Friday, December 18, 2009

And now consider premptive unjust war in Iraq--What can we do to extricate ourselves from two bad wars?

In the spirit of continuing to address whether "just war" exists anymore {if it ever did}, I'm posting the second talk given at the next years', April 2003 Pax Christi Michigan conference. Its quite long, but we need to spend more time thinking praying and acting to end these unecessary disasterous wars, so I offer these first two posts in an effort to help re-trace our steps, in hopes together we can find a new path. Future posts will be less lengthly.

Peace in these troubled and hopeful times,
~Mike McCarthy

Iraq Just War? What Would Jesus Do?

When the invasion of Afghanistan happened On Oct. 7, 2001, that day I felt compelled to take the tenets of the just war theory, and put this military action to the test. Writing all day to and from my daughter’s away soccer game, and later into that night and next day, a small document took shape {some copies are there on the table-see first post for short copy of this}. Each and every element of the theory must be complied with, or a war is not just.

Here at the beginning it must be said, I’ve been a conscientious objector since age 20, the first Catholic C.O. in Jackson Co. Michigan, and don’t believe any war can be justified for a follower of Jesus. But for the community of my Catholic church, for U.S. Christians and others who hold to the just war theory as protecting our way of life, it seemed important to actually apply it, to prove through its points one by one. In the 35 years, and 20+ war situations that our country had been involved in, since I’d turned 20, our Church had never explicitly done this.

Trying to be reasoned and practical, I examined each criteria, and concluded that in all but one, the invasion of Afghanistan failed to be justified. Sending my work off to many U.S. Catholic Bishops, newspapers, and magazines, I received no rebuttals, some interested inquires, yet little direct response. The Bishops in their national conference Nov. 2001, did issue a statement inviting all to a discussion of whether the war in Afghanistan was just, and offered concerns, but no direct conclusion of their own. The war continued, and continues there today.

Then I began reading more on just war theory to see if there were examples of its thorough application in other past wars. There is one well-written book, Just and Unjust Wars, by Michael Walzer, surveying the philosophical questions involved in all their complexity, alluding to various wars down through history. But I’ve yet to find one instance of a country’s own bishops acting together in conference declaring their own government’s proposed war—unjust.

Until now! This preemptive war on Iraq. We have it from the Feb. 26, 2003 Statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We join with Pope John Paul in the conviction that war is not ‘inevitable’ and that ‘war is always a defeat for humanity.’ This is not a matter of ends, but means. Our bishops’ conference continues to question the moral legitimacy of any preemptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq. To permit preemptive or preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening or hostile regimes would create deeply troubling moral and legal precedents. Based on the facts that are known, it is difficult to justify resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature or Iraq’s involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11. With the Holy See and many religious leaders throughout the world, we believe that resort to war would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force.”

This time, this war on Iraq, there is no need to attempt to prove the theory point by point. It is clear that a preemptive, unprovoked war is unjust, not even meeting the first premise of “just cause”. Yet we are still again at war, with outcry from too few of the nations pulpits. Public opinion, and congregations, are led on like sheep to someone else’s slaughter, shamelessly by commentators on big screen TV. The media has taken the place of the ministry. The need for Good Shepherds is critical now.

The just war theory, finally applied to discredit a war, has had no practical effect, no implementation. In the basic sciences when a theory has no bearing on the facts, then it is discarded. We are at a turning point. As we stand at the dawn of the 21st century, we return to the origin of our faith, in Jesus, looking back through 2000 years. The just war theory has never worked. “Our” war {whomsoever’s war that is} is always just, of social and political necessity. The German Nazi soldiers had the words “Gott mit uns” {God on our side} on their army issue belt buckles. Justified war, justified violence was never taught by Jesus, but is almost always taught by each and every nation’s clergy. We must return to the Gospel truth, Jesus’ living word of nonviolent unconditional love and mercy. Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy who has made the message of the nonviolent Jesus his life’s work, wrote over 30 years ago, “I would like to insist with the urgency with which a mother warns her child that he or she is about to step on a rattlesnake, that the issue for the Church is not nuclear war [or most recently, weapons of mass destruction and war on terrorism], but the total and unequivocal rejection in theory and in practice of all war and mass slaughter.” {See references}.

