Americans are weary of war after nearly a decade in Afghanistan (now the longest conflict in our nation’s history) and more than seven years in Iraq.
Even were he still alive today, it’s unlikely Pope John Paul II was the sort of person to have ever told the United States, “I told you so.” But in this case, he could have.
While the pontiff and the Vatican tacitly approved the U.S. attack on Afghanistan in 2001 (even as the pope repeated the mantra, “War is always a defeat for humanity”), in the weeks leading up to the March 2003 launch of U.S. airstrikes on Iraq they vigorously urged pursuit of nonviolent means to resolve the conflict.
“Violence and arms can never solve human problems,” the pope said two days after American bombs began to drop. “When war threatens humanity’s destiny, as it does today in Iraq, it is even more urgent for us to proclaim with a loud and decisive voice that peace is the only way to build a more just and caring society.”
Well more than 100,000 Iraqi and Afghan civilians have been killed since the start of the wars, whether from insurgent violence, coalition troop mistakes or dangers like unexploded ordnance.
More than 6,000 coalition troops — the vast majority American — have been killed, and tens of thousands have been wounded. The lengthy conflict and the repeat deployments are taking a heavy toll on soldiers and their families. June this year saw a record number of soldier suicides, and the divorce rate for soldiers has shot up in the last decade.
Economists say the wars have cost the American economy well more than $3 trillion, contributing to the sluggishness with which it has been able to recover from the Great Recession.
There’s also increasing controversy over the ethics and strategic consequences of some of the new weapons used to prosecute the war, including unmanned drones (see story, Page 5), and a pain-inducing microwave ray gun recalled two weeks ago by Raytheon because of technical and safety issues.
So, Americans have many good reasons to be sick of the war. But the way forward will require moral fortitude and resistance of the temptation to take the easy way out, whether in the form of a premature withdrawal that betrays the innocent people of that region relying on our protection, or in morally-detached military aggression that punishes enemy combatants and innocent populations alike.
The Catholic response is not to be paralyzed by a desire to turn the clock back, but to nurture signs of hope. As believers in the Resurrection, we know good can come even from evil.
In a speech last month to the new Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI praised the “great courage and determination” of the Iraqi people during violence-fraught elections earlier this year to move toward becoming a “just, pluralist and inclusive society.”
And he noted that the violence of extremists was blind to the religion if its victims. “This shared suffering can provide a deep bond, strengthening the determination of Muslims and Christians alike to work for peace and reconciliation. History has shown that some of the most powerful incentives to overcome division come from the example of those men and women who, having chosen the courageous path of non-violent witness to higher values, have lost their lives through cowardly acts of violence.”
As Catholic Americans, we, too, are called to recognize the sacrifice of those who have suffered and to pray and work for peace.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor