“We reject war, preparations for war, and every form of violence and domination, and promote the gospel imperative of peacemaking as a priority in the Catholic Church in the United States.” – from the mission statement for Pax Christi USA
Saturday, August 31, 2013: Today’s headlines read: “U.S. officials signal Syria strike is near.” “Inaction would show a ‘paralyzed’ world, Obama says.” “Kerry cites ‘clear’ evidence regime used chemical weapons.” By the time this statement is posted, the U.S. will likely have initiated military strikes in Syria, itself an act of war.
No one questions the obscenity of murdering a thousand people – many of them children – with poison gas, nor the moral indignation that people around the world feel at this atrocity and crime against humanity. The more than 100,000 deaths from two years of a cruel fratricidal war in Syria, and the cruelty of the Bashar al-Assad regime against its own people, speak to the obscenity of war.
What many do question, however, including military veterans in Congress, is the wisdom of a military strike by the U.S. in Syria. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also began with military strikes, caused the destruction of hundreds of thousands of Afghan, Iraqi, and American lives, and lasted more than a decade after 9/11.
Pax Christi International, in a recent statement, opposes any military solution to the conflict:
“While we unequivocally condemn the use of chemical weapons, regardless of who perpetrated the attack, Pax Christi pleads with the nations of the world to recognize the responsibility and authority of the UN Security Council to address this egregious violation of international law and morality and to work with the United Nations to protect – without escalating the violence – the Syrian people.”
The “red-line” crossed in Syria was not only the use of chemical weapons, but war itself: “The truth is, war is the moral obscenity. It is war that must be stopped, and bombing campaigns do not end war” (Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, The Washington Post, Aug. 31, 2013).
John Paul II was right: “War is a defeat for humanity,” and his successor, Pope Francis agrees: “We must silence the guns in Syria… and end the multiplication of massacres and atrocities. Dialogue and negotiations are the only option for putting an end to the conflict and violence.”
In short, the consequences of a U.S. military strike are quite unpredictable, will likely be far graver than anticipated, and lead to many more years of spiraling violence and war in the Middle East and destruction of human life.
Military strikes are an act of war, and the violence of one strike can spiral out of control into a full-blown war.
According to David Cortright, from the Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame:
“Bombing strikes would not be sufficient to neutralize Syria’s vast arsenal of chemical weapons, and they could cause chemical explosions that would release the deadly toxins we seek to contain… The result would be further bloodshed and destruction for the people of Syria, the worsening of an already grave regional security crisis, and U.S. involvement in another Middle East war.”
Of equal concern is what the Catholic bishops in the region have referred to as the danger of a Middle East war – and possible “third world war” – that could engulf nations of the regions and fuel inter-religious hatred: “We are living the total destruction of the peaceful coexistence that Christians and Muslims were able build over the last 400 years,” in the words of the Catholic Maronite patriarch of the region.
This is a crucial moment in history – and the U.S. can pursue the path of war, or the path of dialogue and negotiations, of true peacemaking. But the churches and people of all faith traditions should be leading the way, with our voices and by our witness.
Before we add more fuel to the fire, and to “the endless and horrifying sequence of wars, conflicts, genocides and ‘ethnic cleansings’ which have caused unspeakable suffering; millions and millions of victims, families and countries destroyed, an ocean of refugees, misery, hunger, disease, underdevelopment and the loss of immense resources,” – words of John Paul II – we ought to question the wisdom of a military strike in Syria and heed John Paul’s warning:
“The twentieth century bequeaths to us above all else a warning: wars are often the cause of further wars because they fuel deep hatreds, create situations of injustice and trample upon people’s dignity and rights… War is a defeat for humanity. Only in peace and through peace can respect for human dignity and its inalienable rights be guaranteed.”
*This statement from Pax Christi USA on Syria was written in collaboration with Scott Wright.