Sunday, March 23

Many thanks to an anonymous commenter below who points us to this 1999 article from America examining the Pope's teaching on war

The key international developments of Pope John Paul's pontificate came with the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe. It is therefore useful to reconsider his observations on nonviolence and the use of force in that context. Reflecting on those events in Centesimus Annus, the Pope proclaimed his belief that non-violence led to the fall of Communist governments in eastern Europe. "It seemed," he wrote in the 1991 encyclical, "that the European order resulting from the Second World War and sanctioned by the Yalta Agreement could only be overturned by another war." He continued, "Instead, it has been overcome by the nonviolent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth."

In Evangelium Vitae (1995), the Pope claimed, "Among the signs of hope we should also count the spread, at many levels of public opinion, of a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between peoples, and increasingly oriented to finding effective but 'nonviolent' means to counter the armed aggressor" (emphasis in original). Beneath the Pope's expressed trust in nonviolence, one finds an esteem for those who show a willingness to suffer for the sake of justice rooted in the Christian faith. "It is by uniting his own sufferings for the sake of truth and freedom to the sufferings of Christ on the Cross," Pope John Paul wrote, "that man is able to accomplish the miracle of peace and is in a position to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil and the violence, which under the illusion of fighting evil, only makes it worse."

This last point, namely, that there are forms of fighting evil that only worsen the evils suffered, is one that Pope John Paul II makes often. In his view, however, the avoidance of greater harm is more than a simple question of proportionality. Rather, the Pope affirms that those who are themselves willing to accept suffering acquire a heightened ability to discern properly how to fight against evil, whether with nonviolence or by the legitimate use of force. There is an implicit rejection of the notion that just-war thinking is simply an abstract "calculus" that can be applied independent of certain restrained, not to say pacific, moral dispositions. The Pope's antipathy to the use of force and his constant call for negotiation disclose a religious leader who is as much concerned about the means employed to overcome evil as he is committed to struggle against it.

Finally, Centesimus Annus, with echoes of earlier 20th-century popes, presents John Paul II's negative judgment about war as an instrument of policy:

"No, never again war, which destroys lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked the war."

This passage has become almost a leitmotiv in the Vatican's response to the use of force, repeated again and again in papal statements and other Vatican declarations.

As a rule of thumb, I would suggest that here as elsewhere the Pope should be taken at his word. While the form is rhetorical, the substance is serious. The point is that the consequences of war are beyond calculation. We should consider soberly whether the use of force does, in fact, do what the Pope says. Above all, does it take the life of innocent people? Does it leave behind a trail of resentment and hatred? Does it make finding a just solution more difficult? These objections do not rule out resorting to force, especially in case of humanitarian intervention. They do imply that every effort must be taken to avoid the vastly unpredictable consequences of taking up arms.

I strongly recommend that you take the time to read this entire article. It is thorough, fair and realistic.

How a walkover turned into a 3-day battle

Someone's being honest.

I've been doing some mega-posting on Mondays, but not this week. The war has me pretty well absorbed, so I've not been doing my usual daily bookmarking of Catholic Greatness and Stupidity in the liitle folder I like to call "Bloggable." Plus, I have that April 1 deadline for not just one, but two projects approaching, so I need to be giving my time to that this week and over the weekend. I'll continue to post one or two links to thought-type pieces every day for your discussion pleasure, and if you see more than that, feel free to email and scold.

Over the past few days, I've settled on the following for war news. They are simply the sites that, taken together, give the most comprehensive and focused links. The ideological perspectives vary.

The Command Post

Daily Kos

The Agonist

As I've said many times before in various contexts, I was raised to consider all points of view, all the facts from all perspectives. It wasn't only the way I was raised, it was the way I was trained as an historian. Whenever I read anything it's automatic for me to check who wrote it and what their angle is. So it is with war news. The barrage is constant, but much of it is packaged and framed to support a particular view. "Conservatives" who have spent years railing against the major media for packaging news in ways favorable to their own interests, whether those interests be ideological or financial (i.e. keep the drama coming because drama=viewers), should not forget their formerly adamantly held convictions during this time.

The American news channels - broadcast and cable both are so caught up with video that even with their wealth of resources, they are neglecting to report on the many stories developing or to adquately follow up on events that even happened yesterday. Before we went to Mass this morning, for example, all the cable news networks were fixated on this fire in the weeds on the banks of the river in Baghdad. I mean fixated. For hours. As if the sight of the citizens of Baghdad jumping around a river bank were in any way more newsworthy than the skirmishes that were occurring throughout Iraq, than the apparent fragging (for an explanation see Michael's blog), or whatever is going on with the Turks...

So we turn to the internet, hoping to find relief, and to some extent we do. But again, even the better warbloggers are coming at it from the perspective of full, unquestioning support for the Bush administration, which is fine, but there are other angles worth checking out, if not for the perspective, which you can take or leave, but for the articles they link, which you won't find linked on the warbloggers' sites. Here are two:

Nowarblog links to stories about the State Department's stated doubts about the future of democracy in Iraq

Counterspin links to stories about Red Cross accounts of casualty figures and frankly ambiguous responses of some Iraqi citizens to American action and presence.

Of course - not the whole story. But if you can ignore some of the blather surrounding it and focus on the information offered (linked from reputable news sources), you get more of that whole story than you would if you just stuck with the voices that you want to hear, voices that sound just like yours.

And if your cable or satellite system carries Newsworld International, by all means, watch that as much as possible.

From the Times (not ours, of course), an excellent piece by Theodore Dalrymple on Lent:

We fast not for God, but for our egos:

Our modern self-denial, then, is different from its previous, religious forms. It does not look beyond the here-and-now, because we don’t believe any longer that there is anything beyond the here-and-now. The purpose of our self-denial is thus to indulge ourselves for longer and longer, amen. We do not deny ourselves anything that we may be pleasing in the sight of God: we deny ourselves things that we may be pleasing when we look at ourselves in the glass. Our self-denial is just another manifestation of our egotism.


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