AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA REGARDING THE MORALITY OF OUR NATION'S WAR ON THE PEOPLE OF AFGHANISTAN
From the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City, the Divine Mercy Catholic Worker House in Lyons, Kansas, the Columbia, Missouri Catholic Worker Community, and the Casa Maria Catholic Worker House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Today is dedicated to the remembrance of the Holy Innocents, who were victims of a state-sponsored terrorist attack at the very beginning of the Christian era. We believe this is an appropriate spiritual time to review and question the moral judgement of the Catholic Bishops of the United States of America that our nation's war on the people of Afghanistan is just. We do this in a spirit of fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church and to the charism bequeathed to us as Catholic Workers by our founders, the Servants of God Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day of New York. Our statements, questions, and conclusions may seem startling to you, they may make you uncomfortable. This is because we come to you, not as the rich and powerful, but as the weak, poor, and powerless.
Actions have consequences, and the consequences of our war in Afghanistan become more apparent as each day passes. We bombed that already-suffering country until we ran out of targets and then we continued to drop bombs and missiles upon their land. Thousands of innocent people have been killed, and more are dying every day. Millions are at risk of starvation. Hundreds of thousands are displaced refugees. International aid agencies are reporting problems with getting sufficient relief supplies to those who are in need. Unexploded munitions remain scattered across the landscape, each bomb a potential threat to an Afghan child. The Taliban government of Afghanistan has been replaced by a new regime, but the leaders of Al Queda remain at large as of this writing. Violence and anarchy are increasing in the area. The nation's physical infrastructure has been destroyed. Such are the consequences thus far of the "just war" waged by the United States.
We are taught that the presumption should always be in favor of non-violence. The burden of proof is on those who would say that a particular use of state violence is just and appropriate.
Therefore, we ask: Where was the national examination of conscience before our launching of war and devastation on the civilian population of Afghanistan?
Your November statement rightly reminds the nation that we must consider the situations which led up to the events of Sept. 11th, but where is the evidence that the United States government has followed your advice? Indeed, politicians and commentators have ridiculed the idea that anything that the United States has done in the past has contributed to this situation. We are told that September11th was an ahistorical eruption of evil into normality, with no context to be understood. How can a government which refuses to examine its own responsibilities for a situation wage a just war? By endorsing as just the military actions of this government, you give a de facto endorsement to its willful historical blindness. If this was not your intention, you need to make your point again, in stronger terms.
When we read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find that military action must be a last resort. What non-violent means were employed to find a resolution before launching this war? Here is the sequence of events following the attacks. First, we published a series of non-negotiable demands. Second, we refused to submit the situation to any of the international organizations with competence to resolve such conflicts. Third, we refused to negotiate with the government of Afghanistan. And so it came to pass that we rushed immediately to the military solution. The Taliban offered to talk to us: if we were seeking a just war, shouldn't we have negotiated with them before launching weeks of bombardment and killing thousands? How can you reconcile our nation's refusal to negotiate with the Holy Father's clearly announced teachings about negotiations among warring parties and loving our enemies?
The Pope teaches that the guilt for terrorist acts is personal, and cannot be applied to an entire race or nation. He seems to have a high respect for international law, and great hopes in particular for the new International Criminal Court. Why do the bishops of the United States not share that respect and his hopes? Why is the United States entitled to proceed directly to a military solution that impacts an entire nation with such devastation? By your blessing of this war as just, you seem to be saying that the United States has an exemption from the teachings of the Church and is justified in ignoring international law and established extradition procedures and we ask that you publish your authority for this position. Surely the common good requires that the rich and powerful respect the rule of law.
We are taught that civilians must not be targeted. Yet, in defiance of this moral principle, we have destroyed Afghanistan's roads, bridges, energy production and telecommunications facilities and attacked their water systems and dams. Why is the United States entitled to attack the civilian population of another nation with such thorough viciousness when the teaching of the Catholic Church clearly condemns such attacks?
