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October 5, 2002
Column #1101

Is War Against Iraq Just?

     The pressing moral issue of today is should America go to war against Iraq?

     Religious leaders are on both sides of the issue. 

     United Methodist Board of Church and Society General Secretary Jim Winkler said that it is "inconceivable that Jesus Christ...would support this proposed attack." It would be "unprovoked" and "an unprecedented disregard for democratic ideals." Winkler added, "No case can be made that a war against Iraq is justified for the self-defense of the United States."

     Diane Knippers, President of the Institute of Religion and Democracy, countered that Winkler and others from the National Council of Churches "cannot be relied upon to contribute intelligently to that debate. Their vision of the world is largely divorced from historic Christian teachings about the use of force and from the realities of the world, pre and post-Sept. 11."

     America's Catholic bishops, who did support the use of force in Afghanistan, assert that Iraq is a "different case." Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote President Bush Sept. 13, "Given the precedents and risks involved, we find it difficult to justify extending the war on terrorism to Iraq, absent clear and adequate evidence of Iraqi involvement in the attacks of September 11th or an imminent attack of a grave nature."

     "We have no illusions about the behavior or intentions of the Iraqi government. Mobilizing the nations of the world to recognize and address Iraq's threat to peace and stability through new UN action and common commitment to ensure that Iraq abides by its commitments is a legitimate and necessary alternative to the unilateral use of military force."

     For months President Bush has spoken of the need for "pre-emptive action" to dismantle Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. He has supported unilateral action, whether our allies are supportive of such a war - or not. He even implied that he didn't need Congressional approval.

     This is what alarmed supporters of the "just war" theory, first articulated by St. Augustine in his Fourth Century masterwork, "The City of God." Augustine notes that Christian teaching challenges the use of violence." Jesus told Peter to put his sword away, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." Therefore, wars of aggrandizement are never acceptable.

     However, force is justifiable if its purpose is to protect the innocent, or those unable to defend themselves - from certain harm. Thus the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" says military force may be used in cases in which "the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations (is) lasting, grave and certain." 

     On this matter, Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, argues, "Saddam Hussein is developing at breakneck speed weapons of mass destruction he plans to use against America and her allies. He has broken all agreements that were a condition of the ceasefire in the Gulf War, including allowing arms inspectors in his country."

     "Military action against the Iraqi government would be a defensive action,"said Land. "The human cost of not taking Hussein out and removing his government as a producer and proponent of the use of weapons of mass destruction means we can pay now or pay a lot more later." 

     Another aspect of "just war" is whether a legitimate authority calls for military action. Unilateral action is forbidden. Bishop Gregory wrote the President, "In our judgment, decisions of such gravity require compliance with U.S. constitutional imperatives, broad consensus within our nation, and some form of international sanction, preferably by the UN Security Council." He urged Bush "to step back from the brink of war" and "pursue actively alternatives to war."

     President Bush listened to such criticism. He addressed the United Nations, citing 16 UN resolutions which Iraq flouted and urged it to enforce its own resolutions. On Wednesday he unveiled a resolution that won the bipartisan backing of leaders in the House and somewhat less bipartisan support in the Senate.

     The President summarized: "Saddam must disarm. Period. If, however, he chooses to do otherwise, if he persists in his defiance, the use of force may become unavoidable." 

     House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt added, "We need to deal with this threat diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must." 

     The resolution authorizes the President to "obtain prompt and decisive action by the (UN) Security Council to ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, evasion and non-compliance."

     Failing that, military action may be taken if the resolution is approved by Congress, which is likely next week.


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