(Jeffrey Fitzgeral is the editor of the U Matuna, the newspaper for the Catholic Archdiocese of Hagatna, Guam)
This week, USY has run an article on the American bishops’ concern with Israel reacting against the threatening position of Iran. Anyone who has paid attention to international news has seen that the situation in and with Iran is both delicate and terrifying.
At the heart of the troubling confrontation-in-the-making of our day is the furious drive of Iran to become a fully nuclear nation. Under its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and with the support of the ayatollahs (the Shi’ite “clergy” in that country), Iran continues to develop its nuclear capability without regard for the United Nations or international political stability.
Just last month, Iran at first allowed but then refused to permit UN nuclear inspectors access to their nuclear facilities to ensure that Iran was not purifying uranium to the degree that it could be mounted as a nuclear weapon. On the whole, warn many experts, it’s just a matter of time before Iran is not only a genuinely nuclear power, but an aggressive power with nuclear weapons—one that has intimated that it would use them to achieve its theocratic goals.
What makes this especially frightening is Iran’s foreign policy and the rhetoric that points to their intentions. For over 30 years, and even more so today, Iran’s government has declared that the nation of Israel must be wiped out, all Israeli Jews annihilated. To use Ahmadinejad’s own words, “the Jews must be driven into the sea.”
This kind of talk should not be underestimated; after all, we are not talking about Denmark here. This is a government that seeks the utter destruction not only of the only truly democratic nation in the Middle East, but also of a huge portion of the Jews: a people that are our elder cousins in faith.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t put up with any of that sort of sabre-rattling nonsense. European Jewry was virtually wiped out by the Nazis before and during World War II while the rest of the world stood aside and did nothing. This seems to be the case now with our own president, European leaders, and our bishops. Since WWII, the Israeli maxim is “Never again”—a sentiment Americans likewise share when it comes to tolerating terrorists out to destroy us and our way of life. Never again will they (or we) stand there and wait to be attacked by those who say they are going to attack.
This is what makes the USCCB’s statement on the “moral problem” of Israel ordering a pre-emptive strike against Iran not only short-sighted, but also utterly stupid. It makes no sense, neither rationally nor theologically.
The USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace clearly states that Iran’s probable acquisition of nuclear weapons, vociferous threats against Israel, and lack of cooperation with the international community are serious issues, but they do not justify a pre-emptive strike, i.e. a preventative war. As far as the editorial staff of USY is concerned, the committee could not be more wrong.
The bishops and the “peace and justice” crowd who seek to avoid war at all costs no doubt mean well. Nevertheless, it is not enough for these bishops to be well-meaning and carry the “high ground” of negotiation, knowing that if there is an attack, the Church “did all it could.” If Iran attacks Israel with nuclear weapons, all the good intentions in the world won’t bring back the millions of innocent men, women, and children who are annihilated in the blink of an eye. In fact, our silence, our passivity will make us guilty by our sin of omission.
The Church’s Just War Doctrine does of course say that deadly force should be a last resort. That said, if the other conditions of just war are met, it is not necessary to be attacked before defending oneself; sometimes, we have to strike lest we not live to even defend ourselves.
The bishops’ line of thinking is the same as Guam having a law that allows you to own a gun, but when an intruder comes into your house with his own gun, you cannot shoot him unless he shoots you first. Somehow, accepting that as the only moral alternative leaves us shaking our head at the complete lack of common sense.
Hopefully, cooler heads in Iran will prevail, and they will not escalate the crisis that they have created. As usual, international media is laying responsibility at the feet of Israel, demanding they show restraint when their enemies won’t. This includes Hizbollah, a terrorist organization supported by the Iranian government.
Ultimately, war is never a good thing, but sometimes it is necessary. We should not begin wars, but when aggressors are armed and threaten us and gather their armies at our border, it’s a safe bet what the next move will be. If the European powers had stopped Hitler at Munich, millions of lives would have been spared. Instead, the desire for peace at any cost wound up be costing more lives than any war in history.
Sometimes, it’s not enough to preach. Like Edmund Burke famously warned us, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” If only the bishops would remember that—not just in war, but with abortion and the other horrors of modernity that they are so shy about condemning.
Shame on them.
Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron, O.F.M., Cap., D.D. is not associated with the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.