The War in Iraq - Is it still worth working for peace?

Written by Eugene Quinn on Thursday, 10 April 2003. Posted in Issue 45 Social Partnership: Is it a Just Structure?, 2003

Eugene Quinn and Seamus O'Gorman SJ

 

"It was an outrage, an obscenity. The severed hand on the metal door, the swamp of blood and mud across the road, the human brains inside a garage, the incinerated, skeletal remains of an Iraqi mother and her three small children in their still-smouldering car. Two missiles from an American jet killed them all - by my estimate, more than 20 Iraqi civilians, torn to pieces before they could be \'liberated\' by the nation that destroyed their lives. Who dares, I ask myself, to call this \'collateral damage\'?"
Robert Fisk’s visceral description of the horrors of the Market Square bombing in Baghdad (The Independent, March 27th, 2003) shatters any illusions about what the reality of war means in terms of human lives. The speed with which war arrived has been bewildering. It seemed one day we were debating the justness and the legitimacy of military intervention, marveling at the spontaneous and unexpected opposition of millions worldwide to the prospect of war. The next we were sitting helplessly by as war enveloped Iraq.

 

It is important that our protest does not end and that we continuously challenge the justifications for war. It seems that the vehemence with which Bush and Blair found themselves opposed during the diplomatic negotiations has subsided with the engagement in war. Now the leaders of the \'coalition of the willing\' have the floor to themselves as if it is ungracious to challenge them because their military personnel are at risk. We owe it not only to the Iraqi people but to military personnel on all sides to continue to challenge the war and so to work for peace.

The goalposts for going to war have been continually shifting from disarming Saddam Hussein, to regime change, to liberation of the Iraqi people. Some might argue that the threatened serious devastation of Iraq and its civilian population could possibly be \'justified\' on the grounds of proportionality if the reason for going to war was defense against grave and imminent threat. Few would now disagree that Iraq did not pose an immediate and grave threat to the US or any other country in the period leading up to war. Thus the strongest justification for a preventive strike in  defense is removed. The case that the US is morally obliged to go to war to liberate Iraqis has to be made in its own right.  It is infinitely more difficult to show that killing innocent Iraqis and destroying their already crippled infrastructure can be a means to their \'liberation\'.  The Jesuit Social Justice Secretariat in Rome argued that "the reasons for a pre-emptive attack are not convincing and that the consequences of a potential war so devastating that it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to justify military intervention".

A disheartening feature in the run up to the war was that \'just war\' theory was used by ethicists to give the stamp of moral approval to the war. The tendency that, in practice,  \'just war\' theory always seems to allow the case against war to fail appears to defeat the purpose that the theory was intended for:  to make us think long and hard before we say that the uncontrollable devastation of war is the only means we can think of for building peace. It is important that ethical arguments that are disembodied from the bloody reality of conflict are not left unchallenged.

The ethical imperative does require that we and the international community do what we can to improve the prospects of the Iraqi people. War is proving a blunt and crude instrument with which to work for that aim. A better future for the Iraqi people might have been achieved by containment of Saddam, and a package of \'just peace\' initiatives consistent with a real commitment to liberate them. The proponents of war filled our imaginations with images of what Saddam could do with WMD and Iraqi people greeting their liberators. The truth is far different.  From what we can see the Iraqi people are fighting to their death to defend their country from occupation. Iraqi men women and children continue to be the innocent and most tragic victims of the conflict.  Our worst fears of a long and protracted conflict descending into guerrilla warfare (suicide bombers, hand to hand combat) and mounting civilian casualties may be realised.

We join with the families of the September 11th tragedy in calling for an end to the war.

"September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows condemns unconditionally the illegal, immoral, and unjustified US-led military action in Iraq. As family members of September 11th victims, we know how it feels to experience "shock and awe," and we do not want other innocent families to suffer the trauma and grief that we have endured. While we also condemn the brutality of Saddam Hussein\'s regime, it does not justify the brutality, death and destruction being visited upon Iraq and its citizens by our own government."

We call on the Irish Government to take a courageous stand for peace by not allowing US warplanes to land and refuel in Shannon.

About the Author

Eugene Quinn

Eugene Quinn

National Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (Ireland)

We tend to think that law defines what crime is. This makes sense because contemporary legal codes are concerned with marking out the territory where conduct is permissible by specifying the conduct that is outlawed. Yet the earliest bodies of law – consider for example, the Torah or Hammurabi’s Code – are at least as committed to articulating the good as proscribing the bad... Read full editorial

Working Notes is a journal published by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. The journal focuses on social, economic and theological analysis of Irish society. It has been produced since 1987.