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  • Reverend James Squire

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Pope Francis called Sunday’s holiday an “Easter of war.” and spoke of praying for the Ukrainian people.

In an article today by Annabelle Timsit (Washington Post), she wrote, “While the pope has often talked in support of Ukraine, he has avoided naming Russia as the aggressor, or calling what is happening in Ukraine an invasion. His Easter Sunday address was no exception.”

Likewise, our Secretary of State says that this is a terrible situation and we are doing everything we can to help. Biden declared that what is happening in Ukraine is possibly a genocide, but we have to wait to get all the information in order to make a formal inquiry into the process.

To all of the above I say, “So what!” What is it like for President Zelensky to hear these words? I think there is a growing abuse of the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” It has become a first response by too many people to express their support. Where is the accountability to it? We see the lack of this accountability in Pope Francis’ recent statement. He had a lot of beautiful words to say but intentionally did not hold Russia accountable for this war. There was no mention of Russia as the aggressor or that what was occurring was an invasion. Pretty language by him for an ugly war.

What was it like for Ukrainian Church to hear Pope Francis’ words, “Let us all commit ourselves to imploring peace, from our balconies and in our streets? May the leaders of nations hear people’s plea for peace.” The pope’s Good Friday sermon at the Colosseum called for a ceasefire. The Ukrainian faith leaders were upset that Ukrainians and Russians carried a cross together during the service. Again, a nice gesture for the masses ringing hollow with the increase of brutal weapons of warfare back home by the Russians.

What do the people of Ukraine need to hear? Platitudes don’t help. There are two phrases that require action that do. “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” “Never forget!”

Context is important as in all matters of ethics. The phrase, “Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition,” had its origin during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Chaplain Howell Forgy was a chaplain on the USS New Orleans when the attack occurred. The story was reconstructed by many sources including Forgy. The officer in charge of the ammunition line reported that he first heard the phrase during that attack.

When he heard it, he turned around and saw Chaplain Forgy walking down the ammunition line of scared men. He was patting them on the back as he was saying that sentence: “Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.” That phrase greatly affected the officer and the men. They felt comforted and prepared as a result of a prayer that called for accountability and action.” They had real skin in the game because prayer was mixed with action.

“Never forget” were the words of the banner that was hung from the site of 9/11 after the act of terrorism that destroyed the twin towers and took many lives. They are words that stirred Americans to action although it led us into the ill-conceived war in Iraq.

But “Never Forget” is also the reason that the Holocaust Museum was built in Washington, D. C. It is a declaration that we will never let the same atrocities happen again, but is also watchwords for all people particularly when genocide is thought to be occurring. The museum as well as historians do not let the American people off the hook regarding the Holocaust. Defeating the Germans was the first priority for the Roosevelt administration whereas the rescue of Holocaust victims was a lower priority.

Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, appeared on the cover of the July 10, 1933 issue of Time Magazine. There is a chilling last line of the article that was quoted on that front cover which was the public statement by Goebbels made over the airwaves of Germany: “Never forget it, comrades, and repeat it a hundred times so you will say it in your dreams – THE JEWS ARE TO BLAME!”

Putin has filled his airways with different propaganda, but we Americans may be judged harshly by historians. I am certain that Putin will.

We could have blood on our hands because of the Russian atrocities in Ukraine. What we have to avoid at all costs is a banner over our land that reads: “We forgot!” For me what is needed is to have that phrase “thoughts and prayers” connected to the action of “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” It would be nice as well to have a pope who would put a name to this atrocity and the Russian actions such as,” it is the Russians who have invaded Ukraine with barbaric tactics.”

History tends not to let anyone off the hook of ethical and unethical behavior. It doesn’t report kindly on inconvenient truths. We should never forget that as well. There is only one question before the world: “What does Zelensky need to hear to stop the killing of his people?”

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