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(Good) Catholics' views on Lt. Ehren Watada, Iraq war

By Matt Abbott
Catholic Online

I thought I'd ask some solidly orthodox Catholics to comment on Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada's refusal to be deployed to Iraq because of his objection to the war.

The following are slightly-edited statements on the matter from three Catholic priests and three Catholic lay persons:

Father Tom Euteneuer:

"We have to believe in the fundamental right of conscientious objection in any field. It is especially important in the fight against the world's most vicious dictatorship, the culture of death. Lt. Watada has the right to object in conscience to a war he feels is immoral as long as he is willing to pay the price for that conscientious objection.

"What I find striking about this story is that the Army seems to have refused to grant space to this man's conscience. They refused to re-assign him and seem to be making an example of him when they should rather be respecting his convictions. The Army is certainly big enough to accommodate people who do not wish to participate in any given war, and it hardly seems there will be a groundswell of conscientious objection to the war from within the ranks of an all-volunteer army.

"My basic point is that conscience has to be respected, and when it is not, we politicize and trivialize the moral dimension of life which is the foundation of everything. This is as true for the war in Iraq as it is in the fight against abortion. When we undermine conscience, we all lose."

Father Jeffrey Robideau:

"I am not an expert on what constitutes a just war, but I have studied, though some time ago, the Just War Theory. From this I know that the Church has always taught that war is sometimes a necessary evil and that the state has to right to declare war against another state if certain conditions are present and one will fight according to certain rules. These can all be studied under the Just War Theory.

"The politics and bias media coverage make it difficult for any individual to determine if this is a just war or not. With this being the case, how can a Catholic make a decision as to weather or not to fight or not fight this war? In one sense, as a Catholic, we have the duty and obligation to listen to what the Church says. On the other hand, we have many leaders in the Church who fall into the trap of false charity, false forgiveness or have a modernist agenda. We cannot follow such leaders when it comes to such issues.

"We have another teaching called patriotism. Patriotism is a virtue one must develop in life. Again we have a problem. The same as we have corrupt leaders in the Church, we have corrupt leaders in the state. To whom are we to listen?

"Another teaching to come into play is that of following one's informed conscience. Again, when the information we are being feed is corrupt and bias, even with the best intention, we cannot make a good decision.

"What if we look at history? I cannot come down against Islam for their violence. We have done violence as a church also. But we have learned from our mistakes. We even teach religious tolerance now. The problem is that the Islamic nations do not seem to be willing to learn this lesson. Why? We were able to learn because violence has never been our doctrine. Violence was done by man in the name of religion. For the Muslims, violence is doctrine. They are to kill infidels (us) if they do not convert. They will not be willing to change their doctrine of the sword any more than we would be willing to change our doctrine on the Trinity.

"Also part of our history is the Crusades. We, as the Church, went to war against these same people. Why? Because they were killing our pilgrims. They were doing what Muslims do -- kill those of differing opinions on religion. We protected ourselves -- something allowed by Church teaching.

"Does any of this help? No! It is all very confusing. When there are no certain paths to take, one must make the best choice they can, having prayed and considered all the facts they can find. With this, one will also need to be willing to face consequences for his actions. The most important consequence is not from the Church or state, but from God.

"This last part is my opinion about the Iraq war. We are there for the wrong reasons, based on bad, distorted or propaganda type information. The war may have been inevitable because of the situation in the Middle East and the fact we were attacked by Muslims. Islam is more than a religion; it is also their government. So this is not a religious war, but a war between states. This allows our government the right to declare war on them. The problem is that the religion is not constrained by geographic boundaries. We must ask then, where are we willing to take this war, including within our own nation?

"We will not be able to make Iraq a democratic nation, nor do we have to. It will be temporary at best. There should be no problem with there being an Islamic state. After all, we are a Christian state, with laws based on Christian principles. Why should they not be allowed to do the same with their state? There is room for both. If that is what they want, then fine, religious freedom allows for it. They must, however, change their policy on killing us. They must allow us to exist as a Christian state. They must also respect human dignity in that there can be no more torture, mass murder, or genocide.

