ELEVEN CONCERNS ABOUT THE JUSTICE OF THE AFGHAN WAR
"Deliver us, O Lord, from famine, war, and pestilence."
By Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City
1. There was a rush to military action and a refusal to negotiate a peaceful resolution prior to resorting to armed force. Peremptory demands have been made by our government, backed by the threat of overwhelming military force, but we have consistently refused to negotiate with our enemies and did not follow standard international procedure for extradition of criminal suspects. In much of the discussion of whether this war is just, the focus has been on the "right to retaliation;" somehow the failure of the US government to thoroughly exhaust peaceful means is often ignored as if there was some kind of "American Exception" to the traditional teachings on just war.
2. The war is being fought with a conspicuous lack of proportionality. Five thousand US citizens have been killed, and several large buildings damaged or destroyed. As grave as this evil was, in response the US has put more than seven million people at risk of starvation and death this winter, and that is not a proportional response. We have gravely hindered an effective aid campaign and to cover our sins, have resorted to a propaganda aid campaign that is almost insulting in its utter inadequacy in the face of the need. Will we feel better once we kill seven million Afghan non-combatants because of our quarrel with their government?" We dishonor the memory of those heroes who lost their lives on Sept. 11th and also our heritage as a free people by putting the Afghan people in such terrible danger.
3. The US is waging a propaganda campaign of deliberate demonization and depersonalization against our enemies. "We can't negotiate with them because they are evil." A similar campaign is also being wielded against those who disagree with the present war policy. It is said that pacifists are allies of evil and cooperators with wickedness. People opposing the war are referred to as traitors and disloyal. The anti-war position is regularly distorted and ad hominem attacks on anti-war commentators and personalities are commonplace. If the pro-war folks are in possession of the truth in this matter, they should not need such crude propaganda tactics to support their position. Truth does not need to be defended with lies and demonization; such are more commonly found to be defenders of falsehood.. This situation suggests a government which is unsure of the depth of support in the population for this war.
4. It is debatable whether our military strategy and tactics have a serious possibility of success. Afghanistan has not been successfully conquered since the days of Alexander the Great. The US leadership seems possessed with an arrogant hubris reminiscent of some of the more tragic episodes in the annals of government. The connection between putting the Afghan civilian population at risk with a bombing campaign and finding and arresting Osama bin Laden has not been fully established by the US government and its allies. It is also not at all clear how this bombing campaign provides protection to US civilians here in the national homeland.
5. Civilians may never be morally targeted, but as we destroy the infrastructure of Afghanistan, we are effectively targeting the civilian population, whatever our stated intentions may be. The waging of a version of modern "total war" - which is to say, destruction of dams, water treatment systems, electrical generation and telecommunication facilities, bombing of roads and bridges - is the deploying of a weapon of mass destruction against the civilian population because they are dependent upon that infrastructure for their lives. If roads and bridges are destroyed, food cannot be moved from farms to markets and thus to people. If water systems are destroyed, disease will run rampant in the civilian population. I do not see justice in these tactics, but rather oppression.
We cannot find refuge in the argument popular with adolescents, "I was forced to do this," although this seems to be the sum total of the US government's position. We are the most powerful nation on earth, nobody forces us to do anything. If we destroy a country, it is because we with calculation and deliberation decided to do this.
As we began the bombing of Afghanistan, we knew what the effect of our military campaign would be on the existing humanitarian assistance campaigns, and yet we went ahead with our military action, international law forbidding interference with such programs and the protests of aid organizations notwithstanding. Some have noted the complicity of others in this developing catastrophe, but here again the sins of others do not justify our conduct. The fact that others cooperate with us in committing evil does not make our actions good when our national policies have in fact often been gravely objectively disordered. We should know better.
6. There is no excuse for taking an innocent life. None. Under any circumstances. By anybody. Anywhere. No exceptions. Not even for Americans. Yet, every day we kill the innocent in Afghanistan. In response, the general attitude of the population and the government seems to be, "war is hell, therefore, collateral damage is regrettable but inevitable." But - are we not supposed to be America the Beautiful - the richest, most powerful, and smartest nation on earth? Do we not claim to be God's special friends? Is not our land covered with churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues of every possible description and creed? Does not all this lay a heavy burden of moral responsibility upon us? The teaching of the Church is utterly clear and without any ambiguity: the outbreak of war does not repeal the moral laws of God and there is no excuse for taking innocent lives.
It was wrong for Al Queda to attack the World Trade Center and kill all of those innocent people, none of whom deserved to die that awful day. But it is equally wrong for the US to attack and kill civilian non-combatants in Afghanistan, none of whom deserve to die because of our quarrel with Osama bin Laden or the Taliban government. If our leaders cannot find a way to not kill civilians in Afghanistan, they do not deserve their positions of power and should resign or be impeached so that others who are more competent can take their places.
7. The US has completely evaded any examination of our national conscience before commencing this war. Indeed, the suggestion that this is necessary is viewed as somehow disloyal or even treasonous. "Now is not the time to talk about those things," we are told.
The Catechism clearly teaches that governments have a grave responsibility to pursue peace, yet questions can and must be raised about the objectively disordered basis of many of the foreign and economic policies of the United States government. The President says to the world "all terrorist camps must be closed," yet we continue to operate the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, whose graduates are collectively responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, including many Catholic priests and nuns such as Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador. In one country alone - Guatamala - 200,000 innocent civilians have been killed at the behest of the United States government, included in this toll are many children. Their blood is a bright scarlet badge of shame on our national honor and it speaks poorly of our personal and national commitment to morality that we refuse to acknowledge this wickedness, repent, make reparations for these national sins - and then change our behavior.
