Wednesday, February 26, 2003

An alternative reality:

In a stunning development today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Pope John Paul II emerged from their meeting, hands joined and raised in the air in triumph. Bringing President Bush in on a conference call, the three announced agreement on the conflict with Iraq.

“Go!” commanded the Holy Father in a trembling, yet firm voice. “Go forth to Baghdad and defeat Hussein!”

Expanding on his words, the Pope promised to send a Papal Envoy to Kuwait that evening to bless the American troops.


So that’s not what you want? That’s not exactly the scenario you envision when you pound the Pope for what he’s saying about this situation? You say I’m engaging in hyperbole and cruel exaggeration?

Well maybe, and so welcome to the club. Welcome to the club of Victims of Heightened, Hysterical Rhetoric Thrown Around in Times of High Tension By People Who Should Know Better. You can go sit over there – next to the Catholic Worker people and the Mennonites.

I’m just saying – if it’s fair to push antiwar thinkers (and non-thinkers) on what realistic alternatives they might propose to actions they’re criticizing, it’s perfectly fair to ask the same question of those who seem to want the Pope to do an Urban II on Iraq.

And so begins my lengthy rumination on the possible war with Iraq, whether it is just, and what the Pope is saying about it. What you’re going to read here is the fruit of frustration and confusion, mostly. I make no grand statements. I set no policies.

I’m just a Catholic American who takes her faith seriously, values her freedom, understands what it takes to protect it, and doesn’t take it for granted. I'm married to a man who served in the military - in Turkey for part of the time. I’m also the mother of a 20-year old son and a 17-year old son.

As I said, mostly – I have questions. Rambling, mostly unorganized questions.

First, the war in general:

The longer this goes on, the weaker the case for a war with Iraq gets, it seems to me, at least based on what we’ve been told so far. The longer this goes on, the weaker the case for a war with Iraq gets, it seems to me, at least based on what we’ve been told so far. It also seems to me that a quarter of those involved in the protests are motivated by anti-Semitism, and too many of the rest just seem to be mindlessly mouthing platitudes and making irrational associations - too many. But the defenders, while not exactly stupid, and seemingly more reasoned that the antiwar protesters, are starting to sound a little robotic – and strained - as well.

I cannot stop asking myself: Why Hussein? Why now?

It sounds noble and right to gather ourselves to rid the region and the world of a ruthless dictator like Hussein. We are told that the majority of Iraqis are but waiting for our forceful presence in order to reach down deep and join us, even from the ranks of their own military. On its own, that sounds okay…(not in line with just war thinking yet, though…but from a humanitarian standpoint – I’ll give it to you).

Yes, it all sounds fine until you (or at least I) step back and consider the global situation, and in particular our stance towards other nations who a)also are controlled by freedom-hating regimes and b)are more directly tied to terror.

Is Hussein the only wretched despot holding a desperate country under his thumb? No. Some wear better suits and have better business connections than others, but they are there, they are in power, they are putting their people in slave labor camps, they are oppressing religious and ethnic minorities, they are torturing political prisoners. And some of them even have WMD’s pointed right at us.

So why the focus on Iraq?

It’s been argued that overthrowing Hussein is possible now in a way that say, overthrowing the Communist government of the PRC is obviously not. Again, I’ll give you that. But thinking that way, we’re led to wonder…well, then if overthrowing despots and spreading freedom is what this is about, surely there is are cases which are even more doable than Hussein? Why not them? Why not repeat our great success we enjoyed in…say..Haiti?

Never mind.

Well, then, there’s the War on Terrorism.

Surely, this is the most cynical and dishonest reason being thrown out there – using the grief and deep desire to do something in the wake of 9/11 in order to motivate support for a possible war on Iraq. I honestly wonder sometimes if we had nabbed bin Laden, either alive or dead, clearly and unmistakably with his body out there for all of us to see, if we would even be considering re-energizing this war from simmering on the levels of sanctions and inspections to that of scorching Iraq.

No, it didn’t come out of the blue – I can see the argument that this is not a new war, it’s the continuation of the First Gulf War, and the response to Hussein who never lived up to his side of the bargain, 12 years of sanctions notwithstanding. I get it. But still…it is not unpatriotic or disrespectful to ask ..why now?

