Pulpit Reflections

Pulpit Reflections by Father Donald Imming St. Agnes Catholic Church It was the day before yesterday that the president gave his speech at the United Nations on Iraq. This morning Daniel Schorr, noted newsman and commentator, said on PBS that he thought that war was more likely now than before the speech was made. Many observers, both political and religious, still believe that the president has not made his case that Saddam Hussein is an imminent threat to the United States, or the world.

It is not my place to argue here the political merits of going to war with Iraq. I would like to say, however, that war is not just a political issue, but a moral issue. For the church to stand by silently at a time like this seems irresponsible.

The Catholic tradition, which I represent and about which I am most knowledgeable, has developed what I believe is a sophisticated test for determining whether a war is justifiable. I would like to review the relevant points of that test.

The Biblical basis of that tradition is Jesus' own skepticism about the merits of violence to achieve much, as contained in his axiom: "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword." (Matthew 26/52) But what about all the wars carried on in God's name in the Old Testament? The Catholic tradition says that the Old Testament has to be interpreted in the light of the New Testament. If war is sometimes justified, it has to be a last resort.

The test I have spoken about has been stated variously, but relevant points applying to this situation seem to be the following: 1) Is there a just cause? There has been a consensus in modern times that this means a war of self-defense against aggression. Some argue that times have changed and pre-emptive wars are now necessary in the name of self-defense. People also argued, did they not, that the economic cycle of boom and bust no longer was applicable? But time proved them wrong. Are we opening a Pandora's box justifying around the globe all sorts of wars e.g. India attacking Pakistan?

2) A just war to be just has to be declared by a competent authority. The Constitution says only the Congress can declare war. I heard four Presidential scholars say on the Jim Lehrer news hour on PBS that the nation was in danger of rewriting the Constitution by continuing to let presidents declare war in recent years. I am sure other scholars will disagree. But that is what the Constitution says.

3) A just war must be a last resort. Every other avenue must have been explored. If Iraq is an imminent threat, is there no other way to deal with that threat other than full scale war? We dealt with Russia for decades, which was a far greater threat to us, without armed conflict. Instead we used a policy of containment. That policy took patience, but it worked.

4) A just war must be fought fairly ie. without targeting the innocent. If Saddam Hussein is so unpopular with his people, and we have no reason to believe otherwise, then virtually almost everybody in Iraq fits in that category. But no one believes that such a war is going to be bloodless. Urban warfare is likely, unlike Desert Storm. Tens of thousands are likely to be killed, at least thousands. We call this collateral damage which is not an unacceptable concept in itself. We will not be targeting the innocent as such to our credit. But will the good accomplished be proportionate to the amount of blood spilled?

5) To morally fight such a war the good likely to come from it must outweigh the bad. Hundreds of American soldiers will lose their lives if not thousands. If my memory is correct 50,000 lost their lives in Vietnam. Thousands of innocent Iraquis will too. What is the good that these lives will purchase? Perhaps it may save the lives of people many times over. That could be the the case. But the key word here is perhaps. We don't know that it will save anyone's life.

It could have the opposite effect. If Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, what is going to keep him from launching them against Israel and its neighbors if we attack. Might we not force him into an alliance with El Qaeda terrorists, with whom no evidence has so far linked him?

If we go to war with Saddam and the Iraqi people, one can only pray that good not evil will come from it. We are a democracy. We can't absolve ourselves of personal responsibility by saying it was the president's decision. We need to help him make it, to make it responsibly.

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