James V. Schall, S. J.
The issue of war and its legitimacy is a perennial issue, though more heatedly debated at some times rather than others. There has been an ongoing discussion about war during the past forty years within which I have written a number of essays, listed in the bibliography below.
However, it might be useful to include, beneath the bibliography, several shorter columns here. These are: 1) "On War"; 2) "Religion and War Reconsidered"; 3) "UN Disarmament Message," and 4) "The French Bishops on War and Peace," and 5) "Christians and War: Playing God."
Under “New Series,” I will add the following reflections from mostly from On-Lins sources on the War on Terrorism: 1) “What Kind of a War Is It?” 2) Wartime Clarifications: Who Is Our Enemy?” 3) “Assessing What Is at Stake in This War,” 4) “Remarks on the War,” 5) “The First Line of Defense,” 6) “On the Duties of Soldiers and Police,” 7) “Human Control Is Gun-Control,” 8) “Terror and War: Sorting It Out,” 9) “On the Duty of a Nation to Its People,” 10) “The Justice and Prudence of This War.”
When the war in the Middle East began, Saddam Hussain called it, in the Muslim tradition, a Holy War, though he seems to have been his own Allah. President Bush likewise prayed, but talked to his bishop who was, typically these days, against the war. The cynics will say, "What's the use? God cannot be on both sides." Their conclusion logically follows: "Therefore do not pray in war."
On October 23, 1915, during the Great War, Chesterton wrote:
The cheapest and most childish of all the taunts of the Pacifists is, I think, the sneer at belligerents for appealing to the God of Battles. It is ludicrously illogical, for we obviously have no right to kill for victory save when we have a right to pray for it. If a war is not a holy war, it is an unholy one -- a massacre" (CW, XXX, p. 307).
Such common sense is in short supply. If the war is not a holy one, it is surely an unholy one., The dogmatic secularists say the cause of war is the fanaticism of the believers. The believers know that religions differ, that unholy wars also end in massacres.
As I have looked at the so-called "opposition" to war in recent years, I have been puzzled by the implications. Scripture seems to suggest we will have wars and rumors of war until the very end -- some in fact think this era, this very time, may be the "very end" with apocalyptic struggles in Babylon, Jerusalem, Cairo, Damascus, Tyre.
If this is so, that only wars worth praying for are worth dying for, we must be ready to think about war, know what it is about. On the other hand, many good (and not so good) people actually seem to think that war is some sort of project to be eliminated by good will or by, of all things, more discussion, by treaties and radical economic or political or social reforms of the whole world. When their "beliefs" do not produce results, they are shattered, devastated, because what "ought" not to happen, did happen. They believed their own theories and found them wanting.
In 1916, Chesterton wrote two columns on war. President Wilson thought that war was to make the world safe for democracy. And others, as Chesterton noted, thought that World War I would be "the war that will end all wars." Chesterton, however, immediately recognized that the ending of wars logically implied something more sinister, something more fundamentally dangerous than war itself.
I cannot see how we can literally end War unless we can end Will. I cannot think that war will ever be utterly impossible; and I say so not because I am what these people call a militarist, but rather because I am a revolutionist. Absolutely to forbid fighting is to forbid what our fathers called "the sacred right of insurrection." Against some decisions no self-respecting men can be prevented from appealing to fortune and to death (CW, XXX, 531).
We cannot end war until we can end will. This is a remarkable sentence because, as he often does, Chesterton here points to what is behind wars. Wars are not "things," but choices, wills in conflict, with their varying motivations for glory, for power, for money, for whatever.
To the degree that we have given up understanding that old asceticism (and praying about what is in our own hearts), to that degree we have allowed ourselves to think that the prevention of war is an easy thing and requires no arms. If men were "different," to be sure, there would be no wars. But would they still be men? Chesterton did not think so. Wars and liberty were correlatives in some fundamental way.
Chesterton understood the real danger of pacifism, the danger of being unable effectively to stand for the right. "It is sometimes necessary to have a civil war, if it be the civil war of civilization. What is lawless can really become law" (p. 532). We would be naive to think that our laws contain no "lawlessness," against which lawlessness we must be free enough, brave enough, to employ our revolutionist and insurrectionist instincts.
On November 11th of the same year, Chesterton wrote of reading an essay in The Nation entitled "On Chivalry in War." The idea that there are rules or manners or traditions in war might at first sight seem outlandish, though it was the whole effort of the Middle Ages to bring such practices about.
The essay in The Nation began by affirming that today all people think that war is "fundamentally criminal." This sort of thinking seemed to Chesterton to be very sloppy. Anyone who believes this proposition about the essential criminality of war -- pacifists must believe this -- is someone who simply "refuses to think." Rather, "war, like weather, cannot in itself be either criminal or saintly; and war as an action undertaken by certain persons may be either one or the other. Only in a state of fallen intelligence akin to fetish-worship could (we) ever have dropped into the habit of talking about the wickedness of war" (pp. 538-39). War is one of those things that has within its very structure "two quite opposite purposes."
Thus, "that all war is physically frightful is obvious; but if that were a moral verdict, there would be no difference between a torturer and a surgeon." There are certain intellectuals who are too bright "to be content with merely praising peace" but who are "infuriated by anybody praising war" (p. 549). If no war is possible, all criminality has its chance.
Indeed, Chesterton wrote:
Some of the most beautiful instances of modern military courtesy occurred in a war in which both sides were citizens of the same great democracy. They occurred in the American Civil War; several of them redeemed the rather cynical politics of Grant and gave a glamour like that of Galahad to the greatness of Robert E. Lee (p. 542).
The Civil War in terms of weaponry and strategy was the first modern war, but it was the last medieval war, wherein the end was to restore the union and not to eradicate the enemy. Perhaps this had something to do with the faith of Lincoln and Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
When I thought of the carefulness with which modern weapons could be used, precision bombing, attention to strictly war capacities, to enemy troops and material, I thought that Chesterton had already anticipated the better direction of modern war and sane thinking about it. This was a thinking that knows about will and bravery and service, but one that realizes that rules exist and can be followed even in war.
"Those who, like myself, doubt whether war can ever be impossible unless liberty is impossible, will not easily accept the prospect of battle becoming more bestial every time it is renewed. They will think this view as dangerous as it is false; and count it a curious instance of how all intellectual perception, including that of peace, work out in practice to the wickedness of modern tasks."
Wars in the Twentieth Century have not often been fought with this spirit, yet, it is the spirit that we see, perhaps, coming back into focus.
We do not need to deny that, at times, we must fight. But neither need we accept the notion that the "prospect of battle" will become "more bestial every time it is renewed."
Chesterton, unfortunately, has been an unknown voice in the war debates of recent years. He would not, in the end, "sneer" at the belligerents "for appealing go the Gods of Battle."
"If a war is not a holy war, it is an unholy one."
"I cannot see how we can end War unless we end Will."
"What is lawless can become law."
"War, in itself, cannot be either criminal or saintly."
"War can never be impossible unless liberty is impossible."
Thus far, Chesterton on war.
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 Manu 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.
UN DISARMAMENT MESSAGE
On June 11, Cardinal Casaroli delivered a formal message of John Paul II to the UN Disarmament Session. In view of the considerable confusion on this topic, the Holy Father's wise remarks are of particular significance. They again remind us of the careful way he thinks on this topic (cf. "National Defense," The Monitor, April 15, 1981). What is striking about this recent address is its practical realism, its quiet note of encouragement, its awareness of what factors actual politicians responsible for nuclear defense and a nation's good must face.
Here, there are no dramatic gestures for "surrender," no "better red than dead," no calls for unilateral pacifism. We find no one-sided analyses of the dangers which exist, no lack of awareness of military, political, or spiritual issues. The Pope does not think that wars are caused by "arms." "These (inalienable) rights are demanded in countries where the space (of freedom) is denied them to live in tranquility according to their own convictions. I invite all those struggling for peace to commit themselves to the effort to eliminate the true causes of the insecurity of man of which the terrible arms race is only one effect." In this, the Pope would seem more to agree with Margaret Thatcher, who told the same forum: "Let us face reality. The springs of war lie in the readiness to resort to force against other nations, and not in "arms' races," whether real or imaginary. Aggressors do not start wars because an adversary has built up his own strength. They start wars because they believe they can gain more by going to war than by remaining at peace" (New York Times, June 24, 1982).
John Paul II acknowledges a widespread desire for peace, but not just any sort of "peace." He does not think disarmament is a "utopia," but it must be "mutual and surrounded by such guarantees of effective controls that it gives everyone confidence and necessary security." In everything he has said on this subject, the Pope has insisted on effective, assured controls.
The Pope is the first to recognize the complexity of the issue, an area in which "there are divergent viewpoints that can be expressed." But the steps to disarmament must be clear, \secure, thought out, guaranteed. "(The Church) has deplored the arms race, called none-the-less for mutual progressive and verifiable reduction of armaments as well as greater safeguards against possible misuses of these weapons. It has done so while urging that the independence, freedom, and legitimate security of each and every nation be respected." The Pope doe snot want to see disarmament talks used to gain covertly advantages of other kinds.
Contemporary peace movements are taken as good signs, but they too must be squarely analyzed. "The ideological bases of these movements are multiple. Their projects, proposals, and policies vary greatly and can often lend themselves to political exploitation." No one, presumably, is obliged either to deny "exploitation" of peace movements if they happen, nor to bind himself to unverifiable nuclear promises.
The Holy Father holds that deterrence remains a legitimate political means, as Vatican II held. "In current conditions, 'deterrence based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself, but as a step in the way towards a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable." The Pope makes a reasonable case about why deterrence can and ought to lead to real guaranteed negotiations: "Today once again before you all, I reaffirm my confidence in the power of true negotiation to arrive at just\st and equ9itable solutions. Such negotiations demand patience and diligence and must notably lead to a reduction of armaments that is balanced, simultaneously, and internationally controlled."
The Holy Father does not talk either, about arms without talking about liberty. He is concerned about other world problems, but sees that conventional arms are as much problems as nuclear ones, perhpas more so, as no one is pronouncing on recent conventional wars. The Pope also wants to put the whole issue at a higher level. Arms reduction cannot happen by itself or be secured by itself. "Peace" ... is the result of respect for ethical principles," he continued. "True disarmament that will actually guarantee peace among peoples will come about only with the resolution of this ethical crisis. To the extent that the efforts at arms reduction and then of total disarmament are not matched b parallel ethical renewal, they are doomed to failure."
These latter are vital words in John Paul II. As I have suggested in my Church, State, and Society in the Thought of John Paul II, the Pope seeks true discussion and communication at a level wherein people are really free. But he knows that this freedom is a spiritual reality that can be rejected or impeded. He does not suggest that we claim it is present if it is not. John Paul II remains one of few realists in the world who can on this basis talk to us of ethics and higher law.
THE FRENCH BISHOPS ON WAR AND PEACE
At Lourdes on November 8, 1983, the French bishops issued an extraordinarily lucid and persuasive letter on war and peace. This makes the third pastoral on the same subject (the German, April 18, and the U.S. on May 3). In addition, Basil Cardinal Hume, the English primate, following the general lines of the French and German documents, issued a letter on the same subject on November 17. (These three European documents are published in Out of Justice, Peace [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1984).
As almost all commentators have noted, the French statement is astonishingly different in tenor, argument, and conclusions from the well-known U.S. pastoral. It follows the general line of the French military and political thinking about how to prevent war. (See my Monitor columns "Active Politicians and War's Morality," March 17, and "French Deterrent Doctrine," March 25, also my "Civil and Military Responsibility for a Just Peace," Vital Speeches, November 15, 1983). Fundamentally, the French hierarchy begin with a realistic analysis of the military and ideological threat against free powers. Only in this context do the French bishops discuss military power and its use.
Like the German bishops, the French hierarchy understood the essentially political nature of the threat against them and did not ever argue that weapons or ideologies could be considered in the abstract. They argued from a constant position of adequate strength and recalled that World War II was largely caused by the failure of western powers to contain Hitler in time. But the French bishops are more concerned that today military power is useful without being used. "Some countries are very well skilled at seizing the advantage of war without paying the price of its having been unleashed: simply by fomenting the threat of war, they exercise a permanent state of blackmail."
To this, the French bishops respond simply: Don't be blackmailed. that is, understand what kind of forces we are up against and how they operate. Couneract this. For the French hierarchy, this means adequate military and deterrent capacity, which the actual enemy fears to the point of ceasing his blackmail. This requires that politics as a test of wills be clearly understood.
The French bishops do not see the world in anything but realistic terms: "In a world in which man is still a wolf to other men, to change oneself into a lamb could provoke the wolf. Less enlightened acts of generosity have sometimes provoked the very evils that they were believed to be capable of eliminating. A poorly adapted nonviolence can unleash a series of chain reactions of inexplicable violence." The French bishops, in fact, are not particularly enamored by nonviolence. As a form of personal testimony, perhaps, it might have its uses provided it does not create a worse evil. To it, they always counter-balance the military and civil vocations which make any nonviolent vocations possible in the first place.
The French bishops pointed out that "the Church does not encourage unconditional pacifism. She has never preached unilateral disarmament, knowing full well that this could be a signal for violence on the part of an aggressive military, political, and ideological complex." Moreover, pacifism or nonviolence is not an option for the state, which has the objective duty of defending peace, liberty, and national independence, both in the internal arena and in foreign affairs.
The French bishops did not hesitate to approve nuclear deterrence or "dissuasion," as they called it. They do not think it is a "good" world situation in which even the smaller French deterrent must be necessary. But they also understand that there are values of life and freedom that must be protected, that keeping alive at any cost is a very dangerous position. They recall in this very context the virtue of prudence which insists that morality in dire situations can still be in effect for a free and intelligent people.
The central question which is being asked is the following: "in the present geo-political context, can a country, which is being threatened in its life, in its liberty, or identify, morally have the right to fend off this radical threat by effective counter-threat, one which is even nuclear? Up until now, while stressing the limited character of such a parry, and the enormous risk which it entails, the Catholic Church has not believed it necessary to condemn it."
The French bishops have, in other words, provided a clear, reasonable, moral method of deterrent doctrine which can be used by any conscientious people. The French bishops' pastoral, along with that of the German bishops and the letter of Cardinal Hume, will be most welcome Catholic documents to the many responsible people throughout the world who recognize that peace can be won and preserved by a clear-headed use of politics and counter power when there is an adequate understanding of the power in being and ideology of one's major enemy. These documents deserve careful and constant study for anyone at all interested in this issue.
CHRISTIANS AND WAR: PLAYING GOD
Issues arising later in time sometimes have an uncanny way of illuminating brief, often cryptic, remarks from an earlier argument. The current philosophical-religious controversy, particularly in Catholic circles, over the wide divergences between the statements of the United States, French, and German bishops on war and peace, with many Protestant commentaries on the same subject, requires that we return to the great minds to discover what is fundamentally at issue. No political philosopher in recent generations is more important than Leo Strauss, unfortunately too little known in contemporary religious circles, as Ernest Fortin recently noted, much to the detriment of religion. Strauss, moreover, is by no means easy to read. He had a rabbi's penchant for honesty in regard to the complexity of reality and a philosopher's awareness of the difficulty of speaking the truth in any existing polity.
Here I want briefly to recall a very short passage found in the last essay in Strauss's Liberalism: Ancient and Modern, entitled, "Perspectives on the Good Society." This particular essay was substantially a report which Strauss had been asked to prepare, with his own reflections, on a conference he attended at the University of Chicago. This conference was sponsored jointly by the Divinity School and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. There was a Jewish and a Protestant Christian speaker on each topic. Strauss basically reported what each speaker said, but with brief insights of his own on their meaning. One of the speakers was the Protestant theologian, Gibson Winter, who raised the question of nuclear war and deterrence. These remarks were some of the precious few Strauss made on this subject in his lifetime. They reveal much about both political philosophy and revelation, so that they seem especially worthy of recall and comment.
Strauss began with an observation that not all Christians would agree with (though, say, a Solzhenitsyn would), namely, that "what divides the human race today in the most effective manner is the antagonism between the Liberal West and the Communist East." Professor Winter held, however, that there had to be some common ground of dialogue between the two powers based on the recognition of a greater danger, evidently acknowledged by both sides. This is the need to achieve nuclear limitations. At a deeper level, however, the common ground of dialogue (though not necessarily recognized as prior by either side) concerned hunger and human rights.
The subordinate dialogue on weapons, in the meantime, meant first that "the 'purpose and intent' of 'our enemies' be respected and, above all, that the 'apocalyptic framework' for the dialogue be recognized." In view of what he had said earlier about the fundamental division of East and Wet, and the ideological grounds on which it is based, Strauss would probably have felt this position of Winter to be a bit enthusiastic, on the basis of the actual history of East-West negotiations and Marxist theory. In any case, this analysis in Winter's view meant that the choice that leads to "thermo-nuclear annihilation" would be God's judgment, if it ever came about. Strauss did not comment specifically on the validity of this obviously theological view; he merely reported Winter's judgment. It seems clear, though, that other forms of moral annihilation might also be "God's judgment."