I’m not saying that there are no ties between Hussein and terrorism – that would be ridiculous claim. But when we consider the realities of 9/11, we acknowledge that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and those that weren’t, were Egyptian. Their funding was Saudi, and not just bin Laden. The Saudi royal family (aka the Sopranos in robes and flowing headgear) run an incredibly oppressive regime, one with far less religious freedom than Iraq. And...our very own State Department does nothing but coddle the Saudis at every level and on every issue, and has, quite seriously, since the week of September 11, 2001, when the members of the bin Laden family were allowed to leave the U.S. without question.

And, as Michael Leeden points out....Iran?

Moving back away from the terrorism question - China denies human rights, runs labor camps, enforces abortion...but our government does nothing but enable businesses, salivating over the Chinese market, enabling them to expand their relationships with China...and so on. North Korea. Burma. Yeah.

See, my point is that taken alone, the Iraqi situation seems appropriate for intervention - some kind of intervention, if not full scale war, but something more forceful than sanctions - but the argument begins to crumble when you consider our lax and tolerant treatment of other oppressive regimes, even those that are more directly linked to terrorist threats against us.

Of course, the second justification for war is those WMD’s. The morality of a pre-emptive strike has been widely debated. All I wonder is…doesn’t the advent of a full scale war increase the chances of their use?

Finally, there’s militant, anti-Western, anti-Israel Islam. There is a desperate need to temper this tendency, and I’m sensing that the thinking seems to be that by establishing a US-backed state in Iraq, a base will be established for this – a base for moderation, for openness to the West, for the beginnings of tolerance of Israel. I’m thinking that’s what Bush is going to address tonight when he speaks at the AEI. Which is great. But…war?

And here we get to the Pope.

Many, many people, including the United States government are extremely disappointed in the Vatican’s refusal to rubber stamp a possible war with Iraq, a disappointment which I find very puzzling.

Who here seriously thinks it would be a good thing for the Pope to give the Christian Stamp of Approval to war with a predominantly Muslim nation? Do we really want Hussein (who has apparently been trying to heighten his Muslim identity lately) or the radical Islamic world to have any more opportunity to characterize this as a crusade than they already have? (By the way, I didn’t invent this suggestion. I believe Cardinal George said something along these lines last week, as did Andrew Stuttaford in NRO’s Corner.)

Now – what gets critics, at root, is not that the Pope is refusing to bless one side in a conflict – it’s that the statements coming out of the Vatican aren’t critical enough of Hussein, and seem to place all the burdens for peace and justice on the regimes opponents. It’s that they think that the calls for “peace” and “no war” are calls for a maintenance of the status quo, or for an absence of forceful intervention at any cost – even human rights. It hasn’t helped that the Vatican has been a consistent and loud critic of the sanctions ever since they were placed, again, placing the burden on the UN to lift them unilaterally rather than demanding that Hussein comply so that the deal may be made and the sanctions lifted that way.

And that’s a fair criticism. I admit that Vatican diplomacy is a complete mystery to me, and a matter of great frustration. I have no doubt that the staff of the Vatican is bursting with fashionably anti-American Euroweenies in tailored cassocks. I also think it’s perfectly fair to examine this in light of the Vatican’s words and actions during the rise of Nazism. Too many church authorities said and did too little during that period against the obvious and growing injustices and crimes being perpetrated. Is this the same kind of thing? I’m not sure.

So I’m not saying that the Pope’s prudential judgment is infallible. Because, of course, by definition, it’s not. But what I’m hearing quite a bit is that for various reasons – because it is a non-infallible prudential judgment, most of all – we don’t need to listen to the Pope at all.

My argument here is not to elevate what the Pope says about this conflict to solemn ex cathedra statements or question the faith of those who take issue with him. Not at all. My arguments is simply Why We Should Let the Pope Disturb Our Consciences.

First – why do we even care? Why do secular governments give a hoot what the Pope thinks? Why does it matter? Is it because of the amazing power he holds over his minions who will do whatever he says, and if he says “no war” these minions will rise in rebellion against Bush and Blair and Catholic soldiers will suddenly lay down their arms?

Uh…probably not. Given the indifference of many Western Catholics to what the Pope says about matters of faith…probably not.

No, the reason the Pope’s opinion matters is because of what he represents. And what he represents in this kind of situation is the Long View.

It’s the Long View of the oldest continually existing institution in the world. It’s the Long View of one of the oldest continuing bodies of thought in the world. It’s the Long View of an institutions that has seen nations and empires rise and fall, has seen wars won and lost and has even blessed a few of those wars.

And what does this Long View reveal?

