A Tale of Two Americans


Two very different Americans are arriving in Australia this week. The reception each will receive, and the messages they have for Australia, could not be more different.

Dick Cheney is the Vice-President of the United States. By all accounts, he is the main driver of US foreign policy and drove the process of intelligence manipulation and public deceit that led to the illegal invasion of Iraq, a War he still describes as having ‘a lot of success’ despite an estimated 650,000 civilian casualties, 3000 American deaths and a cost approaching 1 trillion US dollars.


Cheney is a man who supports the use of torture and believes the President is above the law. It was Cheney who first insisted publicly on the absolute certainty of evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and the last to give up on attempts to link Iraq to 9/11.

For years, he has ruthlessly attacked any opponents of the Iraq War as ‘giving comfort to terrorists,’ despite all the evidence suggesting it is the War itself that serves as free advertising for al-Qaeda. He is George Orwell’s worst nightmare, running a country engaged in permanent war, spying on its own citizens without warrants, and manipulating fear of a vaguely defined ‘enemy’ at times of political convenience.

Cheney will be in Sydney to talk up the US-Australia alliance and shore up our commitment to a symbolic presence in Iraq. Given the escalating tension between the US and Iran, Cheney might even be quietly sounding out Howard about committing to support an attack on them as well (an idea being discussed much more in the US than here). Recall that Howard was ‘in’ on the Iraq War more than a year before we formally declared hostilities.

Lastly, Cheney may be here partly to finalise arrangements for a US military base near Geraldton, WA, which will exist only for the purposes of supporting offensive warfare in the Middle East and west Asia. Media focus on Peter Garrett’s past has distracted from an examination of the base’s purpose itself and whether it is in Australia’s interests to be supporting future US missile attacks on other countries a question that has not yet been raised once in the mainstream media.

Thanks to Bill Leak

It is these questions about Australia’s obsequience to US military affairs that brings us to the other American visiting us this week.

Father John Dear SJ is one of the leading voices for peace in the US. A Catholic priest, peacemaker, retreat leader, and author, John has travelled the war zones of the world, been arrested over 75 times for peace, led Nobel Peace Prize winners to Iraq, and given thousands of lectures on peace and non-violence.

Dear is not interested in pacifism in the sense of nice people doing nothing. He is interested in transforming American (and Australian) culture away from a culture of death towards a culture of life. He is interested in countering violence with nonviolence in the tradition of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu:

We have a war president, a Congress that writes blank cheques for war, an enthralled media that trumpets war, a sheepish citizenry that lets itself get fleeced for war, churches that confer their blessings on war, and courts that legalise weapons and imprison those who say no to war. Our war isn’t only permanent, but universal we make war on the poor, on children, on the earth, on humanity, on God.

But complaining does no good, and it’s not an authentic Christian response anyway. The Christian response to a ‘surge of war’ is a counter ‘surge of peace,’ a swell of peacemakers and nonviolent resisters.

For Dear, the best way to end terrorism is to stop committing terrorism. He points out the obvious truth that war is terrorism, especially war waged from 30,000 feet and coming in the form of cluster bombs. Even more than this, maintenance of thousands of nuclear warheads, and a military doctrine that no longer eschews a nuclear first strike, is terrorism against all of humanity. Mostly, Dear will talk about Iraq as a prime example of the moral and strategic failure of brute force, and point to the amazing success of nonviolent resistance as the way of the future.

At a time when discussion of the role of religion in public life and government policy makes the front pages, these two men one from the White House, one from the church house represent two very different messages. One talks of world domination in the name of ‘Judeo-Christian values,’ the other talks about loving our enemies in the name of the crucified Jesus.

In the system of legal justice in place in the US, Dick Cheney’s alleged responsibility for war crimes goes unpunished, while John Dear’s non-violent protest against weapons of mass destruction has seen him do time in US Federal prison.

In the system of priorities in Australia, Dick Cheney will be warmly met by the Government, attract much media interest, and applauded by business leaders. John Dear will be met by Church leaders and thousands of ordinary people, but largely ignored as an irrelevant idealist by the mainstream media.

So there it is: two Americans in the same week: the ‘war criminal’ and the ‘peace criminal.’ One comes to preach war, the other comes to preach peace. The Government will listen to the man of war. Who are you going to listen to?

The Australian visit by Fr John Dear takes in most capital cities over the next month. His first public talk is on Thursday night (22 February) in North Sydney. For more information, see www.paceebene.org.au/johndearinaust.html

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