||The Prospect of War Between Iraq and the
Cardinal James Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and one of the highest-ranking Americans in the Vatican, was contacted in late January by Inside the Vatican magazine for a comment on the possibility of a U.S.-led preventive war in Iraq. In early February, he released the following written statement to several news agencies in Rome, including NCR.
From the past several years two contrasting memories of young people constantly surface in my thoughts. Both involve the use of power. The first memory is the moral uneasiness expressed by a U. S. Army officer after the 1991 Desert Storm War. What haunted him most was the massive guilt over his order to his men to bury living Iraqi soldiers during the American sweep across their front lines. Since they were surrendering in such large and unexpected numbers, the Iraqis seemed to constitute a threat to the security of the allied forces. Obeying his order, the young American soldiers used their bulldozers to bury alive hundreds, possibly thousands (the numbers vary), Iraqis in the desert sand. This horrific memory recalls the words of the Holy Father: war is always a defeat for man. One cannot be doing the work of peace while radically violating the human rights of others.
A memory of a second use of power stems from the World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. The silent lines of young people from nearly every nation are etched forever in my memory. Hundreds of thousands passed through the Holy Door of St. Peters Basilica during the Jubilee Year 2000 and prepared to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation later at the Circus Maximus. Here the Church was using her God-given power on behalf of forgiveness and reconciliation, thereby educating the young on the meaning of the peace.
The question frequently arises concerning the two powers: which will achieve hegemony in the new millennium? My daily prayer is that the second will prevail.
But with the wars in the former Yugoslavia in 1999, in the Middle East, in New York and Washington in 2001, in Afghanistan in 2002 and elsewhere the use of violent power seems on the ascendancy. These wars carry strong echoes from the opening line of Virgils Aeneid, I sing of arms and of the hero ... The song is becoming familiar and unsettling.
A new version is being sung in 2003 with a fearful melody and an uncertain content about the logic of power. The political leaders on all sides are afraid. International politics is gripped by fear. Statesmen have lost their way. They are fearful even of addressing questions to one another. Thomas Hobbess understanding of the origin of the sovereign state -- it is the consequence of the overwhelming fear of death haunting men -- comes to mind. Such fear drowns out the constant call of the Holy Father to young people, Do not be afraid!
Fear dominates the discussions dealing with the morality of a preemptive war and fear justifies the appeal to the just war tradition. Contrary to past experience, the American government has not offered conclusive evidence of imminent danger to its national security. Its case rests on the alleged imminent threat of mass destruction by the Iraqi government of urban centers in America and elsewhere. Thus far the case has not been convincing to many citizen in most countries.
Moreover, in the just war tradition there is a strong moral presumption against initiating a preemptive war. This is clear from the teachings of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Churchs magisterium. The Catechism of the Catholic Church accurately summarizes this tradition: [G]overnments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed (GS 79 § 4). The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration.
The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to several conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: the damages inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition (2309).
The Catechism uses three significant phrases in its teaching on a preemptive war: lawful self-defense, legitimate defense and damages inflicted by an aggressor. These phrases indicate that legitimate public authority cannot decide for war unless the nation or community of nations has undergone prior damages from an aggressor or is actually under a very imminent threat. In the just war tradition resort to violence can be justified only if there is an aggression in actu.
Furthermore, the concept of a preventive war is ambiguous. Prevention does not have a limit; it is a relative term and is subject to self-serving interpretations. Objective criteria must be applied with intellectual rigor. The threat must be clear, active and present not future. Nor has the American administration shown that all other options before going to war have proven impractical or ineffective.
Several incongruities about the present situation strike me. They have surfaced in my reflections on the various World Youth Days called by Pope John Paul II.
In these early years of the new millennium American, British, Iraqi and other political leaders have been calling their young people to war. The Pope has been doing the opposite. At the World Youth Day in Rome 2000 and in Toronto 2002 he educated them in the principles of peace. His constant vision at these gatherings of the young people of the world has been a call to the establishment of a new culture of reconciliation, forgiveness and selfless love in the third millennium.
During the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver while talking with young people in the presence of the President of the United States, the Holy Father was more specific, In the face of tensions and conflicts that too many peoples have endured for too long the international community ought to establish more effective structures for maintaining and promoting justice and peace. This implies that a concept of strategic interest should evolve which is based on the full development -- out of poverty and towards a more dignified existence, out of injustice and exploitation towards fuller respect for the human person and the defense of universal human rights. If the United Nations and other international agencies, through the wise and honest cooperation of their member nations, succeed in effectively defending stricken populations, whether victims of underdevelopment or conflicts or the massive violation of human rights, then there is indeed hope for the future. The syntax of the Pope for WYD is filled with the future tense. He constantly calls the young people to give reason for their hope. Hope gives life a transcendent reference.
