U.S. Bombing in Syria: We Must Break Free from Retaliation
President Trump recently launched 59 cruise missiles at an air base in Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack within Syria. We, who are called to be Catholic religious leaders, mourn for all those that died in both of these incidents, and we denounce this use of violence which only exacerbates the habits and structures of violence. In fact, these habits and structures are part of the core root causes of this conflict, which has already killed over 300,000 people and led to almost 5 million refugees and 7 million internally displaced persons.
The President has continuously emphasized the “rule of law” and yet in this case it appears that he obtained no congressional approval, nor did he allow for formal due process investigating the facts of the incident. We strongly support the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ investigation into this incident and call on all parties to provide access.
As Christians, we go deeper and turn to the example of Jesus who courageously resisted injustice, even with his very life, and offered compassionate and merciful justice humanity could not imagine. This week we enter into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus facing the violent structures of Jerusalem, risking his life, and providing a way to overcome through his nonviolent cross.
Pope Francis has clearly said that, “countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all” (Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace, Jan. 1, 2017). Thus, he called on all persons, especially government officials to use the Sermon on the Mount as the manual for peacemaking and to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their responsibilities.
CMSM Executive Director Fr. John Pavlik, OFM Cap., says, “Our hearts were broken as we learned of the suffering inflicted upon Syrian families and children with chemical weapons. And our hearts were wounded a second time in a violent response with cruise missiles bombing, destroying, and killing yet more. The US response manifested strong military power but showed nothing of a united will to lift, rescue, and save suffering people from the ravages of war. The US can be so much better than this.”
The issue we must face is not simply chemical weapons, but war itself along with the habits and structures of violence that enable it. The U.S. has too often been involved in killing thousands in recent wars, especially civilians and children, as we have seen most recently in Mosul, Iraq and our direct support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. As we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam” on April 4th, we are reminded of his words that “war is not a just way of settling differences,” and it cannot be “reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.” Hence, we recommit to Vatican II’s call that “it is our clear duty to strain every muscle to outlaw war” (Pastoral Constitution, 81). Further, we commit to Pope Francis’ call to make “every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence” (Nonviolence: Style of Politics for Peace) as we create a “culture of nonviolence…that has produced decisive results” (Letter to Bishop Cupich, Apr. 4, 2017).