Never again war!

By Peter Weiss | Special To The Compass | August 30, 2021

We must heed words of St. John Paul II and example of Jesus to forgive

As a freshman in college, almost exactly 20 years ago, I remember walking back from an 8 a.m. class on a sunny Tuesday morning and noticing people gathered around a TV. I couldn’t get close enough to see what they were watching, but when I got to my dorm, I turned on the TV to learn that two planes had been flown into the Twin Towers. For the remainder of the day, I remained glued to my TV, trying to make sense of what was happening and what this would mean for our nation and for our world. It was a day of sadness and confusion and anger.

In the midst of these emotions, I remember watching President George W. Bush give a speech that night and being comforted by his words. He spoke eloquently about how the greatest tragedies brought out the best in the American people, but it was his response to the terrorists who perpetrated this evil that struck me: “The search is underway … I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those that harbor them.” I’ll be honest, these words filled me with pride as I thought to myself, “Let’s get ’em! They have no idea who they have messed with!”

A few weeks later, in an attempt to find the terrorists and those who harbored them, the United States military entered Afghanistan and has been there ever since. As we are watching the chaos unfold in real time as our final troops prepare to leave, I have found myself counting the cost: over 100,000 American and Afghani people who lost their lives, including civilians. Countless others who were injured, physically, psychologically, emotionally, not to mention the trauma experienced by loved ones who are growing up without mothers or fathers. Trillions of dollars in costs to fight this war. And to see it ending this way makes me wonder, has this been worth it?

I am nowhere near qualified to answer that question and there have been and will be plenty of people more knowledgeable than I am who can explore this question in the years ahead. But recently I read these words from Pope Francis: “Every war leaves the world worse than it was before.” Reading these words seemed to sum up the situation so perfectly. We can look for reasons to justify war and we might find some, but no matter what, it is always going to leave things worse than it was. As a human family, we need to work diligently and desperately to find peaceful solutions to our problems. If we don’t, we will continue to see the damage and utter chaos this causes.

Unfortunately, instead of learning from past mistakes, we seem to be more than willing to repeat them. On Aug. 26, after a terrorist attack near the Kabul airport that killed nearly 200 people, President Biden addressed the media and the American people with these words directed at the terrorists: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” As I heard these words, I did not feel the foolish pride I felt 20 years ago, I just felt sad. Sad, that after all of this, our first response in the wake of violence is more violence.

As Catholics, I urge us to do better. To heed the words and the example of Jesus to forgive those who harm us and pray for those who persecute us. I know that sounds simplistic and feels overly sentimental, but I believe that if we want different results, we have to be willing to take different actions.

Let me close with the words of St. John Paul II: “Never again war! No, never again war, which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked the war.”

I pray that the Holy Spirit will convict us of the truth of these words and give us the strength and fortitude to finally put them into action!

Weiss is director of Living Justice for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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