Saturday, December 9, 2006

"Just War" analysis still can't ignore the sanctity of life (Bucks Cty Courier Times, 8/25/06)

On September 11, 2001, I exited the World Trade Center – most likely in a half-awake stupor - just 45 minutes before American Airline’s Flight 11 fatally struck the North Tower . When Amtrak service resumed that afternoon, I was on the first train out of Penn Station. Unlike any commuter train on which I’ve ever ridden, strangers – for a time - spoke intimately of their fears and apprehensions. The conductor spoke for us all, when he spontaneously thanked God, as our train exited the Hudson River tunnel and entered New Jersey . From the Meadowlands, we found our usually uninterrupted view of Lower Manhattan ’s skyline replaced by gargantuan grey clouds. All talk was then replaced by hushed silence. The shared – but not dared spoken – assumption seemed to be that World War III had begun. It would seemed too much to hope that five years could pass without further acts of terrorism on continental American soil.

Though I initially vowed to never see Oliver Stone’s “ World Trade Center ,” I was persuaded otherwise. The immediate, post-September 11th experience seems to be fading from many memories. It was a time when just about all the world wanted to be New Yorkers. On the city’s supposedly nasty sidewalks, informal memorials sprang up and were treated with reverence. Gotham seemed infused with a great spirit of solidarity. Some volunteer assistance even had to be turned away! Tragedy awakened a call for the best out of people. I am grateful to Oliver Stone for refreshing my memories of that time.

On July 27th, Guido Mariani wrote “that there is no freedom that can replace the right of self-defense.” His thought could be enriched by a “Just-War” analysis, as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
· the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
· all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
· there must be serious prospects of success;
· the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good

Just before our recent involvement in Iraq , the United States Catholic Bishops used the Just War analysis and warned: “we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq , lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature.” In a May 2, 2003 interview, then-Cardinal Ratzinger reiterated the position of Pope John Paul II: “There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq . To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war’.

In Mr. Mariani’s analysis, I am most disturbed by his consideration of non-combatants. At least in regard to America ’s past involvement in Viet Nam and our current involvement in Iraq , Mr. Mariani maintains that non-combatants do not merit special consideration and protection: “civilians will and must be faced with the hazards of military force.” Were they able to raise their voices, I would wager that the 2752 non-combatant victims of the World Trade Center bombing would be similarly disturbed.

We pay dearly when we surrender a proper understanding of the sanctity of life: All human life is sacred, from the moment of conception until natural death.

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