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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Thursday, March 13, 2003  
Bill Cork asked for and received a copy of the e-mail sent recently by the Jesuit provincial in California.

The message regarding the possibility of war contained some suggestions on "Community actions for peace and justice" from Jesuit ethicist Rev. John Coleman, SJ, professor of social values at Loyola Marymount. Some excerpts:

When I lived in the Netherlands, I shared a community with a Jesuit named Jan Ruypert who was the spiritual father for scholastics. He told me the story of his own early period in philosophy at Nijmegen the day the German tanks rolled over the border and started World War II for the Dutch. He said that that day the Dean of the Philosophate told them there would be classes and daily order as usual since "ordinary business continues." With a laugh, he said: "But I knew in my bones that no ordinary business would be the same. My whole life was going to be different from that moment."

Many of us Jesuits think that a war with Iraq would be an unjust war. In any unjust war, our souls are at stake; we cannot just go on as if it is "business as usual." For those of us who think this is an unjust war, the "faith that does justice" is just an empty slogan if we stand by doing nothing. An unjust war rudely knocks on our door, and we cannot ignore it.

Fr. Coleman draws a parallel between Hitler's tanks rolling into Holland and US forces poised to strike against Hitler's pupil in Iraq. As I believe William F. Buckley said of the moral distinctions to be made in the Cold War: Mr. A and Mr. B both may be shoving an old lady, but it makes a difference that one is pushing her in front of an oncoming truck, and the other pulling her away.

There are some among us who judge that this war is justified. But even just warriors know they need to lament any war's tragic necessity. A just warrior who is a Christian remains under an obligation of faith in Jesus to pray for, and even love, his or her enemies and to work to mitigate any suffering of the innocent. If a war begins in Iraq, the U.N. is estimating something on the order of a million refugees and hundreds of thousands dead with countless more dead in the wake of war.

This suggests the Iraqi people are seen as the enemy, rather than Saddam, and will be targeted by US military action, rather than liberated. One is reminded of the Samantha Smith-style "people to people" exchanges the Left was always promoting during the Cold War, as if the Russian people and their Soviet oppressors were one and the same. The Left raised the same specter of civilian casualties to oppose US action in Afghanistan, as if the Afghan people were the targets, not the Taliban. But you didn't hear the citizenry of Kabul complain when the Taliban was routed, courtesy of US bombing. They were too busy removing their veils, playing music again, and going about their lives free of fear -- ordinary pleasures they would still be denied had the course urged by their pacifist "advocates" on the Left been followed.

Even those generally supportive of the war, the just warriors, have to confront certain questions before, during, and after a war:

(1) Before a war: Is there really a just cause? Is it a last resort? Is it without real alternatives? Is it declared by a legitimate authority?

Well, the United States government is a legitimate civil authority. And there is something to be said for pre-emptive action against an Iraq: The Israelis were criticized for a pre-emptive strike on Saddam's nuclear reactor in the early '80s. Thank heaven they did: Imagine if they had not.

But it should be noted military action against Iraq in this case would not be pre-emptive. Saddam has not lived up to his end of the 1991 Gulf War truce by disarming. This would be ending an old war, not starting a new one.

(2) During a war: Is there really an attempt to spare innocent civilians? It would seem that any use of nuclear weapons should disturb any just warrior pace the Bishops' Peace Pastoral of the 1980's. In this war, a key issue would be: Can the allies actually show that they found real weapons of mass destruction - their proposed reason for going to war?

The US and allies again are painted the aggressors, and Saddam is given the benefit of the doubt.

(3) After a war: A just war presupposes sincere plans for a just peace. Many nations - and critics of recent American policy list us as conspicuous villains in this type of action - win a war and then walk away to let the people simply pick up whatever pieces they can.

Has he never heard of the Marshall Plan? Has he never watched a Japanese television set or driven in a Japanese car?

Oriana Fallaci again:

Can anybody guess how many cemeteries of Allied soldiers there are in Italy? More than sixty. And the largest, the most crowded, are the American ones. At Nettuno, 10,950 graves. At Falciani, near Florence, 5,811. Each time I pass in front of it and see that lake of crosses, I shiver with grief and gratitude.

Back to Fr. Coleman:

Our communities should be doing something concrete to bear witness to justice and peace before, during, and after this war. I would like to make some modest suggestions for the consideration of Jesuit communities of the California Province for over the next six months.

(1) Continued and crafted prayer times for peace and justice - even in the event of a war and its aftermath: Perhaps once a week special prayers, e.g., the prayer of St. Francis, a prayer for peace from the Koran, could be said at the end of mass…

Perhaps some of the finer sermons by clerics of the Religion of Peace could be given as homilies.

(6) Some have suggested a sort of general strike to protest the war; that is probably unrealistic. We might, however, declare a one-day strike when we enter into war. On this day, business will not be "as usual" and we will not teach our classes, say our masses, or hold our spiritual direction conferences. For some, such a one-day "cease-fire" action may be too bold, but it is an option for communities to consider.

We are busy people with many items, good and apostolic, on our agenda. There are classes to teach, masses to say, and retreats to organize. But war is always a tragic evil. It should disrupt our lives and force us to reflect on sin and the power of Christ's peace to transform lives. We do not need in 2003 a latter-day Dean of the Philosophate at Nijmegen who will claim that "business as usual" will go on as war begins.

War is always tragic, but sometimes it is a necessary evil. Ask the Jews of Warsaw, or the Resistance fighters who battled the Nazis and the Communists, or the once-captive nations of Central Europe whose leaders now support the US on Iraq.

Fr. Coleman has argued "even an appeal to self-defense might not justify war." (Andrew Sullivan suggests the rules of engagement have to be considered in the post-9.11 age of the suitcase nuke.)

Fr. Coleman is listed with Hans Kung, Phil Berrigan and Bishop Gumbleton among the endorsers of a group called Priests for Equality, which has posted an Action Alert asking members to write the Nigerian government in protest of a stoning sentence imposed on a woman by a Shari'ah court.

One wonders what it would take to get Fr. Coleman as upset over the similar horrors visited every day by the Iraqi government on its people, or the potential dangers posed to the American people by fanatics with bio-toxins or suicide bomb belts?

Ethicist and professor of social values Fr. Coleman seems unable or unwilling to discern between the forces of good and evil in world affairs. The same can be said at present of the Vatican.

"The logical consequence of a society that revolves around not offending anyone is that the bullies will win," says Peter Kreeft. "Moral relativism has a reputation for being compassionate, caring and humane, but it is an extremely useful philosophy for tyrants."


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