September 13, 2007

You make up your mind, you choose the chance you take.
You ride to where the highway ends and the desert breaks.
Out on to an open road, you ride until the day
You learn to sleep at night with the price you pay . . .

Oh, the price you pay, oh, the price you pay
Now, you can’t walk away from the price you pay.

Justin Raimondo is right, and Paul Gottfried is wrong.  None of us, of course, believes that the United States should ever have gone into Iraq.  Yet now that we are there, and have made an even worse mess of it than any of us thought possible, what do we do?  Mike Huckabee’s suggestion that we have to extricate ourselves “with honor””€”which Paul approvingly cites”€”is precisely what we cannot do, and not just because of the dangers of staying in Iraq that Justin has so ably outlined.

No, we cannot extricate ourselves “with honor,” because that would require us still to have honor.  But we discarded our honor before we even went into Iraq, and our behavior while there has destroyed even the last memories of that honor.  No “gradual withdrawal” can change that.

What all this talk about extricating ourselves “with honor” really means is saving face; avoiding (further) embarrassment; providing the thinnest pretext on which to claim that we haven’t failed, and therefore shouldn’t be held to account.  It’s pride, not honor, that really concerns us.  But we have failed, and we will be held to account.  We can’t walk away from the price you pay.

We can, however, attempt to run away from it, and, paradoxically, it’s in staying in Iraq that we’re trying to avoid our moral culpability.  Like the child who has disobeyed his parents and repeatedly made a mess of things, we cry, “Just give me one more chance!””€”as if, even if we could succeed this time, it would absolve us of our previous sins.

Good priests know, and counsel their flock, that, when you sin, the only morally mature thing to do is to acknowledge that sin and repent.  Delaying your confession until you can stop sinning means that you likely never will.  And nations, too, have a collective form of that personal pride that destroys so many souls.

Do you remember the story of the Promised Land?
How he crossed the desert sands
And could not enter the chosen land . . .

Bruce Springsteen’s haunting lyrics remind us that Moses squandered his inheritance, not because of repeated disobedience, but because, with the Promised Land in sight, he lost his temper and worried about saving face in front of his people rather than submitting himself humbly to the commands of the Lord.  Because of his pride, 40 years of faithfulness were lost in an instant.

. . . On the banks of the river he stayed
To face the price you pay.

What price might we, who were unfaithful from the beginning, have to pay?  One thing is certain: We cannot lessen it by concerning ourselves with our pride and calling it “honor.”  Acknowledging our sin, and our inability to make it right, and walking away may not be Governor Huckabee’s version of “honor,” but it’s the Christian thing to do.  It’s the price we pay.

“Unless we recover the zeal and the spirit of the first century Christians”€”unless we are willing to do what they did and to pay the price that they paid, the future of our country, the days of America are numbered.”  “€”Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.



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