War "no good to anyone" – The words of a Pacifist Pope?

On August 13, 2006 Pope Benedict gave a first-of-its-kind television interview with German televisions ARD-Bayerischer Rundfunk, ZDF (complete transcript available on the Vatican website). We’ll get the to the content and commentary of the interview in our upcoming Pope Benedict roundup, but this past week there has been much discussion on a particular segment:

Question: Holy Father, a question about the situation regarding foreign politics. Hopes for peace in the Middle East have been dwindling over the past weeks: What do you see as the Holy See’s role in relationship to the present situation? What positive influences can you have on the situation, on developments in the Middle East?

Pope Benedict XVI: Of course we have no political influence and we don’t want any political power. But we do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars. Everyone needs peace. There’s a strong Christian community in Lebanon, there are Christians among the Arabs, there are Christians in Israel. Christians throughout the world are committed to helping these countries that are dear to all of us. There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together. These are the forces we want to mobilize: it’s up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.

That war is, indeed, “no good for anyone” prompted the following protest from First Things‘ blogger Robert Miller:

I find it difficult to understand how the pope says this. Along with many others, I often invoke the Second World War as the paradigm example of a just war, of a case where morality not only permitted but required the use of armed force in order to combat evil. But here Benedict, expressly mentioning the world wars, says that they brought no good to anyone. No good to Elie Wiesel, and all the other prisoners liberated from Buchenwald? No good to the peoples of France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and others saved from Nazi domination? No good to the Poles and other Slavs, destined to slavery to support the Third Reich? No good to the young Joseph Ratzinger, who, freed from service in the Wehrmacht, was able to enter seminary, study theology, become a priest and a professor, and live to become pope?

As it stands, this statement from Benedict is unsupportable. All serious people know that war is a terrible reality to be avoided whenever possible, and Benedict should certainly say this. But he is also a great theologian, well able to make moral distinctions. He ought not make statements that can so easily be understood as endorsing a dangerously naive pacifism that is incompatible with the Catholic moral tradition.

Needless to say, Miller’s challenge caused quite a stir.

  • Mark Shea says “I basically agree with Miller”, howbeit issuing a plea for context:

    On the whole, though I disagree with the Pope’s remarks as they stand (since I believe in Just War teaching), I find myself thinking that I’d rather live in a world of people who err as the Pope does than in a world of War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on “creative destruction” and other Machiavellian schemes. In short, I don’t have much in the way of solutions, but I have a clearer and clearer idea of who I trust as I try to think things through.

    CAEI reader M.W. Forrest also speculates:

    For perspective, I think we should take into consideration that he was speaking to German reporters. What grievances did WWI and WWII solve for the Germans? WWI brought them the lost of some of their most productive land in the west and economic collapse. WWII gave them 1/4 of their country put in communist oppression.

  • Amy Welborn blogged the piece, with a not-entirely-unexpected 120 comment reaction and some good exchanges on pacifism and the just war tradition (“No Good War?” August 16, 2006).

Looking at Pope Benedict’s remark in and of itself, Robert Miller’s reaction is understandable. But this is not the first time that papal statements on war have resulted in a plethora of conflicting interpretations. Back in May, this blog took a stab at assessing various positions and papal pronouncements on the war in Iraq and the legitimate use of force (Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition Against The Grain May 18, 2006).

In response to that particular post, “rcesq”, a member and contributor to the RatzingerFanClub’s EzBoard forum, pointed out to me that, in Cardinal Ratzinger’s address in Normandy on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of D-Day (reprinted as Chapter 6 of Values in a Time of Upheaval, first published April 2005, new edition by Ignatius Press 2006) — we have good reason not to hasten to the conclusion from such papal comments as “war is the worst solution for all sides” and “today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a “just war”” — that we are in the presence of a pacifist-pope.

What follows are my friend rcesq’s observations, quoted in full (with permission) for your consideration:

* * *

[In his Normandy address], the Cardinal describes how the Nazis had seized power and caused

justice and injustice, law and crime [to become] entangled by carrying out both the legislative and administrative functions of the state. It was therefore in one sense entitled to demand that the citizens obey the law and respect the authority of the state (Rom 13:1ff!), while at the same time this government also employed the judicial organs as instruments in pursuit of its own criminal goals. The legal order itself continued to function in its usual forms in everyday lives, at least in part; at the same time, it had become a power that was used to undermine law.

According to the Cardinal,

[t]he only way to shatter this cycle of crime and reestablish the rule of law was an intervention by the whole world. . . . Here it is clear that the intervention of the Allies was a bellum iustum, a “just war” . . . perhaps the clearest example in all history of a just war.

Calling WWII a “just war” is pretty obvious and most commentators would place that conflict squarely in the just war tradition as you have explained. What’s interesting, though, is that the Cardinal does not justify the war on the ground of self-defense. After all, each of the Allied powers had been attacked first by the Nazis.

