Q. You know that recently the U.S. forces have started bombing the terrorists in Iraq, to prevent a genocide, to protect minorities, including Catholics who are under your guidance. My question is this: do you approve the American bombing?This is pretty much a restatement of contemporary Catholic doctrine on war: it can be justified in some circumstances, but only when all other measures have failed. What I especially like about this statement is the Pope's concern that even when aggression by wicked people needs to be stopped, this presents grave dangers for those who propose to do the stopping, including spiritual dangers. Many modern people who are dubious about most wars still have the sense that a really "good" war, one fought for just reasons against a wicked enemy, is an opportunity to something great, to really justify our existence and feel that we matter. Modern Catholic doctrine denies this.
A. Thanks for such a clear question. In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say this: it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underline the verb: stop. I do not say bomb, make war, I say stop by some means. With what means can they be stopped? These have to be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit.
But we must also have memory. How many times under this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor the powers [that intervened] have taken control of peoples, and have made a true war of conquest.
One nation alone cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War there was the idea of the United Nations. It is there that this should be discussed. Is there an unjust aggressor? It would seem there is. How do we stop him? Only that, nothing more.
Secondly, you mentioned the minorities. Thanks for that word because they talk to me about the Christians, the poor Christians. It’s true, they suffer. The martyrs, there are many martyrs. But here there are men and women, religious minorities, not all of them Christian, and they are all equal before God.
To stop the unjust aggressor is a right that humanity has, but it is also a right that the aggressor has to be stopped so that he does not do evil.
I wonder how many soldiers could really absorb this doctrine -- that war is always wrong, and enjoying even a necessary war against evil is a mortal sin -- and still fight effectively. Is macho delight in slaughter and victory an essential thing for effective armies, or could there really be armies of very reluctant but still victorious soldiers? Or is the Pope imagining that soldiers will probably get carried away in the heat of battle but then repent of their sins later?
Not to pick on the Pope; I think people like ISIS present a conundrum for everyone who believes in peace and suspects that love of violence is the root of all evil. How do we defeat them without becoming them?
"I wonder how many soldiers could really absorb this doctrine -- that war is always wrong, and enjoying even a necessary war against evil is a mortal sin -- and still fight effectively."
There is some proof, at least historically, that soldiers are perfectly capable of seeing war as evil, and something to be avoided when possible, and something to be loathed and borne with a heavy heart when not.
For my own example, I've always admired certain select quotations of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a figure today seen by many as a notorious for his role in serving the South in the American Civil War, but who was, upon study of his life and character, a deeply complex and nuanced man torn between loyalties and caught in the tragedy of his time. I will let his own words speak for him.
"It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it."
"I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honour for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labour, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It is intended for 'perpetual Union,' so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession: anarchy would have been established, and not a government, by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and all the other patriots of the Revolution. ... Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and, save in defense will draw my sword on none."
"We must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them."
"Madam, don't bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans. "
"Sir, if you ever presume again to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this university."
"I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South its dearest rights. But I have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings, and have never seen the day when I did not pray for them."
"The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman. The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly — the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light. The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others."
It is actually my firm belief that part of our modern cutlural problem in America is that we have grown disconnected from the horrors of war. The last time average Americans truly knew and understood the nature of warfare was during the Civil War. In the century and a half which had transpired since, we have been societally isolated from war - we have viewed it only at a distance, a thing detached and remote from the realities of our daily lives.
Oh, certainly we've felt the indirect effects of warfare. We've been involved in many wars over the past 150 odd years, but all of them have been overseas. We've listened to the radio and watched the television to hear news of these far flung struggles, and we've felt the economic and societal strains imposed on us by the needs of the great war machine, but with fighting not occuring on our home soil, our average citizens have forgotten what war really means.
The rest of the world hasn't - most of Europe and Asia have been ravaged by wars within living memory. People there still know what it means to have tanks rolling through city streets; to be woken in the night by air raid sirens; to hide like rats in cramped shelters; to watch trucks and trains and marching columns of soldiers passing through their hometowns on their way to the killing fields, then soon after return laden only with the dead and wounded, then disappear entirely to be replaced by soldiers from the other side; to scrounge for food and huddle cold and hopeless in shattered ruins that were once vibrant cities; to have to become hard and selfish to survive, to ignore the orphaned children starving in the gutters, to refuse to succor pleading refugees, to turn away from the suffering of others in order to not succumb to their own misery and desperation; to have to rebuild from the ashes, to collect and bury the mangled anonymous dead, to live under foreign occupation as the losing party of an insane contest of inhuman brutality.
No, the only Americans who know warfare at all anymore are our soldiers, and they operate in a strange state of distanced unreality. The destruction they witness and help bring about is foreign to them. The people they kill are "other", "them", "the enemy", "hostiles". The cities they destroy aren't known to them. They drop bombs and fire missiles from high above, never seeing the victims. The soldiers on the ground don't shoot humans, they shoot "targets". They're just going through the motions, carrying out orders, and then falling back to their bases and headquarters where they return to the familiar routine of life on deployment.
The world they fight in is not their own. It's all unreal, like a dream. They're just stuck in limbo, living in a fantasy world. They spend long days in their camps in relative calm or even boredom, then get shipped out for brief periods of intense fighting, then head back to the camps to rest up before going back out again. And at the end of it all, assuming they survive, they can finally go back home - to their own world; to cities they know; to people they understand; to humans they see as real humans and places they see as real places and a world that isn't some disconnected waking nightmare they have to suffer through.
This dissociation is at the heart of the PTSD our veterans come home with. They live so long in a bizarre world of unreality that they have trouble readapting to the world they left behind. We ship off young people to fuel the war machine, and when they come back broken and dangerous to themselves and others, we turn a blind eye, because we've collectively moved on to the newest crisis / presidential election / celebrity sex tape / trade deal / miscellaneous current event.
But the rest of us? War is just a vague concept to us anymore - not a reality. We have lost our horror of war. It's just a game to us, a distracting struggle playing out on our television screens and across newpaper headlines for our vague amusement.
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