Turn off the pundits, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfericz, Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney, and read prayerfully the four Gospels. Here can be found the answer to the war plans of the strategists who now command our country’s time and treasure. I’ve had to stay away from television, even avoid NPR, and from that first night of March madness bombing of Baghdad, return to the beautiful message of the Good News, looking for inspiration in the central teachings of each Gospel.

The response of Jesus is the new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is found in the discourses of John, which also teach us--light, truth, bread of life, and living water, being one with each other in the love of God—all we need to go beyond survival in the conflicts of worldly kingdoms. In Matthew we have the heart of the Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount, with its Beatitudes blessing the poor, gentile, merciful, peacemakers, and its most certain exact quote of Jesus of all Scripture, “Love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you.” In Luke we hear in the Sermon on the Plain, Blessings again, for when we are poor, hungry, and persecuted, and Woes for when we are not, and the caution not to be lead by blind men, who don’t remove the chunk from their own eye, before trying to remove the speck from the others’ {our leaders want disarmament--by means of shock and awe}. In Mark we have a Sermon by the Lake where were told that the Gospel mustard seed can grow to a tree in which all the birds of the air can nest, if only it fall on good ground, and not be choked by inordinate cares and cravings {and homeland alerts, and need for unlimited oil}; also in Mark, the three times Jesús teaches the Paschal Mystery—on going up to Jerusalem, the peril and great promise of the Cross. Meeting Jesús in the Scriptures often, and sharing this love and hope often with each other, gives us the strength to move on under darkening clouds of war.

These are scripture messages meant to be lived, but it is difficult when at work and at home, war has become the national pastime. It is difficult when a small but vocal minority, that believes our war machine is almost always the answer to major conflict, has control of the airwaves. Meaningful and personal discussion of the central war and peace problem of our society is hard to come by, but maintaining, and creating new, prayer-study-action church & community groups is the basic lifeline for Pax Christi to reverse the tide of war.

We must continue to call ourselves, and others to the reality of Jesus’ teaching. As Fr. John. L. McKenzie, respected scripture scholar, has said, “If we cannot know from the New Testament that Christ totally rejects violence, then we can know nothing of His person or message. It is the clearest of teachings.” More must know, and believe more fully this teaching, and follow more closely what it calls us to, in our daily lives. The “From Violence to Wholeness” small group discussion guide, and Fr. McCarthy’s “Boldly Like God, Go Against the Swords” study series, are good catalysts for forming the “beloved communities” necessary to advance a more peaceable kingdom here, now, in this war torn world. “The Beloved Community” was a term coined by Josiah Royce who founded the FOR. Dr.Martin Luther King, who was also a member of FOR, spoke of the beloved community as the practical means for transforming, redeeming change. We must not neglect to invite in to our beloved communities, those of different race or background, and the young people who have so much to offer in this struggle, and even to invite in those who oppose us. In this way Dr. King and his people won the Montgomery bus boycott.

“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence—when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers & sisters who are called the opposition.”
--M.L.K.’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech

This building up the beloved community is truly the ongoing basic work of the Gospel, the work of peacemaking, and is always a correct answer to the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” Yet if we are at a crisis point where the U.S. church is confronted with the absolute need to cast off the just war theory, go beyond it, and back to the full Gospel truth, what are we called to do to help this moment in salvation history happen?

The war in Iraq is upon us. Most all of us have been working in our local communities, climbing to the mountain top of ever rising protests, of ever mounting prayers and vigils for peace. We have come to a more common revelation than ever before in our churches and communities that this war is unjust, even that all war is unjust. We’ve heard this message proclaimed {yet as a whisper on the gentle wind in most of our parishes} by our highest spiritual leadership. Even in my local paper, a Gannet/USA Today production, which has become a direct conduit for Pentagon propaganda, there appeared in one sidebar listing, this small notation on day three of the war, “Cardinal Pio Laghi called the war a ‘tragic and disastrous fact.’ He said Pope John Paul II, who opposes the war and believes it will harm Christian-Muslim relations, ‘has screamed and it was his duty to do so.’”

