Dr. James Kenney is not a stranger to war and his memories are often filled with scenes of war’s violent destruction. In 1944 he was stationed in London as a member of the U.S. Signal Corps. On his first night there, Kenney experienced the first of many air raids by the German Luftwaffe. The air raid siren wailed “a song of death,” Kenney said. When the bombs hit the ground, he said, “It felt like someone was hitting you in the chest with a baseball bat.” The images of dead bodies carted away in ambulances after each air raid are some of his memories from that time.
He said he does not want to see or be a part again of what he saw in London in 1944.
Kenney, professor emeritus from the economics department at Le Moyne College, remembered few women and children in the streets of London during the war.
“After some investigation, I found that as soon as the war started, the British government moved the women and children out of the city into the countryside,” Kenney said. “Maybe that’s what we should do with the mothers and children before we enter Iraq.”
Kenney is concerned that the experience he had in London will be repeated in Baghdad. “There will be thousands of casualties, Iraqi men, women and children, from this type of military action,” Kenney said. “These are human beings. People are more concerned about the consequences of war.”
Kenney said that individuals in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s can relate very little to the type of experience he had in World War II.
“People have no concept of what it’s like to be bombed night after night. People are not sufficiently aware of what they are getting into,” Kenney said. “We have been misled by the White House and by the president. They do not want us to know the truth.”
The prospect of conflict in Iraq has been the topic of many discussions in the Syracuse Diocese and around the world. People feel the U.S. has no justification for a preemptive attack on Iraq because there is no clear connection between the Iraqi regime and the Al Qaeda Network. Yet others see war as a necessary result of failed diplomacy. Catholics have been speaking out on the issue of war since President George W. Bush asked Congress to authorize the use of force against Iraq.
On Oct. 7, over 250 people gathered in front of the U.S. Federal Building in Binghamton to protest the potential war. Signs bore messages such as “Stop U.S. Oil Wars,”“War Can’t Bring Back What We’ve Lost,”“Violence Only Creates Violence” and “Every Life is of Value.” Even one week later, the Columbus Day holiday, nearly 25 people turned out to continue their non-violent stance.
Father Tim Taugher, diocesan director of Social Action Ministry, was among those gathered in Binghamton on Oct. 14. Father Taugher was encouraged by the turnout.
“We have had very strong support and there has been a good spirit. We’ve had Muslims, Christians and Jews join us,” Father Taugher said. “It’s important to keep this issue visible. The responses from people are generally positive, mostly thumbs up. People have been favorable toward us.”
Jim Clune, parishioner at St. James Church in Johnson City, has been protesting the United Nations’ sanctions in Iraq since the Gulf War. He went to Iraq in April 1999 and saw first-hand how the sanctions affected the ordinary people in the country.
“I visited a Catholic school run by Catholic nuns in Baghdad and the children were very articulate. One of the girls in the class got up and said to tell high school students in America that the U.S. government lets them have the right to life, but not us,” Clune said.
Clune was disturbed by the Bush Administration’s position on Iraq and how the innocent civilians are being caught in the crossfire.
“[President] Bush’s think tanks are saying, ‘Maybe we can spread democracy there.’ But how can you support democracy from the barrel of a gun?” Clune said. “There needs to be a distinction between military and economic sanctions. They could call for a regional peace conference to dampen the sale of arms, but that will never happen. I would like to see people doing weapon inspections in this country. The government is saying it’s all or nothing. We need to take a multilateral approach.”
Among the people at the Binghamton Federal Building was Seton Catholic Central High School senior Chris Errante. He has been involved in protests since his freshman year. Chris, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament Church in Johnson City, feels the use of military force in Iraq won’t solve any problems, only create new ones.
“I don’t like the idea of soldiers being killed for a small group of people’s political problem,” Chris explained. “People don’t know about the sanctions and what they mean. It’s not directly killing them, but they have limited food and have had their resources taken away.”
Jack Gilroy, parishioner at St. Ambrose Church in Endicott, said people driving by the protestors are noticing them and it has made a difference. Gilroy said the Gospel message of Jesus Christ has been lost among the political rhetoric. Peace and non-violence have been replaced with control of the world’s oil supply and political gain.
“The dollar bill and the flag are new idols. The cross is seen as insignificant as a symbol,” Gilroy said.
As President Bush signed congressional resolutions authorizing the use of force against Iraq on Oct. 16, the North Korean government revealed to U.S. state department officials that it has a nuclear weapons program. The discovery has created more doubt in the U.S. government’s decision to use force against Iraq if the country does not agree with conditions set forth by the U.N. With instability in the world, people are wondering if the U.S. should continue its push for war.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote President Bush on behalf of the group’s administrative committee about the situation in Iraq. The letter outlined the U.S. bishops’ opposition to the U.S.’ use of force.
“We conclude, based on the facts that are known to us, that a preemptive, unilateral use of force is difficult to justify at this time. We fear that a resort to force, under these circumstance, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force,” Bishop Gregory wrote. “We respectfully urge you to step back from the brink of war and help lead the world to act together to fashion an effective global response to Iraq’s threats that conforms with traditional moral limits on the use of military force.”
