Today is the first day of August 2014. One hundred years ago this month, the Great War began spreading across Europe. World War I commemorations are now shifting into high gear. I will attend more than a few of them this year; and my son has written a very fine book about the First World War in Belgium.
It seems to me, there are two great things the Great War accomplished very effectively: First, it was a great human slaughter, leaving more than 16 million dead and more than 20 million wounded. Secondly, it greatly set the stage and laid the foundations for the Second World War.
For many years, teaching historical theology and theological ethics, I was very good at laying down the principles for “a just war.”
Just before President G.W. Bush launched his War in Iraq, I was invited to give a one day lecture and discussion, to about thirty US Catholic Chaplains in Europe, on the principles of a just war and whether or not those principles would apply to an impending war in Iraq.
I reviewed the principles in an overhead slide presentation. Then I said slowly and firmly: “gentlemen I don’t see how it can be justified.” One of our American auxiliary bishops, from the Military Archdiocese, who was attending my presentation, banged the table, stood up, and left the room in an angry rage. (He got in his military chauffeured car and disappeared.)
A very youngish chaplain then began to sob. He looked at me and said: “So what will we do when it happens?” Some of the older chaplains were a bit peeved by the young priest. I looked at him across the room, eye to eye and said: “You go to Iraq and you must be the best chaplain you can be to those men and women, because they will need you, an understanding and supportive chaplain, more than ever.”
Ah yes….the ethical principles for a just war. A much older man now, I am absolutely convinced that the very idea of a just war is impossible. Justice is lost as soon as the fighting begins.
War is not about victory or defeat. It is about the total failure of the human spirit……in Gaza, in the Ukraine, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. Pick your location. There are many to choose from.
Today’s wars are only greatly killing people, destroying cities and the countryside; and greatly setting the stage and laying the foundations for tomorrow’s wars.
We are bright and talented people. We can conceive and create ever-mini, mini-computers and ever-smarter, smartphones. It is time that we conceive and create the strategies and structures for living peacefully with each-other.
For Christians, making-peace is not just a challenge it is a responsibility.