Posts Tagged ‘Peace and War’

The American Monarch Wages War

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

One of the most important stories in Anglo-American constitutional history has been the struggle over the extent of what is called the “royal prerogative”. That’s the term for the inherent power of the monarch in such areas as foreign affairs, warfare, law-making, etc.

The history of England is in many respects the history of the gradual restriction of the unlimited power of the king and the imposition of conditions and limitations that established a separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. One of the central elements of the royal prerogative was the power to make war without the approval of Parliament. Even to this day, the monarch of Great Britain has the sole authority to declare war, without the consent of the legislature.

That history is essential to understanding the foundation of the United States. If you were to read the Declaration of Independence, and focus on the “long train of abuses” in that document, you’ll understand that the misuse of royal prerogative was at the heart of the grievances that led to the Revolution. One of the driving principles in the Declaration, and later in the Constitution, was the need to limit the royal prerogative and to limit the power of the executive with checks and balances.

Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution gives to Congress the sole authority to declare war, to raise armies and navies and to regulare them. Article Two, Section Two designates the President as the Commander in Cheif of the military, which ensured civilian control of the military, but did not give him unlimited power to make war or take other actions purely at his discretion. That principle has been upheld by the Supreme Court, for instance in the Youngstown Steel case, which overturned President Truman’s seizure of steel mills during the Korean War. It has always been understood, however, that in emergency situations, the President can act to defend America against attack, even without first getting Congressional approval. That same section has also been understood to give the President very broad powers to conduct the foreign policy of the United States, including making treaties.

Add to this is that the United States has signed onto the United Nations Charter, which is thus part of the “supreme law of the land”  according to Article Six of the Constitution. That Charter permits nations to act in self-defense against an armed attack (Article 51) but specifically forbids “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” (Article 2). Under the Charter, and thus under American law, the authority to used armed forces against another state is reserved to the Security Council (Chapter VII).

Over the course of our history, presidents have greatly expanded their powers over war-making. Our nation has engaged in many conflicts on Presidential decision alone, without specific Congressional approval. From time to time, Congress has tried unsuccessfully to restrain that power. In recent years, Congress has completely abdicated its authority over declaring war. With a few exceptions (e.g., the Iraq War), the United States has consistently ignored the United Nations Charter when deciding to engage in armed conflicts.

Why does this matter to Catholics? It has always been an element of Catholic social teaching that nations may engage in warfare under very limited conditions. This has generally been known as the “just war” doctrine, and can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2309. An essential element of that doctrine is that the decision to engage in war must be made according to the laws of the nation and international law by the competent legal authorites.

Those requirements have been consistently flouted by our militarized government. We have now come to a place where the President has no accountability to anyone — not Congress, the Supreme Court, or the Constitution. And so we are engaged in on-going wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and now Syria, all of which are being waged without any regard to the Constitutional limits on presidential authority.

It is as if we never separated from Great Britain. In effect, we have a monarch with unlimited royal prerogative to wage wars on other nations. These decisions are too important to leave morality out of the calculus. As Catholics, we must bring moral principles into the debate.

War Breeds War, Violence Breeds Violence

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

The situation in Syria is unimaginably horrific.  The current civil conflict has caused over 100,000 deaths, as many as four million refugees, and incalculable human suffering.  The present regime is notorious for its brutality and indifference to human rights, and its disregard for norms of decency and humanity.  The recent reported use  of chemical weapons by the regime against civilians shocks the conscience.  Yet many of the rebels are associated with terrorist groups that have targeted America and our allies, and have also used violence against civilians.

The use of chemical weapons has prompted the President to consider striking Syrian targets with military force, and he has announced that he will be seeking Congressional approval for that action.

This tragedy could easily be dismissed as yet another instance of the long history of inhumanity in that region, which has been plagued by war and violence for as long as history can recall.  War-weary Americans could easily be excused for turning their eyes away from these terrible events, or for throwing their hands up in despair at what seems a hopeless and intractable situation.  It is also understandable for people to reflexively support military action, out of an impulse of revulsion over the use of such terrible weapons, or from a desire just to do something in response.

