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April 15, 2007



Putting the posturing over the alledged pacifism of the Popes, and quibbling over a "presumption against war" to the side for the moment, Weigel's slight shift, which Steinfels detects, and Novak's fairly sisable shift are indeed an admission, if not one which will satisfy antiwar liberals.

Msgr. McElroy summarizes that shift admirable as he observes "for instance, how the Iraq war’s stated cause has shifted from the imminent threat posed by an aggressive dictator’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction to “transformational democratization,” whether limited to Iraq or extended (as in Mr. Weigel’s vision) to the whole Middle East. “But transformational democratization falls outside the criteria of the just cause as it has been formulated in the modern age.”

Frankly this kind of geopolitical plate tectonics bears no resemblance to the breathless hot pursuit prewar analyses, and in fact contradicts it at many levels, and practitioners of this argumentative slight of hand should not be allowed to slide it by without comment.

As Novak disclosed, his reasoning has morphed from a narrowly technical prosecution of the conditions of the 1991 ceasefire to "But do not say that the vision itself was not positive. It was, indeed, noble, and carried out with much self-sacrifice, heroism, and devotion to others. Many Coalition forces willingly laid down their lives for the liberty and human rights of people who had earlier been strangers to them."

Whatever happened to leaving Saddam in power if he gave up his "weapons"?

Talk about presumptions, both Novak and Weigel evince a "presumption against soveriegnty" in that any pretext can be used to depose governments in the interest of some ill-defined Tranquility of International Order.

Donald R. McClarey

“One implication of this strong presumption against war,” Monsignor McElroy adds, is that “moral scrutiny of the decision to wage war should take place not merely at the beginning of a conflict, but at every stage of its duration.”

A sure recipe for losing a war isn't it? When the going gets tough, declare defeat and pull out. However, with the Jihadists, it would take a pull out from the planet earth by their adversaries before they will stop fighting. This present war will go on until the Jihadists rule the globe or until they are defeated.

Emil Lowe

>>Mr. Weigel delivers the latest rendition of his case in the April issue of First Things, an interreligious neoconservative monthly. At sharp odds is an editorial in the April 20 issue of the liberal Commonweal, edited by Catholic lay people.<<

If Steinfels is going to lable FT "neoconservative" it is only fair to label Commonweal "liberal."

Tom G.

the editors write, “that the bishops’ charism, rather than the president’s, has better served the nation.”

One might be excused for wondering where this "bishop's charism" has been for the last 50 years...seems awfully selective and wholly dependant on hindsight...talk about glass houses and confusion of roles.

Jordan Potter

I would make this observation: even just wars should be ended as quickly as possible. I'm still convinced that there was more than adequate justification for our resumption of hostilities against Saddam Hussein (for this is a war that began when Hussein attempted to annex Kuwait followed by a lull of several years before fighting resumed -- it didn't begin when the U.S. and U.K. and U.N. botched their weapons of mass destruction argument a few years ago). But war is far from the ideal condition of human life, to put it mildly, and every effort must be made to bring things to as positive a conclusion as possible, as quickly as possible.

But it looks like the U.S. and the other (what used to be) Western Powers do not have the strength of will to make the sacrifices necessary to bring this war to a positive conclusion. It's likely the war will continue indefinitely, even after we turn tail and leave the tattered remnants of the Iraqi people to their own miserable ends.


I'm sorry, but "transformational democratization" was a major part of the argument leading up to the war to anyone who cared to pay attention. WMD was part of the rhetorical strategy (an imprudent one) designed to sell the case to the old "realists" and "he's a thug but he's our thug" Arabists.

Weigel and Novak are honest in chronicling how their minds have changed. When will their opponents acknowledge that the Left has rewritten the history of the lead-up to the war instead of falsely claiming "we told you so." The "we told you so" depends in part on the assumption that "transformational democratization" has failed, which may end up being the case but is not yet clear and can't be clear for ten years or so--but will be clear if those with an interest in preventing its success--both in the region and here (for cheap partisan political reasons) and in Europe succeed.

I thought it was imprudent from the start not because it lacked a just casus belli (which I thought was transformational democratization, not removal of WMD) but because it lacked good prospects of success because I expected the UN, Europeans, Iranians and Syrians, even the Saudis, to do their best to make sure transformational democratization failed. But once it started, I thought transformational democratization deserved a chance to succeed because the Arabist/Realist thug policy had so cleared failed.

And that is what is lost sight of in all of this. What alternative do the opponents of transformational democratization propose? Do they really believe continued "he's our thug" realism, esp. with a nuclear Iran, is an option we can even consider? Why must they do their best to insure that whatever moderate, slim, or great chance of success transformational democratization has is eroded and undermined by pompous pronouncements that it already has failed? Why the utter refusal to report what good is reportable out of Iraq--one finds it on the alternative media blogs, milblogs etc. but the MSM refuses to report accurately what is happening.

And the Catholic press has been among the worst offenders.

John Weidner

The actual "presumption against sovereignty" that some of us are using is more clearly expressed as that part of the Bush Doctrine that claims that sovereignty should be dependent on democratic legitimacy. It is not a general presumption; for most countries the concept remains intact. And this change has necessarily grown out of the strange changes that have happened to the concept of "sovereignty" itself

It used to be assumed that sovereignty rested on the willingness to fight wars in defense of it. And it was assumed that nations would normally act peaceably unless they were "at war." But over the course of the 20th Century the concept has morphed into a perverse get-out-of-jail-free-card. Rogue nations can wage covert war against others by funding terror groups or aiding in the spread of nuclear technology, and somehow we can do nothing because they are "sovereign," and we are not "at war." And nations can be taken over by what are often mere robber-gangs, who can then defy the UN and the world by acts like genocide, and the world can do nothing because......they are "sovereign." Saddam was paying bounties to Jew-killers in Israel, and funding terrorists in various countries (some of whose victims were American citizens.) Yet supposedly he is safe from retaliation because Iraq is "sovereign."

