The Triumph of the Playboy Philosophy in the Persian Gulf

April 1991By Dale Vree

Dale Vree is Editor of the NOR.

Since at least the fourth century the Catholic Church has articulated a morality of war called just war doctrine, which is now the priceless patrimony of Western civilization, even if seldom observed. Without this doctrine we are left with the law of the jungle and the morality of the whorehouse — or with pacifism and passive resistance, which, sadly, are usually ineffectual in protecting or rescuing the innocent on the international level.

In our January-February 1991 issue we printed a document by Archbishop Roger Mahony, speaking for the full body of U.S. Catholic bishops, that articulated six basic criteria of a just war. All of the criteria must simultaneously and clearly be met for a war to be just. In addition, there are criteria governing the conduct of war that must be observed (which, because of military censorship of the media, we won’t know much about until after the war in the Persian Gulf is over). The burden of Mahony’s document was that nonviolent solutions to the conflict in the Gulf had not been exhausted. Indeed, in the same issue, Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, specifically stated, among other things, that offensive U.S. military action in the Gulf could well violate the just war criterion of “last resort.” After those documents were written, war broke out on January 15, and there’s been no evidence that the majority of U.S. bishops has changed its mind. Indeed, on January 25, the Holy See’s Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and point man for Pope John Paul II, focused on the criterion of “proportionality” and stated that he has “profound doubts” that the war is just.

We will return to the issue of proportionality — which asks whether the human costs and other consequences of war are proportional to the objectives to be achieved — but at this point we must state that, in our judgment, the less complicated criterion of last resort was not met. (Others may see a way around this problem, but we can’t.) Therefore, while people can argue till they’re blue in the face that Saddam Hussein is another Hitler, that this war is truly about foiling aggression, and that opposing the war will “let our boys down,” the bottom line is that this war was wrong — unjust, immoral — from the word go.

If war was not the last resort, what options were omitted? They were two: (1) Sanctions. In the 20th century there have been 115 cases of sanctions, and it has taken an average of two years for sanctions to work in the major cases. The U.S. didn’t come close to allowing sufficient time to see if sanctions would work. Of course, opinions differed on the promise of sanctions. But Christians must always give the benefit of the doubt to life over death, to peace over war. Indeed, that’s the essence of what it means to be “prolife,” which is what this magazine is.

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