Last month, the Holy Father visited Japan, and the theme of his journey was “Protect All Life”. He went to the site of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and gave an eloquent, passionate, and moving call from the heart for peace. Calling himself a pilgrim of peace, he said:
In a single plea to God and to all men and women of good will, on behalf of all the victims of atomic bombings and experiments, and of all conflicts, let us together cry out from our hearts: Never again war, never again the clash of arms, never again so much suffering! May peace come in our time and to our world… Come, Lord, for it is late, and where destruction has abounded, may hope also abound today that we can write and achieve a different future. Come, Lord, Prince of Peace! Make us instruments and reflections of your peace! “For love of my brethren and friends, I say: Peace upon you!” (Ps 122:8).
This call for peace couldn’t have come at a better time. It is more important today than ever that we speak plainly and truthfully about our catastrophic war in Afghanistan.
The Washington Post has published an astounding and appalling series of articles, based on official interviews conducted with high-ranking soldiers, diplomats and others who have been leading and carrying out the war in Afghanistan. The conclusions of these reports should be in the headlines of every media outlet in our nation, and should be the impetus for a very serious discussion about the war, and holding accountable those who have conducted it. Some of the major conclusions from thise articles:
- “The American people have constantly been lied to.” This is the verbatim statement of the man who headed the investigation. The evidence shows a systematic, top to bottom propagation of deliberate falsehoods, distorted data, spin doctoring and concealment of the truth by military and political leaders since the war began in 2001. Virtually everything that we’ve been told by our government about the war has been a lie.
- There has never been a clear goal. The officials interviewed acknowledged that there was a complete lack of coherent strategy and no clear goals for the war, no matter which Administration or commanding officer was in charge, and no matter what they said in public. One general said “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.” Officials have constantly testified – under oath – that we are making “progress” and reaching a “turning point”, even though they knew or should have known that the war was unwinnable and ultimately futile.
- There has been a colossal waste of lives. According to those who have studied the costs of the war in detail, it has cost America over 6,000 dead and over 20,000 wounded, and has led to the deaths of 150,000 Afghans and the wounding of tens of thousands of others. All for a war that has accomplished virtually nothing beyond the initial suppression of Al Quaeda in the first few weeks of the war.
- There has been a huge waste of money. The estimated total costs of the Afghan war is approximately $2 trillion since 2001. The “rebuilding costs” are more than $133 billion. One of our government officials estimated that 90% of the “nation-building” money was wasted. Officials were unanimous in their account of massive wastes of money, endemic corruption, and virtually nothing to show for it. Yet we continue to throw good money after bad rather than face the reality that most of the prior money was wasted.
- We’ve made things much worse. Conditions in Afghanistan at the beginning of the war were terrible, but the last eighteen years have made them worse. Consider just the number of Afghans killed – the proportional equivalent of over 1.5 million Americans. One of the major results of the war has been that Afghanistan is now the largest producer of opium in the world and our feckless efforts to fight that have also failed. The drug trade and the money we spewed around have led to massive and systematic corruption at every level of the Afghan government, rendering it not just incompetent but illegitimate.
This should infuriate every American. As pro-lifers and Catholics, it should outrage us all the more. Every human life is sacred – the life of the humblest Afghan is worth the same in God’s eyes and the most exalted American. To be consistently pro-life, we must not be silent about this senseless destruction of life and the suffering of those who have survived.
Our government has a moral obligation to protect us, but not by engaging in unjustifiable wars. Consider the theological principle of a just war. Two of the essential conditions for a war to be morally justifiable are that “there must be serious prospects of success; [and] the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated” ( Catechism at 2309) Especially given these new revelations, it is hard to see how the Afghan war could possibly satisfy that test.
The lies from our government are the most troubling. Let’s remember that governments are held to the same moral standards as individuals – the Commandments apply equally to them. Just because there’s an armed conflict, doesn’t mean that the moral law has been suspended and “anything goes”. Listen to what the Catechism says about lying, particularly with regard to the government:
By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray. (2485)
Civil authorities have particular responsibilities in this field because of the common good. . . . It is for the civil authority . . . to defend and safeguard a true and just freedom of information… They should give timely and reliable reports concerning the general good or respond to the well-founded concerns of the people. Nothing can justify recourse to disinformation for manipulating public opinion through the media. (2498)
The catastrophe of this Afghan war is bi-partisan. It has implicated politicians of three consecutive administrations, and a large number of our military leaders. Congress, under the lack of leadership of both parties, has utterly failed to supervise the conduct of the war and to exercise its constitutional prerogative over war-making. Nobody has ever been held accountable for the waste of lives and money, much less the massive and systematic lying at all levels. All this has gravely undermined the legitimacy of our government.
I understand that in our bitterly partisan atmosphere, any attempt to question the war is immediately pigeon-holed into an intellectually vapid “us v. them” paradigm or your patriotism is questioned for not “supporting the troops”. I also understand that the Taliban are oppressive and evil, they bear direct responsibility for much of the violence taking place, and that after the war finally ends Afghanistan will still be a terrible place to live.
But the time has come for us to own the truth that our government has been concealing and lying about for years. Our war in Afghanistan is a morally unjustifiable failure and should be ended as soon as possible.
Instead of prolonging this futile war, let’s join the Holy Father in his plea: “Come, Lord, for it is late, and where destruction has abounded, may hope also abound today that we can write and achieve a different future. Come, Lord, Prince of Peace!”