Winter next suggested that what would enable us to dialogue with the USSR, in spite of all the hazards, would be "faith." Strauss immediately noted that this "faith" was to be, apparently, "faith in God," not in the Soviet leaders. But what about the Soviet leaders? What criterion would they be expected to follow? Surely, no such "faith" in God could be anticipated from them. "Faith in God," then, became a distinctly one-sided affair. Yet, "unilateral disarmament is out of the question," and this same faith "equally forbade preventative wars." Apparently continuing his exposition of Winter, Strauss next said that we dare not simply "assert" that under no circumstances could this country "initiate the use of nuclear weapons." The key word for Strauss seems to have been that this position of Winter was "asserted," not argued. Strauss next touched the deterrence question, which he cited from Winter in this form: "The most difficult problem in the use of nuclear power" remains retaliation. Again citing Winger, "retaliation after a destructive nuclear attack becomes simply vengeance."
In his own words, Strauss gave Winter's reason for this latter view: that it seems "therefore to be incompatible with Christian ethics." What are these ethics? Strauss then quoted Winter: "to choose the life of others over our own -- this is the message of the Cross." It is to be noted here, however, that this position was not presented as a principle of justice, that is, of politics. In effect, it substituted the New Law for politics. From Strauss's viewpoint as a Jew and a philosopher, Winter's reasoning was specifically said to be drawn from "Christian ethics," and presumably binding only on Christians, since there is no reason of politics or Old Law given in the argument. That is to say, Winter did not pursue the reasoning from, say Plato, about not using evil to achieve good, the so-called consequentialist controversy. Thus, Strauss did not address himself to the question of how the Platonic argument might apply to the issue at hand, that is, the United State being already wiped out, but still maintaining its own retaliatory power for use against Soviet citizens and positions. What followed was rather a conclusion about Winter's final remark, which set the whole situation in some irony: "the possibility of retaliation is the power which restrains aggression."
At this point Strauss reflected on Winter's arguments. His first remark was straightforward., If the enemy knew, by reading Christian ethics, that, because of faith (not shared by the enemy, the philosopher, or the Jew), the West would not retaliate if first attacked and destroyed, then it would have to lie and dissemble to make it appear that its actions would conform with its words, if the West wished to prevent a first strike. In other words, one would have to bluff for the faith. Strauss's laconic words were, "the tongue must pronounce the opposite of what the heart thinks."
The second element of Strauss's position was more cryptic and enigmatic. Here he reverted to Winter's remark about the hungry world being somehow prior in ultimate importance to the fundamental difference bet between East and West. Christian readers again should attend to the fact that this is a Jewish philosopher thinking about what Christianity seems to demand on the basis of the faith according to a Christians's own presentation. Thus, on the assumptions presented by Winter -- namely, the West is destroyed, but prevented from retaliation by its faith in God (not faith in the Soviet larders, who get off scot free) -- the lives of the Soviet people are saved. Logically, of course, the Soviet leaders remain in power and except for the bluff, have absolutely no reason, in their own philosophy, for not launching a first strike.
What does this mean? Obviously, it means that the Soviet system is now the only power in the world. What then happens to have-nots, apparently the whole object of a common dialogue between East and West on a "higher" basis? They are, of course "deprived for all the foreseeable future of the possibility to be non-atheistic nations or, more generally, to have a future of their own neither Russian nor America." Consequently, the whole major premise of the higher dialogue is defeated on either alternative. That is to say, Christian morality, as Strauss encountered its presentation in Gibson Winter, leads necessarily to the submission of the world to communism. The effect of Strauss's argument was to suggest that Winter's initial premises were faulty, that the "status-quo position of the hungry world" might, in effect, be far better than either alternative presented in the "name of Christian ethics or faith."
However, it was at this point that Strauss concluded with his most devastating, and interesting, remark on the whole issue: "in other words, Mr. Winter's proposal is based on a tacit claim to know what God alone can know." I have reflected a long time on what Strauss must have meant by this observation, which in one sense can be better directed at Catholicism than Protestantism. But before coming to this issue, let me first cite Strauss's last two observations. The first is that Winter deplored the fact (more evident a decade or so ago than today) that "the institutional weight of our religious traditions falls ... on the conservative side in the struggle which separates the world." Evidently Winter seees himself on the "liberal" side, which meant that there was in fact some higher dialogue possible or at least that it was more rational to fall under Soviet control than take the only effective means that might prevent it. Finally, again with irony, Strauss noted that Winter first pleaded for "universal prosperity and freedom," but then turned around to maintain that the current prosperity of Judaism deflected it from tits true vocation and that external oppression "can fortify the (chosen) people." Needless to say, Strauss was skeptical of both of these views, particularly the Christian advice that the Jews were better off in holocaust, while Christians themselves were busy promoting "universal prosperity and freedom.
Let me go back to Strauss' remark that Winter's views were tantamount to "a tacit claim to know what God alone can know." There are, in fact, not a few today who, embracing arguments similar to Winter's, claim that they speak in God's very name, a claim for omnipotence in particular, contingent circumstances. (I take it that the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope is not directly at issue here, if only because the papacy does not follow the Winter position). Questions of war and peace, which both Testaments seem to have finally left to the prudence of responsible civil rulers, are in this latter view superseded by political judgments based directly on Christian "faith." On this basis, Strauss would simply suggest that the notion that the whole world must be turned over to Marxism as a consequence of the Christians faith simply proved that this faith was in radical opposition to reason, and therefore, it was certainly not "believable" to the philosopher or the Jew, let alone to the Communist. Yet, as Strauss knew, at least the Thomist tradition specifically claimed that it did not contradict reason, that it did not leave reason out in the lurch when faith was addressed to it.
So what did Strauss mean? In his Natural Right and History, in an extremely important passage for Catholics in particular, he made some of his few remarks on Aquinas, whom he respected deeply. He concludes with these remarks: "Montesquieu had tried to recover for statesmanship a latitude which had been considerably restricted by the Thomist teaching (on natural law).... But it is safe to say that what he (Montesquieu) explicitly teaches, as a student of politics and as politically sound and right, is nearer to the spirit of the classics than to Thomas." What does this imply? In principle, it need not mean that Thomas and Aristotle disagreed about the legitimacy or range of statesmanship. Strauss constantly maintained that the whole notion of the preference he had for the classics over modern political theory was because the latter, in principle, denied the distinction between good and evil. So we ought not to suppose that Strauss thought of himself as embracing evil by his remarks critical of Thomas. Even prodded by faith, Thomas Aquinas never held that what was concluded in politics was to be specifically "unreasonable."
On the other hand, Strauss certainly did suggest that in Winter's analysis, which, coming from a Protestant source, would presumably be less subject to a "rational" check than in Thomas Aquinas, "faith" imposed a restraint on the range of statesmanship. The result was that politics must, on the same analysis, yield to the worst regime. Thus, no regime in which faith or truth or freedom might exist could be possible. The Christian end of statesmanship, then, was to tolerate, if not invite, the worst regime as the result of religion's influence in the world.
Politics for Strauss, therefore, was not some sort of vicarious divinity exercised in the name of the statesman. This was the import of his remark about Winter. Statesmanship must have a certain "latitude" that would enable it effectively to prevent or deflect what no one wanted, including especially the Soviet people themselves and the members of the have-not nations.
One could argue, of course, with Maritain or the French and German bishops, that Winter's sort of Christian "argument" is not at all necessary. The argument of political reason and statesmanship must remain at the center even on revelational grounds. But this brief recollection from Strauss does serve to illustrate, in the light of later arguments on war that arise from specifically Christian sources, that the heart of the issue is the apparent claim made by certain Christian theologians of a divine mandate to decide particular military and civilian politics, which has no appeal but "faith," a "faith" not presented to the philosopher or to the Jew or to the Marxist as itself worked out in reason Strauss would have understood how politics was not an "object" of revelation, particularly in the New Testament. Thus, the form of argument found in discussions such as those with Winter must have appeared to Strauss as nothing other than a claim for omnipotence,
Of course, there may be some who are comforted by this ready assurance of immediate divine intervention in statesmanship. But others, like Strauss, will conclude that if this is in fact what Christianity is about, what it entails in strict argument, so that it promotes the worst regime on a world scale, then there will be left for many room only for the Old Testament and philosophy. The proper Christian response, it would seem, is not to give up either philosophy or the Old Testament, but to recover statesmanship. Interestingly, the French ad German bishops treated the subject of war in almost exactly the same in which Strauss did, in leaving the politician a wide latitude to act against an enemy whose contrary will and philosophy are known.
Indeed, Paul of Tarsus seems in fact closer to Strauss: "But if thou does what is evil, fear, for not without reason does it (civil power) carry the sword. For it is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who does evil" (Romans, 13:4). Aristotle's statesman, Paul's Emperor, and Aquinas' just ruler would have found a way to prevent war, keep tolerable freedom, and avoid the worst regime. The contemporary politician or philosopher who is Christian needs to be able to accomplish this goal by giving reasons for his argument or action, reasons that both the philosopher and the Jew could accept, reasons for which even the Marxist would grudgingly take notice.
1) Published on-line by www.tcrnews.com, 15 September 2001, “War News” “Opinion”
James V. Schall, S. J., Georgetown University
WHAT KIND OF A WAR IS IT?
Most columnists, newspaper editorials, and politicians agree that we are at war. The “war with whom” needs as yet more exact specification, but the general parameters are clear enough. The primary suspect is Osuma ben Laden, a rich Saudi of Yeminese extraction, evidently in Afghanistan, plus a number of interrelated Muslim militant groups and operatives that agree with his general purpose. These groups have cells and bases in as many as forty different countries, including our own. They have made it clear in various ways that they have declared war on us, both in act and in statement. Moreover, we do not have to have a specific “government” against which to declare war unless we find some government that directly supports this effort, as several government may well do. The fact that someone is killing us is reason enough to know we have a war on our hands. We have made it clear that, given evidence of support of such groups, the harboring country is guilty and an object of war.
A formal declaration of war in some detailed form seems both possible and appropriate both to call attention to our seriousness of purpose and to provide legal and moral authorization for it. A declaration of war is also a statement of reasons. An attack on our citizens is itself implicitly a declaration of war by the attacker. We understand what this means. So do those who do the attacking. We retaliate. We have just cause.
At the Prayer Service at the National Cathedral (14 September) the Reverend Billy Graham wondered why God permitted such evils. Graham said that he did not understand it all but knew God was good and this evil has some purpose. Thus, behind these events are more classical problems of philosophy and theology, problems that we ought to ponder in any education or society even aside from an immediate tragedy such as this one in New York and Washington.
Briefly, I think, that God permits evil deeds because He makes us free and does not prevent the deviant actions we choose from having their natural effects in the world. When evil actions do occur, if we survive them, we are given our choice of responses to them, again responses that depend on our freedom. Many ways “can” be found to respond. Likewise, there are many ways in which we ought to respond. The fact that these events in their terror happen is neither a lament against God nor a declaration that we can do whatever we want in response, even if we “can” and should do many things. We “can,” for instance, that is, we have the capacity to nuke Afghanistan or anyplace else. The clear and measured response approach, however, remains an alternative. We measure purposes and means. We know that certain responses can make things worse, even if for the moment we cannot imagine anything worse.
I want to make five points that I think are pertinent to the public deliberation over what kind of a war this is. First, it is wrong to think of it as the attack of “madmen” or “terrorists.” Madmen and terrorists exist in this world, but this is nor their work. This is the work of soldiers, albeit it extra-territorials of a makeshift, but real, army. They are carrying out the orders of a mind. The mind is in command of the army that the men, who killed themselves and so many others, serve. The army seems to be that basically left over from the Afghan-Soviet war when Ben Laden was on our side plus subsequent recruits from all over the Muslim world. Ben Laden learned much in Afghanistan about modern governments. If he could defeat the Soviets, a major, ruthless power, surely he could strike a decisive blow at other enemies, even the strongest enemy left, namely, us.
The mind that conceived this plot has a transcendent purpose, a political purpose for the organization of the world. Initially, it wants to free all Muslim states of any western and especially American influence. All of this is directly or indirectly related to Israel, both in itself and as a surrogate of the West. The plot was conceived and carried out, not flawlessly, but very, very well. At least one plane did not make it. One has to admire its execution and the “bravery” of the men assigned to carry it out. What did these men think they were doing? Committing evil? Terrorism? Not at all. They thought that they were destroying the corrupt enemy of their people and of civilization itself. What was destroyed were symbols and institutions, even perhaps the President himself, of this enemy. The destruction was carried out by men who knew about modern planes, weapons, psychology. They learned how to fly big commercial aircraft, ironically, at our air training facilities. They paid their bills in dollars. So the plot was long in preparation. Some had wives and children.
What was their “theology?” They believed – whether this is exact Islamic theology or not – that they were dying for Allah and his cause. Subjectively, at least, they professed a “good,” even noble cause. According to other standards -- but we must really have them and they must be objectively true – we can argue that this justifying position is in error, a crime, a sin. But these men did not accept such arguments because they had their own first principles from which they operated. If we are going to disagree with them, it is at this level, their first principles. Granted their first principles, what they did was brilliantly conceived and executed. They died for a cause that they believed gave them the heaven of Allah and struck a mortal blow at their movement’s major enemy.
Secondly, let us indulge in a little exercise, to make this point more graphic. Imagine that on 11 September, suddenly before Peter’s gates, there appeared from New York and Washington, at about nine in the morning, some six thousand plus souls. Most were Americans, some were German or British, a few seemed to be Saudis or Iraqi, we are not sure, but presumably St. Peter was. How are they to be judged?
As we know not the day or hour, let alone the mind of our Maker, we might find in the WTC many who had not lived their lives well, even to the previous days, who did not die in what we call the state of grace. Others may have repented at the last flaming moment. Still others may have been prepared for death all along, as we all should be on going to work in the morning. Then there are the twenty or so Muslims who rammed the planes into the buildings and carried the plot out. What is their destiny? Heaven? Hell? Purgatory? None of the above? Is there justice in this world? If not, in the next?
One of the convicted Muslim plotters at the first WTC bombing attempt, in 1993, said that he could face death by execution calmly. If he had “lived a good life, he would go to heaven; if not, to hell.” Evidently, he held that blowing up the WTC was part of living a good life. Presumably, we are judged by our subjective conscience, provided that we did not deliberately blind ourselves to the objective evils we do. So it is at least possible, even in these objectively horrid deeds, the Muslims died and saved their souls, while some of the others did not. When we die, whenever or however we die, we cannot blame someone else for the condition of our soul on its passing. C. S. Lewis somewhere talks of the murderer and his victim who become friends in heaven, much to the consternation of certain earthlings. President Bush at the National Prayer Service mentioned the souls of those who died.
I bring all of this up because there is a lesson in these deaths – it is the lesson of being ready. If we do not believe in hell or in anything, then it does not much matter what we think of these considerations. If we only believe in this world, well the ones carrying out the plot have received their reward, such as it is. Since, on this hypothesis, no transcendent justice exists, the world, at bottom, seems to be an intrinsically ambiguous place. On the other hand, if we have a theology that wants to save everyone, no matter what they do, then everyone killed is already happy in heaven and wondering why we are so sad. But if there is a hell and certain sins are not in any way repented or subjectively justified, then hell has some new members after September 11.
But this ultimate situation is not our perspective now. We are currently looking to ourselves, to securing our safety, to requiting what is in any obvious sense an injustice of great proportions. The third point, then, is whether the war still goes on? We are the living. The plot was a rational act. It was formulated in the mind of one man and his collaborators. Someone gave a command that was brazenly carried out. He or they were not killed in the plane crashes or collapse of the buildings. The mind that conceived this operation and the will that decided to do it are still free and operative.
Ben Laden, after the fact, said that he was not engaged in this plot but he “congratulated” those who were. Those who conceived the plot, moreover, must be enormously pleased at its success. They no doubt either have already or will in the near future plan something else unless stopped in advance. That they want a spectacular encore is quite probable. The first one was so easy. So there still exists in this world a plan, a plot that has a purpose with a mind, will, and organization to carry it out. The war declared on us will not stop until either the plotters change their minds, which seems unlikely, or until they either are killed or rendered helpless. No pious wishes will change that.
Fourthly, on campuses and in the society, we have witnessed much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Are we displaying to the world and to our attackers a society that lacks courage, lacks determination? In part, yes, granted that there is indeed objective reason to mourn. Our society has been wracked with subjectivism, wherein feelings and emotions were primary, not their control and guidance by reason as in classical and Christian traditions. We do not now have much time for weeping. We best imitate the Romans who, when they suffered a defeat, went right on as if nothing happened. This is what really frightened their enemies.
Our economy and system are vulnerable. We must get them going again with the realization that a war goes on. We will be tempted, indeed the men who plotted this affair will expect us, to go back to “normal.” When we get back to normal, they will have a better chance to do it again. They know this. It would be foolish to strike us immediately, unless they thought, as they may, but I doubt it, that they can finish us off with a few airplane bombs and perhaps a few nuclear devices or bacteria.