That concept of sovereignty does not work. It's become a joke, and an excuse for Western moral weakness and inaction.

That perversion of sovereignty is often mixed in with applications of Just War Doctrine as a cover for the kind of nihilism that says there is nothing worth fighting for. When it is used the deck is always stacked against the US and her allies. When Saddam paid abu Sayyaf bounties for killing people, including ours, in the Philippines, no one talked about OUR sovereignty, or Philippine sovereignty being violated. We only hear "sovereignty" when it's a case of us taking action.

Fr Martin Fox

I tend to agree with Weigel's point about giving the political leadership due deference, even though when Bush was building up, and preparing for war, I was skeptical.

Once in, the situation changes, it seems to me; and it also seems to me a fair number of those opposed to the war seem not to see it that way. Once in, our moral obligation includes seeing the thing through, if that is possible.

The issue that interests me in all this goes beyond the Iraq war, and has to do with the War on Terror; and it has to do with the issue of torture and abuse of power.

Is anyone other than the usual suspects saying anything really insightful on this? I'm naturally skeptical, and part of me, of course, doesn't want to believe our country, our leaders, would do that. But that isn't good enough. Has First Things written about that?

david hyland

The problem with Steinfels article is that it doesn't enumerate Weigels(or conservative for that matter) position on how this war was in fact a just one. To be fair, he assumes people will read the two referenced articles.

Weapons of mass destructions was just one of the reasons stated for this war. Another one, that Bush clearly stated was Saddam Hussien(SH) intentional non complaince with the UN resolutions from the first gulf war. It was also staed that SH was harboring terrorist, which after 9-11, showed that they were prepared bring a fight to our doors.

It happened to be the weapons of mass destruction issue that all of the liberals signed onto so that they could publically support what, I think, they thought was something that needed to be done. So it is awfully easy for them to now say "i was wrong and we should have never have done this." How conveinent.

Furthermore, what does it matter that the stated aims of the war has shifted. You may disagree that democratization can be brought to that area of the world but it was always discussed as one of the goals. Iraq was considered one of the more advanced societies in the middle east, and one where democracy could be planted and help bring that society into the group of responsible nations. Because that area of the world is producing so much of the life threatening danger to the rest of the world, it has to be adressed with something other than some blather about a "commitmment" to the peace process. What has not been tried?

But consider, Abraham Lincoln took the Union into the civil war for the Stated purpose to preserve that union. As that war dragged on and looked hopeless, the cause for the war shifted to the Emancipation of the slaves. Was the war unjust before or after or both? Or is it only just becasue it was successful?

It is only because this war has gone much tougher than anyone thought, including liberals, that all of this reassessment is taking place. And i happen to agree with Weigel, and others, that we are in a fight for our lives because we are, as lincoln said, "the last best hope on earth."


You cannot simply redefine "sovereignty". Its a concept preexists any particular instantiation of it. And if it is truly the Bush Doctrine that "sovereignty should be dependent on democratic legitimacy", then this is not something a Catholic can countenance.

Certainly post enlightenment political "philosophers", be they socialists or social contract liberals would like to redefine sovereignty (and have) to accord with their varying priorities.

But if "democratic legitimacy" is the shifting test of sovereignty, rather than sovereignty being an objective characteristic, then even the United States, which is a Republic, and thus has at its heart an impediment to the fullest expression of Democracy--even the US will ultimately fail that test.


what you say is not true. The President and many others specifically denied that was the motivation for Iraq. Novak did as well. Its implicit in the promise made by the President and reiterated by Novak among others that Saddam would be left in power if he were to comply with the UN resolutions.


But John, if you are right that the idea that "sovereignty should be dependent on democratic legitimacy" is a necessary part of the pro-war argument, then can we acknowledge that the problem is not the Vatican and JPII and Benedict are not being true to Traditional Just War Doctrine--which is what Weigel's point has been?

If this is a new definition of sovereignty, then the argument that the Vatican has imposed some novel vision of pacifism is just false--the novelty is those who've redefined one of the fundamental characteristics of political philosophy.

ron chandonia

I like to use the 2003 Weigel piece denouncing the "presumption against war" in presentations on the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Chapter 11 of that wonderful document (highly recommended by Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est) makes it very clear that any discussion of conflict resolution must begin with just such a presumption since "[w]ar is a 'scourge' and is never an appropriate way to resolve problems that arise between nations." Indeed, the traditional Just War criteria are included in the Compendium only as limitations on the possible use of force by a state which has been directly attacked by an aggressor, as the opening of the section in which the criteria are listed makes clear:

A war of aggression is intrinsically immoral. In the tragic case where such a war breaks out, leaders of the State that has been attacked have the right and the duty to organize a defence even using the force of arms. To be licit, the use of force must correspond to certain strict conditions: [criteria listed]
Insofar as they claim to be following the thinking of the Church, Weigel and company have been wide of the mark.

Catherine L

Ron--you don't seem to be addressing John's points about Saddam's pre-2003 actions. He was attacking the US, directly and indirectly. He was also supporting terrorists around the world. What to do about that?

Sydney Carton

"A sure recipe for losing a war isn't it? When the going gets tough, declare defeat and pull out."

I was just thinking the same thing. The test for any of these so-called developments is: what would've happened in WW2? If the answer is: Nazis win, then this so-called "development" only means that evil people will triumph because good men can do nothing.


