In his World Day of Peace message scheduled for release on New Year's Day, Pope John-Paul II seems to have taken direct aim at US foreign policy -- both in regard to its invasion of Iraq as well as its general approach to combating terror. Not that the Pope named names. Popes generally leave that to their lieutenants. But the target of his criticism was unmistakable. What other country, than possibly Britain, could be currently charged with violating international standards the way the US has in launching its preemptive attack on Iraq?

No doubt this message will not be well-received by many American Catholics, especially by those whose moral sense was formed back in the cold war days when stanch adherence to Christianity got much too easily confused with unquestioning patriotism. Bombarded by the pro-war propaganda dolled out from Washington, and traumatized like other Americans by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Catholics, just like many of their fellow citizens, were all too ready to believe anything their government told them -- this despite the warnings of their bishops, who like many other church leaders in the USA, tried to advise the public that things were not all that simple.

This warning in particular seems to have been lost on the majority of Americans who still seem to be convinced that there was some kind of direct connection between Saddam Hussein and the attack of 9/11. Not that there couldn't have been, despite the lack of any convincing evidence so far to prove it. But even if there existed the remote possibility that Al Qaeda could have gotten its hands on some Iraqi-produced "weapons of mass destruction" -- something that is far more likely to occur in Pakistan -- would stopping that possibility have been the "end" that, contrary to all accepted rules of morality, justifies the "means"?

It is on this point in particular where the Pope's message bears on the future. Terrorism in the world cannot be successfully controlled by the use of brute force. Armies can never successfully defeat people or groups of people who are willing to use any means possible to strike back at what they see to be oppression -- particularly the kind of oppression that occupying armies represent. This has been again and again the lesson of history. The tactics of terrorism represent the last line of defense of people who believe they have been denied fundamental freedoms or lack any other means of having their voices heard. And unfortunately, America will remain the main target of terrorists until it is seen to be the major promoter of, rather than the major obstacle to, a fair sharing of the world's wealth and resources.

What this Pope, whose own "Solidarity" movement, perhaps more than anything else, defeated Communism in his native Poland without firing a shot, is urging here is not some kind of ideal of Christian "turn-the-other-cheek" pacifism. What he is telling the world is that there can be no peace in this world unless there is first of all that for which Solidarity stood, and all Christians must stand for, which is fundamental justice.

R W Kropf 12/28/03 Worldpeace.doc 03-12-28.html