By Tom Holmes
Maybe it was because Pastor Walter Mitty had engaged in a long discussion the day before with Fr. Bob Sullivan about whether the U.S. should take military action against the Assad regime in Syria. Whatever the reason was, he decided to bring up the subject at the men's breakfast fellowship earlier this morning at the Main Café.
"I'm worried about us getting into another military action" he began. "You all know about the situation in Syria. Yesterday, Fr. Bob told me a lot about the Just War Theory in the Catholic Tradition, and it made sense to me."
"Isn't that the theory that a nation has to have a really good reason for going to war before taking any military action?" said Eric.
"Right," Mitty replied. "Fr. Bob told me the bar is raised really high. He said that in the Just War Theory a nation can only engage in military action if 1) it's the last resort, 2) if it's engaged in by a legitimate authority, 3) it seeks to redress a wrong—usually defense against a nation attacking it, 4) it must have a reasonable chance of success, 5) the ultimate goal is to re-establish peace, 5) the violence used must be proportional to the injury suffered and 6) the weapons used must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants."
"Wow!" Eric exclaimed. "That really is a high bar."
"So," Ash began after taking another sip of coffee, "it seems to me that the use of poison gas violates the last principle."
"Because it doesn't discriminate between civilians and combatants, right?" said Dominique.
"I think so," Ash replied.
"My problem," said Eric, "is that I'm not sure that Assad is the one who used the gas."
"Don't you trust our president?" asked Dominique, who then added with a smile, "Even if he is a Democrat."
Eric had to laugh, but then got serious. "I voted for Obama, as you well know, Dominique. But I'm not always happy with the way he goes about things. I've read a little history and was alive when we went to war with Iraq, because they supposedly had weapons of mass destruction."
Dominque finished his thought. "And when we overran the country and 100,000 people died in the conflict, low and behold there were no WMDs."
"That's my point," Eric continued. "Power seems to do things to people. We seemed to want to invade Iraq and any excuse would be OK with W. WMDs seemed the most useful. From what I've read, we got into the Spanish American War for the same reasons. The sinking of the Maine was just a convenient excuse."
"OK. I understand that point." Ash spoke slowly, trying to let his words help him think the problem through. "But how many thousand people have been killed by Assad and the rebels? Something like 100,000? And how many more are living in refugee camps? The Just War Theory says you can take military action to redress a wrong. I mean, we can't just sit back like we did with Rwanda, and let the slaughter continue. Can we?"
Alice heard Ash's comments as she refilled coffee cups. "So, Ash," she said, "you want to save the world from itself? I mean, you guys all have it made. Good jobs or a good retirement. I'm barely making ends meet raising a kid on my own and now they're talking about cutting funding for food stamps. Before you go out and save the world, I'd appreciate it if someone would give me a break."
The four men were used to Alice's outbursts, but they still needed a moment to recover from the blast. During the silence, Mitty decided to play the role of pastor and asked, "OK. I see that the Just War Theory is kind of ambivalent about whether we should do a surgical strike, but isn't "what would Jesus do" the only question that ultimately matters?"
That caught everyone off guard. "I guess you're right," replied Ash to his pastor. "But I'm finding myself having to switch channels on my internal TV. You know, from a political talk show channel to a religious. . . ."
"But that shouldn't be," interrupted Eric. "Religion should have something to say about all of life. I mean, the Just War Theory came out of religion, but it's kind of abstract. It doesn't pin you down personally. You know what I mean?"
Another moment of silence.
Dominique finally responded. "When you put it that way, Pastor, I'm not sure what Jesus would do. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's? Pray for your enemies? Warn us that those who live by the sword—or cruse missiles or drones or whatever—will die by the sword?"
"I don't know either, Dominique," said Eric. "What I do know is that things seem to be worse in Iraq and Afghanistan than before we got involved and a whole lot of people got killed in the process."
"But isn't the situation in Syria like the one in Rwanda?" Ash protested.
As the men walked toward the front door of the Main to go their separate ways, Alice asked, "So are you four wise men going to send your conclusion to President Obama to show him the way?"
"No, Alice," Mitty answered. He made an attempt at a smile to deflect the waitress's sarcasm, but then he got serious. "We really don't know what to do."