David Hyland wrote:
"But consider, Abraham Lincoln took the Union into the civil war for the Stated purpose to preserve that union. As that war dragged on and looked hopeless, the cause for the war shifted to the Emancipation of the slaves. Was the war unjust before or after or both?"
Actually, Lincoln waited until the decisive victory at Antietam to say in the Emancipation Proclamation of September, 1862 that on January 1, 1863 slaves living in states still in rebellion would be considered freed. Slaves in border states that were not in rebellion and in certain already conquered areas of the South were not freed.
However Lincoln regarded slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation only addressed states in rebellion and gave them 3 months to end the Confederacy. That wasn't changing his mission to preserve the Union.


It's nice to see Weigel stepping back from the "charism of political discernment." For me, that was the point where Weigel and the FT crew went off the deep end during the build-up to the Iraq War. There is simply no justification for saying that George W. Bush (no matter what you think of him) is guided by the Holy Spirit. I think it was pretty indicative of the bankruptcy of their thinking that their magazine was advancing a religiously informed public philosophy, but telling religious leaders to butt out of the debate.

I just hope that soon FT can stop blaming flawed implementation and start examining some of the assumptions in their thinking about religion and society.

Anyway, there is a lot of good stuff in FT and the build-up to the war in 2003 was surely the worst episode in the history of the magazine.


To use the experience of one war as the criteria for a large generalization makes about as much sense as using the outdoor temperature on a given day as proof of global warming.

John Weidner


"the novelty is those who've redefined one of the fundamental characteristics of political philosophy."

My point is that the concept has already been re-defined, in a way that makes it a mockery. I don't think a new definition is a necessary part of a pro-war argument—that could be made without it—but it is necessary that we bring some clarity to the concept if our arguments are going to make sense. I'd say that "sovereignty being an objective characteristic" won't work, it has already become amorphous.

In a larger sense, war itself has been re-defined, and our discussions tend to be futile because we don't have clearly defined terms. In an age of what's called "Fourth Generational Warfare," the lines between war and peace have been blurred, and we are not taking that into account.

I would argue that what we call the "War on Terror" is not, by any traditional standard, really a war. (I don't have a good word to use, but it is in many ways similar to a military campaigns of the ancient world against bands of brigands or robbers that have infested some district. Maybe there's a Greek or Latin word for that.) We are not at war with any nation and no conventional military forces are in combat with us.

I'll be happy to argue this point in more detail later, right now I have to get to work. But my main point for the moment is that our situation has become blurred, and that people are refusing to see this, and doing so, I think, in a dishonest fashion. The ambiguities are always presumed to work against action by Western powers against rogue regimes. (One can think of many examples; one is the extremely ambiguous status of the UN. The US and allies are held to the strictest legalistic standards of compliance with UN resolutions, always against taking action, while Saddam's decades of flouting them is never held to justify action.)


One could argue that the potential destructiveness of modern warfare makes smaller wars more necessary rather than less, given that the catastrophic Second World War grew out of an unwillingness to challenge Hitler until it was too late.

Of course, World War I came out of a local war that got big, so I don't think there's a satisfactory solution empirically-speaking. Both sides have good points, depending on which war you're looking at.


First of all the connection between Saddam and Al Queida has been debunked numerous times over.

Most recently, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense pointed out that the Policy Office of the Pentagon had misrepresented (egregiously so) the connection, a misrepresentation that the Vice President cited by way of an article summarizing their leaked alternative intelligence presentation. This presentation (it was actually a power point) was leaked specifically so that it could be used to rebut the actual intelligence on the Saddam/Al Queida connection, which at the time the intelligence agencies agreed was minimal: "Instead, the report said, the CIA had concluded in June 2002 that there were few substantiated contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and Iraqi officials and had said that it lacked evidence of a long-term relationship like the ones Iraq had forged with other terrorist groups.

"Overall, the reporting provides no conclusive signs of cooperation on specific terrorist operations," that CIA report said, adding that discussions on the issue were "necessarily speculative." . . .

The CIA was not alone, the defense report emphasized. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had concluded that year that "available reporting is not firm enough to demonstrate an ongoing relationship" between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, it said."

So again, the depiction of Saddam as a supporter of Terrorism against the US is false, was known before the war to be false, and has only been rendered all the more unlikely by discoveries made after the war.

Morning's Minion

"The charism of political discernment". What a wonderful term! I simply love the lengths these guys go through to push Catholic theology through the eye of the militaristic needle! Anyway, I think it is clear to everybody at this stage that the Bush administration embodies the polar opposite of the "charism of political discernment". I believe the Holy Spirit is teaching a valuable lesson here, for those open to it.

Some other points: I keep hearing that argument, that-- even if the war itself was wrong-- the United States needs to stay there to fix the mess. There is some logic to this argument, but ultimately, it is flawed. The United States is engaged in an illegal occupation, and it is seen as such by the majority of Iraqis. Having opened the Pandora's Box of bloodshed, there is nothing it can do to close it. Again, there is a shocking refusal to understand the history, culture, and psychology in this part of the world, and especially the lingering effects of western exploitation following the Ottoman carve up. The only solution is the Lebanon solution: the regional powers need to convene a Taif-like conference, and hammer out an agreement, backed by massive reconstruction. The United States needs to stay far far away. Remember, the notion that the US has a "divine mandate" to fashion the world in its own image is more in tune with Calvinism-Marxism than Catholicism.

I also can't believe people are still bringing up Saddam's perfidity at this late stage, as there was ever any doubt that he was a bad guy. But please. Off the top of my head, I can list a group of really horrible world leaders (often doing far worse than Saddam)-- are you guys proposing a global initiative to take them all out, pre-emptive war on a grand scale? As for supporting terrorism, the United States itself is not clean. ABC News has reported that the United States is funneling money to Jundullah, a Sunni terrorist group based in western Pakistan. The New York Times has reported that the United States allows arms deliveries from North Korea to flow to Ethiopia. CNN's Michael Ware reports that the U.S. military provides protection for the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iraqi-based group listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department (for links to these stories, see here: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2007_04/011105.php).

