Excerpts from "From the West to the Far West: A Requiem for Reason"

José Ignacio González Faus, SJ

(Español: De Occidente al Lejano Oeste. Réquiem por la Razón http://www.fespinal.com/espinal/castellano/visua/es117.htm)

He who wishes to do justice by force is like a eunuch longing to embrace a girl
                            (Ecclesiastes, 20,4).

Despite the fact that recent wars have brought very serious material and moral damage to our world, war still continues its work of devastation in certain parts of the globe. With the use of scientific weapons of every nature in war, its intrinsic cruelty threatens to drive warring factions to a degree of savagery that surpasses by far that of olden times. In many cases the use of terrorist methods is admitted as a new system of warfare.
                             (Gaudium et Spes 79).

These words of the Second Vatican Council were spoken 40 years ago.  If at that time they sounded obvious, today they have turned into a painfully prophetic reality.  One has to take seriously the warning that in the last 40 years we have been able to attain in the name of progress and freedom "a degree of savagery that surpasses that of olden times."  Heading as we see ourselves towards a painful situation caused by the unbounded ambition of a well-armed country, it would be well worth considering some more explicit observations that the above-mentioned Council puts forward:

    + Peoples' rights (or international rights) remain in force during the time of war.

    + Criminals are those who order acts that go contrary to those rights, and they should be disobeyed. Blind obedience is no excuse for following those orders.

    + The valor of those who openly oppose those orders is to be praised.

    + Military power does not legitimize its own political use.

"…When proclaiming these teachings, the Second Vatican Council was only summarizing the traditional doctrine of Catholic morals in respect of war. And for this reason, the Council goes on to say that with modern weapons a qualitative change has been produced which obliges all to "re-think war with a totally new mentality," since the said weapons "surpass excessively the limits of legitimate defense" Pope John XXIII had written, exactly 40 years ago that "in our times in which atomic energy is striven for, it is irrational to think that war is an apt means to re-establish violated rights." Vatican II believes that this re-examination of war in the current situation implies the establishment of "a competent international authority provided with efficacious means" and implies in the second place, ending the arms race which not only prevents "remedying adequately the very many miseries in the world since it spends such enormous sums of money to maintain in readiness new weapons," but is also "the most serious plague of humanity."

The unreality that those words seem to be suffused with is the best test of the step backwards that humanity has taken in recent years, especially since the false "balance of terror" that kept us in peace was broken with the fall of Communism.  At the end of the Gulf War, the father of the present president Bush (in a talk that today is memorable for its ridiculousness) deceived us with the justification that that war would serve to create "a new international order" of peace and justice. Today, we see that that the announced new order merits fully the derogatory epithet "more of the same old nonsense."

We have said that, in the new world situation of globalization and of atomic weapons, the old traditional morals on war have become insufficient. But perhaps it is worthwhile pointing out that the attack about to be launched against Iraq and before which Europe, the cradle of the "right of peoples" has adopted such a cowardly attitude that this attack can in no way be justified, not even with the criteria of the old war.

Traditional morals on war

Around 1538, the Dominican Francisco de Vitoria, the father of international law, explained in Salamanca:

1.- That the only just cause to declare war is after suffering an aggression.  With words that seemed directed to the Emperor Charles I, Vitoria explained that neither motives of expansion of religion[1] nor motives of ambition of the Prince or of expansion of the empire could justify a war[2].

2.- That, even in that case, war has always to be the last recourse, when all other ways of pacific solution have been exhausted.

3.- That its declaration should be preceded by mature reflection not only by the chief of state ("Prince" in Vitorian terminology) but also by all the interested parties.  Since "it is not enough that the Prince believe the war to be just for it to be really so."[3].  This observation led Vitoria, in the era of the birth of states, to envision the convenience of having a supreme authority in the international community, that could judge about the injustice committed to justify a war. Because if this was not the case, "the Prince" would be at the same time the author and judge of the war[4].