Destroying the essential "life-support" technology of a nation can be the death knell for an entire people, as the physical ability to support the population will be reduced by an enormous margin. Electricity is not just a convenience, it is power to pump water and treat it for disease pathogens. Roads are not luxuries for tourists, they move food from farmers to consumers, and if the bridges are destroyed, the food does not move and the cities starve. Millions of people are now at risk of starvation this winter, and this isn't an accident of history. It is the foreseeable result of our violent response to the attacks of Sept. 11th, which have made an already bad situation even worse.
The United States denies it targets civilians, but whenever we go to war, we always target the infrastructure that supports the civilian population - claiming of course that since these targets also have military value, they are "fair game" in our latest "just war". The deaths resulting from infrastructure destruction are slow, painful, torturously cruel, and they disproportionately impact the poorest and weakest, especially the children. We say to you that targeting the technological infrastructure that the civilian population is dependent upon is the moral equivalent of firebombing residential neighborhoods and machine-gunning children in schools.
We believe your acceptance of the Administration's assurances regarding non-targeting of civilian non-combatants has not been justified by the subsequent events, and that the Administration is playing semantic games to hide the true nature and consequences of our targeting regime.
We are taught that war must not be for revenge, that there must be a serious possibility of success, we must have the right intention.
Since the November 2001 US Bishops' conference, our forces have conquered the entire Afghan nation, yet as of this writing the leadership of Al Queda remains at large and the US has less than 50 Al Queda members in custody. Where is the promised success? Will you now say that the deaths of the thousands of Afghan civilians killed in our Crusade were justified by these paltry results? What was the point of destroying that nation and killing all those people if not to catch the leaders of Al Queda? And even if we do find Osama bin Laden's body, dead in some cave, will you still say that his death justifies the thousands of innocent civilians we have killed to get him, not to mention the millions that are now at risk of the consequences of our Crusade?
What evidence do we have that killing Osama bin Laden would eliminate Al Queda's ability to harm the United States? Al Queda is described as a series of interconnected but independently operating cells. Removing leadership may not in fact prove to be a death blow to the organization. Such groups typically have alternative leaders who come into play when others are killed or captured. It is possible that there is no way out of this without negotiation. How many more must die - abroad and perhaps at home - before we come to understand this? Osama bin Laden as a dead martyr may be much more dangerous than he is now as a living, breathing, active terrorist mastermind.
Does the United States really go forward with a right intention in this battle? Given the public rhetoric since September 11th, isn't it more probable that a major influence on the decision for war was the desire to make the US appear strong before the world, thus reinforcing our global dominance? Is it therefore morally justifiable to kill innocent civilians abroad so that the United States can spread "fear and respect" for our military power? Is it therefore morally permissible to kill innocent civilians so that US politicians can appear "strong and decisive" before the American electorate? If our intentions were honorable, shouldn't we have respected the government of Afghanistan's demand for proof of guilt before extraditing a resident of that nation? Even the most guilty of criminals seems entitled to a preliminary hearing to establish that there are enough facts to proceed to a trial.
In ancient times, Thucydides remarked that "large nations do what they wish, while small nations accept what they must." Is this the position of the Catholic Bishops of the United States? Do you support the alleged "right" of the US government to order other governments to hand over persons based on our unilateral demand, with no evidence necessary? Are you not aware that US military doctrine teaches that small countries must be defeated decisively and quickly by an overwhelming use of force lest the United States be "embarrassed" before the world? Is avoiding embarrassment a legitimate reason to kill the innocent with overwhelming force?
One cardinal, speaking presumably for himself, said in a speech in Rome that our judgment of the US military attacks on Afghanistan must be colored by "moral realism." What is this supposed to mean? How can we view the killing of the innocent with "moral realism"? What realities are there which justify the murder of innocent people? Do we speak of "moral realism" when we teach about abortion? It is a matter of grave concern to hear a religious leader of a powerful military empire, which has a long history of using violence against the poor to achieve its national aims, propose a novel evolution in moral doctrine to justify his nation's killing of the poor.
