running from tear gas on the university campus in Madison, Wisconsin. Massive protests had erupted opposing the Vietnam War. Classes were often canceled as students clashed with police and the National Guard during the two years I attended school there. I was right out front, making protest signs, putting up posters, and handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to students protesting outside of buildings.
The following year I was among the first people to approach the 14th Street bridge in Washington, DC. We were arrested and ended up in RFK stadium, continuing our antiwar chants as people threw us food, soap, and warm clothes. I became a draft counselor, hopefully helping many kids avoid the draft and the war. And three years after that I stood with a group of Quakers from New York in front of the White House for a summer during a three-month-long, 24-hour protest against the Vietnam War. We danced to “Lord of the Dance” in DC’s daily summer thunderstorms, fed people who passed by, and talked to people from all points on the political spectrum.
During the 1980s, I participated in protests against aid to the Contras in Central America, aid which was funding violence against civilians. In 1988, I initiated an anti-Contra protest at the Democratic Convention in Atlanta, which I attended as an Oregon delegate for Jesse Jackson. (I supported his economic policies to address poverty and his advocacy for peace and equality.)
And in 1990, I found myself marching around downtown Portland protesting the first Gulf War. Every day we gathered and marched. I don’t remember how long this lasted, but eventually that war ended and the protests ended.
Twelve years later, with the threat of war with Iraq looming, I helped organize protests down the strip in Las Vegas, in front of casinos, and on the university campus, and spoke out very publicly against the war. The Catholic Workers started a weekly peace vigil near downtown Las Vegas. I moved to Reno and three months later, on Veterans Day in 2003, got a letter from my son; he had joined the Army and was in boot camp. I began speaking out again, even louder, organizing more protests and meetings with our elected representatives. The Quakers began a peace vigil in front of the Federal Building every Monday. It’s still going on today.
On December 2nd, 2009, I was at the rally and peace march at West Point Military Academy in New York when President Obama announced the troop surge in Afghanistan. I participated in the half-mile candlelight march to the gates where we sang peace songs and people blocked the entrance. There was media there from all over the world talking to the protesters, and it was all over national news.
Now, over 10 years later, it’s happening again, with a war with Iran looming on the horizon, due to an act of violence by pro-military forces in our government. I organized the Beaverton, Oregon, protest, and the next night went to the Cedar Mill protest. We held signs and waved at cars, holding out hope that sanity in our administration would prevail this time.
For now, it has. The violence our president and his supporters began could have escalated into a deadly conflict that once again killed hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands, of people. The conflict still could escalate. There have already been 176 lives lost as collateral damage from Iran’s retaliatory fire.
The U.S. House of Representatives just passed a War Powers Resolution, and we’re all praying the Senate will follow. These resolutions are an effort to rein in the administration from recklessly and unilaterally waging war. With the impeachment process ending, I’m hoping Congress will turn its attention back to putting a stop to the president’s ability to wage endless war.
But this is not enough. We haven’t learned to begin with peace, with the aim of ending with peace in our words and actions. The Iran nuclear deal was a first step towards making the world a little safer, but for whatever reason, our leaders once again opted for confrontation and military action. And our president has helped put together a “peace plan” for the Middle East that will not begin or end with peace for Israel and Palestine.
The U.S. Congress just approved a new military budget of $738 billion. Meanwhile, nutrition programs, health care, housing, and environmental budget proposals keep getting slashed. There seems to always be money for war and the military and never enough money for people.
We need to do better than this. In the words of Isaiah 2:4, “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
And in the words of Pete Seeger, “When will we ever learn?”
See more of our posts from Lisa Stiller:
by C.J. Williams
Past and present converged at Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington D.C., January 22nd, 2020. It was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Women across the nation were celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage.
And a large crew of women — myself included — were tying it all together with a purple sash and a brash but respectful statement:
Dear Speaker Pelosi, stop obstructing justice.
That frigid Wednesday morning, we gathered from across the nation on the steps of the House offices. The crowd swelled. Women donned our purple sashes, emblazoned with the statement: Equal rights for preborn women. And as the crowd swelled, so did the media.
So did our statement.