It is a matter of public record that students of the United States Army's School of the Americas were taught to harass religious and labor leaders, to arrest the relatives of "inconvenient" witnesses in criminal proceedings, to blackmail government opponents, to torture their captives, and to kill political opponents. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as they say, should not those responsible for these terrorist crimes be arrested and tried and punished? Do we not hear the cries of their victims for justice and remembrance?
Behind the scenes, there are often "secondary" or "indirect" terrorists, who by their concrete personal actions help create the objective circumstances that make terrorism possible and attractive. There is no resolution to the problem of terrorism that concentrates solely on the direct terrorists and avoids scrutiny and justice for the indirect or secondary terrorists. Here we should listen to Pope John Paul II when he speaks of the dangers of "structures of sin" in the world.
The politically correct response to all this is that the events of Sept. 11th were an ahistorical interruption of normality by an anomalous random evil. There was no chain of causality leading to the attacks, or so we are told. But wisdom tells us, "those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them." Without denying the moral faculties or the personal guilt and responsibility of any of the direct perpetrators, we are fools if we do not examine the events that led to the attacks: the more of this we understand, the better our chances of avoiding such evil in the future, and also, our chances of countering the ideological appeal of fascist terrorism..
8. This war seems likely to provoke even greater evils and disorders than the one it proposes to resolve. I have already mentioned the seven million civilians at risk of starvation, there is also the real possibility of the further radicalization of Islamic countries, the spread of war throughout the Middle East, and the development of this conflict into a grand clash of civilizations and desperate battle for declining resources. Both sides are threatening to use nuclear weapons, thus destroying the "fire-break" which has endured since the last use of nuclear weapons in combat over Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of World War II..
9. There is a persistent suspicion that this war is not simply a war against terrorism, that it is in fact the latest episode of a decade long undeclared war for control of the oil reserves of the Middle East. With only 6% of the world's population, the United States uses 25% of the world's annual oil production. Domestic production peaked in 1970, and has been declining ever since, and nothing is going to rebuild that domestic production because the oil simply isn't here to be found and exploited. Thus, we must import 60% of our annual oil consumption. As domestic production will continue to decline, the proportion of our consumption which must be imported will increase. The center of gravity of world oil production is thus shifting towards the Middle East as fields in Venezuela, Nigeria, and the North Sea age and begin to decline. Every year for the rest of the 21st century we will be more dependent upon this unstable part of the world for our petroleum supplies.
Yet, there is no national conservation program designed to reduce our dependency upon these authoritarian regimes for our national prosperity, even though we know that some of the funding for the Al Queda terrorist network is ultimately oil money. Rather than do the heavy work of abandoning our dependency upon fossil fuels, we seem to prefer to use our military to secure our access to oil, thus subsidizing with blood our gluttonously wasteful patterns of oil consumption. Afghanistan has no oil, but it sits astride promising pipeline routes that could bring oil from the Caspian sea to markets in the west, and Osama bin Laden himself is Saudi Arabian. If we weren't so dependent upon oil, the affairs of that region would not be a matter of national interest to the US. Here one can sense the behind the scenes influence of corporate money advocating its special interests even though this puts the common good at grave long-term risk.
More importantly, where can we find in the teachings of the Church any moral justification for waging war to ensure cheap access to an industrial commodity and thus to subsidize and encourage gluttony and greed - two of the "seven deadly sins"? Where can we find a "right" to build our prosperity on the blood of others? Do we think that because we are presently rich, we therefore have the right to kill other people in order to ensure that we stay rich? All of the oil in the Middle East is not worth the life of one innocent child, but we have already killed a half million kids in Iraq, and are poised to add to our toll in Afghanistan. Where is the justice in this?
10. It has been said that the government is obligated to respond with force to protect its legitimacy, and indeed, civil protection is a grave responsibility of government. Yet, it is not at all clear how bombing the civilian population in Afghanistan makes us more secure here at home. And if it is the responsibility of the government to defend the nation; we do well to raise questions about the effectiveness of the Afghan War as a defensive tactic for the US national homeland.
The events of Sept. 11th were a terrible indictment against those responsible for defending this nation "against all enemies, domestic and foreign." American taxpayers pay more than $350 billion per year for "defense" and "intelligence," and have born such heavy expenditures for many decades, yet, an enemy is even so able to wreak such havoc right in the middle of two of our major cities. Where was the Air Force? The Navy? They weren't at home, protecting the United States, they were off somewhere else at the behest of a long line of presidents and congresses possessed with an urge to meddle in the affairs of other nations. We hear that the CIA and the FBI don't work well together, and neither of them trust local law enforcement. What can we say about public servants who put bureaucratic turf battles ahead of their duty to protect and serve?
Shouldn't we start asking questions about the prudence of our aggressive forward deployment of military formations, as well as our financing of authoritarian regimes, dictators, and corrupt local elites who have cozy relationships with US corporations? We financed Osama bin Laden, and look where that has gotten us. Why is there no call to domestic accountability for those elected and appointed officials who have failed in their duty?
Questions also must be directed towards the airline industry. There has been much discussion since Sept. 11th about how the purpose of airport security in the past has been to reassure customers, not to actually find weapons. Here we see corporations putting profits before people, with terrible consequences for the entire world. Why is there no call to domestic accountability for those who have put corporate profits ahead of safety and security and their duties to the nation? Where were those responsible for regulating the behavior of these corporations?
11. Jesus' teaching in the Gospels seems rather plain and unambiguous. "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you." Over the centuries, much ink has been expended in a perpetual explanation of how Jesus really didn't mean what he said in this Gospel. But Jesus did not say, "Love your enemies, unless of course you need their oil or their land, in which case it is OK to kill them." No, he simply said, "Love your enemies." I do not see any love for our enemies in the present bombing campaign against Afghanistan.