What, fifthly, about turning the other cheek and no vengeance? Has our drive against the death penalty, against retaliation of any effective kind, only served to embolden those not concerned with these things? If we had managed to find one of the pilots alive after he killed a couple of thousand people, would we think it “just” merely to put him in jail? What if somehow we do capture Ben Laden and find him the master mind? This is not a criminal affair. It is not a court problem. Is there a way to look at what we think we must do to protect ourselves that does not fall under the subsequent accusation of vengeance or lack of mercy or justice?
Ironically, religion has often prided itself in recent decades in “promoting justice,” while saying relatively little of mercy. Now, suddenly, we hear discussions of mercy and a silence about justice. Billy Graham had no difficulty in combining justice with a higher way. No doubt, there is a case for justice both in retribution for a heinous crime and for self-protection against future attacks. If we turn the other cheek, and that is perceived as a message that we are weak, we can reasonably expect to be hit again and again. Those who recommend such a meek policy would then be in effect responsible for the results.
Maybe mercy will “work”? There is something in the extremes of these Islamic movements that seems impervious to mercy. Several years ago, the several French Trappists held hostage in Algeria had their throats slit on Christmas by Muslim extremists. No pleas for mercy saved them. Are all Muslims like this? No. But those who are not have to prove not just passively that they are not by not allowing their countries to be so used. We know that almost every Muslim government that is not extremist is under some kind of siege in their own homeland. Moreover, we know that Christianity and Judaism and other faiths find no hospitable grounds within Muslim states who implicitly or explicitly make religion and state one. Muslim states will tolerate historic religious groups but allow them almost nothing else.
So the line of mercy runs into something that is impervious to mercy. The old doctrine of the just war was designed precisely to meet this situation. Will justice “work” then? We should not delude ourselves that seeking justice, trying to prevent more attacks, will not cause much anger, confusion, discouragement. It might indeed make things worse. Will a policy of war against these groups stop this terrorism, as we are wont to call this war against us? Some of it, no doubt. Hopefully all of it. But it means killing those who kill us and who intend to kill us before they can act. If they get to us first again, we will be dead, some of us. This is a terrible logic, we know.
Ben Laden said that he does not recognize any distinction between civilians and non-civilians. This is why he and his followers could kill as they did. They saw the killed, even those whom we call innocent, as “guilty” of the same crimes as enemy soldiers. Do we have to imitate this thesis to protect ourselves? Of course not. Ben Laden and his followers are soldiers in a declared war against us and our way of life. The mind that plotted these strikes takes no prisoners. It does not weep, but congratulates, when thousands are dead. The mind has not been changed.
Aristotle talks of extremes of moral evil, of people who do such heinous things that we cannot imagine it, yet of things we must account for because they happen. My nephew said to me that he could not “imagine” the things that happened. I told him that a good education prepares one for such things before they happen, so that we will not be surprised. But this is a hard lesson. We do not need to “imagine” such atrocities any longer.
Is it “just” to defend ourselves? Is it just not to defend ourselves adequately? If this means killing those who intend by their own testimony to kill us, it forces us to take another look at a distinction we have tended to drop in recent years, namely that between killing and murder. We have forgotten that killing someone who is killing someone else is itself a protection of life. It is not murder. Thou shalt not kill has almost always been understood to make a distinction between the one killed and the one killing, between the innocent and the guilty. This distinction is what is at work here and must be brought back into the centrality of things.
Someone who says he is going to kill us and proves that he is quite capable and willing to do so by killing our friends, will kill us if we give him the opportunity and do not stop him. It is an ancient observation that anyone who is willing to give up his life can kill almost anyone unless stopped. We never imagined that this could include so many. As former Secretary of Navy, James Webb, has put it: “These terrorists have considered themselves to be at war with us for the past twenty years.... They have no intention of stopping on their own. This war will not be over until they are thoroughly defeated....”
In this context, we cannot forget the Crusades and the real lesson of that era, something I believe The Economist of London has mentioned recently. We tend to look at the Crusades as if they, in spite of their admitted aberrations, were not a final, desperate response of self-defense against a deadly Islamic invasion of Christian lands. Had they not succeeded, Europe would be Muslim to this day, presumably. We suddenly find ourselves in a situation similar to that of the Crusaders, of having to do something we prefer not to do, something we have put off, tried not to notice, just to keep alive and to keep our freedom, flawed as it may be. Too, in retrospect, in the light of these bombings, the 17th to 20th century European colonial efforts to establish more liberal and rational forms of rule in Muslim lands looks less intolerable and unjust. We see what happens when these efforts failed, again whatever their admitted imperfections.
Belloc said at the end of his book on The Crusades, that Islam, once it again regained the power, would do exactly as it did before. It, at least part of it, is doing exactly that. Islamic leaders tell us that they stand for peace. Some, many, are revolted by these actions. But others are not. Whether or not the Koran says that it is a noble thing to die killing the infidels is one thing, that some very sincere and determined men think that it does say this, is now a proven fact. This is what must be stopped.
Do many Muslims have a legitimate complaint against American policy of seeming random support of various kinds of regimes and morals over the years? Of course they do. We look often arbitrary, one-sided. We can legitimately think that the official Muslim states are much too rigid and intolerant. We know that Christians are often under persecution in many Muslim states and nobody does anything about it. We have either turned the other cheek or ignored the problem. But Islam, some section of it, hopefully a minority, but a minority with brains and power, has brought death and destruction to us. This has come not randomly or by accident, but by design.
Some of the world is beginning to think that religion as such, including Catholicism, is fanatical because they hold ultimate truths and that some things are worth dying for, something that Socrates also held. This is the price of the great religions pay for not seeing the ordered truth of revelation and of what is their purpose and relation to the world. We are not without faults. We hate to cast any stone. But, as Aristotle also said, that when reason and law do not work, coercion is necessary, necessary to reestablish reason and, yea, goodwill.
Can, as Augustine said, we be merciful while fighting a necessary and just war, a war imposed on us, even when necessary to kill someone who would kill us? With careful, determined effort, I think it is possible. Maritain said that brains, morality, and political strength are not necessarily incompatible. There will be a time for mercy. This is where we are, what we intend to prove.
WAR-TIME CLARIFICATIONS: WHO IS OUR ENEMY?
When Christ was asked “who, then, is my neighbor?” He responded with the Good Samaritan story. Christ was never specifically asked, “who, then, is my enemy?” Perhaps He figured it would be obvious in any generation. He did ask us to “forgive” our enemies, whoever they might be. Presumably, this admonition means that He expected us always to be in a world in which there were enemies to what He had asked us to do and believe. He told us in fact, for this very reason, to expect persecution. When He Himself was being executed in Jerusalem by the Roman state, in conjunction with local accusers, He whispered, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But they killed Him anyway. His forgiveness did not stop His own killing. In other words, it is quite possible to have real enemies who seek our lives, to forgive them in our hearts, and find ourselves still having to deal with them, to prevent them from further attacking, killing us or those for whom we are responsible..
Thus far, the most remarkable passage explaining this war was written by Hilaire Belloc in 1938, in his essay, “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed” (The Great Heresies [New York: Dodd, Mead, MCMXXXIII]). I had seen a reference to this passage on a Chesterton web site. So I went to the library and found the book itself. The abiding questions Belloc asked himself sixty-three years ago were, a) what makes Islam attractive? b) why does it have no converts to anything else? and 3) will it rise again? Islam is the one militant religion that came out of the desert and invariably conquered much of the world with arms, not with words. Several times, Islam was on the verge of conquering all of Europe. Belloc thought it would rise again. Its simple faith remained intact in spite of its modern setbacks. What Belloc did not foresee, almost the only thing he did not foresee, was Islam’s relative, but rapid demographic increases over against our “culture of death” decreases which latter have already killed more of our own that Islam ever will. We adamantly insist that our country’s attack has no “divine” implications about the way we live. But the way we have been living, ruining our families, not begetting, has, like all moral disorder, its own consequences in this world. This is what we are also seeing.
Yet, Christians still die in the Islamic world, often unheralded, a partial chronicle of which is found in Robert Royal’s Christian Martyrs in the Twentieth Century. We have paid little attention to this on-ongoing persecution. Islam has millions and millions of young militants, zealous, ready to sacrifice their lives, with what they somehow consider to be a noble cause. By insisting on calling them by psychological terms – “fanatics”or “madmen” – we utterly blind ourselves to what is going on. These are soldiers longing for a great war, to recall the title of Mark Halprin’s book. We are relatively few, we are oldish, we are, in fact, selfish, self-centered by comparison. We won’t be left alone. We have thought that our technology would save us, but clever men figured out how to use or bypass our security devices. They caused the greatest single day’s slaughter ever to happen on our soil at the price, as a friend said, of an airline ticket.
“Today we are accustomed to think of the Mohammedan world as something backward and stagnant, in all material affairs at least,” Belloc wrote in 1938.
We cannot imagine a great Mohammedan fleet made up of modern ironclads and submarines, or a great modern Mohammedan army fully equipped with modern artillery, flying power and the rest. But not so very long ago, less than a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence, the Mohammedan Government centred at Constantinople had better artillery and better army equipment of every kind than had we Christians in the West. The last effort they made to destroy Christendom was contemporary with the end of the reign of Charles II in England and of his brother James and of the usurper William III. It failed during the last years of the seventeenth century, only just over two hundred years ago. Vienna ... was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the Kind of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history – September 11, 1683 (122-23).
A date that ought to be among the most famous in history September 11. Needless to say, no one remembered this date, September 11, 1683, and what happened on it until what happened on September 11, 2001. Surely a bin Laden’s memory is not so sophisticated? We Catholics have long recalled that the Declaration of War, in 1941, was on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Belloc saw that Islam has been, at bottom, a war power from the beginning. He had no trouble in seeing abiding will over time, over centuries. He wondered if Islam could rise again. He noted how individuals like Saladin suddenly arose within Islam to set it afire. “The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam” (127). What is somewhat eerie about these remarks of Belloc is the comparatively little attention we paid to Islam as such during and at the end of the war against Communism. When we did pay attention to it, it was almost always a concern with oil or with Israel. We could not imagine a civilizational plot.
The Muslim states, it turns out, may well have had another agenda all along, however haphazard. Afghanistan is almost a symbol of this alternate plan, a state that but a few short years ago was a heroic ally attacking the Soviets. Now it is, as we think, attacking us from the world’s most unlikely and inaccessible bastion. It listens to our President’s demands. It replies, “it will be a test of power.” Its view of its own good apparently does not include the surrender of anything to the non-Muslim..
This again brings up the propriety of calling this a war against “terrorism,” that abstraction that prevents us from asking more clearly what terrorists? This is not a war against “terrorism,” as I saw it called not too long ago in a headline in The Washington Post. It is a war against specific forces with a specific agenda, a specific organization. It uses terror, but it uses it very designedly, to destroy our centers of culture, economy, and government. And it is not called terror by its users, however much it is objectively. It is called war by any means. President Bush’s frank delineation of whom he considered the enemies – the organized Muslim groups scattered throughout the world in dozens of countries, including the most “advanced” – delicately exempted from its scope the “peaceful” Muslims, perhaps even the ones that cheer when they see us attacked. We as yet cannot comprehend that we have an enemy that has been, in some form, attacking us since the seventh century. Almost all the lands conquered by arms were once Christian lands. It is ironic that the last three wars we have fought, in Bosnia, in Serbia, and in Iraq were to liberate Islamic peoples from other Islamic or Christian forces. Is our failure to know this history a cause of our being on the wrong side of history?
In 1985, the great historian of science, Fr. Stanley Jaki, O.S.B., wrote an essay entitled “On Whose Side Is History?” In the course of his reflections on Marxism and modern science, he wrote:
What is happening in the Muslim world is not so much an outburst of fanaticism as a frantic last-ditch effort to ward off the specter of – well, not of capitalism, not of Communism, not of hedonism – but of science. What is occurring in the Muslim world today is a confrontation, not between God and the devil, identified with capitalism or Communism, but between a very specific God and science which is a very specific antagonist of that god, the Allah of the Koran, in whom the will wholly dominates the intellect. A thousand years ago the great Muslim mystics al-Ashari and al-Ghazzali denounced natural laws, the very objective of science, as a blasphemous constraint upon the free will of Allah. Today the impossibility of making ends meet without science forces the Muslim world to reconsider its notion of Allah. It is an agonizing process, which, in spite of the bloodshed, may, in the long run, being a more rational mentality to troubled parts of the world (Chance or Reality, p. 242).
These too, like Belloc’s, are remarkable words. Can the meaning and method of these bombings, what we call “terrorism,” have something to do with the Muslim world’s notion of Allah as pure will? Is that hopelessly “intellectual”? But if there is no natural law, no divine order, no secondary causality, then the command to kill in the Allah’s name might well be “reasonable” in some minds. There would be nothing “illogical” about it if there is no order on which to ground logic. Behind wars of the world, it is often said, much to our incomprehension, lie theological disputes about the truth of things, even including the truth of scientific things.
Belloc himself remarked that Islam in theory is composed of a series of classical Christian propositions but themselves abstracted from any notion of a Trinity in the Godhead and of the possibility of Incarnation in the world. If Allah is indeed pure will, then contradictories can be true. This would include in a way the famous “double truth” controversy, made famous by St. Thomas’ opposition to it, about whether we could have a truth of reason and a truth of faith, each of which contradicted each other. Someone who could hold this position, as Belloc intimated, could be a scientist and a believer even if the positions were contradictory. This might explain our evident surprise that many of the recent attackers were trained in science and engineering. It can be true that killing 6,000 people can logically be a command of God because the command not to murder is itself something that can be otherwise.
So perhaps it is more correct to see these recent events in a longer and more historical and theological context, the context of the very validity or grounding of Islam’s conception of itself. It may be God’s way of getting Islam to examine its Allah, as it were. In our liberal society, we are loathe, even incompetent, to consider these things. What we think of first is “tolerance,” not truth. We think, to refer to the opposite of the title of Richard Weaver’s famous book, that “ideas do not have consequences.” These men are simply “madmen.” We impose psychological philosophy on reality and think we have said something about reality. Tolerance is itself an idea that has allowed the present attackers to use our system to destroy us. I recall a quotation of, I think, bin Laden someplace in which he said that he would use our freedom of religion and speech to destroy us. Our opponents understand us perfectly well, it seems, better sometimes than we understand ourselves. If they be “madmen,” they are madmen who understand perfectly well our own system and modes of thinking and living.
We see, of course, a growing concern that our democratic categories, the ones that will not look to the truth or reason for a position, are inadequate. “Islam, the religion of more than a billion believers, has been hijacked,” Martin Kramer, Editor of Middle East Quarterly has written. “If the first week’s suspicions are confirmed, the suicide attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are the capstones of nearly twenty years of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam. As layer upon layer of violence has accumulated, Islam itself has come to a tragic turn – and one for which the vast majority of moderate Muslims bears some responsibility” (National Review-on-Line, S. 19, ‘01). Can a systematic plan be conceived and carried out over twenty years, over ten centuries?
I cite also, Charles Krauthammer’s recent and very blunt comment about our unwillingness to see what goes on here as nothing but the aberrant actions of a few hundred “madmen.”
Moral obtuseness is not restricted to intellectuals. I witnessed a High Holiday sermon by a guest rabbi warning the congregation, exactly seven days after our generation’s Pear Harbor, against “oversimplifying” by speaking in terms of “good guys and bad guys.” Oversimplifying? Has there ever been a time when the distinction between good and evil was more clear? And where are the Muslim clerics – in the United States, Europe and the Middle East – who should be joining together to make that distinction (between good and evil) with loud unanimity? Where are their fatwas against suicide murder? Where are the authoritative communal declarations that these crimes are contrary to Islam? (Washington Post, S. 21, ‘01).
The major Islamic response -- there are exceptions – has been to hide under our own legal rules, rules nowhere in force in Islamic lands, not to persecute them as they had nothing to do with it.
We are asked to believe that the thousands of cells and men willing and able to carry these atrocities out, while living among large Muslim groups now in the West, were not noticed by any living Muslim or were not reported. Can we believe this unknowingness in the light of the popularity of this attack on our land among so many particularly young Muslims throughout the world, the ones we see on TV cheering out losses? We would like to believe it, if only to exempt our own system from partial complicity in the whole matter. We certainly need much more assurance than we have so far been given.
Norman Podhoretz, writing in the Wall Street Journal (S. 20.01), cites a number of Arab and Egyptian sources that identify the real enemy as America and not Israel, which is conceived to be a lesser fish. It is tempting to think that America is in this only or largely because of Israel. America, however, in a recurrent phrase, is considered to be “the Great Satan.” “The point is,” Podhoretz wrote, “that if Israel had never come into existence, or if it were magically to disappear, the U.S. would still stand as an embodiment of everything that most of these Arabs consider evil. Indeed, the hatred of Israel is in large part a surrogate for anti-Americanism.” This position, however much the existence and conduct of Israel has or has not focused and exacerbated the matter, is the one implicit in Belloc, Jaki, and in the general conduct of the ones carrying out the bombing and destruction.
