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Fr. James Schall Presses Case for War's Justification
Today's Catholic Reflections & Reports ^ | 3/13/03 | Fr. James Schall

Posted on 04/13/2003 5:09:01 AM PDT by PaxChristi  Dali sketch by Hermanoleon

OP-Ed Page


James V. Schall, S. J.

The most important statement on the war, defining America’s intentions, was that of Colin Powell. Evidently, former the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, asked him at a conference in Davos, Switzerland, if the United States should not have chosen “soft power” (promote moral and democratic values) as opposed to “hard power,” that is force. The Secretary of State thought a bit and answered that it took “hard power” to free Europe before “soft power” could be used. “We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years.... We have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury (our dead) in.... There comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works.” This is a classic statement of a soldier/politician talking to a clergyman, forgetful of his Augustine, about what happens in the world. It is the essence of the response of the man of action to the man of God who cannot imagine how bad things might become if nothing is done.

We now hear of some French vandalizing American and British graves in Normandy. I have even heard of a proposal in Congress to bring the American graves in France back for honorable burial here. This contrast says much both about Secretary Powell’s basic point that we seek only the land in which to bury our dead and about the French. Hopefully, there are still some, even in France, who remember that the French did not save themselves in at least two wars. It is doubtful if they could save themselves again.

Americans do not seek to rule or to control Iraq or profit from it, though some will profit and some control needs to be exercised. If things work out as the war planners have sought, contrary to the old saying, the victors will receive no spoils. The only people who seem to be looking for spoils are the French, Germans, and Russians, holed up in St. Petersburg. These nations did not choose to fight but to let the tyranny go on. To be sure, it will cost the victors a “bloody fortune,” as the British say, in reestablishing Iraq. Wars in our tradition are fought for security and safety, even of the enemy’s population. Any wonton abuse of the opponent population by allied forces will be prosecuted. The spoils of war, to repeat, will not go to the victors but to the defeated.

Every effort will be made to repair or replace what was damaged by a stubborn and radical regime that did not chose to disarm or surrender to save its own people – a people, evidently, longing to be free of this tyranny. We can, perhaps, admire the grandeur of a lost cause, but not when the cause was preserving one of the worst minor tyrannies of recent decades. The extent of this tyranny has evidently been known and not reported for some time now. Those who opposed or still oppose the war in Iraq now have the record of the brutality of this regime on their own consciences. Without determined military action, nothing would have happened. All the rhetoric about more “negotiations” was just that, rhetoric. Nothing would have happened but the preservation of the tyranny. One is hard pressed to see this to be a noble cause.

Many insist on seeing that the war is for oil. I have even seen a cardinal cited as implying this simplistic idea. During the first Gulf War, the Americans controlled the Kuwaiti oil fields. They returned them. President Bush has stated that the Iraqi oil fields wealth would be put in trust for the Iraqi people. We all need oil, but we do not necessarily need the Iraqi oil, though the French may need it. The single most important thing that we can do to undermine renegade Arab power is to develop quickly a substitute for oil, no doubt the hydrogen engine of which the President spoke in the State of the Union message. Much of the ideological terror we see in the world is supported by oil payments, that is, by ourselves, and their use by Arab governments, especially the Saudi.

This has been the most “accurate” war, in terms of weapons usage, ever fought in the history of warfare. Though some incidental damage and death have occurred, it has been remarkably small. For the most part, the targets that were hit were the ones that were intended and limited in scope to military-related sites, this often at the peril of Allied troops. Most damage was measured. If one thinks that car bombs and suicide killings are immoral and uncontrolled weapons of destructions, outside the limits of legitimacy, then the Iraqi are guilty of using them. We begin to tally the sorts of weapons of all kinds that the Iraqi possessed Their military leaders have been warned that they will be considered war criminals if they do. No doubt one of the main stories of this war will be just what the Iraqi did have and, even more interesting, in what language the bills of their purchased instruments of war was written.