This military crusade has been accompanied by a campaign of demonization and depersonalization directed against our enemies, and also against American citizens who dissent from our government's war policy. Everyone in the US government is apparently in agreement that our enemies are so evil that there is no possibility of negotiation with them, nor are such negotiations seen as something desirable that should be pursued because our enemies are such beasts. Do you agree with President Bush's demonization of our enemies and his refusal to negotiate? Has the Pope not called us to forgiveness in our pursuit of justice? How does demonization of our enemies bring us to reconciliation and forgiveness? Doesn't this in fact place great obstacles in the way of forgiveness?
The attorney general of the United States has branded those who disagree with the Administration's war policy as "traitors." Do you agree with this? If not, since you have so closely identified yourselves as the Catholic hierarchy of this nation with the Republican Administration, you should make your disagreements with their extremist demonization tactics public knowledge. A war that cannot go forward without demonization is not a just war, and the Catholic Bishops of this nation should not give their blessing to such campaigns of dehumanizing propaganda.
Given what we have discussed above, we deny that the response of the United States has been proportional to the crime committed against us. The United States is without a doubt the most powerful military force on this planet. We have used our wealth and power with great cruelty and overwhelming force against another country which had done us no direct wrong. It is painful to have to repeat this, but Al Queda was not an activity of the government of Afghanistan. The crime of Afghanistan was to not yield immediately to the peremptory demands of our government to extradite a criminal suspect without our producing any evidence or following any established international legal procedures. To this very day, the United States government has published no evidence that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had anything to do with the attacks of Sept. 11th other than Osama Bin Laden had his headquarters in their country. We have indeed held an entire nation responsible for the criminal activities of a handful of people, and that is a shameful thing for this nation to do, especially since we were so instrumental in sending Osama bin Laden there in the first place, and the Taliban regime was itself helped into power by our ally Pakistan.
The moral foundation of a particular government should also be questioned when we consider the justice of a war. The United States of America is a nation which has murdered by abortion more than 40 million of its own children over the past 3 decades. We have a long history of using and benefitting from state-sponsored terror attacks against innocent people in other nations. In Central America alone, hundreds of thousands of innocent people - men, women, and children - have been killed with the encouragement and tactical support of the United States. The moral and practical responsibility of the United States for these deaths cannot be questioned, it is a matter of the historical record. The bullets which assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador were sent to that suffering country by the United States of America. He was murdered shortly after publicly appealing to President Carter to stop sending military aid to his country because it was being used to murder the innocent poor, not to fight communism (which of course was our public justification). After his death, we continued to send money, guns, and bombs, and provide training and other tactical assistance, and 90,000 more people were killed in that one small country alone over the next ten years.
This history does not mean that we do not have a right to self defense against attacks, it does suggest that our response and our responsibilities must be scrutinized with greater care than is evident in your current public statements about this war. The richest and most powerful nation on earth must be held to the highest standards of international behavior. We have not done this in the past and as a result, poor people throughout the world have been murdered with wanton abandon. A nation may have the right to do something, but it may not be prudent for it to exercise that right, especially when there are alternative possibilities for resolution of the conflict that do not involve holding an entire nation hostage for the criminal actions of a small gang. And effective defense is not synonymous with violence, although that's what our culture of death would like for us to think. Indeed, all of the trillions of dollars we have spent on armaments of death over the past 50 years were not able to protect us from a handful of determined murderers.
Given the grave consequences of war upon non-combatant civilians, when such a wealthy and powerful nation, with a history of producing civilian casualties as a consequence of its military actions (or the actions of its surrogates), and whose history indicates frequent use of military force, often for the basest of motives (commercial greed), rushes immediately to a unilateral military solution, and ignores established international procedures for resolving conflicts, questions must be raised about the justice of its actions. .