At present, we seen to be in a time of immediate expectancy. Any written word may be obsolete or put into a different context tomorrow by new events. There are voices that caution us to do nothing. We even have on our campus walls a sudden display of the old and tired Vietnam peacenik signs. Despicable signs. Zenit reports an Editorial in L’Osservatore Romano (S. 21, ‘01) that cautions prudence in use of force. It also uses the expression “madness of terror” to describe these events, an expression that I still think misses the mark. Then the Editorial recalls what the Pope said in the 1993 Day of Peace message: Military operations ... “never serve the common good of humanity, violence destroys; it does not build; the wounds it causes can bleed for a long time.” The condition of the poor will only be worse as a result.
We might say that, looking from the outside, these admonitions might be valid, a pox on both your houses. But surely the common good of humanity is served by stopping those who would destroy its very physical and political structure. A world that capitulates to such force will have to be content to live under it. It is quite possible and even likely that seeking to stop these men who seek to impose their religion on us by whatever means they see fit will incite a larger war. We can legitimately wonder if that would be worse than doing nothing, suffering the present damage and whatever else can be caused, on the grounds that civilization is not worth saving by any military means. The Crusaders, I think, were closer to the truth. Thus far, the attempts to deal with these attacks by way of prevention and seeking out those who caused them have been very specific and directed. There is no intention to starve anyone, no intention to kill masses of people in retaliation. Ironically, we are Afghanistan’s primary source of humanitarian relief. But those who attacked us certainly expect us to retaliate against them, though they hold our courage and will to do so in some contempt.
A recent letter in the Washington Times (S. 19, ‘01) suggested that the worst thing that could happen to us would be for bin Laden himself or the Talaban voluntarily to turn him over to us. That would immediately give him a world wide audience and an opportunity to claim he was totally innocent. Our judicial system, itself no place for this sort of thing; it might not even be able to convict him. Surely this approach is what is behind the Muslim clerics’ insistence that we turn over to them what evidence we have of his guilt. It is wrong for a non-Muslim to judge a Muslim. Since it is quite certain that bin Laden could not have been alone in this affair, we still are not secure until whoever did cause these bombings and the network that carried it out is destroyed or until it changes its mind. No doubt this won’t happen, but nothing bin Laden could do would cause more confusion in the West than his voluntarily giving himself up on the declaration of his own innocence. Indeed, he did say that he was innocent but “admired those who did” carry out the plots in New York and Washington.
So to return back to the initial question, “who is our enemy?” The enemy is very unlikely to be only several thousand “terrorists.” We must think in much broader terms. The enemy is one that has been recurrently attacking us for centuries. It is an enemy that has grown strong as we have grown complacent and introspective. We are but dimly aware that we have or have had such an enemy, even though, as Jack Kemp recently reported, this enemy officially declared war on us a couple of years ago.
The Holy Father himself has done everything he could to engage the widely-diffused leaders of Islam in dialogue. He has insisted on our looking at the points within its system that we can agree with. On questions of family and population he has found them to be allies before the secularist movements of our time. He too, as we must, distinguishes between “peaceful” and “militant” Muslims. He could have no objection to having proof about which is which. He would not think it a frivolous question. He knows the civil, legal, and cultural pressure within Islamic states either to remove Christians or to restrict them from any growth. He knows that there is a mosque in Rome but Mass is not allowed in Saudi Arabia, among other places.
A friend of mine told me recently of talking to the Holy Father several years ago in which he told her that we could expect something worse than Marxism on the immediate horizon. In all likelihood, he had in mind not Islam but our own culture growing more and more intolerant of our own essential Christian positions on a variety of basic human issues. And it may well be that the rise of Islam is itself made possible by our own moral weakness and spiritual disorder, however loathe we are even to consider this possibility. At times we seem more afraid of being told that God judges our personal sins than in being threatened by a vibrant Islam.
But these bombings and the efforts to counter them can have one good effect. The President has bravely said that other nations are either “for us or against us.” We need some binding authorities within Islam itself to tell us that Islam is indeed bent on a mission to conquer the world, step by step throughout history. Or, equally solemnly, they needs to renounce any understanding of Islam that would justify in any way, with the theological presuppositions that might support it, such actions that seem to come out of its center. What Islam lacks, we realize, is, oddly enough, a pope, someone with the power to define once and for all what it is.
“It is very . commendable and very American that we want to guard against harm coming to innocent Arabs and Muslims, especially when most of us have a good idea about the bloodbath, were the tables turned,” Balint Vazsonyi has written.
But I believe we might have the entire question upside down. Americans may have reason to believe it is Islam that has declared war on the rest of us. Many have given passionate assurances on television that the events of September 11 represent an aberration of Islam. The trouble is that the people I have heard were neither Arab nor Muslims. Americans need to hear such expressions of “regret about he loss of life” have come our way, but a word from the Imam at Friday’s national prayer meeting, asking Allah to forgive the crimes committed in is name, would have lent much more substance. Instead, he pleaded that we protect his brethren from harm (Washington Times, S. 18, ‘01)
From what we can tell, many Muslims, not just a few hapless “terrorists,” do think that the West, “the Great Satan,” must be destroyed.
Fortunately, such new leaders are not in charge of the army in control of many Islamic states. The militant leaders, however, do threaten organized Islamic states. In one sense, actions to stop such wrathful new leaders, even military ones, are not enough. We need to hear now both why Islam is attacking us, as it is, and whether this attack stems directly from its faith. Knowing this, we know what we deal with. And if this renewed warfare is in fact at the essence of Islam, does that mean that every Muslim actually holds this? Certainly not. Many Muslims have escapted to Western lands precisely to escape this system. But as events now show, there is no longer any real escape from the central issue of what Islam officially teaches and expects of its followers.
Paul Craig Roberts has also insisted on one last point. The fact is that we have been grossly, if not criminally, negligent in the sort of equipment allowed to be sold to Syria under the Clinton regime and before. “The Clinton regime permitted the delivery of top-end military communications equipment to Syria, a country officially listed as a threat to U. S. Security... The corporations that sold Syria communications equipment capable of evading detection by National Security Agency should publically identified and pilloried. They are prime defendants for class-action suits brought by relatives of the thousands of Americans killed by the transferred American technology that protected the terrorists from detection” (Washington Times, S. 17, ‘01). One suspects that there is a long and thoroughly unpleasant story here.
So, in some sense, our enemies are ourselves, or at least some of us. We have not known Islam’s heart, not known why they hate us. We are slow to recognize that things hateful do exist within us and among us, things that we sometimes perversely call “rights” or virtues. What is even more difficult for us to grasp is that we might well be hated if we had, mirabile dictu, no faults or sins. G. K. Chesterton was a man who also had much to say about Islam. He wrote, “A thing like the catholic system is a system; that is, one idea balances and connects another. A man like Mohammed or Marx, or in his own way, Calvin, finds that system too complex, and simplifies everything to a single idea, but it is a definite idea. He naturally builds a rather unbalanced system with his one definite idea” (Come to Think of It, 108). This is, in other words, a fight for the legitimacy of other ideas of God, more basically for the balanced Trinitarian idea with its Incarnational addendum.
Especially among the clergy, we find many pleas for turning the other cheek, for not resisting, as if that is an obvious solution or itself one without dire consequences. In this particular case, with the long record of Christianity before Islam, the question might be asked, “what do we call those Christians who do turn the other cheek in this context, especially those with the power and obligation to defend us?” What we call them, eventually, are Muslims. The net result of a simplistic view of this virtue of mon-resistence, something historically resisted in the central Christian tradition, is ironically to eliminate Christianity as it has been systematically eliminated in lands lost to Islam over the centuries.
These reflections are, of course, opinions. It is useful at times to spell out what we think, yet
with the realization we could be quite wrong. Suddenly, after several centuries of relative quiet, Islam is on the rise. What do we make of this? do about it? Belloc was uncanny in 1938 in expecting the rise of Islam as one of the constituent elements of the public life of men. I have argued here that the methods being used by Islam call its own very principles into question, though only if we have a standard that can confront its own first principle of the primacy of will in Allah. But behind this question, and intimately related to it, is the relation of Christianity and Islam to historic and modern Judaism. If what is being called to our attention is the validity of Islam, what is no less being brought to the fore is the truth of the completion and development of the original Hebrew revelation in Christianity. Islam, in this sense, is a judgment on both of them, or perhaps, a judgment on their failure to see their intimate relationship. And the secular society that tries to explain the world without Islam, Judaism, or Christianity is quite unsatisfactory and empty.
Is this seeing too much world-historical significance into current events? Perhaps, but I think not. Islam, at least a significant part of it -- and I think it not really just a bunch of psychotic madmen – is indeed at war with us, with that civilization that includes Israel, Christianity, and its secular degenerations. Nothing else that could have happened to us, I think, could have made us look so clearly into the souls of Jews, Christians, secularists, and Muslims. What Islam must ask itself is whether the brutal destruction of these lives is what its faith is about? We must protect ourselves, in the meantime, so that we remain free to live our lives. But we are naive if we think that these deeper questions are not what is really at stake, the truth of Islam, the truth of secularism, the truth of Judaism, the truth of Christianity. We must keep ourselves free to say of what is not true, that it is not true.
After September 11, 2001, the date that ought to be the “most famous in history” is September 11, 1683. These dates portend the unexpected decline and equally unexpected rise of Islam, a decline and rise that now force us to inquire more carefully what Islam is and, a pari, what Israel. Christianity, and modern secularism really are. The recent external events of war and destruction do not allow us to ignore these deeper questions. Until such questions are confronted more carefully, no theory or practice of “tolerance” will save us. It will only provide the cover for further efforts to eliminate us.
ASSESSING WHAT IS AT ISSUE IN THIS WAR
Every liberal instinct in the West is against seeing the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as anything but products of “extremists.” The enemies are called “terrorists,” a most unfortunate abstraction. If we have a secular Western mind-set, we cannot easily comprehend a vaster geopolitical or religious project that does not stem primarily from weakness or resentment or a feeling of injustice caused either by Israel or by random use of Western power. Supply food and help the poor, limit retaliation to a bare minimum. The problem will go away.
At the recent Synod in Rome (October 2, 2001), the Cardinal Archbishop of New York warned against feelings of “revenge,” even in his own city, the one most violently attacked. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle writes that “to passion and anger are due all acts of revenge. Revenge and punishment are different things. Punishment is inflicted for the sake of the person punished; revenge for that of the punisher” (1369b12-14). Thus, it is possible to think of punishment without necessarily indulging in revenge. What seems less comprehensible is to think of acts of such “terrorism” without also thinking of justice, of due punishment. The “do-nothing-to-retaliate,” either on religious (turn the other cheek) or prudential (will cause something worse) grounds, makes such attacks appear to be both more successful than they are and worth trying again.
The purpose of just punishment, which was implied by the Holy Father in his comments on the New York attack as well by President Bush in his various statements, is prevention of immediate or long-planned attacks by those still capable of and willing to carry them out. Even though no one so far has had the courage to claim responsibility, such hostile forces cannot any longer claim “innocence” or “ignorance” to describe their moral status before the world. In the current case, punishment, however realized, could not be intended for the “reform” of those who carried attacks out, or even vengeance against them, as they are already dead.
The planners are being hunted down because they threaten, with evident seriousness of purpose and plausible means of delivery, to multiply the attacks almost anywhere in the non-Muslim world. They will not be stopped even by the fear of their own deaths, which is conceived as a kind of perverted religious glory. In this background, none of the commonly applied deterrent tools seem to work. We are puzzled.
Let me cite two very strong, perhaps controversial statements from young men, the first in an American East Coast state, the other resident in a very explosive Muslim country:
1) As a native Irish “cradle Catholic,” I treasure my holy faith and keep somewhat informed. I have never been well-disposed to the Moslem people, since their “Faith” began as one of the early (seventh century) Christian heresies. It has a long history of virulent anti-Catholicism. Though we undoubtedly share some views in common with them, we are ecumenically antithetical. I can conceive no basis ever for the possibility of accord with them. Their missionary outreach is with the sword! Mosques are springing up like MacDonald franchises in our country. I believe that it is fatuously naive not to see the possibility of a networking connection between some of the Islamic leadership here and in the Middle east.
2) Do you recall during the interminable election last year that there was a Catholic rosary campaign started to pray for the protection of George W. Bush’s victory? It was called the “Lepanto Campaign,” invoking the rosary campaign that assured the naval victory of Lepanto (over Turks, 1571). How ironic that seems now. But in fact, I wonder if it really was irony and not the foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit. I am terribly concerned that a tremendous global war between Islam and Christendom (what’s left of it) may be beginning. To his credit, the President has made clear that the efforts of the United States are focused on the terrorists and the states that harbor them. This is just. But it seems as if the Islamists and jihadists want nothing more than to ignite a great conflagration with the West and the “crusaders.” Such a war has been going on here ... at a low-scale for several years now....
These frank comments are, as I say, opinions of two different young men both concerned that something more than merely an action of “justice” or defense is going on. Are such views radical? uninformed? naive? on the mark?
The question is the following: if we accept what seems to be the dominant American view that this attack is an identifiable and isolated manifestation of a relatively few “terrorists,” so that the rest of Islam is not considered to be a serious problem, are we doing anything more than indulging in wishful thinking? Ought our understanding of what is at issue here to include the actual record of Islam, take some account of the nature of any Islamic government, the social, religious, and political condition of anyone within such a world of other views or positions. Do we simply accept that what goes on in terms of de facto and often de jure “union of mosque and state,” of intransigent refusal to allow any inner or outer freedom on the grounds that our concern is merely with a few “terrorists” and not with large segments of this world itself? This cautious policy is what the elder President Bush, in the Gulf War, followed. He complied with, but did not challenge, Muslim religion laws about alien religions even when they deprived our own forces of guaranteed rights. An historic opportunity to challenge the central Islamic state to justify its unreasonable positions was lost.
I would certainly hope, though I do not think it to be true, that the current war involves only a few organized “terrorists,” though it may be politically indelicate to acknowledge otherwise. For prudential reasons, moreover, I can accept the constant reiteration of the very limited scope of our thinking on who is the enemy in this war. We might even hope, granted that most Muslims may well be sympathetic with the attackers, to lead them back in a position more in line with our own interests. Yet, one can wonder if this limited view is not, in the long run, a dangerous position, one blinded by our own philosophy from seeing the possibility of any determined and long-range purpose that would not be simply described by the aberrations of a few heretical fanatics?
In the Second Special Assembly for Europe, Archbishop Giuseppe Germano Bernardini, O.F.M.Cap., Archbishop of Izmir, in Turkey, spoke on “the problem of Islam in Europe today” (L’Osservatore Romano, November 17, 1999). “I will make mention three cases that, due to their provenance, I believe to be true,” he said.
1) During an official meeting on Islamic-Christian dialogue, an authoritative Muslim person, speaking to the Christians participating, at one point said very calmly and assuredly: “Thanks to your democratic laws we will invade you; thanks to your religious laws we will dominate you...”
2) During another Islamic-Christian meeting, always organized by Christians, a Christian participant publically asked the Muslims present why they had not organized at least one meeting of this kind. The Muslim authority present answered in the following words: “Why should we? You have nothing to teach us and we have nothing to learn.” A dialogue between deaf persons? It is a fact that terms such as “dialogue”, “justice”, “reciprocity”, or concepts such as “rights of man” and “democracy” have a completely different meaning for Muslims than for us. But I believe that by now this is recognized and admitted by all.
3) In a Catholic monastery in Jerusalem there was ... a Muslim Arab servant. A kind and honest person, he was respected greatly by the religious, who in turn were respected by him. One day, he sadly told them: “Our leaders have met and have decided that all “infidels” must be killed, but do not be afraid because I will kill you without making you suffer.”
Are these words anything more than naive or even “extremist” Christian reactions? The Archbishop added: “We are all aware that we must distinguish between the fanatic and violent minority from the tranquil and honest majority, but the latter, at an order given in the name of Allah or the Koran, will always march in unity and without hesitation.”
Thus, there are not a few, when free to speak frankly, who are concerned that we have here something more than mere limited action against a few “terrorists.” “History teaches us that determined minorities always manage to impose themselves on reluctant and silent majorities,” was Archbishop Bernardini’s final observation on the topic. These words were spoken some two years before September 11, 2001. Since then, again mostly in the West, even in Rome itself, but not, I think, in Mecca, there are suddenly many conferences and inter-religious meetings to discuss just how peaceful Islam is in its own theoretical books and in its own historical record.
“Koranic teaching that the faith or ‘submission’ can be, and in suitable circumstances must be, imposed by force, have never been ignored,” the English historian Paul Johnson has written. (National Review, 15 October ‘01).
On the contrary, , the history of Islam has essentially been a history of conquest and reconquest. The 7th Century “breakout” of Islam from Arabia was followed by the rapid conquest of North Africa, the invasion and virtual conquest of Spain, and a thrust into France that carried the crescent to the gates of Paris. It took half a millennium of reconquest to expel the Moslems from Western Europe. The Crusades, far from being an outrageous prototype of Western imperialism, as is taught in most of our schools, were a mere episode in a struggle that has lasted 1,400 years, and were one of the few occasions when Christians took te offensive to regain the “occupied territories” of the Holy Land (20).
This record and the spiritual force that caused such expansion simply cannot be ignored either as if it did not happen or as if it is not still present.
