by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Journalist Chris Hedges wrote a remarkable essay in the first hours of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As a war correspondent who has reported from many areas of armed conflict, he is qualified to speak about war. His essay is worthy of prayerful reflection this Lent.
The quotes here are Hedges’ with accompanying commentary.
“Preemptive war, whether in Iraq or in Ukraine is a war crime.”
This was the opening line of the essay, notable because the author immediately reminds us that the United States carries its own guilt for initiating armed conflict. Iraq and Afghanistan immediately come to mind, and if we are honest, we should admit to our own highly questionable military interventions even as we rightly condemn that being committed today by Russia in Ukraine.
“Once war begins, no one, even those nominally in charge of waging war, can guess what will happen, how the war will develop, how it drives armies and nations toward suicidal folly.”
We are seeing this horrific reality once again as the invasion of Ukraine takes on increasing and ominous uncertainty. Is there any so-called “end game” there? Or is the world witnessing an ever-widening catastrophe which only God knows how far it will eventually extend?
“War destroys all systems that sustain and nurture life – familial, economic, cultural, political, environmental and social… I have heard the wails of those convulsed by grief as they clutch the bodies of friends and family, including children. I know what wounds look like. Legs blown off. Heads imploded into a bloody, pulpy mass. Gaping holes in stomachs, Pools of blood. Cries of the dying, sometimes for their mothers. And the smell of death.”
All of this is happening as Putin’s soldiers rampage through Ukrainian towns and villages, indiscriminately killing and destroying.
“The primary lesson in war is that we as distinct individuals do not matter. We become numbers, fodder. Objects. Life, once precious and sacred, becomes meaningless. No one in wartime is exempt… There are no good wars – none. This includes World War II, which has been sanitized and mythologized to mendaciously celebrate American heroism, purity and goodness.”
As we know, the monstrous evil that is war led to the founding of Pax Christi amid the ruins of World War II. The abolition of war has been a pillar of Catholic social teaching with Pope St. Paul VI crying out at the United Nations General Assembly on October 4, 1965, ‘no more war – war never again’; with Pope St. John Paul II declaring on the eve of our country’s invasion of Iraq saying: “War is a defeat for humanity.”
“Let us pray for a ceasefire. Let us hope for an end to war before we stumble into a nuclear holocaust that devours us all.”
This brings us to this season of Lent. If there ever was a compelling motive for repentance this has to be it. But the question is: what can one do that is effective in the face of what is going on half a world away? Do our little acts of self-denial make any difference when considered in the light of Ukraine’s overwhelming suffering?
Without being totally unrealistic, doesn’t our Christian faith and our commitment to Pax Christi shed some light on these legitimate questions? Firstly, we stand before God as individuals and as a movement to beg forgiveness for the ongoing sin against God’s sons and daughters being committed in Ukraine. Secondly, our admittedly small acts of penance seem insignificant compared with what the Ukrainian people are undergoing. But these little sacrifices at the very least keep us from turning away from that reality. We remain in solidarity with our sisters and brothers there. And finally, the quieting down time of Lent gives us room to speak our word about Gospel nonviolence and the truth that “War Is Not The Answer”.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.