February 20, 2003

More Errors of Michael Novak and Others on the Justice of War with Iraq.


The war party claims that the peacemakers have no credible alternative other than war to "rescue the Iraqi people from the tyrant Saddam." Their propaganda describes the situation as having only two choices, (1) Let Saddam do whatever evil he wants or (2) invade the country and kill Saddam and anybody who gets in our way. This is the situation as described by Catholic Republicans such as the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Novak, who are arguing that Saddam is so evil and dangerous that the United States is morally obligated to go to war to depose him.

But they have given us a false choice. Reality is much more dynamic than these two alternatives. The problem is that the war party does not consider the people of Iraq to be human persons with an unconditional and nonnegotiable right to life. By evading the humanity of the Iraqi people, we can rain down death and destruction on them with an untroubled conscience. We can save them by killing them, or so we suppose.

On February 18th, Michael Novak published an essay at the National Review Online website in which he claimed the upcoming war would be fought very carefully to spare the Iraqi people from any undue suffering, and reiterated the claim that there was a moral duty under the teachings of the Catholic Church to use war against the Iraqi government. One searches for his moral justification for killing innocent people, but it is not to be found in his argument ("Civilian Casualties and Turmoil," http://www.nationalreview.com/novak/novak.asp ).

The history of US/Iraq relations does not suggest much confidence in any compassion the United States government might allegedly have for the long suffering people of Iraq. We didn't care much for them when we supported the tyrant Saddam in the 1980s, giving him chemical warfare technology which he used against his own people.. We armed both sides of the Iraq/Iran war and that didn't show a lot of concern for the Iraqi people.. We didn't care much for them when we destroyed the technological infrastructure that the civilian population was dependent upon during the first Gulf war. And we haven't shown much compassion for them as they have died by the hundreds of thousands as a result of our blockade of their country since that war. In fact, according to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "We think the price is worth it." The current administration must agree because they have continued the blockade. When you don't see people as human persons, you are free to do these kinds of things to them. You can drive them into utter destitution and kill their kids (slowly, and causing them great agony) and still maintain an untroubled conscience. Yes, we blame the tyrant Saddam for the evil effects of the blockade, but that's another thing we do to ease our conscience: we refuse to accept responsibility for our actions.

This blockade has now been maintained through 3 different presidencies and six Congresses. Mr. Novak claims that the Iraqi people are "weak and defenseless," and the strong have a duty to rescue them. We should ask, however, why are they "weak and defenseless" and caught between such a rock and a hard place? Did this just happen one day because, you know, the Iraqi people woke up and decided they wanted to be defenseless before a tyrant? The fact of this matter is that for most of this century, the people of Iraq have been under attack, not only by their own government, but also by the governments of the United States and England. Novak's essay, and the war party's propaganda in general, is breathtaking in its selective historical amnesia. They have no problems recalling the most minute details regarding Chamberlain and Hitler, but the story of Iraq in the 20th century seems utterly unknown to them. It isn't, of course, they know exactly what has happened, but they don't want most people to know about this history because then some inconvenient questions might be asked. Why exactly have we killed so many Iraqi civilians? What purpose is the deaths of all these people serving?

The Iraqi people have had all the chances of an ice cube in hell this century. It's amazing that there's any of them left alive at all. After World War I, the British and French broke all their promises to the peoples of the region, drew lines in the sand and installed puppet regimes. People rebelled, had a brief flirtation with self governance, and then there was another coup, this one backed by the US, and in comes the Baath party which leads us directly to Saddam.

In the 1980s, we supported Saddam, helped him stay in power, gave him chemical warfare technology that he used against his own people, armed both sides of the Iraq/Iran war (which brought great suffering also to civilians on both sides of the conflict), gave him anthrax germs, and filled his pockets with money and his armories with weapons. So for the first ten years or so of our 20 year terror campaign, we the people of these United States were directly helping the tyrant Saddam torture and terrorize the people of Iraq, with technology, weapons, money, and support for the regime in public and in international forums and organizations.

Then things changed. Saddam got greedy, overstepped his bounds, so we terrorized the people of Iraq with the first Gulf war, completely destroying the technological infrastructure that the civilian population was dependent upon. This was a war crime: the deploying of a weapon of mass destruction against the civilian population. And when we tired of terrorizing them that way, we pulled back and blockaded their country, and thus we continue to terrorize them to the present day, with a second weapon of mass destruction, the economic blockade. For good measure, early on we encouraged the Iraqi people to rebel, and then when they did rebel, we reneged on our promises of support, and even lifted the no fly restrictions so Saddam could send in helicopters to terrorize and murder the rebels.

