It's Time for a Good National Confession

National Catholic Reporter, June 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

It's Time for a Good National Confession

It is deeply established in Catholic moral theology that grave sin calls for the sacrament of reconciliation. The fundamental components are well known: contrition, confession, reparation for sins. The sin must be named. We must be sorry for the sin. We must make disclosure of what we have done. Finally, we must redress, to the extent possible, the wrong we have committed.

The contemporary world has developed a similar technique for seeking and extending forgiveness, the truth commission. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for instance, offers, pardon to those who confess in full. Truth commissions in El Salvador and Guatemala, likewise, are helping victims to heal, uncovering evidence to document the awful events of past decades so that the memory of those years is not lost to new generations. Truth commissions are at work in Nigeria, Panama, Sierra Leone and East Timor. Peru and Indonesia will soon follow, and there is pressure for commissions in Mexico, Bosnia, Serbia, Ghana and Burundi. Canada is concerned about the way it has treated native peoples and may use a committee to air the subject.

In his column on page 19, Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan, who as a member of Congress at the time persistently opposed the Vietnam War, writes, "Vietnam can never be forgotten. It will rise up in our souls at unexpected times and in unpredictable ways." That warning would stand for other U.S. ventures in other lands. In many cases where truth commissions have occurred, the missing partner has been the United States. We have trained soldiers, conspired to overthrow elected rulers, aided and abetted torture and assassination, have been complicit in exploitation of indigenous populations. Yet we remain unaccountable. We get to go home. We get to forget.

But all of these things will indeed rise up, not only in our souls in unexpected times and ways, but also in the souls of those who have been the victims of our actions.

It is time we take a lesson from those in the developing world who have faced incredibly ugly moments of their past as a way to a healthier future. It is time for a U.S. truth commission, to open the countless intelligence community and State Department files detailing U.S. activities during the past half century.

The United States is remarkably adverse to any such suggestions. While we in this country fully support international tribunals for others, we have resisted all attempts to be held accountable by any international bodies. The United States is not the only developed power in need of some serious truth telling. Europe's colonial powers and Japan could benefit from this remarkable new element of democratic governance.

Some items to consider

The following are some items, hardly an exhaustive list, the United States might consider:

In Nicaragua in 1979, the CIA moved to save Somoza's National Guard, which had slaughtered some 40,000 Nicaraguans. The United States flew Somoza's troops in planes disguised with Red Cross markings to Honduras where they were supplied with sophisticated arms and supplies and reconstituted as a terrorist force under the direction of Argentine neoNazis. In subsequent years there followed the Sandinista revolution, the overthrow of control by the Somoza family, all resisted by the United States in a variety of ways, and the U.S. funding of the contra forces aimed at thwarting the revolution. The International Court of Justice ultimately found the United States guilty of mining Nicaragua's harbors. In violation of our treaty obligations, we refused to acknowledge the verdict.

Unfortunately, the events in Nicaragua were not isolated. A 1964 CIA secret report, published by The New York Times in June of last year, describes the 1953 overthrow in Iran of the democratically elected and modernizing Premier Mossadeq in "an operation planned and executed by the CIA and the British SIS." The CIA's Kermit Roosevelt went to Iran to coordinate the army revolt. …

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