The National Catholic Review
John F. Kavanaugh

As the six-month mark passed since the World Trade Center and Pentagon atrocities, the president of the United States was greeted with heart-warming news. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, entitled America at War, informed us that 88 percent of us support the way the president is handling the campaign against terrorism. Eighty-four percent think the war is going very well indeed. Almost three-fourths of Americans in the United States support sending U.S. troops to the Philippines and Yemen as well as taking military action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein from power.

At the same time, it was announced by our Pentagon that Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran and North Korea will be possible targets of nuclear weapons, depending upon contingencies categorized as immediate, potential or unexpected. China and Russia, it seems, are only closely circulating around the axis of evil; but if they are drawn in, we’ll take care of them too. It is promised that in 10 years’ time, with our 14 Trident subs, 500 Minuteman land-based missiles, our 76 B-52 and 21 B-2 bombers, we will have an operationally deployed force of 1,700 to 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads and a wide range of options for a responsive force to meet potential contingencies.

Such displays of unanimity among our citizens and pulverizing potency in our Pentagon bring comfort to many of us. They cause me disquiet.

The almost lock-step uniformity of opinion provides a dangerously uncritical blank check to those who would drop bombs on other human beings. This is particularly distressing at a time when almost all the information given to the American people is controlled and edited by the very forces prosecuting the present war against what we term evil itself.

I have in other columns expressed gratitude for the liberation of Kabul from the Taliban and the carefully articulated concern not to cause civilian deaths. But just how many civilians have been killed by our bombing? There is no answer, other than a sneer at the alarming figures reported by international sources. And how effective have the bombings been in ending the threat of terrorists lodged in Afghanistan? Again, no answer other than the arched eyebrow of Secretary Rumsfeld, suggesting that only an idiot would question government policies and decisions.

Those who inform us, form us. Our moral judgments, our consciences, are only as sound as the information and principles they are based on. And the information we receive from the major networks and newspapers largely reinforces the military blank check. A network like Fox News approaches outright jingoism in its support of war-making. And The Weekly Standard, whose writers often appear on the networks, features articles with titles like, On to Iran! What to Do About Iraq: For the war on terrorism to succeed, Saddam Hussein must be removed and Pre-emptive Terrorism: The case for anticipatory self-defense.

Things that we once thought we as a country were morally incapable of doing are now given serious consideration. We will shoot down our own civilian airliners if they pose a threat to a populace or strategic site. We might use pre-emptive strikes against those nations we suspect of aiding terrorists. We ought to consider using torture or atomic bombs to protect our interests and make our people secure and safe.

It may be suggested that such ruminations are just threats, to insure that the enemy not even dare consider more massive terror in the face of such dire consequences. But we must ask ourselves: will such threats make the enemy less or more likely to make their own pre-emptive strikes against us?

No, I am not against our soldiers. No, I do not think we should forget the abominations of Sept. 11. No, I am not proposing passivity in the face of evil. Rather, I am raising hard questions we must ask ourselves to find out just what kind of people we really are. I am suggesting that we ought to take a more probing moral poll of our consciences to discover just how far our outrage at injustice and our fear of further violation has pushed us.

1. If it is discovered that 10 civilian airplanes, with 3,000 captive innocent passengers, pose a threat to our cities, should we shoot them out of the skies?

2. If our best intelligence warns us of an imminently dangerous nuclear suitcase bomb, should we drop nuclear bombs on Baghdad and Tehran as a pre-emptive strike? As a retaliatory strike? Will this make the world safe for democracy?

3. Should we torture prisoners suspected of having information about attacks on the United States? If we manage to take into our custody the mother or a child of Osama bin Laden, is it permissible to torture them until Bin Laden gives himself up?

If we are willing to destroy our own airborne hostages to terrorism in numbers exceeding those we mourn from Sept. 11, if we are willing to incinerate Arab populations as a pre-emptive act of self-defense, if we are willing to torture the innocent to save the civilization we treasure, maybe one day, by this cold calculus we will be able to overcome evil out there.

But it will have been done at the price of having become evil in here. Having expunged Osama bin Laden from the world, we will have enthroned his murderous logic in our own minds.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

Jane Prouty | 3/27/2002 - 1:23am
Thank you Fr. Kavanaugh, You have codified much of what I have been thinking and discussing with parish friends. We are in the minority in our parish and in Georgia.

The only web board I post on is a discussion board on figure skating maintained by the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Because of some disagreeing posts from other countries some posters decided to wrap themselves in the American Flag, which sadly is so often used for political manuevering. A few feathers flew when I objected to the rhetoric--on a figure skating board.

As for the media, I cringe every time I see the program guide for the MSNBC program: AMERICA AT WAR. What kind of propaganda is that?

Again thank you.

Jane Prouty | 3/27/2002 - 1:23am
Thank you Fr. Kavanaugh, You have codified much of what I have been thinking and discussing with parish friends. We are in the minority in our parish and in Georgia.

The only web board I post on is a discussion board on figure skating maintained by the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Because of some disagreeing posts from other countries some posters decided to wrap themselves in the American Flag, which sadly is so often used for political manuevering. A few feathers flew when I objected to the rhetoric--on a figure skating board.

As for the media, I cringe every time I see the program guide for the MSNBC program: AMERICA AT WAR. What kind of propaganda is that?

Again thank you.