Saturday, September 14, 2013

Lillie Matkin and the Waco tornado of 1953

My great-grandfather's sister, Lillie Matkin, was the last survivor to be rescued from the rubble after an F-5 tornado struck downtown Waco on May 11, 1953. In the deadliest tornado in Texas history (along with Goliad in 1902), 114 people were killed and 597 were injured. Nearly half the dead (61) were killed in one city block.

John Dominis—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
“2:30 A.M., a power saw is used to cut away some timbers. Afraid she might be cut, Lillie [Matkin] said, “I’ve been here 10 hours — a little longer won’t hurt.”

John Dominis—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
“6:45 A.M., Lillie Matkin’s ordeal ends, 14 hours and eight minutes after she was trapped and able only to wiggle her feet. Gently as they could, the men who had labored through night to disentomb her carry her from wreckage to surface…. Near the end of her entrapment a worker removed her shoes and before she was lifted out she cautioned, “Don’t lose them. They’re old but comfortable.” They were brought to her later at the hospital.

John Dominis—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Lillie Matkin, Waco tornado survivor, is finally freed from rubble about 10:30am on May 12, 1953.

In the immediate aftermath of the tornado, LIFE’s John Dominis and correspondent Scot Leavitt, who had just recently moved to Texas, made their way to the devastated city. All of the photos in this gallery, many of which never ran in LIFE, are Dominis’s; in a note sent to LIFE’s editors in New York, Leavitt noted that “through virtually all [of Dominis's] shooting, rain fell, the sky was dark and the mood was somber.”

For its part, LIFE wrote of the disaster in its May 25, 1953 issue:
By May 11 the warm, close weather was uncomfortably routine to the people of Waco, Texas. The day before had been muggy and the day before that, too. The big news in the Morning News-Tribune was of a tornado in far-off Minnesota. At mid-morning the New Orleans weather bureau warned there might be a few tornadoes close to home. But an Indian belief that tornadoes would never strike Waco had always held true and no one in the city worried about the report At 1:30 .m. the Waco weather forecaster announced, “No cause for alarm.”
Three hours later the skies suddenly darkened. people scurried for shelter from the hail and slashing rain, and at the edge of town a cemetery workman looked up to see a thick black wedge forming under a low cloud … At 4:37 p.m. the black wedge in the sky struck Fifth and Austin [streets], gouged the earth for a block and left the heart of Waco a broken coffin for scores of schoolboys, housewives, motorists….

Monday, September 09, 2013

Sit down first and take counsel

It is remarkable how sometimes the scripture readings in the lectionary correspond to events unfolding in the world around us! It is a reminder that God’s Word always has something to say to us today.
In today's Gospel, Jesus said, “What king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel . . ." (Luke 14:31). The context of this statement was that Jesus was telling his followers that they should carefully count the cost of discipleship before committing. Following Jesus could very well mean the loss of a whole way of life or even life itself—it could cost you the comforts of social status, friends, and even family. This new commitment to Christ has to take priority even if it means following the way of the cross. “Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has," Jesus said, "cannot be my disciple.”

How ironic it is that just this week our president asked the congress to give counsel and authorization, considering the costs of potential war! The step was unexpected as the War Powers Act recognizes the president’s authority as Commander-in-Chief to take limited military action when needed and only then to come to the Congress for authorization for a resolution of war or more long-term military engagement.

So far, as public opinion is running against it, it seems that we face the distressing prospect of the Congress and the people saying "No" while the president may go on to engage military action anyway. Since the Word of God, which is “living and active—sharper than any two-edged sword,” I thought we might engage this intersection of the front page and the sacred page about costs of war. The church is often speaking out and praying about the cause of peace when such war is the topic of discussion in the public arena. Yesterday was a special day of fasting and prayer for peace as called for by Pope Francis and our own Archbishop Robert Duncan.

