Just War and the Iraqi Escalation


Angelus in Time of War

Novena to Our Lady of Sorrows

Lenten Meditations on Justice and Peace, daily, beginning Ash Wednesday.

We give thanks to Our Lady of Victories for the movement towards peace (or at least, the step backwards from imminent hostilities) in the Persian Gulf. On February 19th, we began a nine day Novena of Prayers to Our Lady of Sorrows, and published a special Angelus for devotional use during this grave international crisis. They are linked at the top of this page. The novena continues, as the crisis is far from being completely resolved, and the embargo continues, which is also problematic from the viewpoint of Catholic just war teaching.

Catholic Worker resources about the crisis in Iraq

Thursday, 2-19-98 Update

Appeal of the Chaldean Patriarch of Iraq to the American People

US Cardinals Declare: Iraqi Escalation is not a Just War (and the embargo isn't much better).

Statement by Congressman Ron Paul upon introducing HR 3208, a resolution to stop President Clinton from initiating hostilities in the Persian Gulf.

Friday, 2-20-98 Update

Fools With Tools: American Power and Iraq Most Rev. Charles Chaput, O.F.M.Cap., Archbishop of Denver, critiques the conventional wisdom on American power in the world.

-- Secretary if State Madeleine Albright, speaking through "jeers" at Columbus, Ohio, called Iraq's arsenal the "greatest security threat we face." UN workers are evacuating from Iraq. Dutch and Canadian ships head through the Suez Canal, bound for Iraq and Belgium decides to send a frigate. . Jordan closed its air space to Israeli aircraft attacking Iraq. The British Defense Secretary George Robertson said the use of Iraqi citizens as "human shields" would not deter an attack. French government advises against military strike. New Zealand sends planes and troops. (LA Times) And the Security Council voted to increase the amount of oil Iraq could sell. President Clinton released a tape made for airing in the Islamic world, where he talks really tough and blames everything on Saddam.

Saturday, February 21, Novena Day 3

Government talks about Operation Desert Thunder (thus deploying the essential propaganda trio of desensitization, depersonalization, dehumanization. It's not a "war", it's an "operation" with a hot power name. Hear Clinton and Newt Roar! All Bad People Beware! (Or at least, "Bad People" that we aren't currently on good terms with.) Intense diplomatic activity in Baghdad and elsewhere. Riots in Jordan and the West Bank. Military forces continue to converge on the Persian Gulf and Kuwait. Saudi Arabia keeps quiet. Prayers for "those who may die in war this week, especially the children, that they will be prepared for what is about to happen to them".

Sunday, February 22, Novena Day 4

CBS 60 Minutes says that Iraq got its anthrax from the US under export licenses pushed by the Commerce and State departments under the Reagan and Bush administrations in the 1980s. They did an end run around congressional and Pentagon procedures for review of export licenses to prevent such potentially dangerous materials as live anthrax from getting into the hands of enemies or potential unfriendlies. Some were approved even after gas attacks on Kurdish villages in 1988. CBS and other networks report that Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, has negotiated a deal resolving the situation with Iraq. Let us all pray that Clinton, Newt, and Saddam all take the out that is offered them.

At all four masses I attended this weekend, I heard strong sermons against war in Iraq (I am a church musician, so I attend four masses just about every weekend). I heard zero talk after the masses that condemned the "politicking". I did hear talk about this or that member of the armed forces reserve who has been notified to be ready in case of being called up. Watching the congregation during the masses (at a large suburban parish), I saw a lot of solemnity, and the singing after the sermons was noticeably more fervent. It was truly providential that the Gospel for the day was part of the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, regarding doing good to your enemies and the Golden Rule. I suspect a lot of Catholics heard similar messages today, as well as those in Protestant churches following the common lectionary. It's not over until it's over, and the economic embargo remains. Let us continue to pray the novena to Our Lady of Sorrows for a firm and lasting peace in the Persian Gulf that respects justice.

Monday February 23, Memorial of Our Lady of Victories, Novena Day 5

Today's headlines are about the agreement that, if accepted by the U.S., heads off imminent hostilites. But the embargo is on, and thus the poor and weak are most at risk in this on-going political confrontation between U.S. and Iraqi politicians. Today's memorial of Our Lady of Victories recalls an image of Mary taken in battle by the French (against the Greeks) in the 13th century, and the miraculous restoration of a ruined church in Paris that had been desecrated during the French Revolution, thus causing a spiritual renaissance in the area. The link to the novena of Our Lady of Sorrows has been upgraded to a page on this site, and includes a new prayer written by me for children at risk of death from war or economic chaos.