Are we listening? What are we called to do? We are now at this pinnacle of outrage, and dismay, seeing the disaster of all out war raining down on Iraq. Hope teeters on the brink. What can we possibly do now? Casualties increase, new blood sacrifice on all sides, magnified by the media, and patriotic fervor rises in our communities and congregations in response. What do we do now? Many, many of us signed, within the Iraq Peace Pledge, that we would engage in civil disobedience if war was launched on Iraq. What can we do now?

In the past months at demonstrations I’ve heard many times the chant “not in our name,” and it pains me every time, because I know that it is in my name. The daily privileges of my lifestyle, are built on the same operating system that drives the war machine. My name is there. It is on the 1040 form, and tribute is regularly collected, from me, and from most of us here. The national due date fast approaches once again—April 15th. The gasoline I pump, to go to work {though I am using a bicycle more and more now}, on errands, and to many meetings and events comes from a hose that is an umbilical cord to ongoing murder in the Middle East.

I believe we have come to a time of difficult decisions, and great opportunity in our faith life. We can’t return the same way we climbed up this mountain. We can begin the path of real repentance from the forces of war and violence and the injustice that generates them, these forces that always bring suffering to both victim and victimizer. It is nearly impossible to detach ourselves from these oppressive connections. We in the U.S. are 5% of the world’s population, utilizing 40% of its resources, and accounting for >50% of all the world’s 192 nations military expenditures put together. This is a recipe for inevitable, irresolvable conflict. But with God’s grace, and our cooperation, all things are possible. We are promised the faith to move these mountains. But not easily.

Our personal connections to ongoing unjust war, currently unleashed in Iraq, as in the 1040 form, and the gas pump, can appear unbreakable chains. The struggle to break them is painful. In the spring of 1993, my wife Ande and I had been resisting our federal income tax for all the 15 years we’d been married, and each of us also before we’d met. For 12 of those years we hadn’t made much income over the taxable limit, by conscious intention. We’d both worked part-time only at our medical jobs, she as a nurse, and I a P.A., which gave us more time with our four children, and less income, especially as many of our jobs were in rural, underserved areas with community-based health agencies. Even so, I’d had to negotiate down my salary on a number of occasions. With the time gained, we were also able to be involved in a number of peacemaking efforts, and with help from the communities we were part of, and our families, we’d built two homes over those years with our own labor, and no borrowed funds from banks. But as the second home was being finished on a Catholic Worker Farm & land trust here in Michigan, our C. W. farm community broke apart in divorce-like fury, and we traveled to California to work in a migrant farm worker health area, rather than stay in our new home on land where the trust was broken beyond repair. In two years in California our income and expenses tripled and though often in the past we’d owed some and put it into peace tax funds spent on local peace projects, the cumulative amount owed now leaped from in the $1000 range to over $13,000. When we came back to Michigan, it wasn’t comfortable living in the simple alternative energy dream home we’d built at my adamant insistence on this land {I’ll never build on anything but a land trust!—I’d said}. The community was gone, and Ande let me know that she wanted to finally give up this rural living, and move to the city of Port Huron, and by a house with a mortgage—the only way we’d be able to do so, and that meant having a clear credit rating. And especially, that she could not live any longer with that ever-expanding IRS debt hanging over our head.

