Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I Support the Troops?

I began this last month, after reading a "Point to Ponder" from one of my favorite bloggers, Shawn McElhinney. He wrote:
I find myself not just a little confused by the mantras of those who say "we support the troops but oppose the war." I have to wonder if they realize how sophistic this stance really is. For if (I) they believe the war is immoral or evil and (ii) the troops they claim to "support" as a rule [ ] believe in what they are fighting and willing to die for and (iii) they claim to support the troops who are fighting in that war, then (iv) they are claiming to "support" people who by an overwhelming majority profess a belief in and willingness to sacrifice themselves for something that they (the antiwar crowd) believes is evil or immoral. In short, their positions are patently illogical and a classic example of sophistic rationale.
Since I "oppose the war," I thought it might help if I tried to write an answer.[1]

Just for the record, I have three reasons for opposing the war. First, I oppose it because I do not think it a just war. Second, I oppose it because my knowledge (however limited it may be) of Catholic theology on the subject of just warfare has not led me to the conclusion that all "just causes" require that war be fought, or fought immediately, or fought by direct recourse to violent arms. Moreover, whether or not the present struggle in Iraq is consistent with Catholic teaching, I think the whole affair is a blunder of nightmarish proportions and should be opposed on that ground alone. So, can I support the troops?

It seems to me that loyalty, like all good things, can be properly given unconditional scope only when it is directed to the highest good, namely to God alone. In reference to all other things or persons, loyalty must be qualified because its immediate object exists within a hierarchy of goods which God has created. To the extent a nation, an army, a lover, or any human cause participates in that hierarchy, it may justly demand loyalty and support. To the extent that something deviates from the hierarchy of good, whether in ends or means, it cannot demand or expect human loyalty.

It is a symptom of the times that what I have just written may well, and too easily, be mistaken as an apologia for treason. E.M. Forester wrote, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." Fortunately, that's a false choice. One's dilemma isn't who to "betray," but how to live the universal truth of charity with respect to everyone -- to one's country and one's friends. The alternative, which is to determine which human cause requires unconditional adherence or unqualified rejection, is ultimately idolatrous because it gives human allegiances a place in the moral landscape which only God can truly occupy.

Let's take the worst possible opinion of the war -- its moral equivalence to Roe v. Wade. That's not an opinion I hold myself. To begin with, the moral issues surrounding abortion are sufficiently clear to anyone with the use of right reason as to be undebatable. But the morality of the attack on Iraq is less clear, all the more so because the government insisted that it had secret information that justified the choice for war. When President Bush claimed -- and I do not brook casuistry on this subject, because the Administration's position was quite clear in the days before the war -- that Iraq posed a dire, direct, and immediate threat to the physical security of the United States, the manuals of moral theology on my shelves say that one may presume that he is speaking both truthfully and accurately. But when a physician points at a human being inside her mother's womb, noting the eyes, lips, fingers, etc., of a human body, observing the human being try to avoid the instruments which are pulling it to bits and says "See that? It's not to be respected as though it were a human being," one doesn't have that benefit, because the situation is clear enough to anyone with eyes and a conscience.

But let me assume that such equivalence exists anyway, and ask Shawn a question, not to avoid his own, but to illustrate my point. Is it patently illogical, sheer sophistry, to support our country while opposing one of her most basic constitutional rights, the right to have an abortion? It is no use answering that abortion is not a basic constitutional right, whether or not that answer is based in the natural law or the history of American jurisprudence. Natural law[2] is not and has never been recognized by the American legal order, which is (and has largely always been) firmly dedicated to the moral primacy of secular power exercised according to the "consent" of the enfranchised. Inquiring into jurisprudential history would only lead us on a merry chase through the obscurities of constitutional theory and history, neither of which are at all clear that a constitutional decision on the subject of Roe v. Wade is an illegitimate exercise of the sovereign power. Moreover, it is an undeniable fact that every American grants abortion the status of a constitutional right de facto if not de jure -- even those of us who oppose abortion condemn responses which one would naturally and ordinarily make to an illegal attack on life of another. We condemn such responses because, though abortion is evil, violent repudiation of the law also traduces moral imperatives which are equally, if not even more, significant than the simple right to life.[3] We are strange ducks, us pro-lifers. We "pledge allegiance to the flag, and to the Republic for which it stands" even though the republic's laws make a mockery of her claim to exist "under God."

