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Pope John Paul II calls War a Defeat for Humanity: Neoconservative Iraq Just War Theories Rejected

9/17/2003 - 8:50 AM PST

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by Mark and Louise Zwick


The most consistent and frequent promoter of peace and human rights for the last two decades has been Pope John Paul II.

From Iraqi War I to Iraqi War II, he has echoed the voice of Paul VI, crying out before the United Nations in 1965: War No More, War Never Again!

John Paul II stated before the 2003 war that this war would be a defeat for humanity which could not be morally or legally justified.

In the weeks and months before the U.S. attacked Iraq, not only the Holy Father, but also one Cardinal and Archbishop after another at the Vatican spoke out against a "preemptive" or "preventive" strike. They declared that the just war theory could not justify such a war. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said that such a "war of aggression" is a crime against peace. Archbishop Renato Martino, who used the same words in calling the possible military intervention a "crime against peace that cries out vengeance before God," also criticized the pressure that the most powerful nations exerted on the less powerful ones on the U.N. Security Council to support the war. The Pope spoke out almost every day against war and in support of diplomatic efforts for peace.

John Paul II sent his personal representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, a friend of the Bush family, to remonstrate with the U.S. President before the war began. The message: God is not on your side if you invade Iraq.

After the United States began its attacks against Iraq, FOX News actually reported the immediate comments of the Holy Father, made in an address at the Vatican to members of an Italian religious television channel, Telespace: "When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society," John Paul said. "Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man."

Americans were largely unaware of the depth and importance of the opposition of Church leaders to an attack on Iraq, since for the most part the mainstream media did not carry the stories. In the same way, many Americans were unaware that Pope John Paul II spoke against the first Gulf War 56 times. Media in the United States omitted this from the commentaries on the war.

Many have also been unaware of the number of Iraqis killed in that war (not to mention the war which recently "ended"). In February 2003 Business Week published an interview with Beth Osborne Daponte, a professional demographer who worked for the Census Bureau. The first Bush administration tried to fire her because her published estimates of the number of Iraqi deaths conflicted with what Dick Cheney was saying at the time. She was defended by social science professionals and was able to keep her job. Her estimates: 13,000 civilians were killed directly by American and allied forces, and about 70,000 civilians died subsequently from war-related damage to medical facilities and supplies, the electric power grid, and the water system.

In the past few years, Catholic neoconservatives have been attempting to develop a new philosophy of just war which would include preemptive strikes against other nations, what might be called a "preventive war." George Weigel has published major articles defending this position since 1995. First Things magazine published his articles and editorially agreed with this point of view. The present Bush administration has used these writings to defend the strike against Iraq. Shortly before the war began, through the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, President Bush sent Michael Novak to go to Rome to try to justify the war to the Pope and Vatican officials. Novak took with him Andrew Sullivan and William Bennett. Catholic News Service reported that the two-hour symposium was attended by some 150 invited guests, including lower-level Vatican officials, professors from church universities in Rome and diplomats accredited to the Vatican. Since with one voice Rome had already rejected the argument for a preventive war, Novak took the approach that a war on Iraq would not be a preventive war, but a continuation of a "just war," Iraqi War I, and actually a moral obligation. He argued that it was also a matter of self-defense, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was an un-scrupulous character, and therefore it was only a matter of time before he took up with Al Qaida and gave them such weapons.

Novak did not succeed in convincing Church leaders--in fact, some commentators reflected that his efforts might have had the opposite effect. Novak's credibility in this argument was perhaps under-mined by his employment at the American Enterprise Institute, heavily funded by oil companies, some of whom began advertising in the Houston Chronicle for employees to work in Iraq even before the war began. ...

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