The event, spearheaded by Brandi Swindell, and Stanton Healthcare, was promoted well ahead of time as the #PurpleSashRevolution. Pelosi has repeatedly refused to allow a vote, or even discussion, of the Infants Born Alive Protection Act. The fact that more than half of those infants are women seems to escape her. So does the point that that those early suffragists didn’t suffer handcuffs, verbal abuse, and constant excoriation by the press so that a woman representative could promote another system wherein violence, using people as property, and rights based on the oppression of others could be ensconced again in our legal framework. Abortion itself, late-term, mid-term, and in the first few weeks of pregnancy, does just that.
Before the press conference got well underway, a few of us also raised the concern that contrary to the nonviolent principles of her suffragist forebears, Pelosi has never used of her influence to remove the President’s unchecked executive authority to use nuclear weapons.
Over 20 young women myself included, spoke to the press. Statements came from Camille C., of Students for Life, as well as from event organizers and abortion survivors.
“We are going to Speaker Pelosi’s office to call for an end to infanticide and demand she allow a vote on protecting children born alive from late-term abortions,” Brandi Swindell of Stanton International said as we headed into the building, “It is unconscionable that Speaker Pelosi is refusing to allow a vote on this critical human rights issue.”
In line with the civil rights activists of the near-past, and the suffragists of the further-past, we trekked inside and peacefully sat in front of Nancy Pelosi’s door. “We pray that Nancy Pelosi embrace the fundamentals of her feminist forebears…of her Catholic upbringing,” Rev. Pat Mahoney prayed as over 40 men and women jammed the stairs behind us.
“Why are you doing this?” a man — an aide? — asked me. He didn’t stop to give me his name. But he got my reply, “We’re obstructing her door until she stops obstructing justice.”
Within moments of sitting down — while some women prayed, and others sang — the D.C. police shouted out a first warning. Then, in split-second succession, warning two and three came. Legs flew and protesters who couldn’t or wouldn’t risk arrest scrambled for the corners of the hall.
Nine of us marched out proudly in handcuffs. Nine of us put our lives on the line for our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.
Nine of us made a peaceful statement with more than words — with our bodies, time, and presence: violence is never a just solution, and we’ll sit on your porch til you’re just too darn fed up with us not to choose to protect the lives of our most vulnerable from violence.
“Participants [wore] purple sashes to stand in solidarity with our founding sisters who heroically worked to empower and inspire women by securing the right to vote and strongly embracing human rights and equality,” said Swindell, tying the past to our present. ”Suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood against abortion and rejected the notion that abortion violence is a way to advance women’s rights.”
Comment: The Fundamental Reason Roe Must be Overturned
by Richard Stith
Roe v. Wade has done much more than legalize abortion up to birth. By making abortion a constitutional right, our Supreme Court has validated and legitimated abortion.
In a presumptively just society, like ours, an individual citizen has a right to rely on the Supreme Court’s judgment. It seems to me perfectly reasonable for an abortion-minded woman to think that she doesn’t need to worry about the biological data, or the moral debates, since abortion must be okay. She could think, “If abortion were really killing a little baby, those nine wise guys on the court (who are a lot smarter than me) would never have permitted it for a relatively minor (or no) reason.” That’s how I would reason if I came upon a bridge that looked somewhat unstable, but which had been certified as safe by the Army Corps of Engineers. At least if I were under pressure, I would almost certainly trust the engineers and not do any further investigation myself before using the bridge.
By contrast, legislatures that approve abortion along the lines of Roe, such as New York or Illinois, have much less credibility. Someone considering abortion is much less likely to defer to their judgment.
Only if Roe is reversed are many of our fellow citizens likely to face up to their own consciences in all seriousness.
Photos and stories from the March for Life 2020
Top: Rehumanize International at their meet-up before the March started.
Bottom: Franciscan peace activists.
At the end of the pro-life March, there was a small band of counter-protesters stalwartly standing for choice in the midst of a sea of pro-lifers, who were trying to tell them they didn’t belong there. I went over to one young woman who had a “Shout your abortion” t-shirt on, and I opened with my favorite greeting “We’re glad YOU got to be born!” She responded with a broad smile. Then I went over to a man who had just told the pro-lifers that they thought women were mere incubators. I also told him I was glad HE got to be born. He responded with a smile and a thank you.