We have been at war for some time now. Aside from the huge damage and loss of life caused by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, nothing startling has happened except purported commando explorations in Afghanistan. However, a quiet, steady build-up and deployment of forces is certainly taking pace. The real “cost” of this initial attack, in terms of loss of normal national and international business activity and income throughout the globe, is many, many times the cost of the buildings and businesses destroyed. The overall cost, even assuming nothing further happens, will turn out to be enough to pay for any number of “Marshall Plans.” Moreover, the whole world at the air-travel level is on wartime readiness. Few want to fly, even when necessary.
We are surprised, even impressed, that the American response so far has been mostly in intelligence gathering or fiscal and homelands defensive measures. The Taliban calls the Americans “cowards.” The fleeing people of the Afghan cities certainly expect an attack. Many in Islam, recalling Archbishop Bernardini’s warning, moreover, seem to be anxious for American retaliation to take place as an occasion for further wide-spread attacks of the same variety, even for a massive uprising. Bin Laden himself is quoted as desiring such a thing.
We have had, indeed, analyses after analyses about the “causes” of this attack. It is instructive to line them up in some order, for thinking is the first line of defense, indeed of offense. First, the “minimalist” thesis, as I call it, maintains that what we have here the actions, led by bin Laden and as yet unidentified others, of a few hundred or thousand “terrorists” with their support groups that we can identify by name. These “terrorists,” it is hinted, are mostly psychotic types, outside the pale of normal human discourse. In spite of their own persistent and evidently popular claims to the contrary, they are said to be related to Islam in only the vaguest sense that the Waco cult or the Jonestown mass suicides were related to Christianity.
The existence of such “terrorists,” it is maintained, implies no further relationship of the attackers to their respective countries of origin or even to their religion. There is an army of sorts, made up of young men from all over the Islamic world who constituted the backbone of this threatening group. Actually, they were brought together initially to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan several years ago. The exigencies of diplomacy and limiting the war, however, seem to demand that no one should imply anything further. This is why the remarks of the Italian Prime Minister suggesting that there really was a sign of superiority in the West in comparison with Islam are taken not as an accurate description of what is at stake but as an aberration of a single right-wing politician.
Islam is thus said to be “peaceful,” however much such peace is not the actual history of classic Islamic expansion against formerly Christian and Hindu nations and peoples. The word Islam mean not “peace” but “submission,” though even that can have a benign meaning. Once we “bring these few insane men to justice,” it is said, the problem will be solved as the causes go no deeper than their fervid minds. The policy this dictates is predicated on not opening a larger struggle and on the premise that Islam does not “naturally” and with frequency produce such “terrorists.” The vast majority of Islamic states and people are said not to associate themselves with these small groups who can be isolated and identified and, hopefully, eliminated. Though the proof of this thesis is at best sketchy, it is politically incorrect to imply anything else. This is the counsel of slow prudence that does not see any long-term or world-historical movement at work here. Among the Americans, this view is probably most associated with Colin Powell, the Secretary of State.
We have, secondly, the “Jewish” explanation. None of this warfare would have happened except for the existence and extremist conduct of Israel over the past half-century. Islam will not rest until Israel is eliminated. It is embarrassed at its impotence and blames the Americans for their interference. Without Israeli presence in the Middle East, no problem would exist. The very existence of Israel constitutes an hostile presence in Muslim lands. Israel is from the beginning an unjust and expansionist aggressor. It too has used “terrorist” methods and taken lands unjustly. Israel has caused deep resentment throughout the Arab world. Bin Laden himself says that the American support of Israel is the cause.
Leading Jewish thinkers, however, see Israel as merely a symbol of some greater Islamic concern. They do not claim that Islam is so much against “Christendom,” as that would present a problem in Jewish theology itself, but against “the West.” Israel is a surrogate, the symbol of the hated West. The hatred is not for Israel as such. The secular, modern, democratic society is despised by Islam, some think as a sign of its own inferiority, others as a symbol of an alien religion that stands in the way of its own world conquest, now seen as something within sight after the manifestation of America’s vulnerability before a few Muslim brave attackers.
A third explanation has, perhaps, more “Catholic” or Christian overtones. There is indeed real, fundamental debasement or moral corruption in western society. An American president evidently bombed Islamic lands to get out of the consequences of his personal moral problems. Thus, by his own conduct a few years ago, he broadcast this typical moral corruption to the world. We found little horror in his lies and his deeds because they reflected much of what we actually do ourselves, much of what we call “democracy.”
Even the more sensible Muslims can see the rottenness of our culture, our abortion, our promotion of every sort of moral decadence. They see our movies, Internet, hear our music. They react in self-defense to this spreading “culture of death” and its consequent evil. Because of our attention to ourselves and our own declining society, we have not noticed the rise of a virile, dynamic Islam that rejects these cultural values.
Islam has bodies, millions upon millions of them. They are rapidly moving into western countries because of the killing of our own kind by our lethal policies. They use our political freedom to establish bases within the very heart of our civilization. European decline of population is drastic, as is ours. From this angle, the war against us is a war against a corrupt civilization too introspective to keep up its own defenses or its own morals or its own population. We are the cause of our own problems. Islam ‘s fear and hatred of such a sick society that refuses to look at itself for what it is are justified. The problem is not with Islam, but with us.
A fourth view is that Islam has always been a war religion. It has conquered by the sword and only been stopped by the sword; diplomacy and kindness have never worked with Islam. Without an effective military defense, Europe would have been Muslim today. The efforts to dialogue or turn the other cheek are hopeless in the face of Islam intransigence and self-righteousness. No one leaves Islam once under its thumb. There are few, if any, “converts” from Islam to anything else. They simply do not survive if they try. Once Islam regains the power, it will do exactly as it has always done. Islam is in a sense, as Belloc said, a Christian heresy. It has taken the admonition to “go forth and teach all nations” literally, but it has added the sword as a means of growth. It is implacable.
There may or may not be passages in the Koran that advocate peace and tolerance. Some clearly advocate the opposite. But within Islamic states, there is in fact no such thing as freedom of religion except in the most minimal sense. There has been an active persecution of Christian peoples within many Islamic states. This persecution almost never gets mentioned, let alone confronted. Mass is not allowed to be celebrated. Schools are tolerated only under the strictest regulations. There is always the threat of the establishment of the Koran as the only law of the land. Christians in Muslim lands seek to leave. Most of the “Arabs” in the United States are Christian, people who have fled while they could from their ancient homes from increasingly threatening Islamic states. There is, on the contrary, almost no emigration from western lands into any Islamic country, except in the case of refugees.
A fifth and final view is that we have a serious, long-term war on our hands and we best face the fact. Many Muslims are peaceful but they are themselves caught in between the fundamentalists or terrorists and their own government, which is usually military. Meanwhile, almost every Islamic government sees itself as sitting on a hotbed of trouble arising from these same “terrorists.” By supporting these Islamic military governments, we hope that the civilizational war can be avoided. Besides we need the oil, even though we have not taken nearly enough steps to make ourselves independent of this need by rapidly developing hydrogen-fuel cell cars and busses and by devising our own sources of oil or its substitutes. Such oil independence is something that would undermine the whole basis of Muslim financial power.
The issue is now, in this view, to estimate properly the scope of the danger. Mark Helprin has warned that “the pre-eminent imperative of the war on terrorism must be to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction that may find their way from the fever swamps of the Middle East to the air above American cities” (Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2001). The rooting out and killing of terrorists and their camps will not secure us if the larger and much more dangerous potential threat is ignored. But this view assumes that this war is not limited to a few thousand “terrorists.”
During this period, the Catholic and Christian press has been filled with discussions of “just wars,” discussions which seem strangely out of date. After decades of wrangling over “just war” doctrine, five thousand people were killed by an ordinary airplane. No episcopal conference, nor the government itself, had even come close to thinking about this new, but ancient use of force. It involves none of the sophisticated nomenclature of the nuclear war debates. The only real weapons were evidently knives and brains. One looks in vain, moreover, for any concerted geopolitical effort to understand Islam and its apparent potential to incite such destruction. War theory is not enough.
Several Islamic leaders have, in recent years, written, with some irony, that they could peacefully take over Europe simply by continuing their high birth rate and immigration ratios. France is five percent Muslim. Thousands of mosques are now found in Germany and the United States. The largest Mosque in Europe is evidently being built in Belgium. However, this patient route to conquest seems to have been superceded by a more militant mind-set that is now willing to use the numerical superiority of young Islamic men. These same young men themselves have, as far as we can tell, shown great enthusiasm for the more radical path. They do not, if we can judge by their enthusiasm, see bin Laden as an evil man who kills innocents but as a hero who kills “enemies.” Western policy thus far has shown great prudence in not doing anything that might contribute to this holy war mentality, which, as Gerald Seib has written in the Wall Street Journal (October 3), is exactly what bin Laden has been shrewdly planning all along.
Meanwhile, it seems true to say that Christian peoples are very confused in deciding what might be the proper reaction to this attack and how to stop further ones. Muslims, after all, are not atheists. It would be most useful if the Holy Father would write an Encyclical “On Islam,” one which faced, accounted for, and described the theology, philosophy, and history of Islam and how it relates to salvation history. It is one thing to maintain that Islam and Christianity pray to the same God, but is not the Islamic conception of God as pure will, without any Trinitarian or Incarnational overtones, a problem? Does it not produce radically different understandings of man and the world, not to say of God?
Such an encyclical would also have to call our specific attention to the fact that Christian peoples have been and are still being persecuted in Islamic lands. The section of the Martyrology that simply lists those killed in Islamic lands needs to be widely known. It should not be a secret document. It seems almost eerie to speak of ecumenical relations with Islam without directly confronting the darker side of its record, past and present. Ironically, the recent practical alliance of the Papacy and Islamic governments on population issues suggests to many critics that, at bottom, Catholicism bears the same fanaticism that Islam is now showing. The answer, it is said, is to “secularize” Islam, to separate it from its own religious sources in such a way that it accepts all the modern aberrations. This same approach also serves to justify a complete “secularization” of Catholicism. Catholicism, thus far, unlike the secularist view, is reluctant to argue that an irreligious Islam would be an improvement over a believing Islam.
On the other hand, meaningful “dialogue” with Islam still seems most unproductive. Those Muslims who do “dialogue” seem to have little relation to those who are causing the current “terrorist” problems. The results are always one-sided. Without the backing of force, nothing will happen. And yet, many Christians persist in seeing this reliance on force as an admission of failure of their own principle of suffering evil. Rarely, however, are there examples of Christian martyrs in Islamic states whose example ever changes anything there. Conversions are almost impossible. Christians, I think, have never really faced this fact as itself an intellectual and religious problem to be analyzed and not simply ignored. If you will, this utterly closed world of Islam is as much a problem in Christian theology as of Islamic theology.
The Holy Father, in several of his addresses in Kazakhstan, has stressed the need for religious freedom in all lands (L’Osservatore Romano, September 26, 2001). Pope Wojtyla has no illusions about the cultural condition of Western nations (World Day of Peace Address, January 1, 2001). He knows much is aberrant. “I wish to reaffirm,” the Pope remarked on September 24, 2001, in Astana, Kazakhstan, “the Catholic Church’s respect for Islam, for authentic Islam, the Islam that prays, that is concerned for those in need. Recalling the errors of the past, including the most recent past, all believers ought to unite their efforts to ensure that God is never made the hostage of human ambitions. Hatred, fanaticism and terrorism profane the name of god and disfigure the true image of man” (L’Osservatore Romano, September 26. 2001, p. 5, #5). Reading between the lines, we can see that the Holy Father too implies a distinction between good or authentic and bad Islam. He seeks to make an alliance with what is good Islam. One of the ironic things about Islam, for all its apparent unity, it has no single authority with whom a pope can speak of these things. And just how we can identify “authentic” Islam from that Islam that is, presumably, “unauthentic,” seems difficult in the extreme.
We are, however, in all these considerations, left with the impression that the normal exhortations to dialogue, tolerance, and compassion are not enough. Rightly, the Pope continues to urge a peaceful path. But behind this conciliatory path looms the fear that by following it, we may well make things worse. It would be ironic if the influence of religion resulted in obvious and greater evil, more bombings. Because of our perceived weakness or unwillingness or scruples, we might see the use of the ever more lethal retaliatory instruments that Mark Helprin worried about. Ironically, Islam, the religion that most blesses the use of force to spread its faith, seems the one religion least open to dialogue that is anything more than a tactic to get its own way. Again without denying the distinction between what the Pope called “authentic” and presumably “inauthentic” Islam, this situation is itself the single most plausible argument for the careful and deliberate use of force.
One final point, in conclusion, that needs to be considered. Stanley Jaki has been writing for a number of years about the relation of the development of modern science in the light of the theological presuppositions in the great religions that would foster or make possible this development. He notes that what we know as theoretical science did not arise in Islam, even though it was always a great trading power that was able to use many modern instruments. Many writers have suggested that part of the rage found in Islamic societies today is due to their own sense of incapacity before this scientific development, which also has a political side to it.
David Pryce-Jones has stated the political structures that in fact exist in contemporary Muslim States in graphic terms:
The conflict that has now erupted has been gathering for a long time. Its roots lie deep in history. To be brief and blunt, the Muslim world has never known exactly how to respond to the West, whether to adopt its values or to reject them.... For the past half century and more, the Muslim world has been free and independent, with every opportunity to organize as it wishes. And this is the heart of the issue: The Muslim world is a political and social disaster for all to see. With the arguable exception of Turkey, it consists of a series of despotisms, each with an absolute ruler whose ultimate justification is his strength and will. A family or a clique gathers around the ruler under the protection of the state apparatus of secret police and military repression. To be powerful, the spoils; to the weak, submission. No rights, no freedom of expression, no loyal opposition, no rule of law, no redress except through violence, conspiracy, a coup. And ultimately civil war (National Review, October 15, 2001, 22).
If we use the relativist model of “multi-culturalism” to judge this scene, we will have nothing to say about this situation, except to praise it -- to each his own. If we use a classic Western criterion, we can distinguish between regimes and rank them by some objective criterion. We may be perplexed about how this situation might be changed, but, at some level, the first step must recognize its existence and its relation to its own beliefs and history. Why indeed does this pattern exist and recur?
Jaki has speculated on the historical consequences of what might have happened had Islam been able, at a theoretical level, to arrive at a knowledge of science and technology as happened in the West. “It is easy to guess the course of world history if at the time of the battle of Lepanto the Turkish navy had been propelled by steam engines,” Jaki observed in 1988 (“The Physics of Impetus and the Impetus of the Koran,” The Absolute beneath the Relative and Other Essays, ISI Books, 146). Behind this failure to develop technology was a problem of theology, of the conception of God and of the world as created.
Jaki would evidently agree with those who see these current attacks on the West as expressions of a deeper theological problem.
The question of the failure of Muslim scholars to formulate the proper impetus theory becomes the true nature of the intellectual impetus provided by the Koran. It is a question which underlies the great ferment that has increasingly engulfed the Muslim world for the past thirty years. Those years are also the first and full exposure of the Muslim world on all levels of Western technology, which brings along an exposure to Western scientific thinking. Not all of the fruits of that exposure are of course beneficial.... The Muslim world is fully justified in deploring the abuses of science and in trying to apply science in a human way. But before that humane application takes place, there has to be science, that is, there have to be minds fully familiar with science. This, however, demands that there be minds fully imbued with the thinking underlying science especially if they wish to be creative in science. The question is then whether the present-day Muslim reawakening, which is a reassertion of the role of the Koran in every facet of life, can be reconciled with the thinking demanded by science (148).
What this passage implies is that the failure to confront theological, scientific, and philosophical problems at the level of theoretical intellect results in war and strife at the level of politics.
And it is at this theoretical level, that the pope is surely right to dialogue with the Muslim world, if it will indeed dialogue with him. This pope has probably met more Muslim religious and political leaders than any other man in the Western world. He has not hesitated to insist, on the surface level, on genuine religious freedom, including the freedom of voluntary conversion, in any society, including a Muslim one. And he has probably understood, since he knows of the many, many Catholics and Christians who have been persecuted and killed in Muslim lands, the lethal nature of many unfortunate Islamic practices.
But John Paul II has not seen war or violence as a way to resolve these problems. He is aware of what happens when an eye for an eye system is employed. On the other hand, he cannot ignore the demands for justice and security that result when cities and nations are directly and violently attacked. He cannot or does not excuse such an action. The end of war or self-defense remains peace. That is, peace in the minimal sense of cease-fire can provide a world in which some resolution of controversies can be resolved by other means than force.
Yet, perhaps the meaning of the contemporary rise of Islam is, ultimately, that we have reached the end of a theory of “tolerance” that refuses to understand the nature and consequences of ideas, religious, scientific, and political. If there can be any ultimate this-worldly “good” that can come out of these unfortunate events, including the upcoming efforts to eradicate the army ranged against us, it is that at some level religion, science, philosophy, and economics do have to confront their own “truth” in the light of what is, in fact, true.
