Thursday, July 21, 2005


Wayfaring Strangers, Part 20

(Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

War, Darfur, Politics, and Faith

I'm going to try today to write about issues that bother me; issues where I have no real clear ideas about wrong and right. If you decide to read this, be aware that it'll probably be meandering and maybe even self-contradictory. I don't claim to have all the answers. Sometimes I act like I think I have all the answers, but when I really examine certain ethical and religious issues, I realize that I don't know one damned thing.

A while back, I wrote that I didn't feel that I could keep supporting the war in Iraq, but that I'd continue to support our troops and simply pray for an end to the bloodshed. I felt compelled to take that stance by what I had been reading in the Bible, in the Catechism, and in books by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others.

These are complex issues, but I try to have my thoughts directed by one simple fact: At no point did Christ advocate war or violence. In fact, to the contrary, Christ told his followers to turn the other cheek to our enemies, to be submissive, to give to our enemies with a glad heart, and to give twice what we've been compelled to give.

That's a tall order. That's really, really hard.

Pope John Paul II was opposed to the current war in Iraq. Our current Pope, Benedict XVI, is opposed as well. He's been clear about that. Before his pontificate, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote the following:

"There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war'."

It's hard for me to accept that. I struggle with it, I try to embrace it and find access to it, but I keep coming back to the fact that, deep down, I believe that Iraq is better off now than it was with Saddam Hussein in power. I didn't say that Iraq is perfect now, I don't think so for one minute. I recognize the problems there and the long road ahead, but I do believe that the removal of a brutal dictator the likes of Saddam is inherently good for Iraq.

So was it worth it? Ultimately, if I have to answer that question with a "yes" or a "no," I have to admit that I would say yes.

Was our invasion of Iraq what Christ would have had us do?

Boy, there's a tough one. I don't know. My first, gut reaction, is to answer "No" to that question. Our invasion of Iraq happened in order to preserve our national security. All credible international intelligence suggested that Saddam was assembling WMDs. The leftists can harp and moan that "Bush lied" all they want, but no reasonable person believes that. Bush believed, as did the majority of the world, that Saddam was arming himself with WMDs. It certainly appeared to be the case. It turned out to have not been the case, but I believed then and still believe that Bush, Blair, and all other involved parties really believed that Saddam was armed and very dangerous.

Clinton screwed up. That's apparent, and only the most unreasonable partisan leftist would disagree. On Clinton's watch, Saddam got stronger, cockier, and seemed to be more deadly than ever. Had Clinton been a better, stronger leader, that never would have happened. Sanctions and controls against Saddam were not enforced during Clinton's watch. He made a few speeches and launched a few missiles at isolated spots, putting on a little show... but he really did nothing. He was afraid of the backlash, afraid that his "legacy," such as it is, would be marred by the outrage of a draft dodging president sending the military into harms way to prevent Saddam from regaining power. The oil for food mess took place on Clinton's watch, and like the situation in North Korea, he simply turned a deaf ear and crossed his fingers and did nothing. I'm not saying that I know exactly what he should have done, exactly how he should have handled it... but it's clear that he handled it as badly as it could have been handled. Clinton, through negligence, made this mess. Bush, whatever you might think of him, has simply inherited Clinton's mess. I don't know that what he's done in Iraq was 100% correct... but I don't know what else he could have done. Clearly, something had to be done.

At least Bush did something. Say what you like about what he did, but at least he did something. That's more than Clinton did.

It's easy for any of us to second guess the President. It's almost sort of a national passtime. The fact is, though, that one man was faced with that crisis, and that one man was George W. Bush. I don't envy him the position he found himself in for one second. It's all very easy for those on the left to gripe and bellow about how he did the wrong thing... but I wonder if any of them have stopped to ask themselves what they would have done. Speaking for myself, one little conservative in Virginia, I can only say that I don't have the slightest idea.

So what would Christ tell us about the invasion of Iraq?

I have tried to think about Iraq in terms of World War II. Comparisons between Saddam and Hitler are obvious and justified. I think it's reasonable to believe that our actions in World War II, while delayed, were justified. Hitler had to be stopped. I believe that. I believe that I could look my Savior in the face (if it's possible for any human to do that) and say that our actions in World War II were supported by our faith.

And so, there's the link to Iraq. I struggle with the justification of "preventive war," but I'm certain, absolutely certain, that removing Saddam from power was right. He was a butcher and a madman. Removing him from power was a just outcome of the war.

Thinking that gives me no peace whatsoever, though... because of Darfur.

What's going on in Darfur is absolutely barbaric. It's probably more comparable to the butchery of Nazi Germany than even Saddam's Iraq. The Moslems in power in the Sudan are doing great evil to the Africans in Darfur. They're killing and raping them in uncountable numbers. They're starving people to death. They're murdering children, for God's sake! Children! What they are doing is evil, pure and simple. There are few things in the world situation right now that seem black and white and clear cut to me. The Genocide in Darfur is one of them. It's evil, pure and simple.

It's hard for me to believe that Islam isn't simply an evil religion. I struggle to not believe that. I don't want to believe it... but it certainly seems to be a religion that justifies the most heinous of crimes. It seems that wherever Muslims come into power, butchery follows. That's not politically correct, of course... but I'd be a fool and a liar to say that my impression of Islam is any different than that.

So, what do we do?

Was the war in Iraq justified since it resulted in the removal of Saddam? I don't know. Maybe. I want to believe it was.

Was it right for us to get involved in World War II and help to bring about the end of Hitler's reign? I think that's a little easier to answer. I think it was right. I think we were compelled to stop Hitler. Even Bonhoeffer, that great champion of peace and passiveness, was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He simply saw it as something that had to be done.

And now, Darfur. What do we do?

My gut reaction is that it is incumbent upon the free world to stop the genocide. Stop it by any means necessary, and, of course, that means with military force.

How can we just sit by and watch this happen and simply shake our fingers and say it's bad, but really do nothing?

And, at the same time, how can we do anything? Our military is stretched so thin in Afghanistan and Iraq as it is.

I know how the liberals would respond to that... in the same way that liberals always do. They'd say that the reason our military is stretched thin is because of Bush's "illegal, immoral" war in Iraq. Liberals are so good at casting blame and making speeches. Unfortunately, they're not good at actually doing anything. Liberals love their anger, they love their indignation. They love to point their fingers at everything but themselves. Indignation doesn't allow much room for introspection, and liberals seem totally incapable of examining their own emptiness.

I don't really get any answers... at least, none that satisfy me... from the Church. Before he died, John Paul II expressed concern and sympathy for the people of Darfur. He called for humanitarian aid and for the basic human rights of the people in Darfur to be respected... but is that enough? My gut tells me that it isn't. What are the chances that these butchering Muslims will stop the slaughter in Darfur simply because the primary voice of another faith asked them to? It's a rhetorical question with an obvious answer.

What do we do? That's not intended to be a rhetorical question. It's an urgent one.

In a way, I envy those angry, irreverent liberals. When your world view amounts to nothing more than casting blame and protesting, it's easy to tell yourself that you're doing something positive. I almost envy them their cockiness and their chest-swelling pride. Being angry and indigent is fun. It brings with it such feelings of superiority and self-worth. It doesn't involve introspection, so it doesn't hurt. If you get angry enough about things you don't understand, your anger can drown out the really hard questions, the ones that draw blood when you try to handle them.

I don't know what we should do. I wish I could stop thinking about it. Private monetary donations for aid and relief are good for easing the personal conscious for a few minute... but not for any real long term peace of mind.

What do we do?

I don't have the first hint of an answer.

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