Father Charles Beirne, SJ, president of Le Moyne College, said he supports the U.S. Catholic bishops in their statement.
“Personally, I feel strongly that President Bush should take no action toward war without close cooperation with the United Nations and full consent of Congress,” Father Beirne said. “It is clear to me that anything that even resembles a preemptive strike does not qualify under the church’s just war theory.”
The Diocesan Presbyteral Council passed a resolution on Sept. 11, 2002 regarding the war on Iraq. The resolution states, “It appears that the Bush Administration is planning a major military action against Iraq. Since 1990, U.S. policy has contributed to the death and hardship of many people in Iraq. The Bush Administration rationalizes escalation of the war against Iraq as the next step in its ‘war on terrorism.’ The Presbyteral Council of the Diocese of Syracuse opposes war on Iraq and calls for resolution of the crisis through international diplomacy.” Bishop James Moynihan and Bishop Thomas Costello wrote a letter to priests of the diocese on Sept. 25, making their own statement opposing war in Iraq.
If war with Iraq does become a reality, many individuals from the Syracuse Diocese will be on the front lines of the conflict. Father Sean O’Brien, formerly pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Forestport and St. Mary’s of the Snows Church in Otter Lake, has been stationed in Bahrain in the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet for the past few months. He offered some observations from his perspective as a Catholic chaplain.
Father O’Brien said he will be very close to the front lines of the conflict, if and when it occurs. He described the U.S. military as prepared and waiting.
“Our troops are the best trained in the world. Since the turn of the 20th century, Americans have fought to defend our country and the rights and freedoms of others. Know also that our troops are involved in many aspects of the culture as well. Our sailors and marines volunteer at the orphanage and in the community at schools, painting, fixing up school property and other community relations projects,” Father O’Brien said. “No one wants war. But sadly, the imperfect human condition often leads to events that produce war. If war happens, and we all do pray for peace, our troops are ready.”
War only becomes necessary when all else has failed, Father O’Brien said.
“First of all, war is never morally right. There is no such thing as a just war. The Just War Theory allows the good man to enter into war as a last resort when nothing else works in solving the problem. Even when the good man enters into a war, certain limitations in the use of force apply,” Father O’Brien said. “No one has the right to ‘over-use’ force.”
If war does occur, Father O’Brien said, the U.S. military must do their jobs to protect this country’s freedom.
“My personal opinion — there are things worth fighting for. Knowing that my nephews can fly to visit their grandparents and be certain that the flight will not fall victim to terrorism is worth fighting for. Knowing that I can go to a restaurant and not worry about the restaurant being bombed is worth fighting for,” Father O’Brien explained. “The question is, I think, how does one (person or nation) confront evil with love? I don’t know.”
Father O’Brien and all of the other military chaplains offer troops the ability to practice their faith.
“I know that our young people are here and have the right to, if they so chose, practice their religion. I am a chaplain. Chaplains are here to comfort, console, cheer-up and most importantly, provide to those who so choose, religious services,” he said.
Individuals from several faith communities joined the Syracuse Peace Council at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Syracuse on Oct. 15 to discuss the anti-war effort. The meeting was the second in planning for an Oct. 26 demonstration to oppose war in Iraq. The Peace Council has planned four separate peace walks in four parts of Syracuse to converge at Armory Square for a rally. Similar events will be held across the country as Americans take time to protest military action in Iraq. Buses will leave Ithaca, Utica, Rochester and Syracuse for Washington, D.C. for the national protest.
The Peace Council began the meeting sharing participants’ feelings on the passage of the resolution giving the president authority to attack Iraq. People spoke about their disgust, betrayal, disappointment and anger with Congress for passing the resolution. One individual called the situation part of President Bush’s “weapons of mass distraction.” Others felt the U.S. Constitution is in “grave jeopardy.”
Dick Keough, parishioner of St. Lucy’s Church in Syracuse, said U.S. representatives have been motivated by the potential of Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities, not the actual reality.
“Political leadership is not listening to their constituents. Most people fear that their husbands, sons, daughters and other relatives could die. And what about the Iraqi people, children and the elderly? What happened to respecting human life?” Keough said. “Congressional leadership is basing their decision on evidence that has no facts — the fear that 9-11 will happen again, that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons. This is very emotional, but there are little facts and little consideration for the killing that takes place.”
Keough was disturbed by the fact that many local representatives waited to tell the community about their decision until it was a foregone conclusion.
“The leaders use this method, not to inform their constituents how they were going to vote. It’s not truthful,” Keough said.
The Syracuse Peace Council is bringing a resolution against military force in Iraq to the Syracuse Common Council. The Peace Council hopes the resolution would bring the issue to light in the local government.
Kenney feels that people need to stir up awareness of the issues surrounding the Iraqi conflict.
“Right now, before it’s too late, we need to debate this issue more freely and more information needs to be made available. The church could do a great deal before the U.S. takes action,” Kenney said. “The damage was done when Congress decided to go to war, but we need to step back and think more carefully before we act.”