I remember sitting on the couch with our 6 year old youngest daughter sitting between us, and the evening sun going down outside our big window overlooking the pasture and woods, and the feeling of deep dread and fear come over me, as Ande told me that if I persisted in this absolute tax resistance, she could no longer live with me. She couldn’t live this way anymore—I could feel the dread and fear in her as well. I’d thought that we would always be tax resisters. It had been lonely. We’d known only two other families who were doing the same, over the 15 years we’d lived this way. But I believed so strongly in being the least complicit possible in support of the federal war machine. We grappled with these feelings awhile, but the choice could not be changed---this resistance, or my marriage and family. This discipleship would cost too dear. The sun went down, I relented, and we are still together 10 years later. Later that day my daughter looked at me, and with great resolution in her voice said, “Daddy, I hate taxes.” She had sensed the danger facing her mom and dad.

I don’t believe we can confront the evil of violence in the world, apart from the love of our families and communities, but it surely won’t be without strife within. Ande has brought the warmth of love to me and to our children; she is much better at the expression of that sunshine than I am, and has often kept me from going off the deep end. It is when we are certain that we are loved, that we can go beyond to take the next risks we are called to, to love beyond measure, to love as Christ loves. I will never be one to suggest taking the risks of resistance and peacemaking lightly.

And continue to take them we must---as we are called, in community. We stand in the center of the aggressor nation, invader of Chaldean Iraq, home of a million members of our Christian family. What would Jesus do? What would Jesus and His disciples do? Here are some ideas.

Some have resigned their jobs on principle, and are dedicating their energies to opposing our country’s misguided administration. The career diplomat, and ambassador to Greece, John Brady Kiesling, John H. Brown, who had been a cultural attaché at the embassy in Moscow, my friend Kurt [a journalist at a small daily paper in the middle of Michigan’s Thumb area] and a number of national reporters, have been fired for speaking the truth as they saw it.

If you are connected to the military, consider becoming a conscientious objector. And if not help support those who might so decide. Every parish social service commission could have a c.o. counselor. Such support was encouraged in the U.S.C.C.B.’s Nov. ’02 pastoral letter on the Iraq conflict.

Consider, carefully, resisting whole or in part, federal income tax, and other war tax, such as the federal phone surcharge tax started during Vietnam. Some have re-directed a symbolic $10.40 to peace efforts. If we should not serve in the military in unjust wars, should we be paying to have others fight these unjust wars? Done one by one, this is very hard, I know, but done together in our larger church communities, we could begin to dedicate our first fruits to the works of peace and mercy, and not the work of war. 50%, now approaching 60%, of our federal income tax dollars, go towards past warmaking debt and present war with all its machinery. The problem is, the government agents can come for our buildings, and our church tax exempt status can be revoked—this already has been proposed. But as grey hair, and thinning wallets more and more predominate in our pews, perhaps our calling is to the new life that could spring from returning to the catacombs and house churches.

Another way is to decrease our participation in the war economy, lessening hours spent earning money, and using this time to increase the work being done for peace. Try to find a way to move from 5 days a week on the job to 4, and spend one day helping to form the communities of peacemakers and their creative ideas to move this society from war to peace. Talk to employers, consider the alternatives. Some have taken leave of absence, or created new sabbatical opportunities.

This government is not about to draft us into the service of peace and ending this Iraq, or any other, war, nor to offer scholarships for peacemaking {they are currently trashing open access and financing for any kind of higher education}. But we can enable each other with little starter packs of collective support for peacemaking efforts, so that eventually local and national Departments of Peace and Conflict Resolution, may become a reality.

This leads into an idea for civil disobedience that our BWPC community is now working on. We are hoping to establish a Peace Recruiters Booth right at a local armed services recruitment station. Not having the same deep pockets, our station will probably look more like Lucy from Peanuts’ “psychological advice 5 cents” stand. But it will have substance, with information available on Christian Peacemaker Teams, Michigan Peace Teams, Rayjon ShareCare—a local group that does cultural awareness trips, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, the Mennonite Service Committee, AFSC, and many other doing service, and learning peace, opportunities. We will hopefully sign people up and help facilitate their new involvements in peacemaking—that they may truly be all that they are called to be. We will probably be asked to leave, this being a point of decision that we will have to prepare well for as a group. We need to find ourselves increasingly drawn to the atmosphere of growing faith and commitment that was found in the church basements of Birmingham Alabama during Dr. Kings’ campaigns for civil rights. There is also an idea for a sit-in type civil disobedience effort, that would focus on the problem of war and oil consumption, which could be called: park-in at the pumps for peace. Our group is not now inclined in this direction, but see me if you’d like further information.

