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Catholic press takes issue with U.S. war on Iraq


Plans for a U.S. preemptive strike on Iraq appear to be drawing a largely critical response from the Catholic press.

The editorial in the Sept. 16 issue of America, the Jesuit magazine, speaks out against a U.S. war on Iraq, saying that by the standards of both international law and just-war analysis the notion of preemptive war is inherently problematic and is considered only justifiable if the risk of an enemy attack is both grave and imminent. By either standard, the United States fails to have a case, the editorial contends.

“In the absence of solid evidence, then, that Saddam’s weapons capacity represents an imminent and grave threat to the United States, the notion of a preemptive strike needs to be resisted energetically. For the good of the nation and of the world, the president’s advisers, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and the dark thinkers who gather round them, hawking preemption, need to be contained,” the editorial in America concludes.

In England, The Tablet, a weekly magazine, ran an editorial in its Sept. 7 issue headlined, “Tony Blair’s greatest test” in which it said that while Prime Minister Tony Blair appears to be convinced of the need to attack Iraq, public opinion is far from behind him. While not taking a position directly in support or opposition to an attack on Iraq, The Tablet said the cardinal archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor had challenged Blair and “lays down tough conditions for Mr. Blair to pass.” Blair’s handling of the Iraq situation poses the only serious threat to his leadership of the Labor government, The Tablet said.

Commonweal, a U.S. magazine, devoted its Aug. 16 editorial to the subject of a U.S. war on Iraq. While acknowledging there are good reasons why people might wish Saddam Hussein gone, Commonweal reviewed the information known about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and concluded that “Given current information, the United States does not have a just cause for war against Iraq.” In upcoming Senate hearings, the Bush administration may yet be able to make a compelling case for war, but that case has not yet been made, the magazine stated.

Commonweal observed that in addition to lacking sufficient just cause, a U.S. attack on Iraq also raises questions of proportionality. “To bring down one man and his regime, we risk: exposing Iraqi civilians and the U.S. military to chemical and biological attack resulting in innumerable deaths and serious injuries; destroying what remains of Iraq’s infrastructure; breaking up Iraq as a country and spreading more conflict in a turbulent region (and perhaps the larger Islamic world); creating a new lawless territory open to terrorist groups now given the means to develop their own chemical, biological, and perhaps nuclear weapons.”

The current issue of U.S. Catholic magazine, sponsored by the Claretian order, features an opinion piece on a U.S. war against Iraq by Kevin Clarke. A freelance writer and contributing editor to U.S. Catholic, Clarke compares the war-talk heard in Washington today with the Marx Brothers’ classic movie “Duck Soup” in which Groucho Marx tries to whip up his generals to go to war with Fredonia. “As a staff we don’t take editorial positions per se,” Clarke told NCR, adding that instead of editorials the magazine publishes opinion columns and guest columns. In his own piece, Clarke asks, “Are we sending our soldiers off to die and kill to secure our national security or to satisfy some inchoate longing to get even with a man who has made a career -- and a regime -- out of thumbing his nose at the U.S. in general and the Bush family in particular?”

In its Sept. 22 issue the Canadian newspaper Catholic New Times blasts the Bush administration’s drive to go to war as hypocritical and even blasphemous. “What is profoundly disturbing about the Bush presidency is the stunning moral certainty with which it cloaks its imperial ambitions,” the editorial stated. It added that the United States is “rapidly becoming a rogue nation.”

Gerald Korson, editor of Our Sunday Visitor, told NCR, “We are extremely cautious about it, just like you hear from the Vatican and the U.S. bishops. There is such a thing as the just war, but we’ve a whole lot of things to consider about this.”

Margot Patterson is NCR senior writer.

National Catholic Reporter, September 20, 2002