"So what is a soldier to do? Ask: Is the state asking me to do anything immoral? If not, then the state is a legitimate authority and we must follow. The state has the right and duty to protect and defend the citizens of the state. If it is immoral, then we have a Christian duty to defy the state and face the consequences."

Father Burns Seeley:

"Below is a copy of the oath which Lt. Watada took as a member of the U.S. Army. However, he declares that the war in Iraq is immoral and unjust and refuses to return to Iraq.

'I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.'

"It is questionable whether a U.S. soldier may legally be free of penalty or punishment, if he declares that he objects in conscience to a particular war, but not to all wars. (See

"Of course, he is still free in conscience to object to any particular war. But his should be a well-informed conscience and he also should be willing to accept any punishment a court martial may mete out to him."

William Grossklas:

"If our country is unjustifiably attacked by another country and you wish to fight the attackers, have at it. It's just too bad that's not the case with the United States.

"By the same token, as we have an all voluntary military, any soldier who believes the government's course of action is wrong, then that man has the right to refuse to fight. If not, then our government is no better than the Nazis. Remember the excuse of those on trial at Nuremburg, 'Befehl ist befehl! -- 'Orders are orders.' That doesn't cut any ice and soldiers are not to blindly obey their leaders when they conscientiously believe them to be in error -- whether that be a squad leader or the president of the United States (recall My Lai and Haditha). Otherwise, what's voluntary about our military?

"The same freedom of conscience also applies to soldiers who have been drafted -- even more so because they've been put into bondage by their own government and not by their own will. Slavery was supposed to have been outlawed in the United States after the conclusion of the illegal war of the tyrant Lincoln -- the same as Bush's wars today. The only difference is that Bush and his neo-con allies haven't reinstituted the draft, yet, but they are extending tours of duty for those they've shipped to Afghanistan and Iraq and it's taking its toll on the mental state of those troops.

"If the state doesn't own me, they don't have the right to compel me to serve in its wars. If it assumes that right, then I'm not a free man and the U.S. is not a free country. Of course, to show that is the case outside of the draft is relatively simple. But that is a subject for another time. And as far as war in general goes, Catholic teaching is clear on this. You have the right to repel an aggressor. The current conflicts in which the United States is engaged, unfortunately, have no such justification.

"As far as Lt. Ehren Watada goes, all the more power to him. I salute his efforts. Of course, if they went after Michael New for refusing to wear the UN Blue, I suspect they're going to come down with both feet on Watada. After all, a totalitarian state can't have its subject disobeying."

Susan Gorski:

"My dad was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force. We do not currently have a draft in place so military service is voluntary for which people enlist. Anyone who enlists in the military service should have the reasonable expectation that they may be called upon to fight in a war. It's plainly a part of what the military does. People who don't have that expectation, however just or unjust the war may be, really don't have any business joining, or remaining enlisted in, the military. As with other conscientious objectors, they should be released from all military duty or request to be discharged.

"As to determining the justice of the Iraq war, one has to know all the facts, which would also include any military secrets the government does not release to the public. Otherwise, it is 'best guess' or personal opinion. The Catholic Church allows for fighting a just war. My father did, and because he was a bomber pilot, he dropped bombs that killed people during World War II. He used his side arm as well. He could have objected to fighting the Nazis, but he believed it to be a just war. My father enlisted, and he flew 25 missions and was shot down twice. Was it worth it? He thought so, and I'm proud to be his daughter because of the sacrifice he was willing to make and did make."

Kelly Ames:

"I can respect the Watada's position, but regarding Catholic social teaching, I do not think the Iraqi war is unjust at all. Saddam Hussein killed at least a few hundred thousand of his own people. We, as well as the UN, had given him many warnings and even imposed sanctions that he completely ignored. His people were basically starving and had no hope for the future under his oppressive regime.

"The media has been terribly negative about the war, and we never hear about anything positive. It is very hard to find the truth -- one has to read '' or the blog 'President Aristotle' to find out about the successes and structural improvements that have occurred within Iraq. I do not like war and hope we are able to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, but if we were to do so now, we would be deserting the Iraqi people and their new government."


Matt Abbott IL, US
Matt Abbott - Author,



Catholic, Abbott

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