This week, as part of Election Month at Patheos, the prompt for bloggers is: What are the key issues at stake in this election for people of your tradition?
Well, I suppose I should start by disclaimering that I am not a canon lawyer, and this is not Official Catholic Advice. But, hey, at least the issue I’m going to talk about is non-partisan. And that’s the worse part; as the last foreign policy debate showed, callousness to human life, provided it’s that of the enemy (or people living in the same country as the enemy), isn’t even a campaign issue, it’s the new status quo.
During the debate, both Obama and Romney made proud reference to the “crippling sanctions” they supported imposing on Iran. Crippling is an awfully strong word, and it’s proper object there isn’t really the abstract idea of Iran. But it would be pretty surprising to hear either candidate rephrase their position as:
“I plan to inflict crippling sanctions on everyday Iranians. We’re looking to collapse their economy so that they end up in a much worse place than we’ve been during this awful recession. We’re hoping that mothers will be skipping meals to make sure their kids can eat, that doctors will have to tell their patients that rolling blackouts may abruptly take them off life support, because the generators are being strained to the limit. We’re hoping that this grinding misery will leave Iranians in despair and that they’ll turn the force of their desolation of the government that did this to them. By which we obviously mean their own.”
I don’t want to talk consequentialist tactics here or ticking timebomb scenarios. Whether or not you support sanctions, we have a duty to talk about them without euphemisms. Our politicians should face up to the enormity of the violence they plan to inflict on others, not puff themselves up by telling us how strong they are, how able and happy they are to make other people destitute or dead.
A more appropriate attitude might be that of a child who has to put down her rabid dog. It’s an awful act. It might be the least bad option, but the fact that it occurs at all means that something’s gone profoundly wrong for the dog and is about to for the child. There’s something in of betrayal; the child ought to be comforting a sick pet in the order of things; just as we ought to be trying to heal and love any other human we come across. If we don’t label these actions as warped and unnatural when we perform them out of necessity, we might forget the enormity of our transgression. And, if we do faithfully name them as they are, we might find that fewer of them seem all that necessary.
I led with the Iranian sanctions, because they stood out to me in the debate, probably because they actually got the adjective they deserved, instead of being entirely swaddled in rhetoric. Of course, the more canonical example for both parties disregard for life is the drone war and the kill list. These policies have been expanded under Obama and Romney has raised nary a peep in objection.
In a discussion about a conscientious objector’s memoir, I made reference to Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, and the disgust and horror inspired by snipers in that war. We are endorsing an indiscriminate, terrifying way to prosecute a war that is above all inhumane because it leaves the humans in each side of it in isolation. Death from above robs the killer and their target of the mutual recognition and love that is their natural relationship. It’s not only murder, it’s murder that fosters a lie.
This is an issue where the Church can speak with a prophetic voice. Christians have no particular loyalty to the United States or Americans. We might like the country an awful lot, see its structure and traditions as worth preserving, and we’re certainly bound by duty to follow the law, pay taxes, etc for as long as we plan to retain our citizenship. But the accident of our birth doesn’t release us from our duty of charity and love toward others, from a need for recognizing the people in the gun sights as ontologically identical to us and the people we love.
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