Much has been made of the religious opposition to the war. Many religious leaders have been cited as saying that war is always wrong, that more harm than good will necessarily occur, that some other solution was certainly possible, that more negotiations or time or effort would have worked, that the United Nations would do the job, therefore, the war is immoral. The proposition that “war is always wrong” is both utopian and simplistic. Wars define eras. To be on the losing side of a war is a major disaster, particularly if the enemy is, say Islam, or the Nazis, or the Soviets, or the Chinese Communists. Liberty and truth require defense, protection. Wars of some sort are always going to be with us. To think otherwise, to prepare one’s country for this “belief,” is to court disaster. Kantian or Hegelian type theories about perpetual peace or a world with no armies or force are irresponsibly unrealistic. Peace has to be purchased, re-purchased, defended.

We hear some religious leaders telling us that the war is “wrong,” but that it is all right for Christian soldiers to fight in it. This is a doubly impossible position. What is a good and intelligent soldier to think when he hears his religious spokesman say the war is wrong but that it is all right to fight in it? The soldier is not of the opinion that the war is unjust. He knows about just cause, responsible leadership, real dangers. If the war is “immoral” in this sense, then religious leaders have to explain how it is both immoral and, at the same time, not immoral for Christian soldiers to fight in this immoral war. If anything, this “it is wrong but all right to fight in it” position makes the situation far worse for the faithful men in battle, for it implies that the soldiers of a religious persuasion are morally obtuse and not intelligent enough to make the proper distinctions. I suspect that there are few, if any, Christian soldiers or officers fighting in this war who think that the war is immoral but that it is all right to fight in it. I think few laity think this. If someone thinks it immoral, he should get out. If he thinks it is moral, he should fight.

A better approach is to maintain that the war had a legitimate cause, that it was declared by the proper authority, and that its intention is to prevent further terrorist attacks and in the process ot free the Iraqi people from a tyranny, the seriousness of which the proponents of political inaction had no way of addressing by any other means. Religious leaders can have an opinion about the military conditions of warfare, but they do not prevent wars by their negotiations and words.

Political leaders, responsible for actual lives of real people, cannot rely too long on methods that do not work. The estimate of urgency is part of the issue of war. By insisting on the immorality of the war, religious leaders often appear to claim for themselves superior military and political intelligence, which they do not have. That is, they seem to many to confuse their own roles with that of politicians and soldiers. Religious leaders warned before the war that going to war was a grave moral responsibility. None of those who chose to go to war doubted this or acted as if they did. What they did doubt was the morality of doing nothing. Most political leaders were well aware that if they did nothing and some reduplication of 9/11 happened, they would immediately be accused of irresponsibility in not doing anything to prevent it.

We can, in one sense, worry about the success of new weapons. How long will it take a terrorist organization, especially one backed up by or protected by a radical state, to buy or develop its own “smart bomb” to deliver accurately and silently on one of our cities? One of the major reasons for the fall of communism, at least on the military side, was the inability of the Soviet union to keep up with the technical side of the war. The very success of accurate weaponry, aside from its moral value in targeting specific targets, requires a system of continual development and defense against those who possess versions of these same more sophisticated weapons. Ironically, it seems that the Iraqi war plan was in part designed by Russian generals, an indication that Russian generals still do not get the point of advanced modern war.. This war in fact is a war that has totally revolutionized most previous military thinking and planning. It has in fact sent a shock wave across the world about what the nature of future wars will be. The day of mass war may well be over, the surgical war may have arrived. I suspect the world is much safer because of it.

Success in the battle field is not success at the peace table, though it is a necessary condition and carries much weight. This is one of the lessons of war. On the other hand, those who maintain that war never does any good are quite wrong and show a strange reading of military history. Wars clarify boundaries, and through them, principles. Thus far, in the Arab world for the past hundred years, it has been the military forces subduing the more fanatical elements that have kept a relative peace. Democracy, as a mechanical form, does not necessarily mean that the new regime will be an improvement in geopolitical terms. As the Pope has remarked on several occasions, we can have a “democratic tyranny.” It may well be that some form of less than perfect regime will be superior to a democratic or religious tyranny in the immediate future..