I actually agree with Emil Lowe above on one point. It's not a good idea to use secular ideological terms in the Church. I don't like "neo-conservative". I especially don't like "liberal". It makes absolutely no sense to apply that word as used in the American context to Catholic debate when it means something quite different (see Pius IX...)


I quite honestly have a problem with Just War doctrine in its present form. While very useful in the period in which it was formed, based on the conditions that were not only in existence at that time but on premises of the place of the individual and his relationship to society.
It's like saying that if my neighbor attacks me or another neighbor I am allowed to defend myself or him, but if he beats his wife I must stand by and do nothing. Indeed this was the prevailing thought in society in general at one time.
So if a sovereign nation commits horrible acts against their own people another country must stand by and do nothing because they are sovereign and "war is sourge."
This ignores the fact that some governments are not willing to negotiate in good faith, will never give up power of their own accord, and do not have values in common with the Christian (or secular) West.
John may be wrong in that it is not possible to redefine sovereignty, but he is right in concept. It is not in the interest of the modern world to say that just because a nation is sovereign that they have a right to do what they wish. The kinds of acts done by North Korea, Iran, Iraq(under its previous regime) would have resulted in a declaration of war against them a century ago. In the modern world we are unwilling to do that, because "war is a scourge." So instead of thousands of soldiers dying in an effectively executed war hundreds of thousands die over decades, while millions live under oppression. And more and more bad actors come into existence, after seeing that the international community will tolerate their actions.

Mike Petrik

You ask an important question. The answer, which most commentators seem to skirt around, is that sometimes the only moral options may be ineffectual.
The subtext of this debate, it seems to me, is that some "pro-war" folks seem to think that the presence of "prudence" and "proportionality" in the just war calculus are antidotes to the so-called suicide pact risk, but that probably isn't right; on the other hand, some "anti-war" folks seem to dismiss the suicide pact problem too easily -- they should own up to the fact that in some circumstances Catholic morality does require that we be willing to allow evil to prevail if the only alternative is committing evil ourselves. The most troubling aspect of worldwide jihad is that it is exceedingly difficult to combat without introducing very difficult moral questions, and we must acknowledge the temptation for self-delusion when it comes to such questions. Self-defense and the defense of others provide license for violence, but only in prescribed circumstances.
My own views on the war are probably most in line with flyspeck's, but I respect al's reasoned analysis even I can't share his certitude.

John Weidner

Al, To say that Saddam did not help al Qaeda means that he was not supporting terror actions, including some against the US, is a non-sequitur. I never mentioned al Quada.

There are many terror groups, and there is no question that he was supporting some of them. He did it openly.

But that whole situation is part of the ambiguity I'm writing about, and it is being exploited dishonestly. You just did so.

Rogue states can funnel money to terrorists, and no one really knows quite what is being supported. So they are presumed innocent, and we are held to strict standards of proof.

It's crazy, and is the very opposite of ":just."

Sydney Carton

MM: "Having opened the Pandora's Box of bloodshed, there is nothing it can do to close it."

It is amazing the degree to which liberals who supposedly care about the Iraqis so casually dismiss the idea of their horrendous slaughter, all so that the US can retreat.

It seems to me, MM, that you're really just pushing another DETERMINISTIC IDEOLOGY on all of us. Keep your "war never solved anything, except for the American Revolution, Civil War, WW2, Cold War, Gulf War, etc, etc." ideology to yourself.

Morning's Minion


What is this "liberal" word you keep throwing around? "Liberal" in what sense? I define the word in its true sense, and the closer fit is to modern political discourse on the right (the supremacy of free markets, individualism, nationalism etc).

As to your point, it is precisely this horrendous carnage that angers me so much. Please tell me why you think the United States can in any way close the Pandora's box? You seem to be falling into the American exceptionalist trap, or else buying into the crazy delusion of a desperate gambler who is willing to wager everything in one last bet in the hope against hope that his fortunes will be reversed. Let me spell it out for you: American is not wanted there. America has no right to be there. Staying there makes the situation worse. The occupation needs to end.

And as for the "war never solved anything", I think I'm in quite good company with that, thank you very much.

Jordan Potter

This quote from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church --

"War is a 'scourge' and is never an appropriate way to resolve problems that arise between nations."

-- is all the evidence one needs to determine that the Compendium is not infallible. Never an appropriate way to resolve problems that arise between nations? Beg to differ. Sometimes it's the only possible way to resolve those problems, unless of course the Church means to say that it is never appropriate for a people to defend themselves when enemies are trying to kill them.

But then it is a "compendium" (abridgement), which by definition will be leaving out a LOT of the Church's social doctrine. No doubt, like the documents quoted in the Catechism, each document quoted in the Compendium has no greater or less magisterial weight than it had before it was quoted in the Compendium, and must be read in its original context to resolve any questions of its level of authority and its proper interpretation.

Chris Sullivan

they should own up to the fact that in some circumstances Catholic morality does require that we be willing to allow evil to prevail if the only alternative is committing evil ourselves.

Isn't that exactly what Christ taught ? :-

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. [Mt 5:39]

God Bless

Donald R. McClarey

"And as for the "war never solved anything", I think I'm in quite good company with that, thank you very much."

Oh really? Tell that to any survivor of the Nazi death camps or the Japanese POW camps who is alive today only because Allied military power crushed Germany and Japan. This statement is like relying on religious authority to support a non-heliocentric model of the Universe, it simply does not accord with the facts.

Donald R. McClarey

The last post by me should have referred to a non-heliocentric model of the solar system, and not the Universe.

Morning's Minion


You miss the point, which is that war is always a sign of failure. It is a last resort (not that the Bush administration has a clue about that one). It means peace failed. It is nothing to be proud of, nothing to cheer about, nothing to glorify. Every war results from some injustice, some failure, some pathology. The second world war came about because of the grave injustices imposed after the previous war, injustices that Pope Benedict XV (one of the most under-rated popes, in my opinion) tried in vain to prevent.