Rumor has it he did some pretty gruesome and evil things to people in putting down those rebellions. I wonder what those victims thought of the United States as they ended their lives in pain and agony. Were they grateful for our betrayal? A betrayal made, of course, because we couldn't bear the thought of actual self government in Iraq. The Iraqi people were freeing themselves from tyranny, we better not help them, people in other parts of the Middle East might get ideas, I guess that was the reasoning inside the Beltway. Don't rock the boat. The US wouldn't want something like democracy next door to frighten our good friends the Islamic fascists of Saudi Arabia, who provided so many of their sons to fly airplanes into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

And so it has come to pass, that for more than 20 years, the Iraqi people have not only been oppressed by the tyrant Saddam, but we the people of these United States have been directly or indirectly terrorizing and torturing them and killing them. The first thing therefore, and obviously so, that needs to happen to make the situation in Iraq better is that the United States needs to stop terrorizing the Iraqi people. They have Saddam to contend with, we should give them a break and simply stop attacking them. It is wrong for the US government to do even one more evil thing to the Iraqi people; they have suffered enough. The cries of too many widows and orphans ascend to heaven, calling for justice and remembrance. We cannot take refuge in the "it is all the tyrant Saddam's fault", because it isn't. We have helped him for 20 years to oppress his own people. Let us stop this evil before it is too late. We have become coarse and heartless when it comes to the deaths of the many innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.

After all this history, which we generally refuse to acknowledge our national responsibility for, NOW we are going to become the "Hi, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you" guys, and like the cavalry come riding over the hill just in the nick of time to save the day. And if you believe that, allow me to send you a prospectus for an investment in a bridge in New York City.

The people of Iraq do not need the charity of our invading them and killing them to save them from the tyrant Saddam. The fact that the Iraqis are presently weak and defenseless is due in no small part to the actions of the United States towards them these past 20 years. The first and foremost thing they need is for the United States to get off their backs so they could have a chance to do something about their situation themselves. It is, after all, their own responsibility to govern themselves and overthrow their own tyrants. That's the primary way to becoming a free society. Tyranny has been the norm in history, freedom comes when the tyrant is overthrown.

We must therefore end the economic blockade of the Iraqi people. A free market in commerce with Iraq should be allowed once more, and the people of Iraq should be able to participate in the global marketplace, with the restriction that everything goes through UN inspection. There could be a restricted list of contraband, such as nuclear reactors, bombs, missiles, plutonium, uranium, anthrax and small pox germs, and other such war technology. But other than that let the free market prevail in the area. If it takes 20,000 inspectors at Iraqi points of entry to monitor this, then we should send 20,000 inspectors. There are lots of people that need jobs.

The second necessity for a peaceful solution is to enhance the inspection process and turn it into a search, discover, and destroy process. If that requires 20,000 more inspectors, then send 20,000 additional inspectors. United States congressional representatives and senators like to brag about how effective our spy technology is. We supposedly have satellites that can read license plates on cars and patches on military uniforms. The US taxpayers should get their money's worth in Iraq. If necessary, every square inch of the country should be searched with every possible search technique: ultra sound, seismic, satellites, and real people. The lives of the civilian population of Iraq are worth the extra time and hassle that would involve.

The third necessity for a peaceful solution is to use tactics that were exploited very successfully in the years before the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. We should make funding available so that Americans could go to Iraq as visitors: tourists, student groups, farmers, business people, teachers, clerics, union organizers, etc. And many Iraqis should be brought to the United States and given scholarships at our schools. There should be hundreds of thousands of such contacts.

We should build Iraqi language short wave radio stations and satellite Iraqi television stations, and distribute a lot of plans in Iraq on how to build a satellite receiving dish and aim it. We should give all kinds of computer and internet technology and copiers and whatever else useful we could think of to churches and other non governmental organizations in Iraq, and also to Iraqi exiles or expatriates.

