Sorrows of war
What would Augustine say?
Augustine is widely known--and frequently reproached--for developing the
concept of a "just war," he believed war is essentially an occasion for
remorse. "The wise person will wage just wars," he wrote, but even the
possibility of war "should cause humans sorrow because humans are responsible
for it." This acknowledgment of responsibility led Augustine to an imperative:
"Let everyone grieve when he thinks about the truly shocking and cruel
evil involved here, and let him acknowledge his miserable state." The
most prominent architect of just war theory was more concerned that war
lead to repentance than that it can, in some cases, be justified.
Augustine's sober attitude is a profound contrast to the barely suppressed
elation of many broadcast journalists covering the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The tone of coverage by CNN and Fox News invites viewers to be caught
up in the excitement, not the sorrow, of war. A swaggering approach to
war has been fostered by the highest U.S. officials. President Bush seemed
to be gloatingly fingering notches on his pistol when, in his State of
the Union address, he referred to the fate of suspected members of al-Qaeda:
"Let's put it this way--they are no longer a problem to the United States
and our friends and allies."
A sober spirit of repentance would also recognize that a failure of diplomacy
(some would say a failure to engage in diplomacy at all) contributed to
the conflict. One need not deny the brutality and threats of Iraq's regime,
nor the self-interested maneuvers of other nations, to recognize that
the U.S. preference for military force and its disdain for diplomacy helped
forestall a peaceful solution. This posture has provoked in the world
a new level of uneasiness about U.S. power. The U.S. choice to go it virtually
alone in Iraq has left it virtually alone.
Repentant Christians will also be mindful of the U.S.'s sloth in addressing
the conflict between Palestinians and Israel. The Iraqi war is likely
to inflame the white-hot enmity toward the U.S. in the Arab world, an
enmity that has been fed day by day, year by year, by the condition of
the Palestinians. The U.S. has squandered years when it could have been
addressing this primary source of Middle East instability and rage. If
the U.S. effort to rebuild a postwar Iraq is not accompanied by a vigorous
effort to realize the Palestinians' desire for an autonomous state, then
much of the work will be hollow.
Foremost to be grieved, of course, is the outcome of all war: devastating
loss. The loss of a future for all who die and their loved ones. The loss
of normal expectations and aspiration for all those maimed or wounded.
The loss of property, resources and environmental health, which will be
cast aside in war's devastation. The imperative to grieve such losses,
and to repent all the ways that "humans are responsible," takes precedence
over the finer calculations of blame or justification.
All material copyright 2003 the Christian Century Foundation.
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