My support for our troops is, I suspect, somewhat similar to Shawn and I saying the Pledge of Allegiance in its (present, but temporary) theocentric form. We both promise loyalty, but we do not mean thereby to step outside the hierarchy of good which God has ordained for ourselves, our country, her laws, or those who enforce them. In that respect, the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge is a saving clause, a thing which makes it possible for a Christian to recite the pledge at all. And we are glad of that. We do not look for chances to "betray" anyone or anything. We seek to witness God's charity and truth to everyone -- America's soldiers and lawyers, her armies and her courts. I can't say I approve of our troops having conquered and occupied Iraq, but I don't think that means I must wish them to be harmed, or even to fail in the goals of our occupation which are, broadly speaking and without reference to their institution, in general accordance with the natural law. Certainly Shawn needn't say that he hopes that disaster will strike our country because it permits -- indeed, encourages -- the slaughtering of innocent children as a form of moral and political triumph. I can wish for all our troops to come home safely, successfully, and unharmed, just as Shawn may wish for all our lawyers, legislators, and judges to shake off the chains of error and come home to the teachings of the Church. In neither case must we choose who to betray, who to reject and who to damn. That isn't required, because God is in His Heaven and all's contingent on His word.

I say, and shall continue to say until sufficient proof is brought to the contrary, that the Iraq war was not just. I'm not sure how that means I can't "support" our troops, unless the "support" demanded is the kind of unconditional approval referred to above. Even if I thought the troops were sinning -- something I don't need to believe in order to think the war was unjust -- I could still pray for them and hope for their safe and successful return. I can pray for the health and well-being of abortion doctors, and that they may succeed in supporting their families. One needn't wish for a person to be totally and completely consumed by all the evils of this life in order to oppose one signal sin in his character. In fact one mustn't do that, since God does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live. Sinners are miserable enough as it is -- nothing I'm aware of in God's plan requires me to wish that they were more miserable than they already are. "Thy will be done." God's will covers a good deal of human unclarity about the state of souls and the right way to weave the future from the present.

As I said, I don't believe there's a parallel between abortionists, pornographers, etc., and U.S. soldiers in Iraq. What I've said is that, even if there were such a parallel, one can still oppose the sin without hoping that every present aspect of every true good in the sinner's life be stripped away from him. I don't want Hugh Heffner to live in a cardboard box beneath an underpass, even if he does live in a sumptuous Babylonian hell-hole paid for with broken families, raped innocence, and ruined lives. I don't want Larry Flynt to be paralyzed, either. All I want is for them to have had their money, or met their misfortunes, while doing something honorable and good for mankind. If I can -- and should -- wish for that in the case of abortionists and pornographers, surely I can -- and should, and do -- wish for equal or even greater good in the lives of U.S. soldiers who are, at present, struggling to preserve Iraq from the barbarity that seems to be preferred by the Iraqis themselves. Yes, I wish they hadn't gone. I don't think it was just to have sent them there. But I support the troops. God bless them and keep them from harm, grant them victory in battle, and success in preserving Iraq from the clutches of Satan.

[1] There are, of course, persons to whom Shawn's point applies in full force. You can read about such people here. But I am writing to defend other people, not the John Kerrys, Jane Fondas, and Tom Haydens of the world.

[2] I do not speak here of "natural rights," which is the post-Enlightenment attempt to find the law in pure, unaided, rationality, in the sheer right operating of the human mind, acknowledging at the same time that "right operating" does not require or permit any recourse to divine revelation. One can -- and many American jurisprudes have -- made arguments against abortion on the basis of natural rights. One can -- and just as many American jurisprudes have -- made arguments for abortion on the basis of natural rights.

[3] I offer this brilliant exchange from Sir Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons, to illustrate the thinking behind this position. In the play, a government agent is about to leave Sir Thomas More's house in order to inform falsely on him and cause his doom. More's family -- his son-in-law, Jan Roper, and his wife Alice, have a heated argument about whether More should use his power (he was then Lord Chancellor of England) to stop the evil plot:
More: There is no law against that [being a false and evil man].

Roper: There is! God's law!

More: Then God can arrest him.

Roper: Sophistication upon sophistication.

More: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal.

Roper: Then you set man's law above God's!

More: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact - I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I'm a forrester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God . . .

Alice: While you talk, he's gone!

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Roper: I have long suspected this, this is the golden calf; the law's your god!

More: Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god....But I find him rather too subtle....I don't know where He is or what He wants.

Roper: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else!

More: Are you sure that's God? He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God - And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly!

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