4.- War has besides, for Vitoria, a moral limitation of proportionality, both in respect of its duration, as also in the number of victims, which should be reduced to the minimum.  War should not be converted into a war of extermination and should not use means that surpass the limits of legitimate defense.  That means that the power of arms does not legitimize an indiscriminate use for political and military ends[5].  He who knows what "the Turks" were for Europe of the XVI century, will value this clear judgement of the lesson on the Indians (n* 36): "Not even in a war against Turks is it licit to kill children."

5.- War has also a juridical limitation: since both "subordinate authorities as well as simple soldiers have the duty to deny collaboration in an unjust war and in a policy of aggression."[6].

Its non-compliance today

Let the reader judge, in the light of the doctrine put forward, if we can say that human beings have made progress, seeing that:

1.- Regarding the first reason we have remained impassive before the transformation from wars of self defense to a preventive war. The argument is a prodigy of good reasoning: "If it does not have weapons, it could have them; and if it has them it could use them against us." This pair of conditionals would justify bombing on a wide scale, thousands of deaths, placing another dictator in Iraq provided he be a puppet, and taking charge of half of its petrol. These data are much more serious in an era which differs from that of Vitoria precisely on account of the establishment of democracy and the conquest of the secularity of the state.  A democracy does not judge now on the "holiness" of causes, but on the means with which it wants to carry them out.  The argument that Iraq has weapons is a smoke screen: since even if it had, war would not be justified.

2.- Regarding war as the last recourse we must say that it has been the first and only recourse of President Bush.  One has only to recall his publicly declared haste and impatience as also his words (already in the electoral campaign!) on the necessity of armed forces that are "mobile, deadly and easy to deploy." This is what the country feels and its allotment to military expenditure exceeds that of the whole European Union.

3.- Thanks to the UN, war has not already broken out. A handicapped UN has done almost more than it is capable of.  And what it has done has served a lot but it has also shown the lack of capability of the United Nations and the necessity of a profound radical reform (that eliminates the right of veto of the big countries and punishes those nations who are bad payers of their quotas).  I speak of the lack of capability of the UN, among other reasons, because now that resolution 1441 is invoked as reason to punish Iraq, even before its non-compliance has been proved, one cannot avoid adding that at least 91 other resolutions of the UNO have not been respected.  Of these, 32 have been violated by Israel and 24 by Turkey[7]. These are two countries that the USA consider very useful for what are termed their "vital interests."  This shows that the empire only looks for cover for its excesses in the United Nations when its purpose is suited, and when not, it ignores them. A world authority cannot have this double measuring standard.  And here is perceived the lucidity of Vatican II when it concluded that the only way of avoiding war is the establishment of a strong and independent international authority.

At any rate, it has become quite clear that the criteria of the UN are opposed now to those of President Bush.  And if the President truly wishes to finish off with wars (and not to annex the petroleum of other countries) the only way is to give to the United Nations the authority that they must have, without trying to escape from their laws, accepting institutions like the Tribunal of International Justice and leaving the use of arms in the world to the authority of the UN.

4.- It is a little known fact that in the wars of the 20th century, in comparison with the old wars, the number of civil deaths in a war has risen by up to 90%.  Today we know that the bombarding with weakened uranium in the Gulf War entailed the appearance in Iraq of children with cancer in the last ten years. We know too that in answer to the question as to whether this sacrifice of children was justified, Madeleine Albright was said to say "it was painful but necessary for peace."

These facts highlight the lack of reason of our modern wars and the accuracy of Vatican II when it compared current wars to terrorism.  It may be good to remember that the Biblical lex talionis ("an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth")[8] which was presented to us as little civilized, was really a big step forward in the proportionality of war.  Since what prevailed up to then was: "for a wound I will kill a man and for a bruise, a young man." (Gen. 4,23). It seems then that we are regressing to something that even predates the lex talionis.

5.- For all this we must applaud the efforts of so many people who with almost impotent solidarity similar to that shown by the young people who went to Galicia to help, have tried to do the impossible (collecting signatures, attending protest marches, prayer meetings for peacee) to prevent this second "oil spill" and to keep up to date the old song "All we are saying: give peace a chance."