This history also suggests that accountability must be demanded from domestic political and military leaders for their actions which have placed the nation at risk of war and devastation. There is, however, no sign of any such examination of conscience, even though the failures of the political and military leadership of the United States have been extraordinarily grave and devastating for so many innocent people, both here at home and abroad. The silence of the Catholic Bishops of the United States about this issue is troubling, as is the public embrace by the bishops of politicians whose hands are stained with the blood of the innocent..
Does your blessing of justice rest upon the coming expansion of the military conflict to other nations? If so, why do you support the government in its refusal to consider any other ways to bring this conflict to a peaceable end? Why are you so accommodating of a policy which has such deadly consequences for the poor? How many of this world's poor are you willing to kill in pursuit of the war aims of the United States government? Should we stop at 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000? Where do you draw the line between justice and injustice? If you cannot answer this question, as Catholic bishops, then who has the competence to do so? Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador ordered the police and military of his station to stop killing the poor. Will you follow his holy and courageous example and speak truth to power in defense of those least able to protect themselves?
If you are to continue to judge this war as just, do you expect to see progress towards resolving the larger issues that surround this conflict? We welcome your call for an end to the murderous sanctions on Iraq, but thus far there seems to be no response from the Administration. Indeed, Iraq is high on the list of future targets for war. Isn't it time for you to follow the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador and forbid Catholics to willingly participate in the enforcement of those sanctions which are killing the poor?
We cannot fail to note the irony in destroying another nation in an attempt to hold a handful of criminals responsible for the deaths of 4,000 American citizens, while our government turns a blind eye to the daily deaths of an equal number of American citizens by abortion. For this Republican administration, as with the Democratic administration which preceded them, it seems as though every issue in the book is of more importance than protecting human life. Not a single bill has been introduced into this session of Congress to ban partial birth abortions. We wonder how the bishops of the United States can seem so friendly with and accommodating to an administration which has so cynically abandoned unborn children to their fates because of the politics of this issue. The witness of the Church to the cause of life has been dealt a serious blow by the tacit acceptance by the bishops of the United States of the Republican Administration's decision to place the abortion issue on the back burner and by your blessing of our war on the people of Afghanistan as just..
On this day of remembrance of the Holy Innocents, we must ask, if now is not the time to protect human life, when will the time be appropriate? What should we say to the hundreds of thousands of children who will die by abortion so that the Republicans can enact the rest of their legislative agenda and fight their war before tackling the controversial issue of abortion - if indeed they ever decide to invest the political will necessary to protect the lives of unborn children? Why do the deaths of Sept. 11th demand and justify the destruction of an entire nation, while an equivalent number of violent deaths every day are completely ignored by President Bush and his allies in Congress? When will we begin to do something serious about the constellation of issues surrounding abortion - not just legal protection for unborn children, although that is vital, but also violence against women, sexual exploitation, economic insecurity and injustice?
Many bishops gave their tacit endorsement to the campaign of George Bush for president. They should be publicly accountable for the lack of progress on the abortion issue, but we hear nothing from them except praise for our political leaders. On this remembrance of the Holy Innocents, we remind you that while the US. Government concentrates on war, economic policy, tax cuts, and corporate welfare, since Sept. 11th, more than 400,000 American citizens have been murdered by abortion, without a single word of protest or mourning from President Bush or anyone in Congress. Have the bishops privately asked President Bush when anti-abortion legislation will be introduced to Congress and acted upon? If not, why not? If yes, what was the answer? Why do the Bishops not ask this question publicly when members of the Administration are feted at Catholic events?
We ask none of these questions in a spirit of anger or hostility, but rather of sorrow and very grave concern. We ask them on behalf of those who have no voice, who cannot speak for themselves because we have killed them. We hear their cry for justice and remembrance, but it seems to us that the Roman Catholic Bishops of these United States of America have shut your ears to their cries, closed your eyes to the suffering and the devastation caused by our national policies, and by your approval of this war as just have blessed the murder of the innocent. You are sorry about this, your November statement says so, but they still have to die in violence and destruction. As people say, "It's them or us." Isn't it sad that after all the blessings this nation has received, this is the best we can do in this crisis?