Brief Comments on the War
After I watched the TV of the two planes crash into the World Trade Towers and news of the Pentagon strike across the river came in, I went up to our roof to see the smoke rising. My initial reaction in the first hours was, “where was the courage?” Of course, as we learned soon enough, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was directly related to the courage of ordinary businessmen. Once they knew from their wives or families on cell-phones that the hijackers meant a wholly new kind of terror, they did what they could. They saved others, no doubt those of us somewhere in Washington, if not themselves.
But in going down, these brave men upheld the standard of honor and courage in a way we can only admire and hope we are worthy of. No doubt the reason the passengers and crew did not try to storm the earlier planes was that under orders, they assumed that this was like any other hijacking, that they would go to some airport and negotiate. The notion of crashing the planes into buildings was so far from anyone’s mind, any normal mind, that any other reaction but angered compliance seemed irrational. Had they known, no doubt some would have done the same as those brave men on the United plane in Pennsylvania.
A letter to the Wall Street Journal (17 September) charges that all three religions of Middle East origins, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, are equally fanatics. That the very idea of thinking that something of God is worthy dying for is itself the cause of these recent catastrophes. We will hear more and more of this view, as if somehow the belief that nothing much is that important will give us a peaceful life in this world. It won’t.
Chesterton remarked that “war is not ‘the best way of settling differences’; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you.” We may or may not maintain that Islam is the peaceful religion it now, at least here, claims it is. We do know that some of its adherents, perhaps many, have a strange way of carrying out their peaceful intentions. Is there some authority in Islam that can assure us definitively that the actions we have witnessed are theoretical, that is, theological heresies, things Islam rejects and opposes? Whatever else they believed, it seems that those who carried out this plot, this very successful, yes still very cowardly plot, believed they were performing a holy act. Were they? Will someone who believes in Islam tell us that this is not true, and more importantly, bring to justice those who did these things?
Why do we have to enforce this law? Why cannot we say Mass in Saudi Arabia? Why are Christians persecuted and killed in so many Muslim states? We do not want to hear that it is simply “terrorists,” as if these terrorists were somehow another religion wholly alien to their origins. As far as I know, no Muslim country was ever “converted” by peaceful means. Historically, they were taken by force, usually from Christians, who finally decided to fight back with only partial success.
“The refined people seem to think that there is something unpleasant and profane about making war religious,” Chesterton wrote in The Glass Walking Stick. “I should say that there ought to be no war except religious war. If war is irreligious, it is immoral. No man ought ever to fight at all unless he is prepared to put his quarrel before that invisible court of Arbitration with which all religion is concerned. Unless he thinks he is vitally, eternally, cosmically in the right, he is wrong to fire off a pocket-pistol.” Is this a “religious” war in Chesterton’s sense. Indeed it is.
Perhaps for the first time in modern history, it requires Islam itself to tell us what it really is about if such acts are in no way attributed to it. No doubt the man in Los Angeles (where else?) who wrote the letter deploring the track record of the three religions and their apparent relation to wars has a right to be disgusted. Presumably, he would have no reason to “fire a pocket-pistol” in a world freed of the three religions. But I doubt it. His view is as dogmatic as any of the religious views.
So what we have before us in these days, behind everything else, is almost the opposite of what we have been seeing in the ecumenical movement. We are seeing how religions are different, not alike. That is, we are confronted with the question of which religion, or non-religion, is true.
“War is not the ‘best way of settling differences’; it is the only way of preventing them from being settled for you.” If we do lose this civilizational war to those who blow us up at home, at least we will know what principles will govern us, the principles that justified blowing us up. “No man ought ever to fight at all unless he is willing to put his quarrel before that invisible court of Arbitration with which all religion is concerned.” The alternative is a world in which nothing is worth taking seriously, because nothing is serious, nothing is worth fighting for, because nothing is worth anything. Our present task is simply trying to prevent the matter from being settled for us.
THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
A friend of mine works in a local health clinic with five regular doctors. She told me that the amount of health-related phone calls since September 11th and especially since the anthrax cases has increased exponentially. Doubts about normal sickness become certainties of exposure and immanent demise. Every headache is a potential threat to life or limb. We cannot blame people too much. We are warned about something or other by the government or the media every day, not to mention the dire threats we hear from various Islamic sources. Moreover, I am not someone who thinks there is nothing to worry about. There is plenty to worry about. I enter airports with considerably less alacrity, or, preferably, not at all. My sister warns me to be careful of the letters I receive. My niece was kept awake by a report that several small Russian nuclear weapons were missing.
At the opening of the Breeders’ Cup at Belmont Park in late October, a New York Policeman sang “America the Beautiful” – the spacious skies and the amber waves of grain, the purple mountains’ majesty and the fruited plains. I have seen these mountains, plains, skies, and waves of grain. A thing does not have to be perfect to love it. Indeed, only if someone loves us, imperfect as we are, do we have much chance of becoming, if not perfect, at least better. Rome, Chesterton said in a memorable phrase, was not first great and then men loved her, but rather the Romans first loved her then she became great. One more thing about love, whether it be of persons or nations, it does not require us to say that the dark sides of our characters or nations are in fact virtues. We cannot lie to ourselves and still love ourselves or our nation.
The most difficult intellectual act concerning political regimes is accurately to describe them. This difficulty is as true of our own regime as of that of our friends or enemies. The word “enemy” still sounds funny in our ear. We need to get used to it. The enemies we are supposed to love do not love us even if we love them. Nowhere in scripture is it implied that love, however genuine, cannot be rejected. It happens every day. Machiavelli thought it was better to be feared than to be loved. But even he thought that love might be useful. We are a generous nation. Even those who hate us understand this.
Something almost incomprehensible has happened to us during the past decade. It is our first line of defense to identify what it is. We have to be coldly realistic here. We are a nation wracked by a relativism, an ideological multi-culturalism, that prevents us from seeing clearly either our enemies or ourselves. We often hear our academics tell us that standing for nothing is the only answer for terrorists who stand for something. It will never work. No one lays down his life for relativism, though the lives of many relativists will be laid down before it is over.
Since the fall of communism, itself something of an extraordinary event that we have by no means yet understood, certainly not by our social scientists who never saw it coming, we have spoken of the “end of history,” of whether there was anything worth living for. We have assumed we were the sole superpower. We forgot the admonitions of our founding fathers about entangled alliances. We thought that for our system to be safe in our regime, it had to be accepted in all other regimes in te world. Thus, democracy, as we call it, had a restless international mission. This mission was aided by calls to help the poor and alleviate suffering wherever it happened. Since poverty and suffering seemed to be everywhere, we had title to interfere everywhere. Soon it became clear, however, that poverty was itself a function of the kind of regime we lived in. Poverty could be met, but not by just any regime, not just by any means. We might righteously choose means that never could work, this in the name of a sincere intention, but they still would never work. We thus did not want to relieve poverty but prove our exalted thesis.
ON THE VOCATION OF SOLDIERS AND POLICE
The Pope Speaks (July, 2001) contains an address that John Paul II gave in Rome to members of Armed Services and Police officers from around the world on the occasion of the Jubilee (November 19, 2000). The talk is somewhat reminiscent of the rather affectionate way that Christ is often recorded to have spoken with centurions in the Roman army. What else would we expect from this pope?
The meeting with military representatives was near the last Sundays of the Liturgical Cycle, with readings dealing with the end of the world. Christ would come, the pope told the military and police before him, “in power and glory.” The Christ who comes “is the same Son of man, merciful and compassionate, whom the disciples knew during His earthly journey.” The pope does not hesitate to remind them of the unity and continuity of Christ’s person, from the beginning. The pope speaks of profound things to ordinary soldiers and policemen. Thus he adds, “when the moment comes for His manifestation in glory, He will come to give human history its definitive fulfilment.” Again, human history has a purpose and a completion. We do not live in a complete chaos.
Next, referring to Mark’s Gospel, the pope explains to these men and women how they directly relate to human and divine experience in their very vocations. God will pronounce his judgment and then end “a universe corrupted by falsehood and torn by violence and injustice.” Looking right at them, the pope wonders who better than they, policemen and soldiers all, can “testify to the violence and to the disruptive forces of evil present in the world”? These aberrant realities are things such men and women see every day. At this very point, the pope explains why we have soldiers and police – “you are called to defend the weak, to protect the honest, to foster the peaceful coexistence of peoples.” They are to avert dangers to others.
The pope is not a naive utopian who thinks that somehow in this world we will ever fully get rid of the need of armies and security forces. He remains an Augustinian who knows about the fallen world. At the very moment of telling those who have to deal with this fallenness, he also recalls the end of history. He puts things in proper order.
Standing before the pope are members of many armies and military forces. He says something very remarkable to them: “You are the representatives of the armies who have faced one another down through history.” We can just see in this audience uniformed men from the French, Italian, Spanish, German, United States, English, Russian, Polish, Portugese, Dutch, Belgian, and other armies. We cannot help but recall stories of the trenches of World War I when hundreds of thousands of men who would be friends of one another in ordinary times died at each others’ hands.
In this majestic setting, we can also call to mind Henry V at Agincourt who tells his men on the battle eve of St. Crispin’s day the difference between their own salvation, which is up to them, and the struggle for their country, for which the king is responsible. The pope does recall all of these fallen men of whatever unit, of whatever side. Salvation and military victory are not the same thing. This is why all armies need chaplains. The dying of both opposing armies are made for the same ultimate destiny.
The pope speaks of “peace” as a “right.” This is a somewhat odd notion. Usually, peace is considered to be the result of something, of establishing and living worthily in a right order. We do not seek “peace” but what causes it. Probably what he had in mind is the noble idea, following Plato’s insistence that the end of war is peace, that human flourishing is best achieved in peace, in right order, even though souls may be saved (or lost) in war or in line of duty.
Again, this pope is not naive. “At times this duty (to protect life and justice) ... involves concrete initiatives to disarm the aggressor. Here I wish to refer to the so-called humanitarian interference, which, after the failure of efforts by police and the instruments of nonviolent defense, is a last resort in order to stay the hand of the unjust aggressor.” Aggressors ought to be “disarmed.” Police can fail to contain large sources of violence. Nonviolence does not always work. The rules of prudence no doubt remain here. The pope is not giving a license to run all over the world interfering with every rumble on this turbulent planet. But still, these are the words of a political realist.
The pope can speak to armed men of Christ. Those who die in action can do so out of a sole motive of duty, to be sure. Yet, “many of them (fallen soldiers) believed in Christ, and His words illuminated their existence and gave an exemplary value to their sacrifice. They made the Gospel their code of conduct.” The Gospel is a “code” of conduct! And finally, the pope tells these men and women, in the words of St. Paul, “pray at all times.”
No doubt, soldiers and police can find themselves, through changes in regimes, in the service of ideologies or tyrants. When this happens, their lot is most poignant and most dangerous both to themselves and to the citizens of their or other nations or cities. But this pope does not hesitate to reassure them that in principle, soldiers and police have a noble, if dangerous, vocation, a vocation in which and through which, like the rest of us, they are to save their souls through their service of others and trough their following of Christ – yea, even to the end of history, to the end of the world.
HUMAN CONTROL IS GUN-CONTROL
This will be a minority report. Take it for what it is worth.
Principles: Guns do not kill. Individual human beings, who choose to use weapons of whatever kind irresponsibly or incompetently, do kill. Automobiles kill some fifty thousand people in the United States each year. Automobiles do not kill. Individual human beings who drive irresponsibly do. Drugs do not kill human beings. Individuals who use drugs irresponsibly do kill, usually first themselves. Knives do not kill. Individuals who use them carelessly or irresponsibly do the killing.
This is a parable. Suppose that on the morning of the killings in Colorado, a young man in the same high school, let’s call him Zeke, had heard rumors that two kids, whom he had seen around school, were plotting to kill some students that morning. Zeke came from a large family. His father, uncles, and grandfathers loved to hunt. They taught the sons in the family all about guns, how to clean them, how to take them apart, how to aim them, how to lock them, how to carry them. Zeke and his brothers were by the time they were thirteen expert shots with both pistols and rifles.
When Zeke heard this rumor, he first thought it was another joke. He did not pay too much attention. Then, he thought, “well, maybe.” So, just in case, he put in his bag a small loaded pistol with a secure safety lock on it. Someone had told him that these two characters planned to raid the school from the ball fiend at about 11:30 AM. So he strolled over to the ball field. Sure enough, about eleven thirty, he spots two young men crawling along. Suddenly, they get up and head for the back door of school. They had weapons. He followed them, unbelieving. Before they shoot anyone, however, just as they yell to the students, Zeke pulls out his pistol and shoots them both dead.
Question one: Was Zeke a hero? Since neither public nor police could imagine what would have happened in reality when the twenty or so students were killed, everyone would immediately assume that Zeke’s gun was the problem. The parents of the two boys who did the actual killing would have testified their boys were good boys. They were only playing. They would have inaugurated a suit against Zeke’s gun-toting parents. Zeke would have been accused at least of second degree murder. His story about the intentions of the two boys would have been seen as baloney. He would have gotten thrity years in jail. The advocates of gun control would have been in either case on C-Span for two solid weeks railing against guns, demanding gun control. The poll-driven President and Congress would legislate to control guns. No one would have seen Zeke as the hero he was for preventing the slaughter. And when the next slaughter happened, cries would come for more whatever-the-weapon-control.
This is a second parable. Suppose, again, that early in the morning of the incident, the two Colorado boys had decided against using automatic weapons. They figured that they were too cumbersome and would be easily spotted. They heard a kid by the name of Zeke, a good shot, was onto them. In the meantime, they had learned in their chemistry class, in books, and on Internet how to make and detonate explosives. They already had planted several chemical bombs around the school. The bombs would cause much more damage than the guns anyhow. So, at precisely eleven-thirty, they set off a detonator blowing up the building. They kill two hundred and thirty students and teachers, including themselves. They left notes detailing their plan. They hate school. For the next three weeks, C-Span runs continuous programs on the need to control chemical information. The crime, it was said by leading authorities, was caused by the easy availability of “knowledge” of explosives that the students had learned in chemistry class and in books in the school library. The President and Congress, following popular outcry and the polls, sought to take steps to restrict information of basic chemistry.
This is a third parable. On May 19, 1999, the New York Times reported an annual Scavenger Hunt at the University of Chicago. The students were assigned odd things to do, like “eating an entire bottle of squeeze cheese.” The most interesting scavenger find, for our purpose, was provided by two undergraduate physics majors. Looking in their physics books and finding spare parts around the labs, they managed to procure enough plutonium to build in a couple of days a small nuclear reactor. News of this was read by several interested parties from different countries and high schools. It was discovered that it would not be overly difficult to build a slightly larger nuclear reactor and eventually explosive devices. Several gun-control advocates got wind of this information. They raised a great stink with the authorities at the University of Chicago. They demanded a better control of student knowledge that would enable such nuclear weapons and bombs to be in the hands of potentially irresponsible students. In a large bonfire, all the physics books in the University of Chicago book store were torched after the President had threatened an air strike on the university.
Principle: On Crossfire on CNN for 18 May, a writer from The Nation asked a man by the name of Smith the following question: “Is there not a single gun-control measure out there in the universe that you would think is a good idea and might lead to increased safety?” Smith, it is reported, thought a moment and replied, “Yes, a steady hand.”
Principle: I once saw a cave-man cartoon in the New Yorker. Most of the cave men and cave ladies were sitting around armed to the teeth with clubs and rocks. But over at the side, there was a very sly looking cave man-person. He had just invented something. It was a long rod like stick, across the ends of which he had stretched a piece of hide. By his side, were some long sticks with pointed stone heads attached. Many were afraid that this new long-range weapon was going to change the nature of warfare and increase the killing. Therefore, to stop the killing, they formed a movement to abolish bows and arrows.
Let me repeat: 1) The only gun control is human control. 2) If you abolish one weapon, another will take its place; if you abolish guns but not bombs, knives, nuclear weapons, and bows and arrows, the killing will go on. 3) The origin of evil is in the human will. No outside control of weapons will prevent the mind’s inventive choice to kill others. Cave-men-persons killed with rocks. Abolish rocks? 4) Before talking about controlling guns, talking about virtue and how it is acquired.
TERROR AND WAR: SORTING IT OUT
Aristotle says that if something is a “plot,” it is closer to reason, that is, closer to something that has passed through a mind. He means, in other words, that when four planes take off with relatively the same mission, from different airports with different targets, that there is a mind behind the plotting. The plotting mind does not include those actually carrying out the plot. The mind that conceived the plot still exists. Aristotle also means that evil men can also “reason,” “plot.”
From the viewpoint of those who organized the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trace Center, the plot was enormously successful, one almost has to say brilliant in its simplicity and startling effectiveness in creating chaos and, more importantly, embarrassment over the inability of the world’s greatest power to protect its own back yard. Osuma Ben Laden, while denying that he had anything to do with it, congratulated those who carried it out. Several “celebrations” were held in certain Arab cities. Encomia for the heroism of the hijackers were found in the press.
From the point of view of American security forces, the plot was undetected. From the point of view of those thousands who died – more than at Pearl Harbor – it was a tragic day. For the government, it was probably the reception of a declaration of war against this country by some yet not fully identified but real source, though one certainly related to radical Islamic groups, many of whom have more or less sophisticated bases and centers in this country itself. The operation could not have been carried out without people on the ground here in the United States nor without men, probably militarily trained in flying airplanes, willing to sacrifice their lives for a “cause.” It needed the help or tolerance of some governments.
