Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

August 12, 2002


            As the anniversary of September 11 approaches, a lot of influential people in Washington are talking about going to war with Iraq.  Some columnists for major newspapers, like George Will and Michael Kelly, are positively beating the war drums.

            Judging from the leaks to the media, it appears, however, that the U.S.military is opposed to the idea, at least for now.  The plans published in the New York Times show serious reservations among our uniformed personnel.

Real soldiers (as opposed to columnist “armchair warriors”) are concerned with many practical questions. How many soldiers would be needed and how many would die? Would an attack work? If  Saddam is actually toppled, who would replace him? How much would the war cost?  How long would we stay? (We are still in Korea 50 years later.) What is our exit strategy? Would any allies join us? (At present the answer is no.) Would we really be any safer at the end of the conflict? Would we just spread the war, divide up Iraq and destabilize the region?  Even if we got a new government, would they destroy all the weapons of mass destruction?  These questions and many others indicate it will be no easy task to accomplish what the administration is euphemistically calling “regime change.”

But the military are not the only ones expressing grave reservations.  Even members of the Republican party are also questioning the propriety of a war. Congressman Richard Armey of Texas, the majority leader of the House and a supporter of President Bush said, “I don’t believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation.  It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we would be as a nation.”

            Government officials will have to answer the practical questions about war, but there is one question that is for each one of us, as citizens and as Christians. Would it be right to attack Iraq?

            From the standpoint of traditional Catholic moral teaching regarding war, at least for the answer at the moment, would be no. It would not be a moral act to go to war with Iraq in an unprovoked attack.

            Just war requires a just cause.  There must be some direct and serious threat to us or to another innocent party.  in 1990, in Desert storm we had this with the attack on Kuwait.

But, a generalized fear is not a just cause for war. 

Condeleeza Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor, says that Saddam is an evil man who has proven he is willing to use weapons of mass destruction.  That is undeniably true.  The Bush administration says that his justifies “anticipatory self-defense” through a pre-emptive strike. That is nothing other than a euphemism for “attack.”

Saddam is undenyably an evil man.  He has gassed his own people.  He started a war with Iran (with U.S. backing and support) that killed more than one million people.

But is the fact that a country is ruled by and evil man or that it has weapons of mass destruction enough to go to war?

Lots of countries, including United States, have weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological or nuclear. India, Israel, and Pakistan have the bomb. Maybe other countries.

Many countries are ruled by evil people.  Cuba has Fidel Castro in Cuba.  Zimbabwe has Robert Mugabe.  North Korea, Iran, and Burma all have evil people who have been cruel to their own people.  We cannot justify a war against somebody because they are bad men or because they have bad weapons.  There has to be a direct and immediate threat to us or to another innocent. 

If we truly respect all human life, we cannot justify an unprovoked attack on the people of Iraq without some direct and immediate threat to ourselves or some other innocent party.  War with Iraq would not be a moral option, at least not now.