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"It's time to get out" of Iraq: NCC's Edgar 

New York, May 1, 2007 – "History has already voted on Iraq.  In addition to being immoral, the war is a mess.  Victory is nowhere in sight.  It's time to get out." 

So writes the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, in his monthly column for Talking Justice, the blog of the NPR program "Justice Talking." 

Recalling his "nay" vote on funding to continue the Vietnam War when he was serving as a Member of Congress in 1975, Edgar takes up the current divergent views of the recent history of the conflict in Iraq. 

The ongoing discussion about a new book by former CIA Director William Tenet and members of the Bush administration prompted Edgar's look at what historical perspective might likely emerge. 

"I hope the debate will now switch from 'what really happened' to 'what happens next,'" writes Edgar.  

"One of the less ambiguous facts of history is that churches around the world opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.  That wasn't just 'liberal Protestants,' as conservatives claim," Edgar writes.  "The refrain against the war began with Pope John Paul II, continues with Pope Benedict XVI, and includes the voices of the 35 communions that are members of the National Council of Churches, representing 45 million congregants."  


Getting the story right 

By the Rev. Bob Edgar 

Former CIA Chief George Tenet is causing consternation at the White House with his claim that he had warned then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice far in advance of September 11, 2001, that Al Qaeda planned a "spectacular" attack on the U.S.  

Tenet also reported in his new book that the CIA had made it clear to the White House that Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks but Pentagon advisor Richard Perle--purportedly expressing the views of President Bush and Vice President Cheney--said Iraq would have to pay the price anyway. 

It's no surprise that Rice, Perle and others promptly offered a significantly different version of the history of that period. So where does the truth lie? 

I'm tempted to say history will sort it out, but that's not likely to happen. Few historians agree on the truth. 

Historian Richard Shenkman, in his entertaining book, "Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History," offers many different versions of famous events. One of my favorites is the familiar scene in 1775 in which Ethan Allen seizes control of Fort Ticonderoga.  Most of us read in our history books that Allen challenged the British commandant to surrender "in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress."  Soldiers who witnessed the scene remember Allen’s challenge as less stirring:  "Come out of there, you damned old rat." 

James Loewen, author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me," claims high school history texts leave out important information.  For example, high schoolers are told that Woodrow Wilson was a progressive president but they never learn that Wilson was also a segregationist who ordered that persons of color be barred from Federal lunchrooms.  

It's not easy to root out the truth about anything.  When I served on the House Select Committee on Assassinations, we faced with a myriad of conflicting claims and eye witness accounts. I, personally, concluded that President Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald alone, and that Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered by a weak-minded gunman who may well have been co-opted into a conspiracy.  Be that as it may, the public view of both assassinations is deeply divided and will probably stay that way. 

Where does the truth lie in the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq?  Did the Bush administration incompetently ignore warnings of the 9/11 attack?  Did Bush, Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld actually believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction?  Would they have attacked Iraq anyway, even if they knew the weapons did not exist? 

We will probably never know.  It's certain that scores of books will be written about our period of history, and each will be a historian's assessment of conflicting claims.  Many--perhaps most--will reflect the author's political and biased viewpoint. In the end, of course, the arguments over what happened will change nothing. 

I hope the debate will now switch from "what really happened" to "what happens next." 

Historian Shenkman claims we are at the same point in Iraq as when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam.  "Conservatives often seem to argue that we didn't so much lose as give up just as victory was about to materialize," Shenkman writes.  "If only the Democratic Congress had given South Vietnam $500 million more!"  

For the record, I was one of the members of Congress who voted against spending more money on Vietnam. 

It was clear in 1975 that the U.S. was not about to win in Vietnam and it's clear now that the U.S. is not about to win in Iraq. The argument that we are in danger of losing just as we are about to win, Shenkman says, is sickeningly familiar. 

"Vietnam was a mess," Shenkman writes.  "So is Iraq. It's time to admit it. Victory isn't around the corner. Victory is nowhere in sight." 

One of the less ambiguous facts of history is that churches around the world opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.  That wasn't just "liberal Protestants," as conservatives claim.  The refrain against the war began with Pope John Paul II, continues with Pope Benedict XVI, and includes the voices of the 35 communions that are members of the National Council of Churches, representing 45 million congregants. 

History has already voted on Iraq.  In addition to being immoral, the war is a mess.  Victory is nowhere in sight.  It's time to get out.


NCC News contact:  Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org


 

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