From The Monitor, San Francisco, November 11, 1982.
RELIGION AND WAR RECONSIDERED
Now that we have had more than a year or so in which the media has been full of wars, of statements coming from clergy, bishops, and academics in bewildering array, we can perhaps relax a bit and estimate where we are.
The Holy Father (John Paul II) in at least three basic statements (Dec. 13, 1981; Jan. 1, 1082, and June 11, 1982) has stated the legitimacy and need of national defense, of soldiering, of deterrence, of political freedom. (Cf. my articles in The Monitor, April 15, August 5, 1982).
This teaching has been within the consistent teaching of the modern papacy. Furthermore, other hierarchies and countries have a stake, so that we cannot expect the U. S. hierarchy to come up with something very much different from what the Holy Father or other hierarchies have suggested.
Whatever form it takes, then, perhaps partly as a result of the efforts of many citizens, politicians, academicians, military, refugees and diplomats, the final statement of the U. S. Bishops on war, if there is to be one, will follow, when read carefully, the Holy Father's basic direction, allowing for defense, deterrence, work for secure verifiable, guaranteed disarmament, without deception or illusion.
There are, it strikes me, just too many sane and practical bishops around ever to expect anything else. The homework is being done; the workings of reason are having their effect. No American administration, Democratic or Republican, moreover, is going to come out for a nuclear freeze, unilateral disarmament, reduction of forces, or sacrifice of research, that will substantially leave this nation or the West or other free peoples essentially defenseless. In all prudence, we can expect the Soviets to continue increasing their nuclear capacity in one way or another, whenever they can.
The relative preponderance of Soviet power can have vast political effects, if we allow it. I have never thought there is much of a danger of nuclear war, but great danger of using fear of war as a weapon for political advantage. Thus far, the best statement in support of this position comes from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (New York Times June 24, 1982), while Edward Luttwak's "How to Think about Nuclear War" (Commentary, Aug. 1982) and Vladimir Bukovsky's The Soviet Union and the Peace Movement (New York: Orwell Press, 1982) are basic in understanding why we have heard so much "peace" talk recently and what it means.
Deterrence simply works when carefully carried out. Placed in a reasonable political context, as Mrs. Thatcher argued, it will continue to work in the direction the Holy Father suggested. The Soviet strategists, however, are not unskilled in using religious or academic or other groupings obviate the clear consequences of successful deterrence, namely, that the Soviet power is contained, contrary to its own theory of itself. If it is possible to disarm or weaken one's enemies by argument, why not try?
My suspicion is that a not inconsiderable degree of recent controversy has come from such analyses, something Bukovsky, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Arnaud de Borchgrave, and others have followed. Things can get used outside the intentions of those being used, a recurring political fact. I suspect, in other words, that this whole matter will rapidly die down as soon as it becomes clear that responsible private sector people in the West in religion, media and other places make it clear that they are not going to give up or yield on "moral" grounds, however this comes to be stated in the fine print.
When we have time to look at all of this from the perspective of political philosophy and basic religion, furthermore, it will become increasingly evident, I think, that many in these churches, academia, media, and other bastions seemed pretty close to teaching a pure Hobbesian principle that before death, nothing mattered, so that all one needed to do to destroy any religious or philosophic value was graphically to present the alternative of death.
Many will begin to wonder about the ease with which this teaching could be propagated in our culture. They will wonder, in other words, if religion and philosophy really believe their announced positions. The long-range danger of this recent spate of anti-nuclear-war fever will be a wonderment about whether religion or ethics means anything before death.
Philosophers, like Joseph Cropsey, often seemed to be the ones who upheld the relevant teaching, while few heard much discussion of the meaning of human life if war did come, especially since it was often claimed that it was "inevitable." The irony is, then, that the real effects of the nuclear bomb may well prove, in the end, intellectual, not physical. There will be a gnawing sense that religion and ethics seem to stand for nothing more than the raw, undistinguished Hobbesianism, that death is indeed the end.
Fortunately, I think, an increasing awareness of these matters will, immediately, produce a rather careful, responsible doctrine about defense that will give clue enough to the Soviets that this "peaceful" path in the West to shortstop deterrence is a dead end. The Soviets will seek other ways, I have no doubt, but in the meantime the issue is mostly over. We are merely waiting to see it spelled out in the lines and between the lines. Whether the long-range issue turns out as I suspect is might depends mostly on the clarity of thinking about how we explain ourselves.
If we explain ourselves to ourselves, finally, as if nothing at all counts except staying alive for as long as possible no matter what the cost of principle and value, many will begin more seriously to look for a new faith, one which would have principles, dogmatic content that would suggest that sacrificing everything to stay alive is itself a denial of human worth. Once this is clear that we need not in principle accept the worst, we can begin to discuss war precisely on the grounds of principle.