Just War

As the Catholic bishops suggest, perhaps it is time to refresh our memories regarding the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding Just War. The following quotations are taken from the US Bishops pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response. They seem a bit timely given current news.

83. . . . Only the most powerful reasons may be permitted to override such objection (to war). In the words of Pope Pius XII: "The Christian will for peace. . . is very careful to avoid recourse to the force of arms in the defense of rights which, however legitimate, do not offset the risk of kindling a blaze with all its spiritual and material consequences."

84. The determination of when conditions exist which allow the resort to force in spite of the strong presumption against it is made in light of jus ad bellum criteria. . . 85. Jus ad Bellum. Why and when recourse to war is permissible:

86. a. Just Cause: War is permissible only to confront "a real and certain danger," i.e., to protect innocent life, to preserve conditions necessary for decent human existence, and to basic human rights. As both Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII made clear, if war of retribution was ever justifiable, the risks of modern war negate such a claim today.

87. b. Competent Authority: in the Catholic tradition, the right to use force has always been joined to the common good; war must be declared by those with responsibility for public order, not by private groups or individuals. . .

92. c. Comparative Justice. Questions concerning the means of waging war today, particularly in view of the destructive potential of weapons, have tended to override questions concerning the comparative justice of the positions of respective adversaries or enemies. In essence: which side is sufficiently "right" in a dispute, and are the values at stake critical enough to override the presumption against war? The question in its most basic form is this: do the rights and values involved justify killing.

95. d. Right intention. Right intention is related to just cause -- war can be legitimately intended only for the reasons set forth above as a just cause. During the conflict, right intention means pursuit of peace and reconciliation, including avoiding unnecessarily destructive acts or imposing unreasonable conditions (e.g., unconditional surrender.)

96. e. Last Resort. For resort to war to be justified, all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted.

98. f. Probability of success. This is a difficult criterion to apply, but its purpose is to prevent irrational resort to force or hopeless resistance when the outcome of either will clearly be disproportionate or futile.

100. g. Proportionality: in terms of the jus ad bellum criteria, proportionality means that the damage to be inflicted and the costs incurred by war must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms. Nor should judgments concerning proportionality be limited to the temporal order, without regard to a spiritual dimension in terms of "damage", "cost", and the "good expected". In today's interdependent world, even a local conflict can affect people everywhere; this is particularly the case when the nuclear powers are involved. Hence a nation cannot justly go to war today without considering the effect of the action on others and the international community.

104. Moreover, the lives of innocent persons may never be taken directly, regardless of the purpose alleged for doing so. To wage truly "total" war is by definition to take huge numbers of innocent lives. Jus response to aggression must be discriminate; it must be directed against unjust aggressors, not against innocent people caught up in a war not of their making. The council therefore issues its memorable declaration: "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

105. When confronting choices among specific military options, the question asked by proportionality is: once we take into account not only the military advantages that will be achieved by using this means but also all the harms reasonably expected to follow from using it, can its use still be justified? We know, of course, that no end can justify means evil in themselves, such as the executing of hostages or the targeting of non-combatants. Nonetheless, even if the means adopted is not evil in itself, it is necessary to take into account the probable harms that will result from using it and the justice of accepting these harms. It is of utmost importance, in assessing harms and the justice of accepting them, to think about the poor and the helpless, for they are usually the ones who have the least to gain and the most to lose when war's violence touches their lives.

107. Finally, another set of questions concern the interpretation of the principle of discrimination. The principle prohibits directly intended attacks on non-combatants and non-military targets. It raises a series of questions about the term "intentional," the category of "non-combatant," and the meaning of "military."

108. These questions merit the debate occurring with increasing frequency today. . . Mobilization of forces in modern war includes not only the military, but to a significant degree the political, economic, and social sectors. It is not always easy to determine who is directly involved in a "war effort" or to what degree. Plainly, though, not even by the broadest definition can one rationally consider combatants entire classes of human beings such as school-children, hospital patients, the elderly, the ill, the average industrial worker producing goods not directly related to military purposes, farmers, and many others. They may never be directly attacked.