Instead, Ratzinger considers the war justified because it liberated the German people from their criminal government, gave them freedom and restored the rule of law. He describes it as an “intervention” — which sounds like the language used in AA programs when family and friends gather together to “stage an intervention” for the benefit of letting a drug or alcohol addicted friend or family member know that help for self-destructive behavior is available and required. Such a “therapeutic” approach to justifying war is not something I saw [in my prior blog-discussion of just war].

The Cardinal goes on to declare that this “real event in history shows that an absolute pacifism is untenable.” Even though it appears that some just war moralists are heading in the direction of pacifism by setting the bar for justifying war impossibly high, one would expect this far more rational conclusion from someone as grounded in reality as Joseph Ratzinger, who knows well that man is fallen and sinful and will fall and sin over and over again.

It seems unusual and is, to me, unexpected, that the Cardinal would open the door to justifying military intervention “against unjust systems of government,” when the intervention “serves to promote peace and accepts the moral criteria for peace.” Does this allow a “pre-emptive war” against a criminal regime that flouts resolutions of the United Nations to disarm, terrorizes and kills thousands of its own people, repeatedly attacks it neighbors without provocation, and credibly boasts of having weapons of mass destruction? One could argue that it does. After all, one can look at such a regime as suffering from an addiction that requires intervention. Unfortunately, the address just offers this tantalizing thought and then moves on.

Farther on in the address, the Cardinal turns to the phenomenon of “terror, which has become a new kind of world war.” He contrasts the destructive powers that lay in the hands of recognized superpowers — who one hoped would be susceptible to reason — with those potentially in the hands of terrorists, who cannot be counted on to be rational because self-destruction is a basic element in terrorism’s power. He identifies as a “basic truth” that it is impossible to overcome terrorism by force alone, but notes that:

the defense of the rule of law against those who seek to destroy it must sometimes employ violence. This element of force must be precisely calculated, and its goal must always be the protection of the law. An absolute pacifism that refused to grant the law any effective means for its enforcement would be a capitulation to injustice. It would sanction the seizure of power by this injustice and would surrender the world to the dictatorship of force. . . .

Again, the Cardinal’s thoughts suggest that it could be entirely legitimate for a country like Israel to use force against terrorists who try to undermine it; provided that the force is “precisely calculated.” Naturally you have to ask how you calculate force precisely, even with so-called smart bombs: human error will occur and you can end up with horrible misfires. But I think that the Cardinal’s reasoning does contradict those pundits who claim that American and Israeli soldiers are somehow acting immorally because their cause is unjustifiable.

The Cardinal posits another limit to the justifiable use of force against terror: “strict criteria that are recognizable by all,” and cautions against one power’s going it alone to enforce the rule of law (not stated but obvious: unilateral U.S. action). He also calls for an investigation into and addressing of the causes of terrorism that “often has its source in injustices against which no effective action is taken.” This formula for dealing with terror strikes me as a fair balance of realism and idealism, practicality and morality. It’s certainly not woolly headed or starry eyed — which is how some of the bishops’ pronouncements sometimes sound to me.

Ultimately, however, Cardinal Ratzinger advocates the way of Christ. Forgiveness is necessary to break the cycle of violence.

Gestures of humanity that break through [the cycle] by seeking the human person in one’s foe and appealing to his humanity are necessary, even where they seem at first glance a waste of time.

These thoughts may be useful tools to assess what is happening now with Israel. I think it’s possible to see their influence in Benedict XVI’s endorsement of the G-8 position while he is pleading for an end to the violence and prays so fervently for peace. [The Ratzinger Forum; edited by: rcesq at: 8/2/06 5:32 pm]

* * *

“As is usual with Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings, he sketches ideas, asks provocative questions, but offers no definitive answers,” concludes “rcesq”. At the end of my own post, I closed with the pressing need for some kind of authoritative clarification on the status of the “just war tradition”, together with the proper interpretation of papal pronouncements on the war in an informal context.

Ratzinger’s own thoughts on the use of force, as published in Chapter 6 of Values in a time of Upheaval will hopefully alleviate somewhat Robert Miller’s concerns of a “dangerously naive pacifism.”

Reading the diverse reactions on Open Book, I found Tom Haessler’s comment on the different papal “styles” especially helpful:

Benedict XVI’s theological and homiletic rhetoric is more kerygma (proclamation) than didache (teaching). John Paul the Great was immersed in Aquinas and modern phenomenology. Benedict XVI is immersed in the Fathers, especially in Augustine. The parsing of various aspects of just war theory is quite foreign to his approach. He’s trying to call all to their senses, to awaken new communities of conscience, to help us discover new zones of sensitivity and awareness not previously attended to; he’s NOT playing Jesuit anagrams with just war theory. Far from believing that military force is always wrong, he’s supported the Afghanistan and Kosovo interventions. But he’d be the last one to insist that his own prudential judgments trump every careful scrutiny of all pertinent aspects of an enormously complex problematic. He’s asking that he be heard, not that he be obeyed. . . . we’re all orthodox Catholics here, trying to discover God’s will in fidelity to all the values and norms we’ve learned through our membership in the Body of Christ. We all have something to teach (through our own experience), and we all have something to learn.

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