PITTSFORD — American troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible and let opposing Iraqi factions get down the business of learning to work together to govern their nation, retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of the Diocese of Detroit told the dozens of people who’d gathered to hear him speak Oct. 19 at Nazareth College in Pittsford.
"(America’s) responsibility is to get out, and to let (the Iraqis) settle their own problems," Bishop Gumbleton told the dozens of people who’d crowded into a classroom to listen to his Oct. 19 lecture and question-and-answer session. "We should start today. We should do it as expeditiously as we can, and get out."
Several of those in attendance had also listened to Bishop Gumbleton’s talk "Pillar of Justice, Pillar of Peace", which he had presented the previous evening as part of Nazareth’s 2007-08 William H. Shannon lecture series. The theme for the series, which continues through April is "Pursuing Justice, Healing Humanity, Transforming the World."
Bishop Gumbleton has long been an advocate for peace. From 1976 to 1984 he served as founding president of Pax Christi USA, an organization dedicated to promoting peace and nonviolence. He also was a member of the U.S. bishops’ committee that drafted the pastoral letter "Challenge of Peace" in 1983.
He also has traveled around the globe in support of peace, visiting such places as Vietnam, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Hiroshima, Mexico City, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Honduras, Haiti, Peru, Ireland and Afghanistan.
Humans are intended to love and be loved, in the image of God, Bishop Gumbleton said Oct. 19. When people go to war, they are trained to hate and become killers, he added.
"It’s going to leave behind a trail of hatred and resentment. Obviously that’s what’s happening in the Middle East," Bishop Gumbleton said.
In seven trips to Iraq since 1997, he has had plenty of time to witness the aftermath of the first Gulf War.
He said that war wiped out crucial pieces of the Iraqi infrastructure, such as water treatment facilities, and that the economic sanctions imposed after the war deprived Iraqis of many necessities, Bishop Gumbleton said. The depleted uranium used in American missiles also had lasting effects on Iraq’s environment and the health of the country’s citizens, said the bishop, who said he had spoken to physicians on a couple of occasions during visits to the hospital at Basra.
Doctors in these hospitals see high rates of birth defects and even higher rates of pediatric cancer, which Bishop Gumbleton maintained are results of environmental and food-chain contamination from depleted uranium.
"The children are bearing the brunt of cancer. Over 56 percent of all cancer in Iraq occurs among children under the age of 5. Can you think of anything more cruel, more evil?" he asked.
The United States is again embroiled in conflict in Iraq, which has lead the country into a civil war, he said. There is so much turmoil in the Middle East that the whole region is in danger of an even more devastating war breaking out at any moment, said Bishop Gumbleton, who asserted that American troops should leave Iraq at this point.
"What’s going on right now is civil war, and we’re only making it worse," he said.
America helped bring the Shiites to power after Saddam Hussein and the Sunnis fell from power, Bishop Gumbleton said, adding that so long as the Shiites are supported by American troops in Iraq, he said they will not be motivated to enter into negotiations with the Sunnis.
If the Americans leave, the Shiites will be forced to work with the Sunnis, he said, but until the two groups can work together, civil war will reign in Iraq.
Bishop Gumbleton said that one of his close friends is a priest living in Iraq who also believes the Iraqis can work out their own problems and end their civil war if they’re given enough time and if the Americans leave.
"He’s confident that the Iraqi people could do it. He sort of resents the fact that we look down on the Iraqi people. (He says), ‘Look, we (Iraqis) have a culture that’s 6,000 years old. It’s a very rich culture, and it’s the birthplace of civilization. You have a culture that’s 500 years old,’" Bishop Gumbleton said.
The bishop said he believes both Iraq wars were at least partly — if not primarily — motivated by desire for the region’s resources, namely its rich oil supply. There will never be peace as long as nations cling to the belief that they’re more entitled to the world’s resources than other nations and peoples are, he said.
"If we’re going to get peace in our world, we have to understand that those resources belong to everyone," he said. "We have to devise a way that all the people on the planet share those resources."
Individuals can make a difference by choosing to live simply rather than being materialistic, Bishop Gumbleton said. Thus far, citizen anti-war protests, letters to elected representatives and calls for peace have not changed the course of the war in Iraq, he said, because most Americans are not ready to make the sacrifices and lifestyle changes needed to reduce the influence of consumerism in U.S. policy.
"I think it happens one person at a time. If you leave this room committed to making a change in your lifestyle, that will make a difference," he said.