Aristotle also remarked that if someone is willing to lose his life, it is very difficult to stop him from carrying out his plans. This plot probably required at least twenty or thirty men so willing. They were not simply “fanatics.” They are now gone with their victims. Our disarmed society allowed no one with guns on board who might have heroically thwarted the action. The plotters knew they were safe once on board so they needed only knives. I sometimes get my electric razor checked when seen in a small bag at an airport security checkpoint. How could knives be invisible?
If one looks on any search engine under Ben Laden, there is, in several languages, a whole account of followers and of the man himself about what he intended to do. Actually, had not planes been grounded, several other planes may have been hijacked and other buildings in other cities hit the same way. One hears that the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Baltimore Trade Center and even the Maryland State House were on that gruesome list. Ben Laden was somewhere behind the original bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. At the trial, one of the men convicted in that plot was asked about the possibility that he would be executed. He replied that “if he lived a good life, he would go to heaven, if not to hell.” In other words, he was on a mission that rewarded what he was trying to do. Ben Laden himself is cited as saying that, in this war, there are no distinctions between “civilians” and “guilty.” That is, killing some 50,000 folks was killing 50,000 enemies in war. He also said that America is a serpent and must be crushed. The reason America is dangerous evidently is because it supports Israel.
Several British papers called the day “Armageddon” or “Apocalypse.” This terminology – The Washington Times used the word “Infamy,” to recall Franklin Roosevelt’s phrase at Pearl Harbor – hints that something more is going on than just disgruntled or psychotic characters running around with bombs. Washington today is full of a sense of “it will never be the same again.” Walking the streets you see police checking cars going across bridges. Air safety checks will be horrendous, at least for a while. If another attack is planned, no doubt it will come later when the new lay of the land is calmer.
How do we sort this day out? First with regard to the dead, plotters, passengers, workers, and all, they end their lives on the same day. The Bridge of San Luis Re, that is, we know not the day or hour, both innocent and guilty are in God’s hands. Whether we die by murder, by accident, by plot, or in our own beds of old age, we have the same destiny. We must be ready to die every morning when we go to work. It is given to every man once to die, hence the judgment. If this killing was not a “sinful” deed, we have no right to be angry over it.
This country obviously cannot simply say that this sort of action was an “accident.” The very heart and essence of the country were symbolically attacked, its most obvious defensive building, its most visible trade buildings, in its most well-known cities, the one containing the most number of Jews. The country has not seriously, in terms of public opinion, really thought that plots were being hatched, and until this terror happened, probably never would have accepted what must be done both to retaliate and to prevent.
We hear talk that this was an act of “terror,” and that the ones plotting it are “terrorists.” They are called religious “fanatics.” Indeed, one news broadcast said that only someone with a religion would sacrifice his life this way. The only security, by implication, is in a completely “secular” state wherein no one thinks anything is worth such sacrifice. The only trouble with this idiotic argument is that we would like to have had someone on board who sacrificed his life preventing the action – maybe we did have some who tried and failed, because they were unarmed.
But one must finally declare that a war has been launched against us. This war has a cause and motives, organization, finance. It is not a particular country, though particular countries either abet it or do nothing about its cause. The country is vulnerable to such attacks which are totally planned and, in that sense, rational. A response has to be made, but an effective one. The country has to realize that its security, intelligence, and police forces are absolutely necessary; they are not our enemies and without them, we are vulnerable. We have under-appreciated and misunderstood that the first requirement of government is the protection and safety of its people. This requires resources and yes will. I agree with Donald Kagan (W. Post, 12 S.) that we need a declaration of war.
Again the Augustinian view of history is proved largely correct, that the first duty of the state has to do with moral and ideological disorders of men against peace, that something must be done, often hard striking and hard headed, against people who can blow up our buildings and kill our people. We have, by our habits and traditions, no doubt, left ourselves open. We have no reason to believe that the plot will not go on unless we stop it. This is our immediate political agenda.
ON THE DUTY OF A NATION TO ITS OWN PEOPLE
Many are, no doubt, surprised that the Vatican took the stance that it did on the right and duty of a nation under direct attack to defend itself and to remove a present and abiding threat to repeat the attack (S. 25). This is a return of the classic just war doctrine, a return even made simpler because no weapons but knives were used in the most bloody single day in American history. Recent anti-death penalty discussions in modern circumstances no longer seem apt. Those discussions about always using peaceful means suddenly seem almost naive in the light of a world unable to conceive that such widespread killing of non-combatants could happen right in our midst. It was actually planned by a definite and organized enemy working for years on the project. One real question is the “morality” of those who left us so unprepared, the policies of leaders who gutted our security and defense capabilities and sold surveillance equipment to Syria.
Supposing, moreover, the capture or voluntary surrender of some of those who planned and carried out this attack – some are already dead but they are not the brains – what would be an “appropriate” sentence? Would “life in prison” uphold the “principle of life” when the lives being saved are precisely those who cause slaughter on such a horrendous scale? Moreover, if those who planned this attack intend to carry out more destruction, as they sought to do on September 11, is not their very existence a constant threat to innocent life? Many a revolution has been planned in a prison cell.
The Pope, of course, did not give blanket retaliatory scope, not did President Bush advocate any such thing. The terms of both have been measured, precise, directed only at those leaders who planned and carried out the slaughter and those who protect them. It is difficult to see how objection can be raised to these positions, unless one really wants the destruction of America, something the plotters do want.
The Holy Father still makes a distinction between “Islam” and “terrorists.” Recently, the Washington Times (S. 24) carried a full page ad signed by many American Muslim groups protesting that Islam is a religion of “peace.” Likewise, every day we see from around the world photos of many, many Muslims agreeing with those who destroyed the World Trade Center. Millions and millions seem to approve of this action and threaten dire consequences if we retaliate in any manner. Just where the “terrorists” come from, on the hypothesis that Islam is wholly “peaceful,” remains something of a mystery. As far as we can tell, the so-called “terrorists” themselves think that they come from Islamic doctrine and tradition, which they vow to protect unto death. This position is said to make them, whoever they are, “extremists” or “radicals” or “terrorists.” These same “terrorists,” however, are organized all over the world in numbers the size of which we have no accurate idea, but it is not small.
In fact, a majority of Islamic peoples may well side with those we insist, wrongly, I think, on calling “terrorists” and not soldiers. The morning the Vatican reported that there was a legitimate right of self-defense in these circumstances (25 S.), bin Laden himself was quoted as planning a holy war against the “American crusade,” against “the great Satan.” That sector of Islam organized for what we call “terror” follows a very rational purpose, granted its fundamental aberration. The many men who follow it are men who have joined an army; they often have scientific or engineering or medical degrees. They have, in fact, formally declared war on us. We did not notice. Their theology and politics deny the distinction between guilty and innocent, combatants and non-combatants. They have defined in their minds that there is a single enemy, America, with its adjuncts in Israel, Europe, and elsewhere. Those Islamic governments supporting America in this situation will themselves be undermined by the same terrorist means unless stopped by direct force. It makes no sense to wring our hands or to deny the objective seriousness of the attack against us, or to think that there is some way to appease this movement by withdrawing completely from any Islamic country and or from Israel.
Often we hear it said in this country that the enemy is modern free, secular power. There is a tendency to group all “fundamentalists” into the same “terrorist” categories. Indeed, religion itself is often included in this amalgam. But in the light of the numbers and vigor is Islamic militants, we cannot help but see that it is precisely our secularist views that have depopulated us, aged us. We may think that our technology will save us from their numbers. But the New York tragedy taught us that we can be destroyed by our own technology and by our own lack of numbers. Why are their militant Islamic cells allover Europe and the United States as well in many other countries? Is it not because we need labor due to our lack of our own children? Is this where our “rights” doctrines have led us?
This initial attack was said to have been plotted in Hamburg, a German city whose police identify a thousand to fifteen hundred known terrorists among its large Islamic population. In other words, the world wide army poised against us is itself scattered all over the world because we have decided that we are overpopulated. If modern secularism includes orthodox Christianity itself as a fundamentalist “threat,” which it often does, we can begin at least to appreciate that the results of secularism’s own influence is what has given grounds and manpower to the new Islamic forces, self-appointed though they be, who seek our lives.
No one wants to think Islam, at bottom, not to be peaceful. But the peaceful movements within it must begin to take charge, begin to ask themselves why they are so politically inhospitable to anyone but themselves, why Christians in so many of their lands suffer persecution. Pragmatic policies may require our overlooking many of these questions. We seek to keep things as limited as possible in terms of military action. But this attack has necessarily touched larger issues which we have not been courageous enough to face. After World War II, the Marshall Plan sought to rebuild Germany and Europe. Why have not Saudi Arabia or other Islamic states, with its oil millions, not immediately offered to rebuild the WTC? Is it because they claim to have nothing to do with these events, even when run by a man born within their midst? Or is it because of a broader cultural problem that looks only to itself and its glory, that looks upon us as, at best useful, at worst as enemies sooner or later to be eliminated? At least we can be sure that bin Laden, with his own millions made on our markets, will not offer to rebuild anything, will not deny that we are his enemy.
Is this a small, isolated event, that, on the theory of turning the other cheek or causing worse damage, is best to ignore, to do nothing about? Or is this just the first step of a decades long war declared against us long ago and reaffirmed only recently with a superior organization and cleverness? Or, as many even of our own hold, is it our fault for what we are and for our inept foreign policy? All the good we thought we had done by foreign and humanitarian aid, often to Islamic lands, has come to naught. We are the enemy, but of what? Of an age old faith that did everything in its power to eliminate us in previous ages? Of modern psychotic rage with no rational basis whatsoever? Chesterton said that one of the reasons for war was to prevent opposing ideas from being imposed on us.
If we do prevent our further destruction, we still have to ask what we stand for, what we are? The irony of these events is that we are hated not only for our vices, of which we have not a few, but for our virtues and our faith. I tend to think we would have a major problem even if we had no vices that might excuse our attackers. Some wars, in other words, are not merely moral, but theological, wars, wars of the world, wars yes caused by the distinction of good and evil and our understanding, often hazy, of which is which.
In the short run, any retaliation will raise widespread civic unrest against us. Many Americans and Europeans will be arrested and probably many killed. More attempts will be made to destroy key centers of our culture. The President has determined to stop this assault by every responsible means possible. The Pope understands this pressing need. Jacques Maritain said, in Man and the State, that justice, brains, and strength are possible. The question now is whether we have the brains to use what strength we possess against those who would take our lives even in the name of Allah because we are “the great Satan.”
ON THE JUSTICE AND PRUDENCE OF THIS WAR
Ad hoc quod aliquod bellum sit justum, tria requiruntur. Primo quidam auctoritas principis, cujus mandato bellum est gerendam.... Secundo, requiritur causa justa, ut scilicet, illi qui impugnantur propter aliquam culpam impugnationem mereantur.... Tertio, requiritur ut sit intentio bellantium rectam qua scilicet intenditur vel ut bonum promoveatur, vel ut malum videtur.
Prudentia est bene consiliativa de his quae pertinent ad totam vitam hominis, et ad ultimum finem vitae humanae. Sed in artibus aliquibus est consilium de his quae pertinent ad fines proprios illarum artium. Unde aliqui, inquantum sunt bene consiliativi in rebus bellicis vel nautibus, dicuntur prudentes duces vel gubernatores, non autem prudentes simpliciter, sed illi solum qui bene consiliantur de his quae conferunt ad totam vitam.
The thesis of this essay is, briefly, that the present war against what is called “terrorism” can be considered both just and prudent because objective reasons exist that permit this war to be properly so designated. This position does not mean, be it noted, that a just and prudent war cannot be lost or cannot fail in its main objectives or cannot lead to something worse. Each of these alternatives is possible in spite of the fact that a war may be engaged in for just and prudent reasons, with legitimate and limited means. Nor does it imply that this conclusion concerning practical justice and prudence is more than a sensible “opinion,” in the technical sense of that word. An opinion, while being aware of certain arguments against its position, articulates as the stronger case reasons for such military actions against a specific enemy with a record of actual terrorist deeds.
That is to say, since all practical things, including especially wars, can in principle be otherwise, grounds, however well or ill formulated, always exist for maintaining this war, or any given war, is either imprudent or unjust or both. Those constitutionally responsible for such decisions to engage in war have to examine the various arguments and events as are available. They have to judge their validity or purpose. They have to act on the basis of their own understanding of the situation at hand. “There is no expert who can decide the prudent man’s vital question for him as well as he can,” Leo Strauss has written.
Political authority is not a substitute for divine omniscience or providence, let alone divine power. It (political authority) must often, perhaps always, act with partial knowledge. And any decision not to act in serious situations is itself a choice and falls under the same restrictions of the finite limitation of available knowledge that may itself be either prudent or imprudent. Still, after all the precautions are taken, just men die in unjust ways, both in an Athenian democracy and in Jerusalem under the sober Romans. Such events stand at the intellectual beginnings of all political and legal philosophy. The present efforts to act justly with the use of force are classically efforts to avoid putting a nation in a moral conflict with itself that would make its efforts to defend itself seem or be unjust.
Action in threatening war situations again does not allow us to delay too long in making a decision, nor does it normally allow us to do nothing. An enemy may gravely wounds us once. But if he tells us that he intends to repeat his lethal actions on a yet greater scale with an obvious capacity to do so, and we do nothing to prevent further damage, we are responsible and have no further excuses.
Moreover, other reasonable grounds than the arguments presented here can be given for arriving at the same conclusion about this war’s justness or its prudence. It is the nature of the ethical and political life that practical decisions must be made about contingent things that can be otherwise. Granted that this contingency is the objective situation, we can and often must make good and reasonable decisions that do not exhaust every examination into all the possible alternatives. There is nothing wrong in the fact that we human beings do not have such divine power to know everything before we must act. God did not in tend us, as it were, to be gods. What it means to be a political animal is precisely to have the necessity and need to act on partial knowledge, though this fact does not deny that some knowledge is better than other knowledge, nor does it deny the objectivity of the distinctions between good and evil, the just and the unjust.
One’s own just and reasonable judgments, furthermore, will be met by reasons and opinions of an enemy who is likewise seeking to achieve his own ends and to make a case for the justice of his own cause. No enemy, even be he the worst of tyrants, is without his own often persuasive, at least to him, arguments. We should note that bin Laden himself has used every means to claim that these attacks on America are justified as reprisals for the support of Israel or for Western presence in Islamic lands. On this basis, he has even claimed that the much-insisted upon distinction between soldiers and civilians does not exist for him. All are guilty, even the five thousand killed on September 11. By this logic, should he kill six hundred thousand with a nuclear or biological weapon, as many think him or his allies capable of doing, he would give the same remorseless reason. Such a man is not open to argument or persuasion.
To be sure, it is not impossible to conceive a war in which both sides have “reasonable” grounds, just as we can imagine a war in which neither side possesses them. Presumably in the history of mankind, the more morally dangerous and threatening party frequently wins on the field of battle. “The ‘good guys’ often lose ball games,” as the saying goes. This realization that in political or military affairs, the virtuous do not always win is itself grounds to recall that politics is not and cannot be the location wherein all rights and all wrongs are rewarded or rectified. The origins of totalitarianism are not unrelated to such claims of omniscience on the part of human states to right all wrongs by their own means and ideas.
Victory or defeat in war, consequently, is not by itself a conclusive sign of moral virtue or vice on the part of either the victor or the vanquished. The world is full of lost causes, many of which on moral grounds should not have been lost. Our polities are filled also with imprudent and unjust laws and actions. As the peace following World War I seems to suggest, our very frontiers can be unjustly drawn. But this fact does not justify a position of moral or intellectual paralysis or impotence. The actual life of men is filled with the need to make clear and indeed good decisions in perfectly awful situations. Those who seek political positions in established polities ought to know this aspect of the human condition since, as St. Thomas indicated, it is under their aegis that their “authority” for prosecuting a given war is established and moved. They also need to know that chance and other unexpected factors, such as fatigue and virtue or its lack, will invariably play a role in human practical affairs and particularly in wars. Some wars are won by chance, others are lost, but from this we can conclude nothing of whether they are just or not.
First, a few considerations about justice and prudence are in order. The more difficult question in this war is not whether it is just, but whether it is prudent. One’s cause, in other words, may be just, but it may not be prudent to pursue it. The party with the clearly just cause may not have the means to pursue it. Likewise, it may be prudent to wage the war, but also prudent not to wage the war or to wage another kind of war. Our choices can be between good and good, between good and better, between good and evil, and, alas, between evil and evil, or better, evil and the lesser evil. “In this world of sin, imperfection, and suffering, men and states are sometimes confronted with dreadful choices, and they cannot refuse to choose because they do not like either of the alternatives” – so Herbert Deane sums up St. Augustine’s sober realism in this matter. The timorous refusal to make an agonizing choice is itself a sign of inhumanity, not virtue.
