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Was the American Revolutionary War a Just War? (Random thoughts on the 4th of July)

Was the American Revolutionary War a Just War? (Random thoughts on the 4th of July) July 5, 2010

I suspect that is was not. Then again, we would have been left with British imperialism—hardly a nice alternative. (But is that a better alternative to American imperialism?)

In a nutshell, I find the independence of the thirteen colonies to be a strange event: On the one hand, when the American Indians were suffering a much more heinous fate, it is hard to think that the grievances of the colonies had much ring to them by comparison to their indigenous brethren. (Genocide vs. taxation without representation?) On the other hand, this whole affair was as more of a political experiment in concert with the geist of the times. It was something like the consummation of modern politics.

Since hindsight is 20/20, perhaps the American Revolutionary War was really a culminating experiment of the virtues of the Enlightenment and liberalism that played-out on the bloody canvas of colonialism. However we parse it out, there is nothing I can find in this history that is easily sold as purely good or evil.

Like most events in the tragic drama of humanity, our nation’s history is a messy affair.

Going back to the original question: I do wonder what a Catholic understanding of American history would yield on days like this. Would Aquinas sign off on Washington?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not put off by national holidays per se. I like them when they are made meaningful by larger, perennial themes. I enjoy and appreciate the solidarity and community that can come along with them.

Many times, however, I get the sense that we can get caught up and carried away by the fanfare. When that happens, I feel awkward. Or even worse, I feel cheap and alienated.

I think that the Roman Catholic Church’s sense of its own messy history ought to inform how we look at the history of the USA. Insofar as it doesn’t, I feel out of place—even like I don’t belong.

I wish I could just party. Really, I do. I love to party. I love fireworks and sing-a-longs.

But maybe the truth is that I don’t belong. More radically: Maybe I am not supposed to belong here, or anywhere.

I’m not sure. I am fairly certain of this: the predictable reactions of uncritical-religious celebrations and equally uncritical-religious critique and hand-wringing both miss the point. Like it or not, the places we live in—our tribes and home-places—are important to us. Like it or not, those important things all too often bring out the worst in us.

The Christian call to love seems to keep our sense of home intact while asking us to give up the superficial home for a deeper one that reveals itself in the authentic act of self denial. Politics in any nation has a long way to go to answer this poignant call.

Instead of getting carried away in either direction let us not be distracted from our task: to love.

I’m off to have dinner with friends this evening. Yesterday I grilled a chicken and wrestled with my boys. I also have been wondering whether we would have been better off today if we remained a British colony. (By “we” I mean those of “us” alive today, the ones who were not harvested in this tragic story.)

Altogether, I am beautifully confused and I feel blessed to be alive, to be in love with Love.


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