Monthly Archives: December 2013

Laughing St. Zeno, Dec. 22

Zeno (d. 303) was a soldier martyred at Nicomedia (modern Turkey). He was seized and condemned to death for laughing while Emperor Diocletian offered a sacrifice to the Roman god Ceres. Zeno had his jaws shattered and was then beheaded. His feast day is December 22.


The statue of the Laughing San Zeno, dating from the 13th century, inside the Basilica di San Zeno in Verona. Photo credit: Paul Turner

The statue of the Laughing San Zeno, dating from the 13th century, inside the Basilica di San Zeno in Verona. Photo credit: Paul Turner

A documentary about fatherlessness

Well, I wanted to focus on peace not war during the Christmas season, but it seems I can’t get away from it. I watched a documentary recently called Absent (2010) about “the social pandemic of fatherlessness affecting today’s societies.” It doesn’t tell us what we don’t already know: that boys and girls very much need a father, one that is “engaged” and loving, in order to grow into healthy, self-confident adults. It goes on to explain why that is, and it also offers some insight into how and when this pandemic started.

I thought they would attribute the trend of fatherlessness to the welfare state and its impact on families. Instead, however, they trace the beginning of this pandemic back to World War II, in which over 16 million American soldiers fought, most of whom were men. One million of those men never returned. This, say the makers of the film, was the beginning of the trend of fatherlessness. Not only did the war deprive millions of children of fathers in a physical sense, but the soldiers who returned from the war came home with so many mental and emotional wounds, that they ended up being “absent” in other ways. Suffering from PTSD, many veterans of that war could not engage emotionally with their children, and they became depressed, alcoholic, or abusive. This greatly affected the next generation, who were deeply wounded by their fathers’ absence, whether physical or emotional. It’s a problem that seems to compound with each succeeding generation, if the cycle isn’t broken.

How many children since 2003 have been deprived of their fathers’ presence in their lives due to the War on Terror? How many mothers are basically raising their children alone because their husband is deployed on his fourth or fifth tour of duty? I’m afraid we know all too well the affect this will have. I’m quite sure that no number of stories about their father’s heroism in distant lands could make up for his day-to-day absence in their lives.

A child whose father died in Afghanistan.

A child whose father died in Afghanistan.

The documentary also delves into the subject matter of gender differences. The makers of the film firmly believe that boys and girls are different (you don’t say!) Every little boy, they say, has a warrior inside him. They say that this is a good thing; it’s the way it supposed to be. We want men in society who are strong and fearless, who are capable, for example, of standing up to oppressors, of standing up for justice, of protecting the innocent. Aggression, in boys, they say, is only natural, and we damage little boys when we expect them to repress their aggression and act like girls. The trick is to teach them how to use it for good. The filmmakers also point out that in Western culture there is an absence of any “rites of passage” that signal to a boy that he has become a man.

The father of the boy photographed above: Real-life Superman: He had a tattoo on his arm bearing a superhero emblem

The father of the boy photographed above: Real-life Superman: He had a tattoo on his arm bearing a superhero emblem

The trick, the filmmakers say, is to help boys grow into men by helping them to channel their aggression and use it in productive ways, to teach them how to be good men, how to use their power to serve others. It isn’t hard to imagine how so many men, left without fathers, without any guidance in becoming a man, would be attracted to the military a way to test their mettle and become the warriors they feel it is their calling to be. The story goes that the man pictured above was killed when he saved an Afghan child from being hit by a truck. That is heroic and commendable, but we can’t forget how many children have died overseas, too, as a result of our military presence. How can we teach men that the most heroic and manly thing they can do is to be good and present fathers to their own children right here at home? It would not be an exaggeration to say that the makers of this film believe that the fate of American society rests in the hands of America’s fathers. Bring them home! Our kids need them more.

Suicide Bombers Need Hugs, Too

I don’t mean to be cheeky here. I am simply amazed (and yes, heartened) by this heroic and impulsive act of self-sacrifice. On December 18, 2013, Ayyub Khalaf, a 34-year-old policeman in Iraq, wrapped himself around a suicide bomber to shield people from the blast, thereby saving dozens of innocent lives.

There is no greater love than this! May Ayyub Khalaf rest in peace.

Over 8,000 people have died in Iraq this year (Iraq Body Count) making it the bloodiest year for the country since 2008. In November alone, 948 people were killed as a result of violence in the country.

"Despair of Humanity: Iraq War," by visual artist Erin Genia, made from images found on independent and foreign news sites

“Despair of Humanity: Iraq War,” by visual artist Erin Genia, made from images found on independent and foreign news sites

Never forget: With the Holy See and bishops from the Middle East and around the world, we fear that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force.” — United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 2002

Pray for peace in Iraq.

This is a poem someone wrote on the Internet. I believe the poet’s name is Will Manning?

