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Dissenting from the Dissent

How Far Should the Anti-War Commentary Go?

Matthew M. Anger

Amidst all the wartime rhetoric, the most obvious anomaly is how Saddam's regime has been held to a far less rigorous standard than that of George W. Bush. People fear that state police terror will arise from the Patriot Act – a threat that may exist but has not been realized. So they speak as if U.S. officials were already driving around in uniformed squads, rounding up anyone who might be perusing Lew Rockwell or Antiwar.com. Meanwhile, very little was said of the Saddam loyalists who were arresting scores of ordinary Iraqi for doing even less than that, including at least 150 children who have just been released as political prisoners. At any rate, I trust that no one will regret the collapse of Hussein's regime.

E005IraqPrison3.jpg - 51631 Bytes
Under the Hussein regime,
even children were detained as political prisoners.
Time, Special Issue, Winter 2002
But setting the terms of debate as "pro-Saddam" or "pro-Bush" does not help. Neither side should engage in such labeling, though one cannot help notice how the anti-war estimation of Saddam's government was far too sanguine. The recent commentary by Assyrian Christian and ex-human shield, Ken Joseph ("I Was Wrong!") shows the "pro-Iraq" view in a less flattering light. Mr. Joseph's assessment is a sober one: But what of [the Iraqi] feelings towards the United States and Britain? Those feelings are clearly mixed. They have no love for the British or the Americans but they trust them.

'We are not afraid of the American bombing. They will bomb carefully and not purposely target the people. What we are afraid of is Saddam Hussein and what he and the Baath Party will do when the war begins. But even then we want the war. It is the only way to escape our hell. Please tell them to hurry. We have been through war so many times, but this time it will give us hope' [http://assyrianchristians.com/i_was_wrong].

Unfortunately, this is just the sort of understanding that seems to be lacking in more passionate wartime assessments ….

Our Nation in Context

To make the "best" the enemy of the "good" is a dangerous temptation. St. Augustine, by contrast, urged us not to extinguish the smoldering flame. The glimmer of goodness and justice in our society gives hope for the conversion of this land; weak virtues should not be criticized into oblivion, but made even stronger by encouragement and good example.

Hussein supporters shred an American flag

Above, supporters of Hussein in Cairo furiously shred the American flag.
AP, March 28, 2003Below, protesters also offend the American nation.
Protesters burn an American flag
Along those lines, the impression one has of pro-war Americans as decent people with a semblance of natural virtue, and the mass of anti-war protestors as spoiled radicals and perverts, however simplistic, is not with some deeper justification. Rather than constantly side with the campus radicals, simply because they are "against" something we have criticized (according to entirely different criteria), we can work from a position of strength. We can support the aspects of U.S. policy for the right reasons, while condemning things that citizens of good-will can relate to, like the use of women in combat or the reckless policy aims of liberal officials.

Pax Americana

…. America is a superpower and will probably remain so for some time. Many years ago the Russian anti-Communist novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminded us of our special status and the fact that we should neither abuse nor abdicate that responsibility. Like empires of the past, the U.S. can use this power for good or ill.

The history of previous global powers, including the European colonial efforts, will put our own quandaries, as well as the quaint denunciations of "imperialism," in perspective. Our country was not the first to embrace a good bit of greed and materialism. Yet even the European empires helped quell the savagery of non-Western nations and acted as an umbrella under which Catholic missionaries safely brought the faith to vast numbers of people who otherwise would have remained cloaked in heathen darkness.

Putting aside those unrealistic war commentaries which betray liberal sensitivities throughout, the conduct of the U.S. troops in Iraq is superior to that of many other nations ….

Bush's Accountability

Concerning the Catholic relationship with this president, we need to first dispense with the straw men. Few are so naïve as to believe that George Bush is another Medieval Pope leading the soldiers of the Cross against the Infidel. But a check on Islamic ambitions, however limited, should not be blithely discounted. As far as the "big picture" goes, U.S. policy in the Middle East may not be what the Christians of the 11th century intended, though it is wrong to depict their efforts as purely "spiritual" or "defensive" in the narrow sense. There was a good deal of political and military pragmatism at work. But even without the lofty religious aims of the Middle Ages, American involvement in Vietnam, for example, was better than nothing, and an opportunity for something more. That the war effort against Communism eventually crumbled along with America's domestic culture lies in something beyond national politics, as alluded to above. The fact, however, that our country has to some degree rejected the ethos of the Vietnam era is not to be despised ….

We see well-meaning writers treating the U.S. government in the same outraged manner as hippie radicals of thirty years ago. This leads one to ask if the adoption of the rhetoric of the left is not an even greater victory for the forces of subversion than anyone could have imagined? Certainly, we should be "wise as serpents." But people tend to forget the part about being as "harmless as doves." Valid social thought tells us that strident anti-government invective is not the tried and true path of Christianity, if only because it can be so easily misunderstood. Let us convert people religiously and then philosophically and then politically, and not the reverse.

The Terms of Debate

Any tendency towards "guilt by association" is lamentable. Nor does it really matter who started it. Opponents to Bush's policies do as much an injustice as supporters when they imply, if not state outright, that such a stance compromises them with the forces of secular degeneracy. The fact is, we cannot hope for political exactitude in an epoch where religious confusion reigns ….

The intentions of participants must be separated from their deductions. Remember that both the pro-war and anti-war Catholic, loyal to the Magisterium, are working from the same core beliefs, whereas a liberal who opposes the war may be doing so for entirely bad reasons. Let us make sure that whatever side of the fence we stand on, we don't end up despising loyal Catholics more than temporary secular allies! The war debate should certainly not be stifled. But if it is smothered to death by invective and polemics, it won't really matter what anyone thinks. If the aim is to convince, let us put aside adversarial commentary and note that healthy disagreement in areas that are not de fide is possible, but only if we avoid treating personal decisions on the war as matters of unconditional moral probity – e.g., the much-quoted statement by Bp. Botean that support of the war is on par with abortion. As it is, when writers impugn fellow traditionalists as perfidious "neo-conservatives," they are not voicing intellectual dissent. They are voicing a party line. And the danger of adopting a party line is that even when facts (as for example the truth about the Saddam regime) come to light, an over-zealous partisan will ignore empirical data for the sake of propping up a short-term agenda.

Closing the Gap

In conclusion, we need to close the gap between the two sides of this discussion before things deteriorate even further …. The rank-and-file of orthodox Catholics are not going to identify with the more outrageous commentaries being circulated (and it's simply unfair to dismiss this prudent concern out of impatience). If such commentaries continue, and if discernment is lacking on the part of wartime critics, the faithful may be unnecessarily alienated by the very authors who have so ably defended truth on key issues in the past. In fact, it is already happening.

Posted April 18, 2003

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