The wars of the 21st century will not be ideological-type wars arising out of application of European philosophy to the political order, as they were in the 20th Century, lethal as they were. They will be in some sense wars of religion, whatever we choose to call them. Our liberal ideology prevents us from calling things by their proper names, to our harm. This does not mean that every effort of exchange or understanding needs to be curtailed. Just the opposite. One of the main lessons of the current war in Iraq is that no dialogue will take place without the presence of force, and even then, it may not occur even then, a fact that should not lead us to conclude that some other way is in fact either possible or better in the give circumstances.

The Iraq war is an incident in or aspect of a broader war on what we choose to call “terrorism,” almost as if Terrorism is another country someplace This war on “terrorism” continues, though the military statement made in Iraq changes the terms of the issue. The world, particularly America, is not as “pacifist” or cowardly as was first thought. One of the worries of religious people, and it is a real worry, has to do with the degree to which a moral relativism is what in effect is spread by America and other Western powers. The America that has fought this particular war, I think, is the America of honor, purpose, determination, generosity. The native relativists have largely been against the war. But we have, as does the United Nations, an ideological underground, which is just beneath the surface, when it is not the public order itself, that is anti-human, relativist, quite prepared to impose views of human nature of the most radical sort onto reality. This relativism is not just an American thing, though it has its American version.

But what we have been unprepared for is the resurgence of Islam as a moral, political, and military force that actually seeks to conquer the world. Western moral decadence has been part of its cry. At least some military and guerilla forces that might pursue this goal has been dealt a severe blow. The sudden collapse of Islam after the Battle of Vienna in the seventeenth century seems in part due to a kind of disillusionment or defeatism, a realization that it could not keep up with the West. We may see some of this attitude again, but we are also likely to see continued increase in Muslim numbers, continued demands that its world-historic mission, to use Hegel’s term, must begin again. No one wants to see this situation as a clash of civilization or religion, which is fine, so long as this hesitation does not obscure precisely what it is.

If the latter is true, that we are at the beginning of a clash of civilizations, then we must again begin seriously to treat the questions of the truth of the religions as such, just as we had to deal with the truth of ideology in the 20th Century. One of the effects of modern “toleration” theories has been the temptation to take nothing seriously, to suggest that all religion is fanaticism. The only conclusion would be to “eradicate it.” A better alternative, which the religions themselves have been reluctant to undertake, is a real effort to deal with the truth claims of the religions, not just what they have in common. We want to “respect” religions without understanding them. It would be much better, I suspect, if we would understand them before we decide what it is that we can and should respect. If it is true, as I think it is, that, in the case of Iraq, “to the defeated goes the spoils,” we must realize that this very principle or attitude has a religious origin. It would be useful for us to remember what that origin is.

(c) James Schall, 2003. Georgetown University, DC, 20057-1200 All Rights Reserved

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Fr. Schall's take on the war need to be heard. He is perhaps the most articulate spokesman in the Catholic Church I have seen on this matter. He differs with TCR's position.
1 posted on 04/13/2003 5:09:01 AM PDT by PaxChristi
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2 posted on 04/13/2003 5:11:22 AM PDT by Support Free Republic (Your support keeps Free Republic going strong!)
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To: PaxChristi; nickcarraway; Maeve; Siobhan; Salvation; BlackElk; NYer; ninenot; sinkspur

This is worth reading. Fr. Schall makes some very good observations and on a couple points is very right.
3 posted on 04/13/2003 5:29:36 AM PDT by Desdemona
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To: Desdemona
Excellent article! I hope it gets republished some place with a broader audience.
4 posted on 04/13/2003 6:40:19 AM PDT by livius
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To: PaxChristi
Bump. Schall is GREAT!
5 posted on 04/13/2003 6:54:36 AM PDT by ninenot
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To: PaxChristi
Bumped and bookmarked!
6 posted on 04/13/2003 7:57:48 AM PDT by Snuffington
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To: PaxChristi
By insisting on the immorality of the war, religious leaders often appear to claim for themselves superior military and political intelligence, which they do not have.

