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Bombs: a one-size-fits-all response

The bombs are dropping. The period of restraint has ended. Patriotism and militarism now become blended and blurred. The moment calls us to step back, to seek a broader perspective.

As we listened to all sorts of justifications for battle, we also heard the voice last week of Anglican Bishop Peter Forster, a “fraternal delegate” at the synod in Rome, who, during a prayer service in observance of the Sept. 11 attacks, remarked: “As we watch the most powerful nations on earth drop very sophisticated bombs on just about the least sophisticated nation on earth, however justified it might be, we again ask: Is this real? Will it indeed put an end to terrorism or will it just encourage more of it?”

“If the 20th century taught us anything,” he continued, “it is that if God is to be found, God will be found in the midst of suffering and poverty, just as he once suffered for us on the cross. God is in New York and Washington and Philadelphia. He is also in Afghanistan. He is with a wealthy and sophisticated Western society that has lost touch with reality in all sorts of ways. He is also, especially, with those who suffer from a lack of resources, with those thousands who have actually died in obscurity and poverty since the 11th of September.”

More than ever we need wisdom. Wise words get lost under the bombs, just as do lives, too often innocent lives.

Bombing is what we seem to do better than any other nation. And so it becomes the one-size-fits-all answer to serious foreign policy matters.

After weeks of discussion across the nation, much of it sorting through the morality of “just response,” U.S. and British armaments are raining down on Afghanistan. The world, including, from its perspective, a humiliated and exploited Arab world, watches in anger. The extremists who perpetrated the World Trade Center atrocities are getting what they wanted: further world images of an oppressive super-large and super-rich giant acting in rage against a nation in which the average person earns 76 cents a day.

Morality gets even shorter shrift now. Our nation’s most visible bishops expressed few reservations with the path the military planners are on.

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed regret for the action, but praised President Bush for carrying out “a wise, just and effective response.”

“I continue to support your efforts to insure that military action, while always regrettable, will be designed and undertaken to avoid civilian casualties. As we seek to defend innocent people, measures to avoid jeopardizing the lives of other innocent people are both necessary and important.”

Chicago Cardinal Francis George seemingly offered full support. “This is a just war,” he declared.

Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida saw the U.S. bombing as “a military necessity.”

New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan came to the same conclusion.

Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua said he is convinced “that those who are making momentous military decisions in this war against international terrorists are seekers of justice and peace, not of vengeance.” He is so certain of the moral correctness of the U.S. cause that he added this ultimate assurance: “God is with us as we, with other allied nations, seek to defend the common good of our nation as well as the international common good and peace throughout the world.”

There is much that is troubling about the “God is with us” banner in wartime. Warriors always claim God as they enter conflict. What kind of God would do anything but weep?

Nations not only lose wisdom in war. They lose nuance as well. Dissenting voices become unpopular and marginalized, yet are needed more than ever.

The reaction of Asian Christians to the American bombing was not enthusiastic. The heads of the Coptic church and the Egyptian Catholic church condemned the bombings as arrogant, wrong and against international law. The terrorist attacks in the United States should be “a wake-up call” and “not a call to battle,” said church groups in New Delhi.

By dropping the bombs as we have, a police action is elevated to an all-out military assault. In perception and fact, a limited “surgical” solution has been broadened to a level at which clear intent is lost and moral discrimination is out the window. Osama bin Laden is elevated from a hateful terrorist, a criminal mastermind overseeing a network of vicious fanatics, to a one-man superpower.

Forster’s words are important, then, because they call us to imagine the situation in a different way. In an urging that requires a leap of faith, he asks us to consider that the common good does not end at the borders of powerful Western nations.

National Catholic Reporter, October 19, 2001