First, it reveals precisely what the Pope is telling us. War is a horror, war spirals out of control, war, ultimately wrecks countries and lives, war ravages and scorches. It sees wars begun in good intentions and explode into the reality of batches of young men shoved into front lines, slaughtered, and replaced with more batches of young men, countrysides and lives left bare, burned and ruined, the foundations laid in that scorching for the next war, to the next batches of young men slaughtered, and finally to civilians incinerated into less than dust. Is there any other way short of this?

The plain fact is that war is the fruit of evil. It is the fruit of individuals, citizens and nations standing by and allowing evil, oppression and exploitation to take root and grow in their own and in other countries, until that evil has acquired so much force that, to our eyes, war is the only thing that can dislodge it.

I think it’s obvious that the Pope fears something catastrophic if war happens. There are just too many hostile forces that could be ignited, to much potential for serious conflagration, too great a possibility of this being very quickly transformed into a regional conflict, with dire consequences, including the total victory of radical, fundamentalist forces within Islam.

Some ask: The Pope lived through Nazi-occupied Poland and the Cold War…how can he maintain the stand he does?

I think the better question is - How can he not?

Karol Wotyla lived through war and its devastations. He lived to see Communism brought down – not by violence, but by relatively peaceful means, pressure, threats, certainly, advantage taken of internal weakness, and, we cannot doubt he believes – prayer.

Which brings us to prayer.

There’s been a little flurry of controversy about the Pope’s call to prayer and fasting for peaceon Ash Wednesday.

The resistance to this is incomprehensible. I just don’t get it.

Why not pray for peace? Why not pray for a peaceful and just resolution? Why not pray for …I dunno…God’s will be done, maybe?

The only reason I can think of is pride. Pride in human power and a denigration of God’s power. Pride like Jonah’s, who did not want to see the Ninevites repent, who wanted God’s wrath to spark big old conflagration of Babylonians.

And this is what I mean when I say that we should look through the limitations of the Pope’s prudential judgment to what the Spirit is saying through him – and the way we do this is to see how what he’s saying links up with Scripture and Tradition – aka, the Long View.

When we look at that, seriously and humbly, we have no more excuses. We have no excuses not to pray, and not to pray for our enemies. Of course, if you’re a Thomist you could pray for them as you’re trying to hurt them.

Or you could just stick with Augustine (who also said it was okay to punish in a prayerful kind of way, but who stuck to the letter of Jesus’ words in Mt 5:44 here)

If thou art heaven, call on thy Father which is in heaven, and pray for thine enemies: for so was Saul an enemy of the Church; thus was prayer made for him, and he became her friend. He not only ceased from being her persecutor, but he laboured to be her helper. And yet, to say the truth, prayer was made against him; but against his malice, not against his nature. So let thy prayer be against the malice of thine enemy, that it may die, and he may live. For if thine enemy were dead, thou hast lost it might seem an enemy, yet hast thou not found a friend. But if his malice die, thou hast at once lost an enemy and found a friend.

15. But still ye are saying, Who can do, who has ever done this? May God bring it to effect in your hearts! I know as well as you, there are but few who do it; great men are they and spiritual who do so. Are all the faithful in the Church who approach the altar, and take the Body and Blood of Christ, are they all such? And yet they all say, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors." What, if God should answer them, "Why do ye ask me to do what I have promised, when ye do not what I have commanded?" What have I promised? "To forgive your debts." What have I commanded? "That ye also forgive your debtors." How can ye do this, if ye do not love your enemies? What then must we do, brethren? Is the flock of Christ reduced to such a scanty number? If they only ought to say, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors," who love their enemies; I know not what to do, I know not what to say. For must I say to you, If ye do not love your enemies, do not pray; I dare not say so; yea, pray rather that ye may love them. But must I say to you, If ye do not love your enemies, say not in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors"? Suppose that I were to say, Do not use these words. If ye do not, your debts are not forgiven; and if ye do use them, and do not act thereafter, they are not forgiven. In order therefore that they may be forgiven, ye must both use the prayer, and do thereafter.

I think, in the end, the question we’re being asked is this:

Self-defense is one thing, but all of sudden, a lot of us are keen on justice for the oppressed. We want to spread freedom. We want to be in solidarity, we say, with our brothers and sisters living under tyranny.

Why does it take the prospect of a war to get our interest? Where have we been all these years? Where are we now for the oppressed peoples in other countries, not lucky enough to be perched on the edge of invasion by our weapons?

