John F. KavanaughSeptember 09, 2002

Finally some questions are being asked about the plans to invade Iraq. Strangely enough, the biggest stir has been caused not by the churches or the Democratic Party, but by the likes of Henry Kissinger and Richard Armey. Imagine, Kissinger and Armey, the voices of moderation—although their moderation involves not whether to invade Iraq, but when. Such is the condition of our national discourse as our president prepares for war.

Much of the discussion is reduced to people like Ann Coulter and James Carville screaming that the other is simply “ridiculous,” a word that our secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, seems to like himself. On talk shows, bellicose oversimplifications abound. “Nobody will fight for Saddam.” “Iraqi youth are more favorable to America than most college professors are.” “We’ll just take over Iraq, and the rest is easy.”

There are few voices from the Jewish prophetic tradition, which had the courage to challenge its own people. The Christian churches and their preachers seem to have forgotten not only the just war theory, but more sadly the evangelical message of Jesus. Philosophers continue to mumble about animal rights and the mind-body problem. Democrats can muster only “qualms” about this war. They appear afraid to offer any criticism, to demand hard evidence or to offer principled moral argument.

Right-wing commentators and hawk politicians, who hate any nuance and deride anyone who questions the rush to “regime change,” have intimidated the opposition. They comb through articles and documents that are courageous enough to investigate both sides of an issue or examine the causes for anti-Americanism among radical Muslims. Then they call such thoughts un-American. If you ask whether there may be reasons why the United States has triggered such hate, not only in the madmen of 9/11, but on the “Muslim street,” the shrill response is that you are defending the abomination and you think America deserved it. No, no one would ever deserve such an atrocity. The point is to see why it occurred, why it seemingly pleased so many and why it could happen again.

But if you do this, you are portrayed—as Tom DeLay has done to leaders in our State Department (Colin Powell)—as apologists for idleness and appeasement. DeLay did this on one of those lopsided, “fair and balanced as always” Fox News programs, entitled “Stomping (Not Stopping) Saddam.” By DeLay’s account, if we disagree with the new “doctrine of pre-emption,” we are venting our congenital distrust of American principle and hostility to American action.” Well, what are American principle and action?

In defending plans to invade Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld has used the following clever tactic: “O.K.; what will you say when another 9/11 occurs, and we had decided not to invade Iraq?” This is supposed to reduce us to incoherent mumbling.

Instead we should ask him some questions of our own. “Your question presumes, honorable secretary, that Iraq was the cause of 9/11. Do you have any evidence to support this, especially since Saudi Arabia, our cherished ally and oil tap, actually provided the majority of the terrorists?”

“Your question also presumes, without any foundation, that invading Iraq would have prevented the terror. What is worse, your question presumes that invading Iraq, or at least the threat of invading it, would not itself precipitate some desperate retaliation by the ‘regime’ you seek to change. Are you willing to live with the thought that, had you not invaded Iraq, another terrible strike would not have been made against us? You must give us something better than what amounts to the following set of slapdash principles for a ‘new’ just war theory.”

• If the enemy is evil, even if you have no idea of the outcome, you may attack. War need no longer be the “last resort.” It is better to mount a preventive strike.

• War may be declared by presidential fiat without debate or evidence. No moral principles other than national interest should be applied, and there should be no open discourse with those who challenge your position.

• Presume there will be only good consequences. Do not tolerate those who raise doubts about the long-range effects of such a war.

• Never criticize your own government or examine your own nation’s past failures or present motives. It is a sign of weakness. If citizens criticize plans for war, they are either stupid, appeasing or self-hating.

• If your war is against terrorism, pick the country and leader you hate most and make war against them.

• Most of all, remember that you are against the evil ones, your cause is wholly good, your motives all noble and your war holy.

It is true that there are available more reasoned accounts for both going to war and for preventing it (as is evidenced in the present issue of this journal). But the great danger is that such efforts will be ignored, drowned out by the clamor for vengeance. The acculturated presupposition is that we have every right to invade the country of the despicable Saddam Hussein. The presupposition should be, however, that such a grave action can be justified only by the weightiest of moral principles. When one adds to this the fact that ours is a predominantly Christian country, presided over by a president who claims to be inspired, in political policy, by Jesus Christ, it is appalling that our consciences seem so utterly uninformed by the Gospels.

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14 years 9 months ago
Thank you for the insightful and reflective articles in the Sept. 9 issue concerning the one-year anniversary of 9/11 and the current move toward war by the administration. I was particularly gratified by the column by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., “Propagandizing War.” His closing comment on the possible war against Iraq—“ours is a predominantly Christian country, presided over by a president who claims to be inspired, in political policy, by Jesus Christ...” and yet it appears that “our consciences seem to be utterly uninformed by the Gospels...”—points up what I consider to be the profound shallowness of the “Christianity” many Americans profess. The fact is, for many people the Gospel is not the issue, and in fact is irrelevant. The only issue that matters is being prepared to believe in a God who thinks exactly the way we think. Once we have established that “truth,” then everything else falls into place. We can do whatever we want, no matter how arrogant or immoral or utterly lacking in Christian values, because we have persuaded ourselves that God is on our side and is in full agreement with whatever we want to do. President Bush stands as an icon of that idiotic hypocrisy. Faith-filled people should be screaming in protest.

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