“There is never any justification for violence.”
President Barack Obama, September 15th, 2012
In response to the violent attacks against U.S. embassies around the world, especially in the Middle East, by Muslims enraged over a YouTube video that insults the revered prophet Muhammad, President Barack Obama, in his weekly address said: “We stand for religious freedom. And we reject the denigration of any religion – including Islam, but there is never any justification for violence. There is no religion that condones the targeting of innocent men and women. There is no excuse for attacks on our Embassies and Consulates.” (Sept. 15, 2012)
I couldn’t agree more. But then I must ask, how does the U.S.A. explain maintaining the largest, best financed, best armed military in the world at the expense of its own people’s lives and livelihoods? How does it justify having more military bases in more countries than any other country in the world when it would never condone any foreign base inside its borders? How does it defend not only having the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world, but upgrading what it has while opposing a Nuclear Weapons Convention for which most nations of the world have voted? Furthermore, how does it claim to support nuclear nonproliferation and ultimate abolition while making nuclear deals with allies like India? What could be of greater danger to innocent men and women than a nuclear attack? And what about those drones that have become the weapon of choice, supposedly targeting combatants but wiping out noncombatants in untold numbers? Why has the U.S.A. opposed United Nations treaties against landmines, child soldiers, and arms trade? In fact, the U.S.A. is the largest arms trader on the globe. We travel half way around the world to engage in wars that are known to kill far more civilians than warriors, and then dismiss the civilian casualties as “collateral damage” with limp apologies. Even here at home, far too many fight for gun rights with the same vigor with which they fight against health care. Is that not violence against innocents?
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives the Israelites a choice: “I put before you life and death; choose life.” Do we choose life in the U.S.A.? Our foreign (and domestic) policies certainly don’t indicate that we do. Rather, they suggest that, as a nation, we prefer death.
Where is our outcry? Where is the outcry of our Church? The world knows where the Catholic Church stands on abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. Why isn’t it made equally aware of the Church’s stand against war, nuclear weapons, and torture? When people distort Just War Theory to justify a war, why isn’t that used as a “teachable moment”? In fact, each of the last several popes has increasingly indicated that a “just war” is likely no longer possible. On October 2nd, 2003, prior to being named Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said: “…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’.”
Furthermore, this pro-life Church has spoken clearly against landmines and child soldiers. It has endorsed a strong Arms Trade Treaty and has called the U.S. to review its use of unmanned drones, noting their indiscriminate assault on human life. It supports both gun control and the basic right to health care for all. It teaches an option for the poor, not a budget for the military.
How, then, can we as a nation of supposedly God-fearing people tell others “there is never any justification for violence” when we practice it with such abandon and condone it with our compliance? Why should we expect other nations to bow to our admonishments when they not only see but are often the victims of our hypocrisy? Let us apply to ourselves the moral standards we rightfully expect of others. We might discover far more cooperation when we do.
Rosemarie Pace is Director of Pax Christi Metro New York. She holds a Doctorate in Education from St. John’s University in New York City and an Advanced Professional Diploma in Religious Education from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education.