We may not like it that actual human life can be so complicated or dangerous, but not to know that it is in fact often complex and perilous is a product of naïvté, not of insight or of intelligence about human affairs. Murphy’s famous law – if a thing can go wrong, it will go wrong – is applicable in no place more poignantly than in the wars fought by our kind against one another. That things will go wrong is a simple reaffirmation of the enormous complexity of knowing what is a wise decision in war, especially a war of this kind. Wars – again recall World War I – are notorious for turning out other than its participants had planned or even imagined. But again, this obscure and dire perplexity often found in the human condition cannot be used as an excuse to avoid an objective issue that must be faced. The cost of a failure to do something is a loss of human meaning and worth.
In practice, no virtue, especially justice, can be fully what it is unless it is also prudent. The same action can be and should be both just and prudent. It is one thing to ask whether our cause is just, but another to ask whether what we do about it is wise or prudent. Prudence (phronesis) is the intellectual virtue of the moral virtues. It is primarily concerned with our ultimate end. It sees all human things, including war and evil, in the light of our whole life, in the light of “the ultimate end of human life,” as St. Thomas put it. Prudence is the stamp of our intellect on the particular actions that we choose to put into existence, actions that need not be, need not be this way or that way, but none the less are put into being by our knowledge and choice..
Aristotle tells us that the criterion of morality is “what the good man would do” in these same circumstances (Ethics, 1113a30-35; 1144a35). This criterion merely means that an objective “rightness” can and should be found in the action that we choose. A thing is not right because we “make” it right, but because we do the right thing, granted the objective situation before us. We do not ourselves create or establish the fundamental distinctions between good and evil, though we can and must articulate them in particular circumstances. That rightness we discover is embodied in the “reason,” the “practical reason,” that makes this act to be this act and not some other act. The act’s “whatness,” its final formulation, comes from our reason and defines what it is that we do in its moral dimension. Prudence, in this sense, is the most necessary and highest of the practical virtues since it includes the other moral virtues within its own orbit of reason governing action towards the highest human end that man through his will is choosing to reach by intelligent means.
This emphasis on prudence does not eliminate or mitigate the importance of justice as itself another virtue but rather places it within the order of what it is we ultimately do with our actions, including war actions. As St. Thomas indicated, we can talk of “prudence” in our war actions themselves, what we will do this day – i.e., fight at Delium or Amphipolis, at Gettysburg or Bull Run. But this lesser military prudence, however necessary and valuable in itself, falls under the over-aching judgment about the war itself, its purpose and justification. Justice is the virtue that directly relates us to others, to what is their “due.” It is the habitual effort and ability to do what is just in each particular circumstance that involves others to whom we are related under the aspect of some voluntary agreement or some involuntary fact, an accident or a crime. In justice, we normally do not know personally the other person with whom we become related. But we still “owe” him what is right in the circumstances and action of our relationship, however it came about.
Philosophers from Cicero to Augustine and St. Thomas have found it necessary to ask the troubling, even paradoxical, question of whether war was always unjust, as seemed at first sight to be the case. We still hear many cries to “abolish war” or that all war is wrong. Though soldiers are praised in the New Testament, many early Christians wanted nothing to do with war, especially a military service or war that required an oath to pagan gods.
The theoretic context of the question of just war goes back to philosophic considerations about the virtue of courage (andreia). This virtue brought up the question, as its peak expression, of one’s death in battle or in some other case of injury wherein the death or injury was noble because it was met upholding something worthy, the life of the nation, of the innocent. Cowardice, on the other hand, meant precisely not dying, staying alive at any cost, as if nothing were higher than this life. Hence cowardice meant not upholding the principle that was faced in the occasion when refusing to be brave was chosen above death for principle. It is the worst of ignominies to be alive because we refused to be brave so that others suffered or died because of our lack of courage.
However, as any life was worthy, including one’s own, it was permitted to defend oneself or others from violent, unjust attack. Again there was a question of proportionate means, but the essential priority of innocent life was present. No “right” or “claim” directly to take an innocent life could be sustained. It followed from this premise that courage was the first and most basic virtue for without it, without the life it defended, nothing else could exist. Courage was the virtue directly devoted to preserving, as a good thing, our own lives. Courage was the military virtue. Its nobility was related to defending the lives of others who could not defend themselves. Armies and police forces became the public locus of this virtue, of this civil or official defense of life and right against unjust attacks.
Thinking about war and justice resulted in efforts to spell out in some detail the criteria whereby someone might claim to be acting justly even in war. This thinking combined two related questions: Was the war itself reasonable? Were the means used to pursue it also reasonable? St. Thomas, in his famous question on war, gave three brief, but incisive criteria: 1) Under what authority was the war declared? He answered that it had to be the reason or authority of the proper ruler. 2) The cause had to be “just.” 3) The intention in going to war and fighting it had to be also proper. These remarkably simple and penetrating criteria have never been improved on, though today we are want to spell them out in more detail. St. Thomas was probably wise in leaving them brief. Actually, in considering whether the present war is just, the brevity of St. Thomas seems most appropriate.
However, let me list here the more lengthy, but still pithy, criteria for a just war, a list that is intended to spell our more thoroughly the three basic principles of Thomas Aquinas, which itself reflects the thought of Cicero and Augustine on this topic. I shall cite the list of Professor J. Budziszewski, at the University of Texas. Budziszewski, following the historic precedent, distinguishes two sets of criteria, the jus ad bellum, the reasons for going to war, and the jus in bello, what is permitted while waging war.
The criteria for justly declaring war are seven:
1. Public authority. War must be declared by a legitimate government. Private individuals and groups cannot do it. 2. Just cause. War must not be waged except to protect innocent life, to ensure tat people can live decently, and to secure their natural rights. 3. Right intention. Not only must there be a just cause to take up arms; this cause must be the reason for taking up arms. Our goal must be to achieve a just peace. 4. Comparative justice. War should not be waged unless the evils that are fought are grave enough to justify killing.. 5. Proportionality. There must be reason to expect that going to war will end more evil than it causes... This means not only physical evil, but spiritual – not only destruction of bodies and buildings, but corruption of callings and virtues. 6. Probability of success. There must be a reasonable likelihood that the war will achieve its aims. 7. Last resort. War should not be waged unless a reasonable person would recognize that the peaceful alternatives have been exhausted.
The criteria for how the war can be fought are three. These criteria assume that the war is
properly declared and that it is just to wage it.
1. Right intention. ... the goal must be to achieve a just peace. Therefore, we must avoid any act or demand that would make it more difficult for our enemies to reconcile with us some day. 2. Proportionality. We must never use tactics that can be expected to bring about more evil than good. 3. Discrimination. Even though harm might come to them accidentally, directly intended attacks on noncombatants and nonmilitary targets are never permissible.
Each of these points, when clearly presented, can be understood by the average citizen as general rules or criteria. The assumption clearly is that the citizens of a nation at war should understand its terms as they are involved in its justice or injustice. It is in the light of these considerations that we can examine whether the present war against “terrorism,” in the opinion of reasonable people, can be considered to be just and prudent. But it should be remembered that the judgment of the war’s justice and prudence is in the hands of the legitimate authority who, by the very nature of the situation, know more of the nature of an enemy, the causes, and the means and strategy to carry out a legitimate defense or offense.
Let me stress here how important it is to realize that “just war” teaching is largely a question of persuasion. We seek to persuade the enemy that the charges against it are true and just. We seek to convince the citizens of the warring country and its friends that its reasons are clear, spelled out, worthy of intellectual respect. In this sense, the main burden of the war is not on the field of battle but in the explanations presented for its reasonableness. In a famous passage, Aristotle wrote:
The state is a creation of nature and man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity.... Nature as we say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. ... The power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust. And it is characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state” (Politics, 1253a2-18).
The power of speech is precisely to “set forth” the just and the unjust, good and evil. Without this “setting forth,” as it were, the clarity of conscience in which a nation can go to war is not established before the “opinions of mankind.”. In this sense, it is an impediment to victory when the people justly going to war do not have at hand the “just” reasons that explain their actions.
The immediate “cause” of the present war was not imagined on September 10, 2001, except by a very few people, mainly by those who carried the attacks against the United States to completion. Certainly, the United States was unprepared for this kind of war, for this “act of war” against its very people and soil. One might argue that this unpreparedness was related to the previous decade of introversion and lack of understanding of the real conditions of the world. Certainly, contributory was the relative weakening of the FBI, the military services, and the CIA, organizations primarily responsible for knowing about such attacks in advance and for protecting the nation against them. The famous adage, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” was certainly not prominent in the years and days before this attack.
The unexpected attack on three major American buildings, and the evident intention of the fourth plane to hit another major edifice, killed some five thousand human beings. It was an accident of time of day and the heroic response of firemen and others that many more were not killed. But enough were killed to remove any doubt about the intention of the attackers. Those killed were mainly Americans but others from as many as fifty other nations were also present in one or other building when the attack planes hit.
The nation was thus fortunate that the damage was not far greater than it was, but as it was, the damage in terms of lives and property was a major blow. The ensuing financial and economic loses, together with continuing threats of further attacks on a world scale, in terms of undermining confidence in air travel and later, with the anthrax issue, the post, are almost incalculable, certainly in the trillions and trillions of dollars. Civil society lives on trust and the assumption of safe exchanges and communications. Since the attacks were intended not only to kill people but to spread civil chaos, though by no means fatal, they succeeded very well.
In terms of the just war doctrine, the cause of the war declared against “terrorists” was clearly just. It was the killing of innocent civilians and the immediate threat of further acts of terror of the same or greater scope. In the Parisian newspaper, La Croix,” Archbishop Jean-Louis Turan, Vatican secretary for relations with states, affirmed, “We recognize that Operation Enduring Freedom (the name of the American counter-measures) is a response to the terrorist aggression against innocent civilians, acts that violated all international laws and humanitarian norms. Today we all recognize the United States Government, like any other government, has the right to legitimate defense, because it has the mission to guarantee the securing of its citizens.” This position certainly appears to describe the general American understanding of the situation and of what it must do. Any government is obliged to protect its own people from such attacks, to identify and neutralize those who carried them out and who threaten to carry out further attacks. At this level, there seems to be no real problem. Not only is the cause just but it is the duty of government to respond to it in an effective and forceful way that combines what Jacques Maritain once called “justice, brains, and strength.” The proper political authority was invoked and the right intention was articulated.
The intention of the war has not been pictured in terms of “vengeance” or “hatred,” except perhaps the hatred of the evil that fomented such acts. Rather it was articulated in terms of a response to an evil act evidently carried out by a relatively small group of men and organizations associated with certain Muslim movements. President Bush has been quite careful in insisting on or describing the limited nature of the American response. It would be large enough and persistent enough to find and destroy those camps and organizations, wherever they were found, which conceived and carried out such attacks. Furthermore, it would hold responsible those governments who allowed or fostered these organizations on their land. At any time, any governments decided to cooperate with this effort, they would be welcome. Repeatedly, it was clarified that the war was not against the Muslim people but against those who used this religion for terrorist purposes. It is difficult to see how these positions are not legitimate intentions and limitations that fulfill the essential points of the just war doctrine as presented by St. Thomas.
The only thing that needs to be added is a certain sense of urgency caused by evident information that suggests these same “terrorists” seek to obtain and presumably use instruments of mass destruction or biological weapons. This urgency explains the need to find and destroy those who proclaim that they would carry the war to the very heart of civilization as a justification for their own complaints or world-view. In this sense, if such terrorists get to us first with a much more terrible attack, we can in part at least blame ourselves for not knowing what we face or how to deal with it.
But is the war “prudent?” Again, most reasonable people would recognize that something had to be done in light of the attack. Certainly to do nothing, whether on the grounds of turning the other cheek or on the general grounds of opposition to war, would seem directly to contribute to and encourage further attacks. Some few, no doubt, are willing to accept these attacks as the price to pay for not having “dirty hands” or for suffering evil rather than to do evil. Of course, we should not, morally, either have “dirty hands” or positively do evil. This clarification is what the whole issue of deciding whether the war was just was about. The war against terrorism is a just endeavor. It is conceived as a response to an act of injustice. It is also an well-planned attempt to prevent it from happening again. It is legal having been declared by the competent authorities in due deliberation and decision. Its intention is to stop the terror at its roots.
The most obvious problem about the war’s prudence is whether the enemy is correctly defined. No doubt, the enemy is exactly defined. Clearly, President Bush’s first consideration has been to keep the war as limited as possible. Thus, it can be considered prudent to attempt to separate the “terrorists” from the religion of Islam itself, from its history of military expansion in the name of religion, and from those who are called “peaceful” Muslims. This attempt implies a reading of western history that must deliberately close its eyes to the record of conquest and of the record of actual Muslim states with regard to how they treat their own and other people within their political confines. In this latter light, it might be easy to call the premises of President Bush’s explanations seeking to restrict the scope of the problem to be highly suspect, to be missing the real problem. “Islam is an imperialist religion, more so than Christianity has ever been and in contrast to Judaism,” the British historian Paul Johnson has written.
The Koran, Sura 5, verse 85, describes the inevitable enmity between Moslems and non-Moslems: “Strongest among men in enmity to the Believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans.” Sura 9, verse 5, adds: “then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them. And seize tem, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them, in every stratagem [in war].” Then nations, however mighty, the Koran insists, must be fought “until they embrace Islam.” ... Koranic teaching that the faith or “submission” can be, and in suitable circumstances must be imposed by force, has never been ignored. On the contrary, the history of Islam has essentially been a history of conquest and reconquest.
Clearly, among Muslim peoples throughout the world, there is evidently a great sympathy for the deeds of bin Laden and the attacks on America. Thus, one might argue, it is quite “imprudent” so narrowly to define who the enemy is in terms of a small group of “terrorists.” Indeed, to describe those who have engineered and taken part in this attack as “terrorists” and to define the enemy as “terrorism” does seem to miss the fact that these men act like members of an army carrying out orders and following a very “rational” plan, granted the understanding of their own analysis and purpose.
On the other hand, a politician can be excused if he so shapes his policy as to direct the long range problem into a more manageable form by ignoring it or even pretending it is not a problem. One might think of it as a “Platonic lie,” that is, an explanation that describes the way the world ought to be now, what is best for us, even though it does not fully correspond to the reality of what goes on in the world. We would like to think, in other words, that most Muslims are peaceful, that they will help us find and eliminate “terrorists,” even among their own families and states.
By explaining his concept of the war the way he did, President Bush made it possible to reach some sort of agreement on the common denominator of horror of “terrorism” wherever it appears on the part of all God-fearing men, including Muslims. In a sense, it is a challenge to Islam to be what many of its teachers are now claiming it to be, a peaceful religion. I cannot but think that this is a very prudent approach. It may not work. Indeed, bin Laden in the beginning seems to have thought that he would be able to cause a mass rise in Islamic sensibilities towards a world-wide holy war precisely by our efforts to defend ourselves against the annoying and destructive tactics that he and his cohorts have set in motion. The urgency to stop the immediate cause of terrorism as seen in certain militant cells located in some sixty countries is one of the prudential efforts to stop the move to a holy war at its beginning.
So in conclusion, it is possible, I think, to be a political realist, that is, to look squarely at what we are up against and the tough means that must immediately be taken, and at the same time to offer prudent and just reasons for our military actions. Things may get worse; in war, they often do. On the other hand, they may get worse if we do nothing or too little. The measured understanding of what we do, the efforts to explain why we act, the efforts to aid those suffering, such efforts make what we do both prudent and just. But it is a war, make no doubt of that. We will see things we would prefer not to see. We may see our own captured men tortured. But we also need to see that the constant reiteration of patience, the new kind of war against such terrorist cells, the realization that it will take a long time and that we will probably suffer further civilian atrocities, these are implicit in the careful and prudential way that we can pursue this surely just war.
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6) "'Wars Will Cease When...," Worldview, 10 (May, 1967), 9-11; 7) "War and the Balance of Power," Vital Speeches, XXXVI (January 15, 1970), 211-17; 8) "Ecclesiastical Wars over Peace," National Review, XXXIV (June 25, 1982), 757-62; 9) "Religion and National Security," International Security Review, VII (Summer, 1982), 135-54; 10) "In Defense of Right and Civilization: Papal Thought on War," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, LXXCXII (August, 1982), 10-22;
11) "Peace, War, Poverty: Some Myths People Swear By," Hillsdale Review, IV (Fall, 1982), 3-8; 12) "The Political Consequences," Washington Quarterly, 5 (Fall, 1982), 127-32; 13) "Political Theory, War, and Religion," Catholicism-in-Crisis, 1 (January, 1983), 19-23; 14) "Freeze or Freedom: On the Limits of Morality and the Morality of Limits," Vital Speeches, LXIX (May 1, 1983), 429-32; 15) "Military and Civil Responsibility for a Just Peace," Vital Speeches, L (November 15, 1983), 70-74;
16) "Irish Comments on Nuclear War," Catholicism-in-Crisis, 2 (February, 1984), 7-9; 17) "War and Poverty," Catholicism-in-Crisis, 2 (May, 1984), 33-35; 18) "Religion and War: An Interim Assessment," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, LXXXV (May, 1985), 51-59; 19) "Christians and War: Playing God -- A Comment on Strauss," Hillsdale Review, VII (Fall, 1985), 29-34.