Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bringing No Good

There has been (yet again) a heavy round of discussion on Catholic blogs on the question of just war. The occasion this time was a comment made by the Pope in an interview:

We do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars.

Robert Miller at "First Things" wondered how this made any sense, given that WWII certainly did seem to bring good to someone; for instance, prisoners liberated from concentration camps and nations liberated from Nazi domination. Mark Shea took up the question, and it was discussed vigorously in the comment boxes. Ditto at Amy Welborn's place. And Against the Grain discusses the matter further.

What strikes me as significant is that Miller only quotes part of the Pope's answer to the question. Immediately after the above statement, he concludes:

Everyone needs peace. There's a strong Christian community in Lebanon, there are Christians among the Arabs, there are Christians in Israel. Christians throughout the world are committed to helping these countries that are dear to all of us. There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together. These are the forces we want to mobilize: it's up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.

Virtually everyone is reading him as saying that no good was brought out of the war by virtuous action and good policy; whereas it seems that he is saying instead that war itself does not bring good, but hardship, pain, and death. Everyone needs peace. And these are very different sorts of statements, since one can say both that war itself brought no good to anyone (in the latter sense, i.e., in itself) whereas good came of it (in the former sense, i.e., in that during the war good things were done). I don't know if this was actually the point; but here as elsewhere it's worth remembering that the first way to read things is not always the best way.

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