As the New Year grows old, George Bush and the sycophantic American media remain intent on war with Iraq.
What are men of good will to make of this possible war? To what principles and persons may they turn for wise counsel?
One source of wisdom is Pope John Paul II. Why the Pope?
First, a practical reason: over the years of his pontificate, John Paul has traveled the world in an effort to bring peace. He and his travels are properly credited with aiding in the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe (very fitting for a Pope from Poland).
Second, where the Middle East is concerned, the Pope’s guidance is based on personal experience. Recall that after a Turk, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot the Pope in an assassination attempt, the Pope visited his attacker in prison, and forgave him.
Contrast the Pope’s conduct with the drumbeat for war emanating from Isengard on the Potomac, the "White" House, namely, that Saddam Hussein allegedly tried to assassinate the first president Bush.
Which approach is more likely to bring peace, let alone lasting and genuine peace, to the Middle East? (The question is rhetorical).
As the Pope stated in a January 13 speech,
War is…always a defeat for humanity. [F]aced with the constant degeneration of the crisis in the Middle East…the solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution. And what are we to say of the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the Prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than twelve years of embargo? War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations.
To be clear: Pope John Paul is not supportive of American "foreign policy."
Could it be that American foreign "policy" consists of little more than the notion that "might makes right," and is thus not a "policy" at all? If it is a "policy," then playground bullies and street thugs have as much "policy." And yet it is little more than the morally repugnant idea of war as simply a "different" policy tool that the "White" House has been trying to foist on the American citizenry.
The Pope’s call for a truly just solution to the human problems of life in the Middle East, of course, has been echoed in the Church. Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, for example, told the National Catholic Reporter that "there are neither u2018the motives nor the proof to justify a war.’"
Contrast the message of the Pope and Cardinal Kasper with the words of George Bush. In Bush at War, Bush is quoted as saying that:
We will export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in defense of our great nation.
How charming. Perhaps the famous inscription at the Statue of Liberty — "Give me your poor," etc. — should be re-inscribed with Mr. Bush’s words.
Why do the White House and the Vatican hold different values? The answer is found in Plato.
Near the end of Plato’s dialogue The Gorgias, Socrates tells a myth about the afterlife. The point of the tale, perhaps surprising only to the American media, government, and certain voters, is that it is better to do good than evil.
In the course of his tale, Socrates pays special attention to the fate of politicians in the afterlife. As Socrates relates, when dead politicians are judged, the judge often
finds that there is no soundness in the soul whatever; it is a mass of weals and scars imprinted on it by the various acts of perjury and wrong-doing of which the man has been guilty; it is twisted and warped by lies and vanity and quite out of the straight because truth has had no part in its development. Power, luxury, pride and debauchery have left it so full of disproportion and ugliness that when he has inspected it Rhadamanthus [the judge] dispatches it in ignominy straight to prison…
In fact, Socrates continues, the majority of those incurable souls who are hung up as examples, who suffer "an eternity of the most severe and painful and terrible torment," are
drawn from among dictators and kings and potentates and public men, whose power gives them the opportunity of committing the greatest and most deadly sins.
Lest Americans be tempted to think that Socrates is not referring to democratic politicians, like Mr. Bush, think again.
As Walter Hamilton relates in his introduction to The Gorgias, "Athens in 416 B.C. demanded the surrender of the small and unoffending island of Melos, and on its refusal killed its men and enslaved its other inhabitants."
News flash, 2400 years overdue: the mere fact that a government is democratic does not mean that a government is incapable of evil. The same goes for politicians who are democratically elected.
What to think about war with Iraq? The words of the Pope merit reflection: "in the Middle East…the solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution."
To support a war on Iraq is to accept the notion that, with respect to questions of peace and justice, the wisdom of those in the American government is greater than the wisdom of the Pope.
To be charitable, such a notion is highly unlikely at best. Pray for Mr. Bush, and pray for peace.
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2003 David Dieteman