Profile in Courage
Seventy-four years ago yesterday, the government and people of the United States of America declared war on the Imperial Government of Japan. Under our constitution, only the Congress can declare war. The vote in the U.S. Senate was 82 – 0; the vote in the House of Representatives was 388 – 1. The single negative vote came from a Congresswoman from Montana, Jeannette Rankin. She was not re-elected.
Miss Rankin served only two terms in Congress. Ironically, during her first term, as the first woman ever elected to Congress, she voted against the declaration of war against Germany in 1917. Then there were 55 other members of Congress who also voted against that war. She was not re-elected then.
In retrospect, Miss Rankin may have been right – not politically, but morally. She was born in Missoula, Montana (where a River Runs through it) and had extraordinary courage. When she was first elected, women in the US (except in Montana) were not allowed to vote.
It was her vote against US entry into World War II that was most controversial. She said at the time that since she, as a woman, was not allowed to serve in combat, she wasn’t going to ask anyone else to do so.
At a certain point, war becomes a fever that affects an entire population. Each side thinks they will win, but in actuality, both sides lose. We are now at a peace with both Japan and Germany, and after millions of dead, even more millions of wounded and even more millions of refugees, one wonders what is the point.
We are effectively at war today. There has been no congressional declaration of war, but we are at war.
I don’t have a solution to the present crisis, but whatever is going on, it’s not working. Politicians are talking about all-out war, continued air strikes and ignoring the desperation of millions of refugees.
People have been irrational, racist and frankly ignorant of the consequences of our actions. No one can predict the results of our current crisis. It may take a single brave, courageous person like Miss Rankin to show us the way.
In Biblical language, that’s called a prophet – a person who speaks God’s message of mercy, even if nearly everyone else wants death and destruction.
This goes on and on, generation after generation, even back to the days of the Old Testament. This is one reason why I like the words of today’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Listen again to this message of hope during what was then a similar crisis of desperation when the People of Israel were defeated in a war with Persia – a war that continues under different political regimes – different names, but the same war. Then the tribes of Israel against the empire of Persia, now called respectively The State of Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran: “Do you not know / or have you not heard? / The LORD is the eternal God, / creator of the ends of the Earth. / He does not faint nor grow weary, / and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. / He gives strength to the fainting; / for the weak he makes vigor abound. / Though young men faint and grow weary, / and youths stagger and fall, / They hope the LORD will renew their strength, / they will soar as with eagles’ wings; / they will run and not grow weary, / walk and not grow faint.”