During the overthrow of communism in the old Soviet Union, such informal contacts and assistance in growing a strong civil society were essential in developing the resistance that culminated in events like the Solidarity trade union in Poland and the breaking down of the Berlin Wall. In our own history, when we suffered under British tyranny, the French did not come to our rescue by invading our country and installing a new regime. We declared our own independence, and defended our own homes, and the French came to our assistance as allies, at our invitation, after we had ourselves begun the process of overthrowing tyranny. Our road to independence began with civil society, in free associations of people who came together to work for liberty and freedom. If the French had simply attacked British forces in the colonies to change the British regime, we probably would have fought back against them, side by side with the redcoats, as we did a generation previously in the French and Indian War.

It is the duty of the Iraqi people to liberate themselves, and they have to take the lead in it. It cannot be in any way imposed on them from the outside. We can help them and nurture the situation along, while keeping a close eye on Saddam and his army confined within his borders, and eventually the Iraqi people will become strong enough to clean up their own mess. But we can't kill any more of the people.

What has the actual effect of the blockade of the civilian population been on the situation? The
ordinary people of Iraq are more dependent upon Saddam than they were before we got into the first Gulf war. 60% of the population are dependent upon food distributed through a network of neighborhood agents, financed by the government of Iraq. Survival is a nightmare.

The more destitute the people of Iraq are, the more at risk they are, from danger from their own government, or from the general ravages of nature, not to mention what our own government has been doing to them lo these past 20 years. It is absurd to think about doing something about the situation in your country because you are so preoccupied with your own day to day issues of survival that you can't spare any effort to save the country. It's a very shameful story, we Americans have nothing to be proud of vis a vis Iraq.

One thing we have proved, however: You can't rescue a people by driving them into destitution and misery. If you want a revolution, nurture a middle class. Iraq used to have one of the largest middle classes in the Islamic world, now they are in overwhelming poverty.

These proposals are not a "quick fix," but the war alternative presently on the table and proposed as a quick fix involves great hazard to innocent people. There are realistic options for peace and safety in Iraq that respect the inalienable right of the Iraqi people to life and participation in that life. The existence of these untried peaceful alternatives to another war in Iraq is proof that Pope John Paul II is right when he says that all is lost by violence.

It is past time for the government of the United States to respect and value the people of Iraq. We must stop seeing them as some kind of collateral damage in our tawdry pursuit of a never ending supply of cheap gasoline to fuel our gluttonous and wasteful lifestyles. We owe them a very grave debt for the wickedness we have perpetrated upon them for 20 years. To wage a another war on their country, after all we have already done to them, causing the deaths of many more thousands, perhaps tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, will only add to that grave debt.

The people of Iraq have a right, in fact, a duty, to be involved with their own liberation. If we
want Iraq to be free, we have to let the Iraqi people do it themselves. We can help them, yes, but we can't help them if we keep on killing them with wars and blockades. That's been our strategy for 20 years, and all we have to show for it is a pile of skulls in the desert that dwarfs anything raised by the Mongol hordes of old.

When there are peaceful alternatives that protect justice and the common good on the table, there is no moral imperative or "obligation" to go to war. Any war that is not a last resort can only be seen as an unjust war. The haste of the American government to move to a violent solution speaks poorly of this Administration's commitment to Christian values and a peaceful and moral world order.

The inability (actually, the unwillingness) of the United States to involve the people of Iraq in their own liberation is proof that this Administration does not see the Iraqi people as truly human persons. Therefore, their assurances that they will fight the war in such a way as to minimize civilian casualties cannot be trusted. It has already been publicly reported that Saddam's weapons and soldiers are scattered throughout residential areas, so it is evident from the facts on the ground that there is no way to attack Iraq, especially with the ferocity which has been predicted, and not kill a very large number of innocent civilian non combatants. The argument that war with Saddam is morally obligatory because he is so evil and we are so good should be seen for what it really is: a propaganda campaign to make us all feel better about killing innocent people, including children and babies.

In these days of violence, tragedy, and evil, this rush to war is driven by the "demons who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls." It is increasingly evident that the smoke of Satan has entered into the hearts of many American Catholics, who are loudly preaching politics of fear and violence. They are undermining the Catholic teachings on war, peace, and solidarity of Pope John Paul II and his predecessors Paul VI and John XXIII. By their vision of an imperial America the Merciless, they are striking mortal blows against the basic moral foundations of our society.

Behold the culture of death at work..

"O Christ our God, Lord of Glory, who gave us joy and blessing from your Mother's womb, have mercy on us and save us."

Robert Waldrop

Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City