One might think that the only word the church has on the topic is “No.” But in Christian moral theology, beginning with St. Augustine in the fourth century, there is a whole tradition of criteria for ascertaining a “just war.”
Wars by their very nature will involve material evils—death and destruction—so Christian moral theology has an automatic disposition against war, but sometimes Christians can morally (or even should) engage in warfare. Since this is what so many are thinking about, talking about, and praying about, I thought it would be helpful to review the just war theory today.

But first, let’s get a common misconception about just war out of the way. It can be summed up in the phrase, “Somebody ought to do something!” Most of us feel that urge to get involved when we see news about some dictator being cruel and committing atrocities.
The problem is that we are not the world’s policemen. We can't solve every problem. If we went to war every time a petty despot was naughty or people were being killed, we would ALWAYS be at war. We tend to look for military solutions to human problems.
So then what should be our concerns when considering military intervention? What does Christian moral theology have to say? The just war tradition looks at least five basic criteria in evaluating whether warfare can be just, and they all have to be satisfied: cause, legitimate authority, probability of success, last resort, and proportionality. The burden of proof is on those arguing for war to make their case in each of these areas.

1. A “just” or “righteous” cause for fighting. A just war is always defensive in nature. That is generally considered to extend to the defense of allies. Indeed, mutual protection treaties work against the likelihood of war. It is hard to see how our involvement could be seen as defensive in nature. In fact, getting involved in the Syrian Civil War might be more of a threat to our regional allies and to our own national interests than staying out of it. The protection of human life is a noble cause for intervention, but why is the killing of several hundred by use chemical weapons more imperative than the tens of thousands killed since 2011? If we got involved, would we be saying that killing is alright as long as it's not done chemically.

2. Legitimate authority to wage war. Because the US was not directly attacked, an American attack on Syria would actually violate international law—unless we obtain UN backing (which has not and will not be forthcoming). So if we did this, we would be breaking international law by attacking a country that broke international law by using chemical weapons to teach them that breaking international law is wrong. That's problematic at best.

3. Probability of success. War cannot be just if there is no likely achievement. You wouldn’t plan war strategy that way anymore than football strategy. What is the strategic objective in this case? Is it depleting arsenals? Is it regime change? What are we trying to accomplish and is that a viable goal? What assurance do we have that the situation would not end up being worse with our involvement? These are tough questions that deserve answers.

4. Last resort. This civil war has been going on since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. But our country has not shown a major concern for resolving it until now. The problem is not that peacemaking has been tried and failed. Where are the diplomatic negotiations? the economic sanctions? Nonviolent strategies have hardly been tried at all and alternative measures need to be exhausted first.

5. Proportionality. Any direct action (even limited engagement) by the US could escalate the war and involve Russia, China, Iran, and Israel. Would the strategic damage done with a military strike likely be proportionate to any good that might be accomplished? Would this action stop the war and ultimately save lives? These questions deserve answers.

As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the so-called “war to end all wars,” we need to stop and consider the cost and the best way to serve peace. We will always have tough decisions to make.
As Moses said: “Behold, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15). As individuals and as a nation, may God give us the grace, the wisdom, and the guidance to always choose life.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

An open invitation

This weekend, local Episcopalians are reflecting on the Texas Supreme Court's Friday ruling which overturned the lower court's ruling in favor of TEC and sent the case back for trial on neutral principles. Some of us are delighted and thankful, while some are wounded and discouraged.

I would ask for all of us in church this Sunday to seek the peace and unity that comes from above at the altar of our blessed Lord. To those on the other side, you may feel like reconciliation is not just the farthest thing from your mind, but altogether impossible. But my devotion to Our Lady reminds me of the angel's words: "With God, nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:37). I call upon Bishop High and his standing committee to drop this horrible lawsuit. Let the world say, "See how they love one another" (Tertullian's Apology 39.7, see also John 13:35).

Especially to those who left our churches five years ago, we invite you to come back home. We respect your decision to worship where you will. We also want to say that we love you and have saved a place at the Table for you. You will always be welcome.