Another point. You mention Japan. Sorry, but what Truman did was a war crime, and I don't know of a serious Catholic moralist who would disagree. See Elzabeth Anscombe (she who defined the term "consequentialism") for the definitive argument. You might say, if Truman had not unleashed nuclear power, millions more might have died, both allied and Japanese. Perhaps so, but a tenet of our faith is that it is never licit to undertake an objectively evil act, no matter what "good" consequences may arise. You should keep that in mind when pumping up war as a solution.

Sydney Carton

Mr. Deterministic Ideology said: "And as for the "war never solved anything", I think I'm in quite good company with that, thank you very much."

DETERMINISTIC IDEOLOGY ALERT! So American Independence resulted from peace? Jews were liberated from the death-camps through a treaty? Slavery in the Southern states was ended over a handshake? Boy, fiction CAN be fun...

"As to your point, it is precisely this horrendous carnage that angers me so much."

Suuuuuure. So much that we should leave and let it continue unabated, possibly to grow. You're REAL broken up over that... It's also so CONVENIENT that this tragedy doesn't stop you from pushing your ideology of "war never solved anything." I guess all of those Iraqi civilians depending on our soldiers for protection are screwed. Oh well. Gotta break some eggs, after all, when you're advancing a DETERMINISTIC IDEOLOGY.

"Please tell me why you think the United States can in any way close the Pandora's box?"

Because we have better soldiers than they do. And we're better at killing them than they are at killing us. And because if we don't defeat them there, they'll just come over here and kill us anyway.

"You seem to be falling into the American exceptionalist trap, or else buying into the crazy delusion of a desperate gambler who is willing to wager everything in one last bet in the hope against hope that his fortunes will be reversed."

Heh. Do you really think that sort of bogus argument is going to work with me? Why don't you just call me a Calvinist and get over it? Oh, perhaps you're afraid that if you start calling people "so-called Catholics", it'll expose how bankrupt your ideas are because you've been forced to insult people? Well, Sherlock, let me clue YOU in: there's a difference between thinking that the American military can WIN, verses thinking that Americans are super-human and that we're exempt from humanity's vices, or that our ways are the best for everyone. Go find someone else who thinks your complaint about American exceptionalism has merit. I think it's bunk, and a straw-man argument. But I expect that such fine distinctions are lost on a person who is SO patriotic as you... And I think it's an example of you pushing your own ideology on all of us, yet again. It's YOU who has the "deterministic ideology" that pretends that fighting never solved anything. You're the one pushing your own ideology on people that flies in the face of reality.

bill bannon

The Bishops' charism is separate and distinct from that of elected officials and includes speaking prophetically on the war but does not include deciding when a just war's conditions have been met as though they are the real deciders...at least not according to the Compendium. Just after #483 describing the conditions for a just war is this article:

"484. In danger of war, who has the responsibility for the rigorous evaluation of these conditions?

This responsibility belongs to the prudential judgment of government officials who also have the right to impose on citizens the obligation of national defense. The personal right to conscientious objection makes an exception to this obligation which should then be carried out by another form of service to the human community."

Michael the Austrian

Regarding the administration of violence by His followers, Our Lord says the following (among other things):

"But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (Mt 5:39-41).

Of course there is a very strong "presumption against war" in Christian moral thinking. Our Lord very clearly says so Himself, in the passage just quoted! For Weigel and his ideological cohorts to claim to speak for Christ in criticizing the notion that such a presumption exists is simply flabbergasting. How can they claim to be His followers and discuss this issue of "presumption against war" without putting these very words of Our Lord at the very center of their deliberations?

Donald R. McClarey

"Sorry, but what Truman did was a war crime, and I don't know of a serious Catholic moralist who would disagree. See Elzabeth Anscombe (she who defined the term "consequentialism") for the definitive argument."

Anscombe was wrong about Truman and the bomb. She was a brilliant eccentric, and a firm pro-lifer, and I respect her memory, but what Truman did was no more a crime than any other action of war that will inevitably lead to the death of noncombatants. This includes besieging cities, blockades, the use of artillery in populated areas, and the list could go on forever. Taken to its logical end, Anscombe's position would have led to the Allies losing the war to the Axis, because it is impossible to wage war with any hope of success without the risk of the death of innocents.

As to war being a failure a sign of failure, often it is, usually the failure of diplomacy. However, that is a different point from contending that war never solves anything. War has determined the language that we communicate in, our form of government and the fact that the Catholic Church is free to make public pronouncements in this country on issues of public policy, to name a few examples from thousands. The problem for those that follow a pacifist path is that history amply demonstrates that war often does solve issues, and that is why Man so often resorts to it.

John Weidner

But what exactly is "peace?" Peaceniks never define the term.

I argued earlier that we are not actually in a war, by any traditional definition. I also think that a lot of what people call "peace" isn't peace, by any reasonable definition.

What do I mean? Consider the curious fact that war between nation states is pretty much extinct. Countries don't go to war with each other any more; none have since 1992. (Our Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns are not exceptions; in both cases the government and army of the countries we invaded simply evaporated, and we were quickly put in the position of helping those countries and their new governments to fight against internal insurgencies.)

So where is the fighting these days? It's all internal warfare in failed states. Darfur, Rwanda, Nepal, Sri Lanka....lots more. These are internal wars. The Brookings Institute (no friend to Bush) calculated that Saddam was killing more than 10,000 Iraqis a year. This was also an internal war.

But these slaughters tend to be defined as "peace." And if the US and her allies step in with force and stop the bloodshed, that is defined as "starting a war!" The definitions we are using no longer fit reality. Regardless what you think of the later developments in Iraq, the fact is that when we invaded we stopped a war. We put an end to a decades-long bloodbath that had killed hundreds of thousands of people. Yet we are so tangled in obsolete thought patterns that we can't see this obvious thing. I'll bet a lot of people reading this paragraph won't take it in. Their brains will go, "Beep! That does not compute."