Civil disobedience, for lasting effect, starts with lifestyle changes in local groups, and leads to creative developing expressions of how you’d like that change to help the whole community. It is mustard seed, salt, yeast. Being arrested is only one step of many in a process of moving away from fear, and towards hope, which needs to be encouraged all along the way ending in at least a partially obtainable goal. {examples from Grape Boycott}.

Eventually, these peace enlistments described above would involve living for periods in foreign lands learning in friendship their ways and languages, an integral part of the true basic training of international peacemakers. To better accomplish this we could petition for and raise a system of Scholarships for a Peaceable Society, in the form of tax credits and endowments, possibly linked with a national Peace Service program on equal footing with, and as an alternative to, military service. The training would be on peacemaking, the international connectedness and respect achievable would provide a lasting national security, not dependent on economic bribes, or on, in which factions hands' the exported guns were, at the moment.

Experiences living with the poor are especially valuable. To become closer to the “untouchables,” those from other counties we think want desperately what we have, but we can’t let them, helps us gain the strength and insight to throw off the unjust systems that lead inevitably to unjust war. Our local peace group showed the Richard Attenborough movie, “Ghandi” at our community college a week ago. Ghandi’s first decision on returning to India from South Africa, was to go live with the poor. We live in the world’s biggest fishbowl of wealth, and need get on the other side of the glass to begin to “think outside the box.”

We can pray for the faith to move mountains:
---that large units of our military refuse to fight, citing international law and the Nurmberg principles.
---that the leaders of their churches, most of whom have stated that this war is unjust, that these leaders call on all members to seriously consider helping soldiers out of this war in any possible way they can—transportation, food, shelter, clothing, legal help, etc..
---that our church leaders then call on us all to, as much as we can, convert our federal taxes to the works of peacemaking and mercy.
---that the Catholic Relief Service, long active in Iraq, along with many other organizations, can recruit an international aid convoy accompanied by many citizens, and groups like Pax Christi, MPT and CPT and FOR, worldwide, to travel the road to Baghdad with trucks to suitcases, of food , water, and medicine to break the siege, and end the war.

Lord, we believe, help our unbelief. Help us take the next small step in the right direction, today.


“Just War Theory” from The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

“The Just War Theory” by Bro. John Raymond, from the Monks of Adoration website.

Just and Unjust Wars, by Michael Walzer, Basic Books, c. 2000, 3rd. ed.

The Challenge of Peace, Pastoral letter of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1983, 142p; Publ. No. 863-0, available by calling 800 235 8722.
Favorite sections: Summary C,1-2; Intro,3; 114, 138, 150, 276, 290, 302, 333

“Boldly Like God, Go Against the Swords” A Thorough Introduction to Christian Nonviolence. A 13 part study series, by Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. Available from Center For Christian Nonviolence, Wilmington, DE 19808-4312, Phone 302 235 2925.
Other booklets—“Christian Just War Theory: The Logic of Deceit”
“Epistle to the Church of the 20th Century: Christian Nonviolence:
The Great Failure, the Only Hope”

Following Christ in the Consumer Society, Fr. James Kavanaugh S.J., Orbis Press

“Beyond Vietnam” speech, delivered on April 4, 1967, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As Part of Essay Series #1; Available from A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, 339 Lafayette St. N.Y., N.Y. 10012, Phone 212 533 4335

“Welcome to the Beloved Community,” article from The King Center

“From Violence to Wholeness” a ten part program in the spirituality and practice of active nonviolence. Available from Pace e Bene Franciscan Nonviolence Center,


  1. Hi mike, Well said. I've a link to an article rebutting Obama's dissing of NV during his Nobel speech and I'll send it in a following comment.
    All the best,
    John Z


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