In addition to this, we must say by way of conclusion that from the viewpoint of Christian morals, the chiefs of state are obliged today to refuse the use of their bases for this war and that electors should not vote for parties that have not done so.  One does not act well by avoiding this obligation taking refuge in certain evident arguments that nobody denies (such as "between tyranny and freedom I choose freedom"), as our President tends to do with slogan replies that deserve to be recorded in one of those anthologies of the absurd.

Unfortunately the two Booklets we published after the "terrorism of the Gulf" in 1991 still make topical reading. We refer the readers to them[9].

And what is valid in this case on a Christian morals level, is valid also on the level of human rationality, although one is not a believer.  The text of John XXIII that we have quoted before, spoke simply of war in our days as irrational.  It is absolutely contradictory to have recourse to a pragmatic discourse to oppose "the ingenuousness of moralists." and then fall back on a moral discourse to discredit the pragmatism of our enemies.

After S-11 we have passed from a culture that was believed to be of freedom to a culture of fear.  In the issue of Iraq three different logic patterns are confronted with each other: the arguments of reason; the evidence of fear that is one of the most dangerous, and which, like all evident things, is irrefutable; and the logic of power that takes advantage of the panic of others (sown perhaps by power itself), for its own benefit.

What remains then of our poor Modernity? So much effort and so much desire to make humanity reasonable and now it turns out that in a flash we have passed from the West to the Far West, from Enlightenment to Destruction, from Modernity to Prehistory, and from Progress meaning that we do not kill one another to meaning that we do not kill one another by strokes of an axe but by strikes of missiles.

Poor Kant: so much of effort for men to learn to use reason: dare to think!  And now it turns out that, translated into English, that would mean: dare to bombard. Perhaps for this reason it is in the land of Kant that the war against Iraq meets with resistance yet. We have also to be grateful that at the time I conclude these lines, France appears to adhere to the German stance in contrast with the desire of all second-runners to thrive by the side of the powerful one.  And in both cases one cannot help suspecting that motives could not be totally pure[10]. If Kant could rise from his grave....

Europe: Take care not to lose your soul

Permit me to close this chapter with a long quote of a paragraph that was written exactly ten years ago:

What has triumphed with the fall of the East?  Has freedom won or has injustice? Have "the people" triumphed or have "the nobility?"  In other provocative words: Has only the Iron Curtain fallen or has also a new Maginot line?

Undoubtedly the clamorous fall of the famous Maginot line around 1940, highlighted the greater efficiency of German Nazism over French military plans.  But in the long run, the greater immorality at the root of that efficiency was also shown.  And something very important: practically nobody saw that then! The triumphant opinion of the majority was then on the side of the German invaders, although today practically nobody sides with them.

Against those invaders, a group of believers founded quickly, desperately the magazine Temoignage Chretien.  The first issue of this magazine appeared in 1941 and was contemptuously looked down upon.  It bore the title "France, take care not to lose your soul" and was the work of no less a celebrity than Gaston Fessard.

I would like to paraphrase this title today: "Europe, take care not to lose your soul."  But I insist: Then its diffusion was minimal and ridiculed in comparison with the success that was enjoyed by the written response of Father Lecaunier, published with Ecclesiastic sanction in which he declared that all who disobeyed "the authorities" disobeyed God.  Or in comparison with the fear of Cardinal Suhard (converted later to the social left-wing) who, frightened, asked Gaston Fessard: "Do you not fear that by combating Nazism, you are playing along with Communism?"

"Are you not afraid that by combating the war against Iraq you are playing along with terrorism?" would be the variant of that question that many will ask us today.  And to this question the best we can do is reply with another very old but bright question: Are you not afraid that by combating Hitler, you are playing along with Communism?  To believe that one is battling against "total evil" is the best way of perverting oneself.  And empires have need of absolute enemies and of "axes of evil" to carry ahead their imperial ambitions. "Blood for petrol" remains the best definition of that policy.