(By the way, we've pretty much ended wars between nation states (we'll see what the next few decades offer) and we've certainly abolished regional wars, world wars, and wars between developed nations. There are several reasons for this, but a big one is a certain decision made by President Harry S Truman.)

Nate Wildermuth

If all of us could put away our opinions and listen to our Pope's words, we would find our hearts molding to God's Spirit of Peace:

"The Lord has conquered on the cross. He has not conquered with a new empire, with a force that is more powerful than others, capable of destroying them; he has not conquered in a human manner, as we imagine, with an empire stronger than the other. He has conquered with a love capable of going to death.

This is God's new way of conquering: He does not oppose violence with a stronger violence. He opposes violence precisely with the contrary: with love to the end, his cross. This is God's humble way of overcoming: With his love -- and only thus is it possible -- he puts a limit to violence. This is a way of conquering that seems very slow to us, but it is the true way of overcoming evil, of overcoming violence, and we must trust this divine way of overcoming.

To trust means to enter actively in this divine love, to participate in this endeavor of pacification, to be in line with what the Lord says: "Blessed are the peacemakers, the agents of peace, because they are the sons of God."

If we continued to read, we would see John Paul the Great wrap it all up:

"True peace is made possible only through forgiveness."

Killing people to forge peace is not Catholic. It is satanic. It is a lie.

Nate Wildermuth

For those who would attack the Pope's words on forgiveness, let me simply give you his response ahead of time:

Forgiveness in fact always involves an apparent short-term loss for a real long-term gain. Violence is the exact opposite; opting as it does for an apparent short‑term gain, it involves a real and permanent loss.

In other words - no cross, no resurrection.


Funnelling money to the families of Hamas suicide bombers does not constitute a threat to the United States. Its not helpful, and it certainly undermines Israel's attempt to deter such actions by punishing the families of the bombers--itself a morally questionable tactic, but again, if the problem is a novel definition of what constitutes a threat to our security, expanding it to include virtually anything we don't like--the problem is not sovereignty, or the traditional categories of Just War Doctrine, but instead an unexpressed socialism.

Furthermore, the Al Queida/Saddam connection was the one the Bush Adminstration cited as a prelude to war. If the other contacts were conclusive, then no doubt the Administration would have cited them.

And speaking of honesty, I understand the argument that some postmodern Europeans use the traditional categories to preclude any military action, by circumscribing threats to security to formal declarations of war by sovereigns.

Nevertheless, there are ample precedents in the Just War Doctrine to forestall such efforts with out dishonestly exploiting the "French" to chuck the baby with the bathwater, especially if the goal is some new vision of socialism, in which "enlightened" visions of "democratic legitimacy" supplant class equity as the amorphous pretexts for dispensing with antiquated concepts like sovereignty, rights, duties, subsidiarity and the like.

That's real dishonesty.

Donald R. McClarey

"Killing people to forge peace is not Catholic. It is satanic. It is a lie."

Pope Urban II and many other popes and Church councils would beg to differ. The history of the Church did not begin in 1978, and throughout it the Church has often supported wars for what the Church perceived to be just causes.

Nate Wildermuth

Donald, who do you think is a better judge of the Church's historical teaching - yourself or your Pope?

Fr. Bryan

It looks as if that fraile, old man at the Vatican, JPII, was right in saying that the US was taking on a "grave responsibility" in the invasion of Iraq. Nothing like living in Poland from 1939 to 1945 to convict you that war, even when justified, is a failure of civilization.

He refused to jump on the pro-war bandwagon as it rolled onward in early 2003. Remember how well that went over, not only with FT, but also with pro-war columnists and bloggers, talk radio, cable news pundits, and especially in the pews?

Now that things have not gone according to plan there is some much needed rethinking taking place.

Morning's Minion


You argue that "what Truman did was no more a crime than any other action of war that will inevitably lead to the death of noncombatants". I think that leads us down a dangerous path, toward moral relativism. The genius of Catholic moral theology is that there are acts that are evil in their object, that can never be defended by appeal to intent or circumstance, and are always illicit. This, indeed, was the whole point of Veritatis Splendour, John Paul's greatest encylical. If you want an ethic that eschews this principle, just look to the Niebuhrian approach. And when it comes to acts that are intrinsically evil, direct attacks on innocent human life top the list. Do not realize that when you defend actions that "inevitably lead to the death of noncombatants" you are stepping onto the same moral plain as those who defend abortion?

Consequentialism is all about making excuses for evil, for choosing the expedient over the truth. During the Good Friday Passion, one passage struck me this year: "It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews that it was better that one man should die rather than the people." Caiaphas was an early consequentialist, who was willing to sacrifice an innocent man for the greater good of the people. I'm sure he thought he was doing what was best for the Jewish people. His intentions were probably good. But he was complicit in judicial murder. We need to eschew modern-day Caiaphas's, those who are willing to deliberately kill innocents for the "greater good", whether we are talking about unborn children or non-combatants.

Morning's Minion

So, Sydney's argument boils down to "we're better at killing them than they are at killing us". Charming. Very Christ-like...

Donald R. McClarey

"Donald, who do you think is a better judge of the Church's historical teaching - yourself or your Pope?"

Depends upon the pope. Some, judging from their writings, seem to be pretty oblivious to actions of their predecessors that flatly contradict their policy prefences. I doubt any pope could honestly look at the whole history of the Church and argue with a straight face that the Church mandates pacifism. Even John Paul II, as close to a pacifist towards the end as ever graced the chair of Peter, never did that.

