Today in powerful places in the U.S.A., compromise is
slurred as truth's enemy, and only the single-minded know justice.
Peace will arrive when the other, the different, is eliminated or
turned into an impotent minority. Thus, on Comedy Central,
"The Daily Show" never runs out of material.
 In the long run, however, how manifold might peace prove,
and how multifariously might justice live? Sharon Welch raises
ambiguity, contingency, and malleability as antidotes to the
absolute perfectionism that can turn the ideals of politics and
religion into deadly arrogance. Ambiguity, contingency, and
malleability. How can we hear these adjectives as applause instead
of lament? That is what After Empire is about, a fresh
groundwork for peace.
 Last month the Pentagon released a list of federal military
bases recommended for closing or realigning in the United States
beginning in 2006. Sighs of relief or groans rose around the
country as patriotism and economic stability either meshed or
clashed locally. Here in California the news was welcomed by many
politicians, for only ten bases face possible closure this time
around. Where I live, some rejoiced at the news that Fort Hunter
Liggett would grow in the Pentagon's plan. For others the news
continued the grieving of centuries.
 In 1771 the Spanish established Mission San Antonio de Padua
in the middle of the land inhabited by the People for nearly 10,000
years. The Spanish called the People Salinans, after a major river
in the area, and so this small nation has been called ever since.
In 1834 the missions were secularized by the Spanish government,
and some of the Salinans controlled by the Mission were able again
to live freely on land that had been their home for millennia.
 When George Hearst bought 45,000 acres in 1865, the Salinan
Nation lost homeland again. When William Randolph Heart inherited
the estate he increased it to 250,000 acres by the 1930s. But in
1940 he needed money and sold 158,000 acres of the land to the War
Department of the United States. The War Department also bought
108,950 from other landowners. Now Ft. Hunter Liggett covers about
165,000 acres of slopes and valleys of the Santa Lucia Mountains in
Central California. In 1993 the U.S. Army Reserve Command took over
the fort, and it is now the Army Reserve Command Western Training
 The status of Fort Hunter Liggett has also been under study
in the last decade as a possible site for Navy bombing exercises.
The National Park Service is currently studying the possibility of
turning some of the acreage and historic buildings into a National
Park. But the engagement of Army Reserves in the war in the Middle
East reduces the likelihood of that.
 I sat on a bench looking out at the Pacific Ocean as I read
Sharon Welch's After Empire. The site used to be a place
where Salinan women and children ground acorns for food. The
sandstone boulders at the top of the hill now catch condensed
morning fog in the small bowls they ground into the surface over
the centuries. When I reached Chapter 5, I read, "As a country, we
have not fully confronted, much less understood, our colonial
past." Welch poses such consideration as requisite to tipping the
practical scale toward peace instead of empire.
 Today the empire's leaders express their ethics in a
rhetoric of democracy and freedom. Under the guise of righteousness
by divine selection this witness to the world sounds like
patriotism worthy of the saint. Attending to the saints'
capacity for evil barely reaches a footnote. In Welch's work the
footnote has moved to organizing principle. The religious
justification of cruelty and violence might today seem to many
Christians in the U.S.A. as "what terrorists do." Recognizing the
danger in one's own religious tradition and community does not come
easily. Welch reads religious traditions as "amoral" and hence
capable of creating orders of living which can be as oppressing as
liberating. Acknowledging that one's spiritual life is "amoral,
contingent, malleable" opens the possibility of acknowledging too
the lure of imperial perfectionism (16). Enduring peace can be
achieved only when, first, the history of colonialism in this
country is seriously studied, known, and confessed, and, second,
when the perspectives of descendants of both colonizers and
colonized shape the conversations today.
 The "Draft Fort Hunter Liggett Special Resource Study and
Environmental Assessment" finds Mission San Antonio de Padua,
William Randolph Hearst's hunting lodge, Jolon (the historic boom
town of the gold mining era), and a section of the Juan Bautista de
Anza Historic Trail to be "cultural resources" that are "nationally
significant." Even though the whole area was and is the home of
Salinan Native Americans, this study claims that has only "Possible
Further Significance." Actual significance would be determined by
"further scientific study."
 Thus reason is defined here by the dominating system.
Acknowledgment is made that "Salinan Native Americans would like to
be more involved in any decisions that related to the transfer or
management of land at Fort Hunter Liggett" ("National Park Service
Summary of Public Comments on the Draft Study Report"). However,
the perspective of the Salinan Nation holds no priority in
decisions by state and federal government of the United States.
 Debra Krol, an enrolled member of the Salinan Nation,
writes about decisions regarding Fort Hunter Liggett. "We are
willing to work hard to improve the land and provide jobs and
dignity for our people. But we need the land we were promised by
the Spanish, Mexican and American governments. It comes down to
this basic question: Can the United States, the world's moral
leader, be trusted to keep its promises to its own people? The
Salinans would very much like to know; we're tired of being left
out in the cold" (Monterey County Weekly, July 29, 1999). "Can the
United States, the world's moral leader, be trusted to keep its
promises to its own people?" From Salinan perspectives an
untrustworthy nation claims to lead them and the whole world to
peace and justice. How might people of the Salinan nation be active
participants in creating "the art and ethos of an enduring
 Welch accepts gifts in epistemology and ethics from
contemporary Native American social analysts, gifts concerning
social engagements from Buddhism, and gifts within analysis of
human rights from William F. Schulz. In each case autonomy and
responsibility depend on each other reciprocally. So do reason and
desire and religion and amorality. Welch does not recite
predictable plaudits for peace. Rather she analyzes how usual
routes to or polemics of peace need to be re-formed by listening to
 Attending to wider experience, we realize that
religion-living truth leads often to violence. When truth knows no
ambiguity, differing views are called deadly threats. Ideals bound
by unilateral necessity lure believers to paths of cruelty and
oppression. Too often, then, being open-minded is construed as
being half-hearted. Advocating change is construed as a threat to
truth's roots. Ideals can then justify oppression.
 Creating "the art and ethos of enduring peace" requires a
hermeneutic of "all my relations." Welch accepts the gift of the
Lakota interpretation of life in community described by Jace Weaver
(52, 106 in After Empire). Responsibility in this "web of
kinship" with everything moves contrary to private property as norm
and self-interest as governing principle. The ethos of peace
described here knows that the well-being of the whole community is
prerequisite to the individual's happiness. The community
encompasses groups and nations. When relations fall into dualistic
categories of friend and foe, neighbor and alien, ally and enemy,
idealism as polarity threatens both peace and justice again.
 After Empire Welch evaluates both components and
risks of global action that could enact this ethos of peace. A
matrix of cooperative power offers an alternative to power usually
construed as inherently violent. At the center of the alternative
the empire must yield sovereignty for the sake of recognized
interdependence. The motivation of this depends on creating and
nurturing a rhetoric dependent not on imperial preferences but on
relationships of mutual promise-keeping.
 The "art and ethos of enduring peace" applies not only to
national and international policy but to the actions of groups and
institutions in all forms, including the church. How can religious
communities shape themselves without exclusive terms of membership
and without construing divine power in exclusively imperial
fashion? Do we know who we are only by making certain we aren't
those others? How can we create manifold and multifarious
communities for the sake of truth-promising that harms no one?
Sharon Welch has written a book that moves the questions and
possible answers beyond speculative musing into artful
© June 2005
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 5, Issue 6