The Holy Father has clearly and without ambiguity taught that it is immoral to hold an entire nation responsible for the activities of a criminal gang. He has called for a response proportional to the crime and for negotiations. He has reminded us that the guilt for the Sept .11th attacks is personal, not collective. Yet, the American Bishops continue to support the US government as it holds the entire nation of Afghanistan responsible for the actions of a handful of terrorists, as it refuses to negotiate, as it puts the people of Afghanistan at risk of death and starvation on a mass scale, and as we wield a response that is not proportional to the crime committed against us. Where is the justice in this? It is not enough to simply repeat, as if it were a magical mantra, that "nations have a right of self defense," as though that justifies any action the United States government deems appropriate.
With great sorrow we say to you that in regard to this crisis it seems to us that you have separated yourself from the witness and teaching of Pope John Paul II and are in the process of carving out some kind of "American Exception" to the teachings of the Church on war and peace, and we think this is a dangerous place for the Bishops of such a wealthy and powerful and violent country to go.
Jesus of Nazareth, who is God, did not speak with ambiguity about war and peace. He said to us, "Love your enemies. Do good to those who curse you." And, "All they who take the sword will perish by the sword." Since He spoke those blessed words, an ocean of ink has been expended to explain how He really didn't mean what He said. The rich are always ready, willing, and able to justify their killing of the poor with high sounding phrases and appeals to morality, and so even though we are nobody important, and getting less so all the time, we dare to say to you who are rich and powerful that you must more strictly question yourselves and examine your consciences about your approval of the killing of the innocent by the government of these United States of America. Our government has been quick to use military force for many years, and the past century has seen an ocean of blood shed in the name of "just war." Those who advocate such violence as just must share in the responsibility for the consequences.
We promise you our prayers and acts of reparations.
"Following the teaching and example of Jesus, Christians hold that to show mercy is to live out the truth of our lives: We can and must be merciful because mercy has been shown us by a God who is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:7-12). The God who enters into history to redeem us, and through the dramatic events of Good Friday prepares the victory of Easter Sunday, is a God of mercy and forgiveness (cf. Ps 103:3-4, 10-13). Thus Jesus told those who challenged his dining with sinners: "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mt 9:13). The followers of Christ, baptized into his redeeming death and resurrection, must always be men and women of mercy and forgiveness. " Pope John Paul II, World Day of Peace Message 2002
We say these things to you, in the memory of all who have been killed in war and terrorism, with sorrow and concern on this the 28th day of December, the feast of the Holy Innocents, in this year of our Lord 2001.
Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, 1524 NW 21st, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73106
Marion Latiolais, Divine Mercy Catholic Worker House, 325 East 1st St, Lyons Kansas 67554
Lana Jacobs, Columbia Catholic Worker Community, 913 Rangeline St., Columbia Missouri 65201
Lincoln Rice, Casa Maria Catholic Worker House, 1131 N 21st St., PO Box 05206, Milwaukee Wisconsin 53205
Text by Robert Waldrop
The Works of Justice and Peace
A little way of non-cooperation with evil.
+Live simply and justly in solidarity with the poor and marginalized and be a good neighbor. Make no war on them, rather, be one with them in spirit, truth, and love.
+Hear the truth when it is spoken to you. Discern the signs of the times and speak truth -- to power, to the people, and to the Church.
+Make injustice visible -- witness, remember, teach, proclaim, tell. Light candles, do not curse the darkness.
+Protect the poor and powerless-- listen, learn, educate, organize, empower participation, and respect life from the moment of conception to the time of natural death.
+Work for reconciliation with truth, evangelism, catechesis, orthopraxis.
+Celebrate life, goodness, beauty, virtue, responsibility, and joy. Practice peace, non-violence, servant leadership, harmony, community, voluntary cooperation, and the proper stewardship of God's creation. Pray without ceasing.
+ Ensure fair distribution, subsidiarity, economic opportunity, justice, and food security for everyone everywhere.