To Citizens Protesting the School of the Americas

I so wish I could join you in person in your protest at the School of the Americas. Every year I look at the possibility of attending, and this year I almost made it, except for a last-minute turn of events, which happens fairly often in my life. But just know that I’m trying to get to Fort Benning and one day I will make it. I am heartened to hear that large numbers of people, including many young people, participate in this event. By participating in this moral face-off with the School of the Americas, you are doing what Mahatma Gandhi urged us to do: to unmask what is evil and then to actively resist it. As the poet Rilke said, “More is required than being swept along.” Make no mistake about it. Your standing up for the true, non-violent, democratic ideals of our country is an act of patriotism, and you have my deepest respect.

September 11 was a nightmare and a tragedy for all of us. I lost one of my dear friends in that attack, and our three children suffered trauma for weeks after the bombing. Never had tragedy struck so close to home. I am still horrified and stunned at the violent taking of 3,000 innocent lives that day, and I don’t have words strong enough to condemn its brutality. But are there, perhaps, spiritual lessons we might learn from that attack? Might one lesson be that for the first time we Americas understand what it means to lose loved ones and have them referred to as “collateral damage” of a greater war. Latin American camposinos, Vietnam villagers, and Afghan families, and the people of Iraq understand all too well what it means to be “collateral damage” – all of them invaded by the U.S. or killed by brutal dictators and their death squads with support from the U.S. But what bothers me most about the response of our politicians to the 9/11 attack is the shameless way they prey on people’s fears to justify their venal little wars. By now, many Americans are waking up to the fact that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was driven, not by a genuine desire to liberate the Iraqi people, but by venal motives of access to rich oil reserves and multi-million dollar construction contracts.

Thank you for letting me add my words to your witness today. I first learned about SOA when Father Roy Bourgeois asked me to narrate his documentary, “SOA, School of Assassins.” My eyes were opened simply from reading the script. Like every other U.S. citizen, I needed someone to teach me how to unmask the atrocities that go on behind these walls – all in the name of defending our country, all in the name of spreading democratic ideals throughout the world.

Thank you, Father Roy, for your 20 years of steadfast witness to the truth about SOA. It is because of you that such huge numbers of us gather here today.

Next year I hope to come in person to this great event, (I hope we won’t need to have an event next year, that the place will be shut down) but if and when I do come, please watch that you don’t get me confused with Sister Helen Prejean, who has been known on occasion to try to act like me. But I have to admit that at least on one other occasion I’ve been known to try and act like her, too. Here’s a hint to help you distinguish us: she’s the one who wears glasses. Her taste in fashion designers also tends to differ a tad from my taste. Keep humor alive. Along with truth and community, it’s our best sustenance – and the sure sign of a graced and transformed life.