John Weidner

I would dispute the kind of thinking that says that terror group A is not a threat to the US, because they only kill Jews, or some other group. That's the kind of thinking that got us into this mess. Terrorist groups are shape-shifters, with people and ideas moving from one to another, and names changing regularly. They purposely exploit our unwillingness to deal with the problem globally. We have TAUGHT them to do so, by rewarding their tactics. Especially, we have TAUGHT them that they can get away with things when the world shrugs its shoulders at crimes against Jews. The slaughter of schoolchildren at Beslan was a follow-up to the world's indifference to Ma'alot.

We know that Iraq's contribution to terror groups was considerably more than just Hamas. Among other things, the terror leaders Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal (definitely responsible for killing US Citizens) retired in comfort to Baghdad. More importantly, we just don't know who Saddam was supporting. And I would dispute that the burden of proof should be on us.

More importantly, this war did not start on 9/11. Terrorists killed more than 1,000 Americans in the decades before 9/11. And during that period we were, in a way, nourishing the terrorists by letting them get away with murder. If we had hit them with savage violence in, say, the 1970's, we would not be in a big war now, and the total death toll would be far less. We CREATED this war by "pacifistic" tactics. That's the painful paradox of it. (And if the peaceniks have their way now, we will probably have a much bigger war in the future.)

In Catholic moral thinking, the Virtue of Prudence is of enormous importance. If you do a "moral" thing at the wrong time or place, it will cause harm. It will be immoral. It will be wrong. That's what I think the people citing Christian "peacefulness" as a reason to not win the War on Terror are doing. (And furthermore, they are turning not their own cheek, but someone else's cheek! They will toddle off to bed safely, will full stomachs, protected by mighty armies, while poor wretches in distant lands are crushed by terrorists and Ba'athists and murderous tyrants.)

I say they are passing on the other side of the road from the man who fell among thieves.

Also, it is NOT true that the administration cited al Qaeda/Iraq as a pretext for war. That is an Urban Legend. I challenge you to show me any significant administration document that does so.

I can't respond to your comments about "socialism;" I'm not sure what it is you are saying.

(Now I'm off to work. Have a good day! Oremus pro invicem.)

Sydney Carton

"So, Sydney's argument boils down to "we're better at killing them than they are at killing us". Charming. Very Christ-like..."

You asked why I thought we could win the war. I said that we could win because we've got better soldiers and are better at doing what soldiers do: killing people. Last I checked, wars involved shooting the enemy. I hope this doesn't come as a shock to you, Mr. Deterministic Ideology That War Never Solved Anything.

There is nothing surprising in what I said. If you had asked Jesus himself whether Rome would win in a fight against the Jews, he would've also said Rome, for the exact same reasons.


Well, we are 3 or 4 months ahead of the annual Hiroshima Flamefest, aren't we?

Reminder: it would be helpful to stipulate any analysis of the decisions to employ WMDs (not just atomic bombs but firebombings of civilian centers) in WW2 by the Allies is regarding *objective* criteria only, and cannot extend to definitive assessments of subjective guilt. The problem is that when we discuss whether what "Truman" did or didn't do, it's easy to blur the distinction, which causes quite unnecessary feedback loops.

This is also true of the Bush Administration's approach to the war.

I have not found the case for Just War objectively demonstrated for the Iraq war, even before the war started. And I am inclined to the opinion of many Catholic teachers (magisterial and otherwise) that the Allied use of WMDs in WW2 did not objectively satisfy Just War criteria, either.

I also find curious to say the least the idea that the objective application of just war principles to an ongoing war is appropriate only on the outset, and that once just, ever just. That's not a Catholic way of approaching the issue, as best I can tell.

Donald R. McClarey

"I think that leads us down a dangerous path, toward moral relativism."

It could, but the Church has not thought so in the past. Papal armies besieged cities in which thousands would die of starvation or plague. Siege engines or artillery would be used which not infrequently led to the death of innocents. The sack of cities usually resulted in the death of many innocents. The Church has drawn the line at the intentional killing of non-combatants. I fail to see how the atomic bombings were any more, or any less, the intentional killing of non-combatants than methods of war that the Church has utilized in the past. Nuclear weapons exact a dreadful toll, but I think the difference is in degree rather than kind from prior methods of warfare deemed licit by the Church.


Do the pacifists in here honestly suggest that Jesus condemned all wars as evil? Or the NT? Please let us know where. The Church has certainly never taught any such thing, so those wanting to push this line are getting themselves into the position of saying that the early Church suppressed Jesus' true Gospel, and that the Church has been hiding the historical Jesus from us ever since. Do you really want to go there? I sure hope not. Not much will be knowable at all about the Lord if so--certainly not the bodily resurrection.

Or maybe the pacifists are thinking of such passages as "if someone strikes you on the right cheek, give him your right as well"? But that has never been understood to refer to a king's employment of an army; the traditional understanding of that is how Christians are to endure personal insults. John the Baptist told the soldiers to be content with their pay--not to retire in conscientious objection.

For once, though, I will disagree with Donald R. McClarey. I think the use of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atrocities of the first order. I think they were atrocities, not because I'm against nuclear weapons per se, but because the military importance of those two cities was negligible in comparison to the huge number of non-combatants that were wiped out. That was sheer terrorism, there's no other word for it.


First of all, for someone concerned about precision in thinking, and cautioning against intellectual dishonesty, you ought to be much more careful about trying to claim things like a "war on terrorism" are pretexts for reevaluating the actual characteristics of Just War Doctrine.

A "war on terrorism" is a complete sophistry. You cannot have a war against a (criminal) type of warfare, any more than you could have a "war against nuclear weapons." It is a sophistry that truly insults your interlocutor.

We are "at war" with a number of terrorists organizations, which are criminal, and as a consequence can wage war against the states which give them aid and harbor them. This title to war is found throughout the Just War Doctrine tradition, appearing explicitly in the Catechism.

