A reader writes:

My husband and I are both, like you, ambivalent about the prospect of war with Iraq. In our greying 50′s, we both have pretty good antiwar creds. Plus, one half of us (I) am trying hard to be a good Roman Catholic (He’s trying hard to be a good Russian Orthodox) — and I can’t just shrug off statements from Josef Ratzinger and other high Vaticanistas whose strong antiwar statements must have been vetted by the Pope, don’t you think?

On the other hand, the antiwar people in the US seem to be morons. My husband came to this conclusion this afternoon after following the CNN coverage of the antiwar demonstrations for a couple of hours. I had come to this conclusion independently just mousing around the net. Plus I am still on the mailing list for a lot of antiwar publications “from the old days.”

The last temptation is the greatest treason;

To do the right thing for the wrong reason.

–T.S. Eliot, The Murder In The Cathedral

Yet it still occurs to me that there may be respectable, even compelling reasons for NOT going to war against Iraq. It’s just that they’re not the reasons I’ve heard thus far from the antiwar movment leaders, who further damage the credibility of “peace” every time they open their ignorant mouths.

I’m wondering whether anybody the likes of John Finnis, Germain Grisez, or Jean Bethke Elshtain have done any recent writing on this subject. I respect them mucho and would carefully ponder what they had to say. Have you run into any solid criticisms of the ius ad bellum from solid Catholic moral theologians of this caliber?

I’ve heard nothing from any of the people you mention. Like you, I am not one of the conservative Catholics who finds it so easy to dismiss Ratzinger or the Holy Father with a snort of contempt. Their reluctance (I would not call it opposition since they have not flat said, “An attack on Iraq is immoral and incompatible with Catholic teaching” (nor will they)) makes me uneasy. At the same, the blithering idiocy of the people in this country and Europe who oppose war gives me no substance to go on. So far, all the Pope has done (from what I can see) is reiterate Just War Principles. The press has taken that as a “statement of opposition” but I can’t really see that it is (though I’ve little doubt he’s not thrilled with the upcoming war). But without something more solid from sort of “anti-George Weigel”, some kind of intelligent articulation *against* war based on Just War theory and not Sheryl Crow’s karmic boobs, I’m stumped at any really good case against it.

I don’t say that lightly because I have intelligent friends of good will who do oppose the war and I respect them. But they haven’t persuaded me. Indeed, by a sort of anti-charism, the thing that has given me the most misgivings is the people who support that war, not those who oppose it. For some of the pro-war people are nasty nasty pieces of work indeed. The sort of Catholic for whom the “gospel” is all about inflicting the maximum amount of pain, death, retribution, and suffering on the world. Some with whom I have spoken are always sure to come down on the side of maximum death. They want as many people executed as possible, as many people punished as possible, war, vengeance, justice, striking back, etc. Such people gives me the willies. Mercy, peace, forebearance, etc. always elicit a snort of contempt from them. And some hate JPII’s guts. Absolutely hate him. JPII’s misgivings about war are simply more evidence that JPII is the locus of all evil in the universe for such people, whereas for me, it is evidence that he is determined to try to shepherd the whole human race, not become a stooge of a political agenda.

Talking to such makes it harder to find my balance about the war than talking to a dozen Sheryl Crow airheads, because you come away wondering if you are forsaking the gospel counsels of mercy when you find, to your horror, that you agree with them, insofar as war with Iraq is concerned. Such folks are the worst proponent of war the pro-war side has, because you feel as though you’d crawl through sewers to avoid becoming like them in their festering hatred of JPII, their lust for vengeance and maximum quantities of death and judgement, and their bitter contempt for appeals to mercy. And yet, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Sometimes war is necessary. I think this is one of those times.