What is it that we really care about?


I think I almost have my head wrapped around this close to the right way, and then I get a letter like this.....

In 1943 I was a six year old boy in a Japanese women's intern camp in the Dutch East Indies. My Dad had just died of beri-beri. My mother prayed everyday the rosary with us and other families. We prayed I am sure for deliverance from the Japanese torture. The A-bomb for us was God's answer to our daily prayers. We were liberated by English troops not by pacifists or anti-war people. So I am ambivalent about war. But you can't have peace without war. I am sure there are a lot of Chaldeans praying for deliverance from evil...

And then.... from another reader:

You'd fit in right with us military folk right about now.

Why Iraq? Why now?

Questions we all have but dare not ask.

My husband is on notice for two away teams -- for the cleanup, both war crime and chem/bio. That's all I know -- guess for now that's all I want to know.

There's good reason why the military leadership isn't so gung-ho - they never are. Many of them have seen the horrors firsthand. Their leaders are trained in just war doctrine (and that's what they call it) at something called War College. My husband took it five years ago -- Aquinas and all.

Being on the 'inside track' so to speak, doesn't help. So much still doesn't make sense.

It all matters on where you stand, I guess -- just wonder who's standing in the 'right' place?

From Rod Dreher:

Guys, I don't want the Pope to endorse the war. I really don't. What I do wish he would do is give Bush and Blair more credit for the morality of their position. And I wish he and his bishops would have more humility about their own position, which is, in my view, a fairly hopeless one. The Holy Father keeps saying that dialogue and diplomacy is the way out of this crisis. We have had 12 years of dialogue and diplomacy with Saddam, to no avail. We've tried sanctions, which the Holy Father has long opposed. And still, Saddam starves his people while building palaces for himself, and continuing to construct chemical and biological weapons. Sometimes, force is the only realistic way to confront evil, and it bothers me a lot that the Holy Father doesn't seem to recognize this. He's starting to remind me of the hysterical lady in Western movies, who begs the cowboy to stay inside and not go out in the street and confront the outlaw. The hysterical lady prefers to stay inside and pretend that there's no danger out there, or that the danger might go away if we just sit quietly and wait.

From Mark Shea

Given the events of the 1980s, I think the Pope has some reasons for thinking that there are other ways of dealing with bloody regimes besides force. Communism was a far greater force for evil (still is) yet there is no drumbeat for war with Korea, which has nukes. Nor for Saudi Arabia, which has, as Amy notes, been treated with kid gloves. What comes through for me in reading him is not "Bush is immoral" nor indeed much hostility to the West, but fear for the Iraqi people. And fear for the Christians under Islam generally. And, indeed, fear for ordinary Muslim peasants. If Saddam's scientist is right, a war could potentially spell a scorched earth policy that will kill 4 million citizen prisoners of Baghdad. Yes, it will be Saddam's fault. But they'll still be dead. A moral calculus that doesn't take this possibility seriously is highly problematic. Yet some people really think "It'll be Saddam's fault" is sufficient reason to argue a greenlight for invasion. It's part of the weird ambivalence I'm seeing about the *reason* for this war. We're doing it to liberate Iraq. But if it involves the death of millions of Iraqis, we're not doing it to liberate Iraq, but to protect ourselves against a threat that *might* arise. But we aren't doing anything about threats that *have* arisen in Saudi Arabia and N. Korea. I can see why this looks weird to Rome.

Good stuff at this comment thread at Mark's, including

Perhaps one aspect of the anti-war position is the question of whether the ends truly justify the means. Two things are undeniably true: Saddam must go down, and innocent Iraqis will die in a war.

What makes this a big problem is that most of Iraq, including its army, are actually innocent Iraqis. The WMD programs were not mandated by the people or even the army. They had tried (12 times?) to get rid of Saddam but he's a nasty one (turning his WMD on his own people). Hence, there is very little responsibility that we can impose on the Iraqi people for Saddam's actions. THAT makes it difficult to justify the war.

At the end of the day, when the dust settles, the body count will be unbelievable, especially if Saddam Insane decides to use his ring of death tactic (release his WMD around Baghdad to hold everyone within hostage; aside from killing any attackers in the area). At the end of the day, the warmakers must have something to say about the innocents who died and their surviving families. Telling them "we're very sorry, but you got in the way" is undeniably hard to swallow, but it may be all that can be said.

Peter Nixon's thoughts at Sursum Corda

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