'No' to Bombing

On the northern end of the United Nations headquarters in New York a gigantic equestrian statue looms two stories high. A young knight, Saint George, mounted on a magnificent rearing steed, plunges his long spear, with a cross at its top, into the throat of a monstrous two-headed dragon at the horse’s feet. To the onlooker it is clear: the knight is not just good and the dragon evil; the saint is the UN. But today the statue can easily be seen as a metaphor for the United States as the saintly knight. The dragon is whatever we are told may threaten our way of life.

Secretary of State John Kerry, in his August 30 national address, called up the image of America the savior nation, the world’s last best hope to restore morality against Syria’s evil regime, which has wantonly slaughtered over 1,400 of its own citizens with internationally outlawed chemical weapons. Syria had dared to “cross the red line” that President Barack Obama drew months ago against the internationally forbidden use of poison gas. The UN Security Council, along with 59 percent of the American public, do not support retaliation. America alone, we are told, has the military and moral strength to teach Syria a lesson.


Would that it were that simple. Syria has not invaded another country; this is instead a civil war where the opposition, which attracted initial broad support, is now split between those who favor the Western nations and Islamic extremists who embody in their tactics the evils of the ruling party. The battle pits the tyranny of the corrupt government against the chaos and sometimes cruelty of the rebels. What can Mr. Obama’s allegedly precise bombing of selected targets accomplish other than multiply the Syrian dead?

The questions multiply. Secretary Kerry has refused public answers to a dozen questions including estimated civilian casualties and how other Arab countries would respond. Why not wait for the U.N. inspection’s report? The bombings may continue for two months or more. Although we are promised “no boots will touch the ground,” troops might have to land for rescue operations. The divided Senate committee has voted yes, but what if Congress otherwise votes no? Would Obama attack anyway? What of the voice of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey’s warning against intervention?

U.S. aircraft sit in the Mediterranean ready to strike at ten Syrian chemical weapons sites, two missile bases, six air bases, two military commands and one army unit. The proposed strikes do not appear to satisfy just war principles of proportionality and last resort. Chances that they would teach President Assad a moral lesson are slim to zero. That they would kill more people, military and civilian, is guaranteed. Which would require more moral courage of President Obama: to bomb under these circumstances or to take back his “red line” comment and throw all his energies into a negotiated settlement?

President Obama remains entitled to our respect and understanding. He has avoided the hubris that swept us into Iraq and Afghanistan, and America must strive to be worthy of the mantle of moral leadership so important to the nation’s self understanding and the world’s trust. Yet the fact remains that our bombing of Syria, like our often irresponsible use of drones, would inevitably add to the pile of corpses that make this war the terrible tragedy it has become.

In a UN garden another bronze muscular hero holds a sword bent into a curve in his left hand and raises his hammer high to bring it down again. He personifies Isaiah 2: 4-5: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

The bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Autun, has pleaded for a political, not military, solution. Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Society of Jesus, has accused both the United States and France, who supports our bombing, of “abuse of power.” Father Nicholas says he “cannot understand who gave the United States or France the right to act against a country in a way that will certainly increase the suffering of the citizens of that country, who, by the way, have already suffered beyond measure.” In a September 5 letter, Pope Francis has urged a Group of 20 leaders to abandon the “futile pursuit” of a military solution in Syria; and in the four-hour Saturday night prayer vigil he called upon all persons of good will to cry out forcefully, “Violence and war are never the way to peace...May the noise of weapons cease!"

The United States must find better ways to genuinely relieve the suffering of the Syrian people.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
4 years 8 months ago
"The United States must find better ways to genuinely relieve the suffering of the Syrian people," pretty inoffensive editorializing and who can disagree? The imponderable question is, "How?" As someone standing far off from the boiling pot of political and religious complexities, but more than faintly smelling the sickening scent of probable causes and effects with brow wrinkling uncertainties that is Syria, indeed the Middle East, I now wonder out loud as follows. Why don't people in high places, you know, the shakers and rollers of this world, push for negotiations by regional Islamic Religious Leadership, maybe even an ecumenical "let's sit together and TALK" meeting, including of course Pope Francis? Could Pope Francis do it alone? Maybe not a good idea.. Let them meet in Damascus with Assad, or anywhere else and don't quit until the bubbling cauldron called Syria rids itself of its gaseous flatulence and peace which according to Pope Pius XII is, "the tranquility of order" permeates the land. Too simplistic to be seriously contemplated? Maybe heads far wiser than mine are right. So then, the question remains, "How?"
John Wotherspoon
4 years 8 months ago
Bruce, your idea is an excellent one: a Middle East Peace Conference with the leaders of all Middle East nations, plus leaders of Security Council permanent nations....organized by UN under leadership of Ban Ki-moon.....with Islamic and Jewish leaders ...and Pope Francis.....in the City of Peace: Jerusalem. Such a meeting might even lead to the birth of a Middle East Union, like the European Union, with the same aim as one of the original aims of the EU: peace and trade rather than war and destruction
philip welch
4 years 8 months ago
I wish I were more articulate but I've been away from my Jesuit pastoral environment for almost 50 years. What i see here is the self serving of status quo. It is so easy to give arguments for most doing something as opposed to acting from your moral base. Do you not believe the administration has not explored all the diplomatic routes? do you not see the reluctance of the president of engage in military strikes? How can we let Assad use chemicals against his people and not face consequences? Are they not part of the children of God, just animals owned by Assad to do with as he pleases? I am dismayed and ashamed.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The news from Ireland and the United States reminds us of Herod, of Pharaoh. What culture betrays its children?
The EditorsMay 26, 2018
A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Voters went to the polls May 25 to decide whether to liberalize the country's abortion laws. (CNS photo/Alex Fraser, Reuters)
The repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn, is passing by a 2-1 margin with most of the votes counted.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018