In my last column I wrote an open letter to Senator Barack Obama. It seemed to serve as a Rorschach test for readers—ranging from people who thought I was promoting Obama to those who thought I was fixated on abortion. Among readers who sympathized with my quandary, one correspondent recommended that I write such a letter to you. Here it is.
“A lot of Democrats will vote for McCain.” So goes an advertisement on your behalf featuring a disillusioned Hillary Clinton voter. But there are also many other Democrats who would like to vote for you but are still on the fence—not because they were for Senator Clinton, but because they have other worries.
As I noted in my letter to Obama, Catholics are not a lock-step army of voters. Some are die-hard Democrats, some die-hard Republicans. Others, like me, grew up in families committed to one party but have also voted for both Republican and Democratic presidential nominees or have voted independent or by write-in. Many of us who are committed to the intrinsic value of human life have profound problems with Obama’s position on abortion, but also have profound problems with one of your positions. It is not an abortion problem—although you may want to rethink your conflicting statements that human rights begin “at conception,” and that embryonic stem cell research should be approved and funded.
Your problem is a war problem. One may hold the position that there are just wars, but this must be evidenced and argued. You still maintain that the invasion of Iraq was right and just and have intimated that you would invade Iran. You may say it was humor, when in April of 2007, you sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann.” You may tell us to “lighten up.” But war is nothing to lighten up about. This is especially true at a time when The Jerusalem Post’s online edition of Sept. 1 runs the headline, “U.S. to Strike Iran in Coming Weeks,” based on Dutch intelligence calling off its infiltration and sabotage operations in Iran.
How can we “lighten up,” when we consider the Iraq invasion and what it has brought about: the death of more than 4,000 American combatants, with the accompanying devastation to their families, parents and children; 30,000 wounded, many of them fated to a lifetime of rehabilitation, the countless thousands with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the 150,000 Iraqis who are now refugees; the 43,000 to one million Iraqi lives lost. (The range of the death estimate is so wide and wild because we do not know how to count or catalogue them, whether we consult the Iraqi Health Ministry report to the United Nations, the Opinion Research Business poll or the Lancet Study of June 2006. Even the Iraq Body Count figure of 80,000 civilian deaths due to coalition or insurgency military action, sectarian violence and criminal acts warns us that “many deaths will likely go unreported.”) The war brought all this on.
Pope John Paul II was prophetic when in his January 2003 address to Vatican diplomats, he called the war a “defeat for humanity,” especially in light of the “consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations.”
Was the war one of “last resort” or one of “choice”? Was the war justified by solid evidence or by cooked intelligence? Was there disproportionate suffering inflicted on the innocent? Can you answer these questions? And are you able to refute Russia’s appeal to our invasion of Iraq as a justification for their invasion of Georgia? Your scolding words “In the 21st century, nations do not invade nations” are belied by the Iraq invasion. And now you are ready to bomb Iran?
There are many Catholics who have these questions, despite their admiration for you as a man of honor, your courage as a prisoner of war, your sense of decency and your admission of failure. Moreover, they appreciate your compassionate stance on illegal immigrants, your once high moral stand on torture, your willingness to collaborate with the opposing party—some of the very reasons many Republicans opposed your nomination.
Seven months ago, I wrote that I could vote for either you or Obama; and it is still that way. The situation is unchanged, except for the fact that you both are now the nominees of the major parties. Just as I would vote for Obama if he showed any curiosity and questioning of his abortion policies, so I would vote for you if you showed any reservations about your willingness to fight wars of choice.
In the matters of human life and death, you and your opponent have the shared opportunity to pose a profound question for yourselves and for the nation you would lead. It is a question that could rise from our shared humanity, but Christians might put it this way: How are we to treat the least of our brothers and sisters, whether they are unborn, undocumented or citizens of a country we are set to invade? A Roman Catholic bishop has strikingly stated that Catholics who vote for abortion-rights politicians will have to explain themselves to aborted fetuses in the afterlife. He also reportedly applied the image to the victims of war and torture. Will we be able to face the refugee, the imprisoned, the maimed, and the dead of war and say, “Yes, it was worth it. I willed and wanted it”?