I truly believe that this greeting, uttered orally or placed on a t-shirt, is a wonderful way to reach out to the other side. It’s friendly and yet, if they think about it, it makes them realize that if they’re happy to be born, others would also be happy to be allowed to be born.
Note that it is important to say I’m glad YOU “got to be” born, rather than I’m glad you “were” born. The words “got to be” imply that they existed prior to birth and made it to birth.
Rosemarie & Richard Stith, Tony Masalonis, Rachel MacNair
I had exhilarating conversations with so many people. One that shows how crucial it is for us to be there was in a session on Elections at the Students for Life conference held the day after the March (a perfect place to leaflet about our Peace & Life Referendums project). One presenter occasionally referred to watching out for what the Left would do. I went up to him afterward and introduced myself as a member of the pro-life Left. He was delighted and acknowledged he was well aware a pro-life Left exists.
Actually, I don’t care for the Left/Right distinction at all; I don’t find it helpful. But for those who insist on the dichotomy and use that vocabulary, the Left is where I go.
And in this election year when dividing up into two “sides” is worse than usual, it’s important that we be there for the bridge-building. Just as we’re the most credible people to present a pro-life case in peace-movement venues, we’re also the most credible people to offer peace and justice ideas to pro-life activists, especially since so many are eager to hear them.
Amanda Putman, a student in Denton, Texas, came by our table with this sign she had made.
Representing the Consistent Life Network (CLN) at the 2020 March for Life involved many good and memorable experiences. The two most striking encounters came at the very beginning and the end of the day of the March.
I had the great pleasure, the morning of the March, to attend the breakfast sponsored by CLN member group Democrats for Life of America. The featured speaker was Lesley Monet, the international director of the Family Life Campaign of the Church of God in Christ. The Church of God in Christ is a major network of black churches in the United States, and its work includes pro-life activism. Lesley spoke about this pro-life work, as well as this work’s connection to her personal experience. Lesley is the child of a single mother who carried her to term despite difficult circumstances and subsequently arranged for a couple to adopt Lesley.
Several remarks from her talk made a particular impression on me. She noted that black women of child-bearing age make up a disproportionately large percentage of the women having abortions, accounting for roughly a third of all abortions. Lesley also noted that black Americans’ political affiliation tends overwhelmingly to be Democratic. These figures were not news to me, but the conclusion she drew from them was pointed and striking. Ending abortion in the United States should involve the black community and (although Lesley identifies as an independent) should also involve the Democratic Party.
Lesley also made valuable comments on the importance of persistence and working with other groups, even those very different from our own. Persistence requires you to communicate your message repeatedly and to try to get people, especially politicians, to listen. Working with others requires not merely getting past philosophical disagreements but cultural or stylistic differences. We are most naturally comfortable working with people like ourselves, but that is something we need to get past to build a coalition for a common goal.
The other most memorable encounter I had during the March for Life came at the very end of the day. I was staffing the Consistent Life exhibit table at the March for Life expo. I was tired and the event seemed to be winding down. Then a man stopped by the table.
He was an older white man, from Kentucky, and I reflexively thought “He doesn’t seem like someone who will be interested in our message.” Still, I gave my standard speech about who we were and what the consistent life ethic was. He listened, and then we got to talking.
The man was a retired Marine, who had served during the Vietnam era and recalled getting hostile reactions to his uniform and military service. His son had also served in the military and done two tours of duty in Iraq. In short, he did not fit the stereotypical profile of a peace activist. Yet his son’s experiences, combined with his own observations, had recently led the man to an anti-war stance.
He described his extreme skepticism about whether American intervention could bring peace and democracy to the Middle East, as well as his equally extreme disappointment in contemporary politicians of both parties. The approach he now favored was to bring the troops home.
I was surprised, to put it mildly, but also touched to hear his reflections and grateful he shared them. He also shared, in passing, that his wife and priest had managed to change his position on the death penalty to opposition. We chatted for a while, and I gave him some Consistent Life literature. Meanwhile, he gave me a much-needed reminder that you never know who might support a consistent life ethic.