A familiar and unsettling song of war
Cardinal James Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and one of the highest-ranking Americans in the Vatican, was contacted in late January by Inside the Vatican magazine for a comment on the possibility of a U.S.-led preventive war in Iraq. In early February, he released a written statement to several news agencies in Rome, including NCR. The following are excerpts from that statement.
From the past several years, two contrasting memories of young people constantly surface in my thoughts. Both involve the use of power. The first memory is the moral uneasiness expressed by a U.S. Army officer after the 1991 Desert Storm War. What haunted him most was the massive guilt over his order to his men to bury living Iraqi soldiers during the American sweep across their front lines. Since they were surrendering in such large and unexpected numbers, the Iraqis seemed to constitute a threat to the security of the allied forces. Obeying his order, the young American soldiers used their bulldozers to bury alive hundreds, possibly thousands (the numbers vary), of Iraqis in the desert sand. This horrific memory recalls the words of the Holy Father: War is always a defeat for man. One cannot be doing the work of peace while radically violating the human rights of others.
A memory of a second use of power stems from the World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. The silent lines of young people from nearly every nation are etched forever in my memory. Hundreds of thousands passed through the Holy Door of St. Peters Basilica during the Jubilee Year 2000 and prepared to receive the sacrament of reconciliation later at the Circus Maximus. Here the church was using her God-given power on behalf of forgiveness and reconciliation, thereby educating the young on the meaning of the peace.
The question frequently arises concerning the two powers: Which will achieve hegemony in the new millennium? My daily prayer is that the second will prevail.
But with the wars in the former Yugoslavia in 1999, in the Middle East, in New York and Washington in 2001, in Afghanistan in 2002 and elsewhere, the use of violent power seems on the ascendancy. These wars carry strong echoes from the opening line of Virgils Aeneid, I sing of arms and of the hero The song is becoming familiar and unsettling.
The American government has not offered conclusive evidence of imminent danger to its national security. Its case rests on the alleged imminent threat of mass destruction by the Iraqi government of urban centers in America and elsewhere. Thus far the case has not been convincing to many citizens in most countries.
Moreover, in the just war tradition there is a strong moral presumption against initiating a preemptive war. The [Catechism of the Catholic Church] uses three significant phrases in its teaching on a preemptive war: lawful self-defense, legitimate defense and damages inflicted by an aggressor. These phrases indicate that legitimate public authority cannot decide for war unless the nation or community of nations have undergone prior damages from an aggressor or is actually under a very imminent threat.
Furthermore, the concept of a preventive war is ambiguous. Prevention does not have a limit; it is a relative term and is subject to self-serving interpretations. Nor has the American administration shown that all other options before going to war have proven impractical or ineffective.
In these early years of the new millennium, American, British, Iraqi and other political leaders have been calling their young people to war. The pope has been doing the opposite. At the World Youth Day in Rome 2000 and in Toronto 2002 he educated them in the principles of peace. His constant vision at these gatherings of the young people of the world has been a call to the establishment of a new culture of reconciliation, forgiveness and selfless love in the third millennium.
The government of the U.S.A. has recently threatened to use nuclear weapons against Iraq. This is unworthy of the oldest representative democracy in the world founded on the universal rights of peoples to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Furthermore, the government of the United States has compromised its own basic principles by implicitly endorsing the use of torture since Sept. 11, 2001.
On the other side, President Saddam Hussein is one of the few heads of governments who has not condemned the suicide-terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001. This is inexplicable. The question arises, Where does the government of Iraq stand on the organized terrorism engulfing the world?
The peacemaking efforts of many Catholic laity are relevant to the discussions. This lay phenomenon is one of the most significant developments in the Catholic church. As is generally known, at the invitation of national governments some lay Catholics from these movements have exercised their skills of peacemaking successfully in some very conflicted situations. They enter these discussions with the conviction that the natural human inclination to friendship is factually the basis of every society and transcends all cultures.
Cultural, economic and historical realities have created huge obstacles to dialogue between Western and Eastern peoples. Consequently, some form of skilled mediation may help the recovery of this natural bond of friendship among peoples of diverse cultures and religions. Of course, such mediating efforts would have to be founded upon the 1991 U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 requiring that Iraq accept the destruction, removal or rendering harmless under international supervision of all weapons of mass destruction. Likewise, in such a scenario, the relation between national energy policies, the priority of oil production and reserves, the need for cheap oil and the rivalry among oil companies on the one hand, and the pursuit of human rights and democracy on the other require frank, open and comprehensive discussions. The former cannot trump the latter.
My daily prayer has been that the universal vision shared by Pope John Paul II with the young people of all the nations of the world -- Arab, Asian, American, European, African -- will prevail and not the nightmares envisioned for Iraq by many political leaders.
International openness among political leaders will require the exercise of enlightened statesmanship on the part of President Hussein of Iraq, President Bush of the U.S., Prime Minister Blair of Great Britain and the leaders of other concerned countries. But another war, the fourth in five years, would cripple, if not disable, the attempt to recover the connaturality between man and the true good (Veritatis Splendor). It is sobering to recall the ending of one of the founding political epics of the West, the classic of all Europe. The Aeneid, which begins with a song about military arms, ends ominously when a young warrior slain by Aeneas descends in anger into the shadow of another magnitude, that of infernal darkness.
The full text of Cardinal Staffords statement is available in the Documents section of NCRs Web site, www.natcath.org
National Catholic Reporter, February 14, 2003