To make up something like a "war on terror" to try to roll your argumentative opponent is fundamentally disingenous. Either you don't understand the basic categories of logic involved, or you are intentionally muddying the waters to allow for specious argumentation.

Second, of course we have to prove collusion--not in a court of law, but neverthless potential antagonists are not guilty till proven innocent. We have to have sound evidence of collusion--to suggest otherwise is patently immoral.

Giving money to the families of dead suicide bombers is not supporting terrorism. In neoconservative quarters it is, but then again they think collective punishment is alright against those same families.

Finally it is most certainly true that the Vice President, Secretary of State Colin Powell and numerous other administration officials asserted an Al Qaeda link on multiple occassions. It war part of Powell's presentation at the UN. Secretary Cheney directly cited the article I cited above.

I can't think of why you would dispute something so easily googlable. It means you are either significantly uniformed, or trying to pull a bald denial of something true--the big lie--for sophistical purposes.

I'll give you administration sources, so their authenticity can't be disputed. Here are Powell's remarks to the UN on the subject: "But what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaida terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, an associated in collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida lieutenants. . . . Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with Al Qaida. These denials are simply not credible. Last year an Al Qaida associate bragged that the situation in Iraq was, quote, ``good,'' that Baghdad could be transited quickly."

Cheney's comments on this are even more frequently and more spectacularly refutable. Cheney told Meet the Press on December 9, 2001, that Iraq was harboring Abdul Rahman Yasin, a suspect in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and repeated the statement in another appearance on September 14, 2003, saying "We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaida sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaida organization. We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in '93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of '93. And we’ve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven." and once again in an interview with National Public Radio in January, 2004, stating that there was "overwhelming evidence" of a relationship between Saddam and al-Qaida based on evidence including Iraq's purported harboring of Yasin.

He also cited the Weekly Standard article above, based on the OSP's fraudulent assertion of such connections to Congress, and which was apparently leaked to the WS, so that Cheney could cite a classified briefing in public.

Lee Darnell

Why is a political hack who plays-Catholic for pay like George Weigel taken seriously. He's just a neo-con moral relativist no better than anyone he chides. He hides and enables his philisophical chums under the cloak of legitimacy that they do not deserve, as if they are some how subject to papal infalibility if they fall into line with the neo-con ideology, but damnable (even the pope) if they do not.

Lee Darnell

Donald, simply because the church has done something in the past, does not make it right. Not all things done by the church are done under the guise of papal infailibility. If that was the case the church would never have to say "im sorry" for anything because no matter what it did, it would always be right. Recent history of the sexual abuse crisis tells us, this is not the case. The church has been working to make statements of "I'm sorry", over and over.

Nate Wildermuth

Again, Donald - you have an understanding of Church history that does not match the Church's understanding of its history.

The Church has more authority to interpret its history than you do. If our Pope, today, teaches something, then we cannot claim that he doesn't know Church history, or is disregarding Church history. The Pope, today, teaches with full knowledge and understanding of his own Church - past and present. It is up to us to listen, to trust his guidance, and to follow it.

He isn't always infallible. But who else are we going to trust? Ourselves? I choose my Bishops, because I believe that the Holy Spirit is with them, because I believe in the Church - not the Church yesterday, but the Church today.

John Weidner


I'm perfectly aware that "War on Terror" is not a logical term. But it is the common name used for whatever it is we are in. Things need names if we are to talk about them. You can't keep writing "war-or-something-similar-with-a-number-of-terrorist-organizations-mostly-Islamic-and-often-Islamic-fundamentalist." I'm not trying to roll anyone when I use the phrase, since everyone knows what I'm referring to.

But really, if you think that Saddam's giving money to the families of terrorists is "not supporting terrorism," then we are so far apart in our thinking that there is no point in us further discussing this. To impoverished Palestinians the payments were A LOT OF MONEY. Enough to buy a house. If I were contemplating suicidal action, and I knew it would bring material comfort to my poor family, that would be a big influence. Of course that's "supporting terrorism." To say otherwise is just crazy excuse-making, and it's hopeless to argue with you.

I've spent a LOT of time since early 2002 arguing with people who invent hundreds of different reasons and excuses why we should not invade Iraq. I've seen people flip, without the slightest qualm, from "Saddam will kill millions with WMD's if we invade" to "we didn't find WMD's, so we should not have invaded."

I don't think they, or you, really care at all about what you claim to care about, including "Just War Theory." The real issue is deeper, and if the Angel Gabriel came down and declared that the Iraq Campaign was "just" you would still not support it.

I think the real issue is that Iraq is a huge test for people who hold certain positions. It's a test of all the "liberal" positions, such as anti-fascism, humanitarianism, opposition to genocide, opposition to anti-Semitism, concern for an ethnic group that lacks a homeland, etc.

But even more important, it is a test of whether people believe that there are things worth fighting and even dying for. I think a lot of people today, including many "Christians", are really nihilists. They don't believe that anything is worth fighting for, but they don't want to be put on the spot.

Proposing to remove one of the cruelest tyrants ever, and to free millions of oppressed people, puts you and them on the hot-spot. Because if you don't think that's worth fighting for, and dying for, then you probably really don't believe anything is worth dying for.

John Weidner

Al, and other friends,

I'm thinking that I'm getting a bit out-of-line here, and I'm going to now withdraw from this interesting thread with apologies.

I only recently joined the Church, and I promised myself ardently that I would not become one of those argumentative judgmental Catholics. And yet, whoa! Here I am, doing exactly "the thing I would not." So I'll stop now.

(If anyone feels cheated out of the chance to crush me in debate, or reprove me for my many faults, please feel free to e-mail me at weidners-AT-pacbell.net )

Oremus pro invicem

John W

Samuel J. Howard

Michael the Austrian:
"And He said to them, "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one." Luke 22:36

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