January 3, 2005
Martin E. Marty
Andrew Greeley, sociologist, novelist, columnist, and priest, asked in the Christmas Eve edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, "Why?" He was referring to the Iraq war in the decades ahead. His language about the adventure was incautious: It's a "cockamamie and criminally immoral war ... planned before the Sept. 11 attack in which Iraq was not involved .... It has nothing to do with the war on terror .... [It is the product of] hallucinations by men and women [who write] long memos -- ... intellectuals with pointy heads."
Greeley would support the troops in "the best way possible: Bring them home, get them out of a war for which the planning was inadequate, the training nonexistent, the goal obscure, and the equipment ... inferior. They are brave men and women ... [but] sitting ducks for fanatics. Those who die are the victims of the big lie .... They are not the war criminals. The 'Vulcans,' as the ... foreign policy team calls itself, are the criminals, and they ought to face indictment .... In fact, the war ... has become a quagmire .... [T]here is no possibility of victory."
Theology from this papist (supporter of Pope John Paul II): "One of the criteria for a just war is that there be a reasonable chance of victory. Where is that reasonable chance? Each extra day of the war makes it more unjust, more criminal. The guilty people are [also] those who in the November election endorsed the war. They are also responsible for the Iraqi deaths .... We celebrate 'peace on Earth to men of good will.' Americans must face the fact that they can no longer claim to be men and women of good will .... [By the way, there is no] serious reason to believe that Sen. John Kerry would have had the courage to end the war."
Being the moderate Swiss half of the Irish-Swiss duo "Born Feb. 5, 1928," I would have used more temperate language, but believe Greeley raises a point we must face in 2005, the first year of the next decade of this war. What does one do if he or she becomes convinced that the "just war" criteria did not and do not "fit" this war? When the majority of the population finally came to call the Vietnam War immoral, I was counseling, among others, Lutheran "selective conscientious objectors," that is, not pure pacifists, but objectors to a particular war.
Martin Luther asked, at treatise length, "Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved." His main answer in short: Yes. But: "'Suppose my lord were wrong in going to war.' I reply: 'If you know for sure that he is wrong, then you should fear God rather than men, Acts 4 [5:29], and you should neither fight nor serve, for you cannot have a good conscience before God.'" Luther did say, give your "lord" the benefit of the doubt; "you ought not to weaken certain obedience for the sake of an uncertain justice." But otherwise, "it is better for God to call you loyal and honorable than for the world to call you loyal and honorable."
Greeley is not putting the onus on the troops, whom he applauds and for whom he has sympathy. He questions the citizens who support the venture. He is not the only questioner, and the hawkish Luther is not the only adviser on the morality of war. Still, in 2010, will we look back and ask whether we would not have done better at least to have given such voices a hearing earlier on?
Every Sightings to date has been designed to be exactly one page long on your screens. In this New Year column, allow me a moment to take you behind the scene for an extra page. The University of Chicago's Martin Marty Center, among its many activities, publishes this weekly message (plus a second issue most weeks), and invites me to write the Monday Sightings. Something in me impels me to say that this is "pro bono," which means that when I flub you can't reasonably ask the Center to fire me and save money. I'm "retired."
Sightings's second editor, Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez, is also retiring to tend to two small children and one large dissertation. She has served us well, and I am not alone in being in her debt. We'll miss her. However, it's also time to look ahead.
This week, Jeremy Biles takes over. He is a recent University of Chicago Ph.D. in Religion and Literature, a sometime teacher and writer at the University, who brings all the right qualifications. I'm sure he'd like to hear from readers who have something at column length to say (though he can't assure acceptance of all submissions!). No more than could Ms. Alvarez or I, can he respond to all of the many reactions we receive by e-mail, but he will read them all, and learn from them. I thought I'd start his tenure with a column immoderate enough that it is likely to draw response.
And if the column is on the glum side, let me now turn, in hope, to wish you a Happy New Year.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications,
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