The government of the USA has recently threatened to use nuclear weapons against Iraq. This is unworthy of the oldest representative democracy in the world founded on the universal rights of peoples to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Moreover, since August 1945 the young people of each generation have been haunted by the shadow of the nuclear mushroom. It is the modern equivalent of Keats shadow of a magnitude. Nuclear threats cause a collective shudder; they carry young people closer to the edge of despair. Furthermore, the government of the United States has compromised its own basic principles by implicitly endorsing the use of torture since September 11, 2001.
On the other side, President Saddam Hussein is one of the few heads of governments who has not condemned the suicide-terrorism of September 11, 2001. This is inexplicable. The question arises, Where does the government of Iraq stand on the organized terrorism engulfing the world?
I will comment on only one aspect of the horrific incongruity of urban terrorism: the employment of young Muslim suicides as instruments of terror. The youthful suicides are offering a live, three-dimensional hermeneutic text to accompany Franz Kafkas Metamorphosis. His novel is turning out to be the key-fable for understanding the postmodern world. It is generally perceived that sometime in the future young Muslim suicides could be the carriers of nuclear and biological weapons used to destroy urban centers in America and elsewhere. Thermonuclear and bacterial weapons could in fact lead to the end of man and his environment. Kafkas fable prophetically pointed to the possible reversal of evolution, to the systematic turn towards bestialization.
Moreover, the human bombs, which are the core instrument of Muslim terrorism today, make real the pessimism of Albert Camus, The only serious philosophical question is that of suicide. Tragedy and irony are apparent in the juxtaposition of Islam and Camus. Islam is rooted in the belief of the hundreds of millions of eastern peoples in the God of Abraham. It wishes to carry the mystery of the living God into the twenty-first century. Yet Islam is the first worldwide community to embody the vision of a western agnostic whose works belong to the supreme literary canons of the Chaotic Age. Islam is making its own Camus nihilism -- The only serious philosophical question is that of suicide.
Islam recruits these suicides mostly from among the young. Such practice marks a return to pre-Abrahamic days in which the sacrifice of ones son or daughter was de rigueur if done in the name of religion. Islam has succumbed to the worst possible nemesis of monotheistic religion, that of syncretism. By sanctioning such suicides Muslim leaders are making their own the worst of western existentialism. How long will the worlds Muslim leaders condone such parricide?
The Koran has an important chapter on Abrahams dream of sacrificing Isaac. Abraham is reported to address Isaac in these words, My son, I dreamt that I was sacrificing you. Tell me what you think. An interfaith dialogue on this theme in The Ranks and in the Book of Genesis would be useful.
The peacemaking efforts of many Catholic laity are relevant to the discussions. This lay phenomenon is one of the most significant developments in the Catholic Church. It has its roots in the bourgeoning of the new lay movements since 1968. As is generally known, at the invitation of national governments some lay Catholics from these movements have exercised their skills of peacemaking successfully in some very conflicted situations. They enter these discussions with the conviction that the natural human inclination to friendship is factually the basis of every society and transcends all cultures. With this conviction they are solidly within teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and the whole Catholic tradition
Cultural, economic and historical realities have created huge obstacles to dialogue between western and eastern peoples. Consequently, some form of skilled mediation may help the recovery of this natural bond of friendship among peoples of diverse cultures and religions. In a world dominated by the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, one may be skeptical that the political leaders of the United States, Britain, Iraq, France, Russia, China and other nations have enough trust in this natural human inclination to friendship to be open to further mediation. Of course, such mediating efforts would have to be founded upon the 1991 U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 requiring that Iraq accept the destruction, removal or rendering harmless under international supervision of all weapons of mass destruction. Likewise, in such a scenario, the relation between national energy policies, the priority of oil production and reserves, the need for cheap oil and the rivalry among oil companies on the one hand and the pursuit of human rights and democracy on the other require frank, open and comprehensive discussions. The former cannot trump the latter.
My daily prayer has been that the universal vision shared by Pope John Paul II with the young people of all the nations of the world -- Arab, Asian, American, European, African -- will prevail and not the nightmares envisioned for Iraq by many political leaders.
The open Jubilee Door of St. Peters Basilica during the Millennial Year 2000 expresses best the vision of Pope John Paul II. He opened that door on December 25, 1999. Over the next year, it became a welcoming door through which hundreds of thousands of young peoples from all the nations of the earth passed as a living stream of hope and of reconciliation.
International openness among political leaders will require the exercise of enlightened statesmanship on the part of President Hussein of Iraq, President Bush of the USA, Prime Minister Blair of Great Britain and the leaders of other concerned countries. But another war, the fourth in five years, would cripple, if not disable, the attempt to recover the connaturality between man and the true good (Veritatis Splendor 64). It is sobering to recall the ending of one of the founding political epics of the West, the classic of all Europe. The Aeneid which begins with a song about military arms ends ominously when a young warrior slain by Aeneas descends in anger into the shadow of another magnitude, that of infernal darkness.
J. Francis Cardinal Stafford
National Catholic Reporter, Posted February 11, 2003