But for Christians, we have a sacred obligation, which comes to us from our Lord Himself, to approach this situation differently.  We must work for peace, prevent war, and heal those who are ravaged by conflict. We must make sure that voices for peace are heard, amidst the calls for action and war.  War should always be the absolute last resort of national policy, even in the face of crimes against humanity.

Christian leaders in Syria have been calling for the United States not to take military action.  They have already been suffering from oppression and war, and will bear the brunt of further violence.  We need to listen to them, and heed their advice.

Pope Francis has strongly called for people to seek the path of peace in Syria, reminding us that “war breeds war, violence breeds violence”.  One need only view the video of his Sunday Angelus address, to get a sense of how our Holy Father is moved by the situation in Syria, and how desperately he wishes for peace.

The Holy Father has specifically called for us to pray and fast this Saturday, September 7, for peace in Syria.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have asked Americans to contact Congress to urge them to choose the path of diplomacy instead of conflict.

This last Sunday, the Communion antiphon included the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

This is a challenging time for all Christians, and all people of good will.  War breeds war, and violence breeds violence, but peace can also breed peace.

 

There Is Another Way

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Over the last week, like many Americans, I have watched the news videos of violence around the world.  I have been shocked and angered by the attacks on American embassies and Western businesses, and the murder of innocent persons.  I have also listened and read the responses of our political leaders and pundits — all of whom, it seems, are advocating for retaliation, the use of force, and more violence.

But there is another way here.  We do not always have to resort to more violence, more killing.  Legitimate self-defense is necessary, but we have to question and challenge every use of force.  Violence is not the only way to deal with problems.  There is also the way of peace.

Pope Benedict is in Lebanon right now, giving a courageous personal witness to that way.  And he is using his position as Vicar of Christ to tell us that we need to seek peace and justice, and not to perpetuate the violence.   His address to the public officials who greeted him in Lebanon is a profound and eloquent call to the way of peace, and should be read, studied, and taken to heart by all our political leaders.

A few highlights are worth sharing here. On the dignity of the human person as the foundation of a peaceful society:

The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity. Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God… We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.

On the need for solidarity among people as the path to peace:

Mankind is one great family for which all of us are responsible. By questioning, directly or indirectly, or even before the law, the inalienable value of each person and the natural foundation of the family, some ideologies undermine the foundations of society. We need to be conscious of these attacks on our efforts to build harmonious coexistence. Only effective solidarity can act as an antidote, solidarity that rejects whatever obstructs respect for each human being, solidarity that supports policies and initiatives aimed at bringing peoples together in an honest and just manner…  Nowadays, our cultural, social and religious differences should lead us to a new kind of fraternity wherein what rightly unites us is a shared sense of the greatness of each person and the gift which others are to themselves, to those around them and to all humanity. This is the path to peace! This is the commitment demanded of us! This is the approach which ought to guide political and economic decisions at every level and on a global scale!

And on conversion of heart that all are called to:

A new and freer way of looking at these realities will enable us to evaluate and challenge those human systems which lead to impasses, and to move forward with due care not to repeat past mistakes with their devastating consequences. The conversion demanded of us can also be exhilarating, since it creates possibilities by appealing to the countless resources present in the hearts of all those men and women who desire to live in peace and are prepared to work for peace. True, it is quite demanding: it involves rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them, and, not least, forgiveness. Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace.

The Holy Father is calling upon all of us to look at the deplorable situation in our world in a new light — the light of the Gospel, which is the light of love.  We must demand that our political leaders break free of the false consciousness that impels them to advocate for violence in response to violence, to force in opposition to force, and to power against power.

God demands that we live in peace with our brethren around the world, regardless of our differences.  Our Holy Father is showing us the way.  Let us pray that our political leaders will see that, and choose the way of peace.