I enjoyed reading “My Chicago Catholic Bubble,” by Margaret O'Brien Steinfels (September 11). There is, however, one little thing I would take issue with. She depicts Pope Pius XII as opposed to the historical critical method, when in fact it was he, with his encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu (often called the Magna Carta of modern Catholic biblical scholarship), who sanctioned and even urged the use of the method in the interpretation of the Bible. John XXIII was pope during Steinfels's four years at Loyola Chicago, and there was indeed controversy over Catholic biblical scholarship during those years, but the fear was that Pius XII's position might be reversed.
(Rev.) Joseph A. Komonchak
Thanks for Peter Quinn's tribute to Frank McCourt (“Frank's Map,” August 14). This summer, just a few weeks before his death, Frank McCourt spoke about his life in a conversation with Rose Styron at Yale University before an audience at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. At the end of his entertaining and thoughtful talk-during which he spoke with good-humored animosity about the Catholicism of his childhood-an audience member asked him to name his favorite book, or the one book he would choose as most nourishing and important to him. McCourt hesitated, giving his answer serious thought. “Shakespeare,” was his first response, and as he went on to explain he quickly reconsidered. “No, I'd say it would be the Bible...it's so rich...its music-the King James, of course,” he added. As Quinn writes, a part of Frank was always Catholic.
Anne Crawford Storz
Thank you for the two thoughtful articles on Afghanistan in the August 14 issue (“The War We Can't Win,” by Andrew J. Bacevich, and “The Cost of Peace,” by Joel Hafvenstein). I am reminded of my twin sister's dictum on foreign intervention in Afghanistan. She had been a Peace Corps volunteer there in the late 1960s. Later, during the Russian occupation, I asked for her opinion of that unfortunate event. “I pity any Russian walking down the street in Kabul a century from now,” she said. It took them less time than that to learn the lesson. How long will it take us?
THE BEST DEFENSE...
When will our religious and spiritual leaders step up and ask President Barack Obama to explain his continued support for the war in Afghanistan (“The War We Can't Win,” by Andrew J. Bacevich, August 14) and his sluggish follow-up on his campaign promise to begin removing troops from Iraq immediately? Countless Christians, including myself, slammed President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for their war policies, yet we have given President Obama a pass when it comes to the continuation of the same policies. While the president takes advantage of photo-ops at the Vatican and receives honorary degrees from Christian universities, American troops continue to die in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama needs to tell us why.
The great Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed for opposing Hitler, said, “Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power.... Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much.... Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.” When it comes to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps it is time for church leaders to start giving more offense to President Obama.
Keith G. Kondrich
FRIENDSHIP AS A DETERRENT
American interference in the Middle East dates to the blunder of ousting Mohammed Mossadeq, the elected leader of Iran, in 1953 and installing a dictator, the Shah. Nearly four decades later, the Persian Gulf War brought an avalanche of foreign troops into Muslim lands. Resentment of “infidel” intrusion spawned resistance, and Al Qaeda became a part of our vocabulary. It is no secret that Al Qaeda's existence depends on both the presence of American troops and the perception that the United States is not an impartial broker in the Middle East peace process. Note that Muslims have little antipathy toward such nations as China, Brazil, and Argentina; rather, their animosity is reserved for the United States and our allies.
Prevailing attitudes make it impossible to remove U.S. troops in order to stymie Islamic terrorism. We have a simple faith in the gun, and pride in our military prowess. The threat cave-dwelling terrorists pose to our homeland is exaggerated. We suffered one attack on U.S. soil before better defenses were put in place. New attacks are more likely to target our hotels and other interests abroad.
And now we are engaged in guerrilla warfare with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Twentieth-century history tells us that the guerrillas always win. Still, do we have a moral obligation not to leave behind a cruel and oppressive Taliban influence? The best way to counter the pernicious elements of the Taliban is to follow Colin Powell's advice at the start of the war in Afghanistan: Include some Taliban representatives in a coalition government. That would divide and subdue the movement. It's risky. But there is no other way.
The United States must befriend the Islamic world. Friendship is imperative in our foreign policy because nuclear proliferation can't be contained forever. Friendship is the most powerful deterrent. When it comes to our relationships with most nuclear powers, we depend on it entirely.
Capt. Connell J. Maguire, CHC (Ret.)
Riviera Beach, Fla.
It was distressing to read Robert Beezat's letter bemoaning the appearance in Commonweal of fiction by Alice McDermott (“Letters,” September 11). Good fiction and poetry, largely absent in the Catholic press, require no excuse. I can think of only three Catholic magazines that publish real poetry and fewer that publish real fiction. The first things I turn to are the poetry and fiction. I recently let my subscription to one magazine lapse because the poems it published were not poetry, nor even verse: they would make a greeting-card copywriter retch. Give me a good poem or story as an appetizer anytime.
St. Louis, Mo.