Ayyub Khalaf

I heard of your valor, those that you saved
Arms outstretched, willingly embracing hate as it came

Did you know those who came, for them all you gave
Between righteous, pious and afraid, you staid
Hugging evils vested demon who came, secured in your arms it stayed
For you many have prayed, I pray, there are more like you
For in your actions, freedoms liberty is stayed


Girl Recites Angelou’s “Amazing Peace”

What a wonderful way to begin Christmas dinner! A young girl in a family in Grand Rapids, Michigan does a wonderful job reading aloud “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem” by Maya Angelou.

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

– Maya Angelou

Peace on Earth, U2

Peace on Earth,” U2

Heaven on Earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all of this
Hanging around

Sick of sorrow
I’m sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing
Again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on Earth

Where I grew up There weren’t many trees
Where there was we’d tear them down
And use them on our enemies

They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you

And it’s already gone too far
You said that if you go in hard
You won’t get hurt

Jesus can you take the time
To throw a drowning man a line
Peace on Earth

Tell the ones who hear no sound
Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth

No who’s or why’s
No one cries like a mother cries
For peace on Earth

She never got to say goodbye
To see the color in his eyes
Now he’s in the dirt
Peace on Earth

They’re reading names out
Over the radio
All the folks the rest of us
Won’t get to know

Sean and Julia
Gareth, Anne, and Breeda
Their lives are bigger than
Any big idea

Jesus can you take the time
To throw a drowning man a line
Peace on Earth

To tell the ones who hear no sound
Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth

Jesus in the song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth

Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth

This peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is a Christmas carol based on the 1863 poem “Christmas Bells,” written by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.. He wrote it on Christmas morning upon hearing that his son, a Union soldier, had been wounded. His wife had recently died in a fire. The poem wasn’t turned into a song until at least 10 years after it was written, by an English organist named John Baptiste Calker.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

America’s Child Soldiers

Ann Jones is author of the recently published book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars: The Untold Story.

Haymarket Books, 2013

Haymarket Books, 2013

The following article written by Ann Jones on child soldiers was originally published at

America’s Child Soldiers
JROTC and the Militarizing of America
by Ann Jones

Congress surely meant to do the right thing when, in the fall of 2008, it passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA). The law was designed to protect kids worldwide from being forced to fight the wars of Big Men. From then on, any country that coerced children into becoming soldiers was supposed to lose all U.S. military aid.

It turned out, however, that Congress — in its rare moment of concern for the next generation — had it all wrong. In its greater wisdom, the White House found countries like Chad and Yemen so vital to the national interest of the United States that it preferred to overlook what happened to the children in their midst.

As required by CSPA, this year the State Department once again listed 10 countries that use child soldiers: Burma (Myanmar), the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  Seven of them were scheduled to receive millions of dollars in U.S. military aid as well as what’s called “U.S. Foreign Military Financing.”  That’s a shell game aimed at supporting the Pentagon and American weapons makers by handing millions of taxpayer dollars over to such dodgy “allies,” who must then turn around and buy “services” from the Pentagon or “materiel” from the usual merchants of death. You know the crowd: Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, and so on.

Here was a chance for Washington to teach a set of countries to cherish their young people, not lead them to the slaughter. But in October, as it has done every year since CSPA became law, the White House again granted whole or partial “waivers” to five countries on the State Department’s “do not aid” list: Chad, South Sudan, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia.

Too bad for the young — and the future — of those countries.  But look at it this way: Why should Washington help the children of Sudan or Yemen escape war when it spares no expense right here at home to press our own impressionable, idealistic, ambitious American kids into military “service”?

It should be no secret that the United States has the biggest, most efficiently organized, most effective system for recruiting child soldiers in the world.  With uncharacteristic modesty, however, the Pentagon doesn’t call it that.  Its term is “youth development program.”

Pushed by multiple high-powered, highly paid public relations and advertising firms under contract to the Department of Defense, the program is a many splendored thing. Its major public face is the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps or JROTC.

What makes this child-soldier recruiting program so striking is that the Pentagon carries it out in plain sight in hundreds and hundreds of private, military, and public high schools across the U.S.

Unlike the notorious West African warlords Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor (both brought before international tribunals on charges of war crimes), the Pentagon doesn’t actually kidnap children and drag them bodily into battle.  It seeks instead to make its young “cadets” what John Stuart Mill once termed “willing slaves,” so taken in by the master’s script that they accept their parts with a gusto that passes for personal choice. To that end, JROTC works on their not-yet-fully-developed minds, instilling what the program’s textbooks call “patriotism” and “leadership,” as well as a reflexive attention to authoritarian commands.

The scheme is much more sophisticated — so much more “civilized” — than any ever devised in Liberia or Sierra Leone, and it works.  The result is the same, however: kids get swept into soldiering, a job they will not be free to leave, and in the course of which they may be forced to commit spirit-breaking atrocities. When they start to complain or crack under pressure, in the U.S. as in West Africa, out come the drugs.

The JROTC program, still spreading in high schools across the country, costs U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  It has cost some unknown number of taxpayers their children…

Click here to read more.