War and Peace

May 1, 2003
War and Peace
By Howie Mansfield
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch

As the war in Iraq slows with U.S. control in the country, scholars discuss whether the conflict was ever justified. Le Moyne College’s annual Loyola Lecture on April 22 at Grewen Auditorium featured Father John Langan, SJ, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University. In his presentation entitled “Just War? Just Peace? Catholicism and the War Against Iraq,” Father Langan addressed the growing uncertainty of whether the Iraqi conflict was necessary and just. Father Langan set the stage for the just war debate by giving background information on the situation. He said the military power of the U.S. completely overwhelmed the Iraqis and it raises questions as to whether force was even necessary. Many problems within Baghdad were avoided because of little resistance by the Iraqi Republican Guard and few uprisings by civilians.

“There were some positives like the removal of Saddam Hussein. For the savage cruelty that he did to his own citizens, it’s good that this regime no longer rules in Iraq. There were low levels of casualties, whether they be the Iraqi civilians or the U.S. and British troops,” he said. “War creates anxiety and there’s a relief that it’s just about over with neither side using weapons of mass destruction. The damage to the Iraqi oil industry was limited and it shows the level of planning and execution of the military.” However, Father Langan argued that even with all of the successful aspects of this war, moral and ethical considerations can find major flaws in defining it as “just.” Father Langan went through each of the seven “just war” criteria. First, he stated that he believed that there was no just cause for war with Iraq other than it being a “preventative action against potential attacks.” Hussein has supported terrorists, but no link between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi president were ever proven, he said.

Next, Father Langan said that proper authority was given to President Bush by the U.S. Congress, justifying that aspect of the just war theory. “We gave the president a blank check. The argument was more international than national. A United Nations vote was necessary, but we felt it was our place as protector and keeper of world order to do otherwise,” said Father Langan. “But did we use our authority responsibily?”

The third criterion was whether the U.S. government had right intentions in entering Iraq. Father Langan said it was morally acceptable to overthrow an unjust regime, especially given the threat of Hussein’s using weapons of mass destruction. He was concerned about two possible other intentions for going to war: control of oil and getting back at Hussein for the first Gulf War. “It’s difficult to find the real motives, but over time, there will be answers,” noted Father Langan. Probable success, the fourth criterion, was “never in doubt” even in the early days of the conflict, Father Langan said. But it was not until the coalition troops rolled into Baghdad that this comment could be made. Next, finding if the war was a last resort was discussed, or if further inspections and diplomacy would have prevented the conflict. Father Langan blamed the U.S. government because it didn’t realize how weakened Hussein was by the first Gulf War. “This was more a war of choice than a war of necessity. We need not have fought it,” he explained. “So we will need to take responsibility for our actions.”

Father Langan talked about comparative justice, calling it “a tangled subject.” He noted how the U.S. government backed Hussein during the Iran/Iraq War and how many countries were armed during the Cold War to fight communism. He predicted that the U.S. will face trouble in the future because it seeks justice primarily when it is in its own best interests. The final test was to determine proportionality, whether the war would produce greater benefit or harm. Given the military personnel, economic and capital costs of war, Father Langan said the U.S. received “high marks” on this criterion of the just war theory. “There was no use of weapons of mass destruction and the ‘shock and awe’ phase was more rhetorical than real,” he said. “Sure, mistakes were made, but Gulf War II received reasonably good marks.” In summary, Father Langan called the conflict “an unjust war, but not off the moral charts.” He said the war was given more justification by people because of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “How close was the connection between the terrorists and Iraq? Without 9-11, they never could have mobilized public opinion to attack Iraq,” Father Langan said. “The Bush Administration really seized this opportunity.”

Father Langan said he was sympathetic to President Bush about not wanting another 9-11 attack. “This is a tremendous mark on a president. He wants international and homeland security to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but this again doesn’t mean we can justify wars.” A just peace was the next focus of Father Langan’s presentation. He said the U.S. couldn’t deal with Iraq in the same way it has dealt with Germany and Afghanistan. “There are four key tests for just peace. First, all groups and factions in the country must accept it. Second, the new government in Iraq must be accepted by neighboring states. Third, there must be economic viability and progress in Iraq. They must get oil revenues and helped the Iraqis to pay off debts and the cost of reconstruction,” he said. “Fourth, the new regime must have genuine independence. They must be able to disagree with the U.S. and have that freedom. Otherwise, the shadows of imperialism are quite real. Iraq shouldn’t be a puppet for the U.S.”

Father Langan said the U.S. must repair the broken U.N. alliances which were caused by the war with Iraq. “We need those alliances for the conduct of the war on terrorism and for distributing humanitarian aid,” he said. The response by American Catholics to the war has been quite mixed. Polls show Catholics having problems with U.S. conduct while others are seen as supportive of the war. But now that the war is nearing a conclusion, Father Langan looked at what the response of Catholics should be. “We should be promoting an acceptable form of world order, which the U.S. follows. The Islamic world also needs a paradigm of success. Right now, there is much division. We must, as Pope John Paul II said, avoid religious warfare, the clash of the civilizations.” Father Langan said. “We need to be much more patient and humble. We need to build a broad international coalition to give voice to the demands for justice for those impoverished and neglected. The U.S. must play an active roll in humanitarian relief.”

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