Fax this column to His Holiness. And tell Stephen Hand to read it, again and again and again.

7 posted on 04/13/2003 9:46:36 AM PDT by sinkspur
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To: Canticle_of_Deborah; Flying Circus
8 posted on 04/13/2003 3:21:32 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: PaxChristi
I really agreed with this view from a priest.

This is from the Ligourian, April 2003
Father Gary Ziuraitis

Some think it would be nice if the United States could nestle between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to protect itself from the messiness of the world. They think it would be nice if we closed our seaports, international airports and borders and lived contentedly unaware in our land of opportunity and plenty, unaffected by the atrocities and problems in the rest of the world.

But ours is a global world in which the oceans have become ponds and events become news only milliseconds after they happen. Providence and history have left the United States in a unique position among the nations of our global home. President George W. Bush put it eloquently in a speech last winter when he stated that America is involved in the cause of freedom worldwide, not because it is an American idea, but because freedom is God's gift to the world.

Those who have thwarted freedom and were "contained" or "appeased," especially in the twentieth century, were proven to be cruel and dangerous. Hitler and Stalin come immediately to mind. Do we so easily forget? Apparently we do. The first attack on the World Trade Center took place just ten years ago. The objective of the bombing, as on 9-11, was to bring down those buildings and kill thousands of innocents. Al Qaeda failed the first time. We failed to imagine there would be an ingenious, suicidal second time.

As I write this column there is much discussion and commentary in Catholic circles about the morality of a war with Iraq. Objectors claim it is a preemptive war, that we want to "take them out" before they "take us out." If I believed that, I would have to agree with the critics. But the evidence I see calls for a legitimate defensive response to the evils and atrocities that Saddam Hussein has perpetrated on his own people, his land, and the environment as well as his desire to secure and accumulate weapons of mass destruction far and above what he needs to continue as dictator of Iraq. The church can never be in the business of supporting war. It is always going to follow the path of peace. But for objectors to seize on the preemption theory is to avoid the truth that appeasement and doing nothing have always proven worse in the long run than confronting danger.

This truth seems to have been understood and absorbed easily enough by the former Easter bloc countries of Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), Which have steadfastly backed the United States in enforcing United Nations resolutions. When President Bush began his appeal to the president of Latvia during her White House visit, she interrupted him and told him he needn't explain any further. Latvians fully understand what it means to live under appeasement or so-called containment. The Baltic States, historical slaughterhouses for Germany and Russia, waited fifty devastating years for the West to recognize their sovereignty, not just with rhetoric, but in fact. To this day citizens of these lands still live in Siberian gulag locations because they have no family to return to, they lack the financial resources to return home and start over, or they are simply too old to try. So they live out their days on a gulag pension, free but forever dispossessed-fading flickers of light against the darkness of past maniacal dictators who eliminated millions of others.

Hungary's 1956 uprising was undertaken partially with the hope that the West would come to the rescue. It didn't. The Czechs' 1968 spring uprising was also undertaken with the hope that the West would come to their aid. It didn't. It took John Paul II to come to the aid of his fellow Poles. In the recent past the Clinton administration moved unilaterally to quill the unrest in Kosovo and hasten the departure of Slobodan Milosevic, It worked.

The great seal of the United States portrays a vigilant eagle holding an olive branch in one talon and arrows in the other. Ignoring danger in the world is a false peace. I believe President Bush understands these lessons. I think he knows that Saddam Hussein's brand of cooperation with the international community is smoke and mirrors and that amassed force will ultimately have to be applied. That's the way it is in the world with dictators. May history and the God of history find us faithful to the founding principless of a nation gifted with God-given freedom and vigilant in helping those without it to obtain it.

9 posted on 04/13/2003 4:59:29 PM PDT by tiki
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To: Desdemona
10 posted on 04/13/2003 5:43:59 PM PDT by Desdemona
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