But, leaving behind for now the Empire and looking at us, Europeans, we could conclude with a question that parodies another well known Evangelical sentence: "What does it profit Europe to gain the Euro if it loses its soul?"  Let us give to the sentence the meaning it has in the Gospels, where to lose one's soul  does not mean losing the transhistorical heaven but losing one's own life, one's own identity.  In this context it has little meaning to discuss if Christianity must be quoted or not in the European Constitution: God will not be pleased with the use of big words in the declaration of Europianism and the abuse of exclusive economic interests in the realisation of those declarations.  The fathers of Europe (Adenauer, De Gasperi and Schumann) would not accept such hypocrisy.  And the authorities of Europe should feel themselves more responsible before those sources of a united Europe.  To be lamented too is the chronic absence of a joint international policy, which is due deep down to the fear of the empire that is typical of all second-runners.  And it is to be desired that this defect will be corrected as soon as possible in the near future.

(30 January, 2003)


[1] This point was further insisted upon by Vitoria in his lessons on "Los Indios."

[2] See: Relectio de iure bellico.  Paz dinimica. Bilingual edition of CSIC, Madrid, pg. 122-127.

[3] Relectio secunda de indis, n* 20.  In the edition of BAC, pg. 830.

[4] See what Luciano Pereña writes in the Introduction to the quoted work in the previous note, pg. 74.

[5] Vitoria writes mordantly: "It would be intolerable that if the French were to rob some cattle from the Spaniards or burn a village, it would be licit for the Spaniards to occupy the whole kingdom of France" (op cit, 195).  The way of proposing the example, that refers to the obligations of his own country, and not to those of the enemy shows clearly how far Vitoria was from that Hispanic patriotism which the present government uses to try to get all of us citizens to accept many of their ethically doubtful actions.

[6] The quoted introduction, pg. 75.  In Relección sobre los indios, Vitoria acknowledges that war can be just to assure the good and peace of the whole world. This argument which was valid for the Second World War, would not be valid today because the clear danger of an attack on Iraq is precisely that of developing a world catastrophe.

[7] Data in Le Monde Diplomatique (ed. Castellana), December 2002, pg. 12 and 13.

[8] Ex. 21,24; Lev. 24,20; Deut. 19,21-  The law could have come from the Code of Hammurabi. This gives it universal value without limiting the law to something specifically religious.

[9] See Booklets 37 and 38 of the collection “Cristianisme I Justícia”: La Iglesia y la guerra del Golfo, y La Guerra del Golfo. Reflección de CiJ.

[10] On account of the economic crisis in Germany and the desire of European leadership in France.

José Ignacio González Faus es un jesuita español. Nació en Valencia en 1933, ganó su doctorado en teología en Innsbruck en 1968 y actualmente es profesor de teología sistemática en la Facultad de Teología de Cataluña. Sus libros incluyen: Proyecto de hermano. Visión creyente del hombre (2ª ed. 1991), Vicarios de Cristo.Los pobres en la teología y espiritualidad cristianas (1991), Ningún obispo impuesto (1992) y A autoridade da verdade - Momentos obscuros do Magistério eclesiástico (1998). En 1989 Orbis publicó su libro en inglés Where the Spirit Breathes — Prophetic Dissent in the Church, (publicado en español: La libertad de palabra en la iglesia y en la teología: Antología comentada, Santander, España: Sal Terrae, 1985). González Faus vive y trabaja en Barcelona como director del Centro de Estudios “Cristianismo y Justicia.”

José Ignacio González Faus is a Spanish Jesuit. He was born in Valencia in 1933, won his doctorate in theology at Innsbruck in 1968, and is now a professor of systematic theology in the Facultad de Teologia de Cataluña. Among his books:
Proyecto de hermano. Visión creyente del hombre (2nd ed. 1991), Vicarios de Cristo.Los pobres en la teología y espiritualidad cristianas (1991), Ningún obispo impuesto (1992) and A autoridade da verdade - Momentos obscuros do Magistério eclesiástico (1998). In 1989, Orbis Books published his Where the Spirit Breathes - Prophetic Dissent in the Church. González Faus lives and works in Barcelona as director of the Center of Studies "Cristianisme i Justícia."