by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
If one can use such an antiseptic word, the “contours” of the war in Ukraine have recently changed dramatically and horribly. Vladimir Putin’s reported prediction that Kyiv would fall in a short two days has been completely denied by Ukrainian military and popular resistance. If a Pax Christi member can say it, the people there have demonstrated enormous reserves of patriotism and strength. But in the end, nothing good will come out of this war. Defenders are just as capable of barbarity as their oppressors. War is hell in every dimension.
Putin has turned to the unimaginable, inhuman tactic of destroying whole cities and civilian populations through artillery and aerial bombardments. This desperate change of plans has brought scenes of unspeakable suffering directly to our television news every night and stories of the same on the front pages of our daily papers. What holds our attention, consciously or not, is how familiar are the faces of women and children who are suffering, dying or fleeing from these attacks. They look like many of us. Brave journalists continue to send vivid human tragedy reports of victimization. We see indescribable suffering among people with names and relationships, who suffer smashed hopes for themselves and their precious children. Modern media bring Putin’s savagery before our eyes day after day after day. Much as we might wish to turn away, we cannot.
In utter frustration we cry out to ourselves, “What can be done to stop all of this?” “What can I do?” This stirs a memory of another time and place where similar crimes against humanity took place: World War II, when carpet bombing — also known as “saturation bombing” or “obliteration bombing” — was used to inflict total devastation on whole cities, including their entire civilian populations.
These precursors to what is happening now in Ukraine were carried out by the opposing forces of the Axis and Allied countries. Our country engaged in these bombings wholeheartedly. vengefully and unmercifully. For one example: on the night of March 9-10, 1945, aerial attacks by U.S. bombers were launched over the most heavily populated civilian sectors in Tokyo. More than 100,000 people were burned to death and another tens of thousands were left homeless.
And we are all aware that diabolical nuclear weapons were used by the United States on August 6 and 9, 1945, when 70,000 civilians in Hiroshima and 40,000 in Nagasaki were obliterated in an instant.
These examples of responding to aggression with even greater aggression point to the fact that violence will only produce more violence. Pope Pius XII warned of this in a radio address on Christmas Eve, 1943.
We see a conflict which degenerates into that form of warfare that excludes all restriction and restraint… in which ever-growing technical progress is accompanied by an even greater decline in the realm of soul and morality…The people have had to witness a new and incalculable perfection of the means and arts of destruction, while at the same time they see an interior decadence which… is hurtling toward the state where every human sentiment is being crushed and the light of reason eclipsed; the words of the Book of Wisdom are fulfilled: “They were all bound together with one chain of darkness.” (Wisdom 17:17)
Does this not sound familiar today?
The United States cannot claim moral high ground as we rightly condemn what Putin is doing in Ukraine, given this disgraceful action on our own history. While we and much of the world demand retribution for Putin’s crimes against humanity, we have much to answer for ourselves.
Pax Christi, the official Catholic peace movement, has an unpopular prophetic word to say in this regard. That is, to remind the United States of these sins. Then [we] “will know the truth, and the truth will set [us] free”. (John 8:31-32)
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.