Render unto Caesar. Even as Papa Ratzi, the Pope who loves cats and Mozart, preached “Stop the massacres, the violence, the hatred in Iraq” during his weekly Angelus blessing to the crowds gathered in Saint Peter’s Square as Catholics celebrated Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week leading to Easter Sunday (screen shot above), former Operation Iraqi Freedom embed, our own totally awesome PJM alphamate, Jules Crittenden, guided us through the fog of war:
No one expected to see dusk. What we expected was Mogadishu writ large. The Americans would win, that was indisputable. But we, the first in, embarked on it without expectation of survival. We prepared to make a good run of it, stripping soft gear off the outside of the Bradley that might burn if we got hit, loading up on water and ammo. Smitty, the Bradley's 20-year-old radio operator, was bounced to make room for a psyops soldier and the amplifiers that would blast the "surrender" messages. Smitty was angry . . .
I was the only one in the company who had a choice in the matter. But the question of whether to ride with one's friends, when one has a job to do, when one has made a commitment, is not much of a question at all. There was heavy fire that day and for two days after. A lot of people died. But not us. We lived, and learned some of the many lessons that war has to offer.
Things rarely happen as expected. Once you start, you have to finish. You don't get to be the same again. There is nothing much good about any of it, but winning is better than losing. And there is no such thing as a safe place to which you can withdraw
Olive branches (above), together with palm fronds, were the plants of choice during Palm Sunday rituals in St. Peter's Square.
"While there were terrible errors made in going to war in Iraq, the decision to go to war was not one of them," continues Crittenden, making sense of all that we wish our fearless but inarticulate leader, GW, had been able to convey to us and our fellow Americans during the last period of time:
Iraq has become the central battlefield in the 21st century's Islamic war, and may have been destined to be, with or without us. Lying geographically, ideologically, and culturally athwart the Middle East, rich in resources and boiling with rage long before we got there, it is the place where the war will either be settled or truly begun. It is a fitting role for the cradle of civilization to host a war in which the very progress of civilization is being challenged.
Saddam Hussein convinced the world he had active weapons programs. The evidence now suggests he didn't, but how active his programs were, ultimately, is irrelevant. He had demonstrated his desire to dominate the region. Our European allies were eager to do business with him despite their own intelligence reports. Absent any containment, there was potential for more terrible and far-reaching wars. It was inevitable that Iraq would undergo a post-Saddam power struggle with massive ethnic conflict and with interference by Iran and Syria. The question was, and remains, how much influence we would wield in that event.
The sensuous splendor of Catholic ritual at its best trumps all other religious traditions out there, in our opinion. We simply cannot connect with religious traditions that just say no to the deeply human resonance of music and graphic representations of everything under the sun -- yes, you, Osama and Ahmajinedad -- and while ascetic traditions have their charms, nothing can beat Mozart's C Minor Mass or his "Lacrymosa" from Requiem for their awe-inspiring call to something far greater than ourselves. Not to mention Wolfgang Amadeus's "Ave Verum Corpus," the most ineffably, heartbreakingly beautiful piece of music ever written. We had the musicians play it at Mummy's memorial service, a perfect complement to our sister's sparkling tribute to "a most incandescent light."
We were struck by something we read on Saifuddin, a Muslim blog whose mailing list we are on -- can't remember how we got there, but it's been an interesting ride. Here's what they said this morning:
If I were to ask you what are the five Holy Nights, what would come to your mind? Perhaps nothing or perhaps something. The fact of the matter is that the Holy Days and Nights are not discussed very often among religious people in America. But for Muslims in America there are evenings that should matter in our lives, they should not be ordinary nights that pass in an ordinary way. There are five Holy Nights that I am going to mention here and if these nights mean something in the Heavens, then they should mean something to Believers on Earth.
"You don't have to know anything about art -- or even the Bible -- to find yourself overwhelmed with emotion in the presence of Michelangelo's marble sculpture 'Pietà' (1498–99) in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome," we captioned this image in our December 2004 post "Lacrymosa," where we commented that "Jesus lies lifeless in the arms of his mother, Mary, after the crucifixion. The heaviness of her son's lifeless body weighs oppressively upon her, the angular lights and darks, ins and outs of the folds of her garment a muscular expression of her mental anguish."
There ensued an interesting explication of the Muslim Holy Days and Nights that are now upon us. In response, we wrote in the comments:
You might be interested to know that among American Christians this Holy Week is filled with celebration and contemplation of the meaning of the Passion of Christ.
Nobody ever listens to anybody. It reminds us of the outrage of PBS listeners when the taxpayer-subsidized radio station had the gall to air the views of a handful of conservatives. Harummmph!