War Is a Defeat for Humanity
We, the Jesuits of the Central American Province,
meeting in a Provincial Congregation in San Salvador in February 2003, would like to express the following:
Jesuit of Latin America
1. The world is currently experiencing the most serious situation since the end of the Cold War. The reason is President Bush’s threat to attack Iraq, a sovereign country. In fact, some 200,000 troops are already near the Iraqi border, most from the United States along with some from Great Britain and Australia. Five aircraft carriers, hundreds of planes and warships and thousands of missiles are in the region. This fact alone is terrifying, and has put the people of the world in a state of fear and indignation, with little confidence in their future.
Should war break out, the human costs would be enormous. The United Nation’s Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs has calculated that half a million people would be killed or seriously injured, a million would become refugees and two million would be internally displaced—in other words, a war would directly affect some 15% of the Iraqi population. This apocalyptic scenario would include orphans, widows and disappeared, massive fires in oil and natural gas wells, and the skyrocketing of world fuel prices with unpredictable but ominous consequences for the global economy, which would be especially hard on the poor.
2. The above are only the visible manifestations of much greater harm: the death of the human family, the triumph not only of injustice and inhumanity but also of cruelty, which kills the human soul. They reveal the triumph of deceit and lies, since the US government and its allies have been unable to prove the alleged reason for the attack: the existence of a significant number of weapons of mass destruction. Truth is being covered up to justify wrongdoing. As is written in the Gospels according to John, “evil is a murderer and liar.” Many of the slogans written on placards carried in the February 15 demonstrations around the world alluded to the widespread suspicion: that this war is a question of “blood for oil.” Others alluded to the military industry’s terrible need to test its latest products every so often. These sufferings also reveal the triumph of hypocrisy, as Iraq is accused of failing to fulfill United Nations decrees, when Israel and its unconditional protector the United States have also failed to do so innumerable times. They reveal the triumph of arrogance, as a government and a state presumes to decide the destiny of the planet on its own, without listening to the voices of those who have good reasons to think differently, and above all to the voices of the victims: the 23 million Iraqis. They reveal the triumph of dehumanization, as the responsibility of a nation with vast resources degenerates into imposition, oppression and murder.
3. Adding our voices to the global clamor of millions of human beings from many different nations, religions and churches, we condemn any military attack on Iraq, as well as the evils that would accompany this attack. Many people have already explained the reasons for this position. From the point of view of international law, it is not a legitimate attack. From an ethical and moral point of view, a “preventative war” is certainly not justified in this case, since nothing indicates that Iraq can use weapons prohibited by international law against the United States.
4. The deepest, most Christian reason for opposing the war, however, is the pitiless cruelty it would inflict on a nation of 23 million inhabitants who have already suffered because of Saddam Hussein in innumerable ways. The horrible massacre of the Kurdish people is perhaps the most egregious example. Some 5,000 Iraqis died in the 1991 war. According to UNICEF, by 1996 some half a million children had been killed by the boycott against Iraq and the effects of depleted uranium. That number could now reach a million. This was the central point of Pope John Paul II’s denunciation of the war: “What can we say about the threat of a war that could strike a blow to the people of Iraq, land of the prophets, people who have already been severely treated in over 12 years of embargo?” For the human conscience and specifically the Christian conscience, inflicting unjust harm is wrong, and inflicting it on a suffering people like the Iraqis is unpardonable cruelty.
5. This grave situation has also produced a wave of good. Millions of people have awakened from the sleep of insensitivity and distance in response to the victims’ pain. The demonstrations of recent days in the big cities of the Western world have broken all records and while a range of different interests come together in them, the message has been clear: NO to war, NO to lies, NO to injustice, NO to cruelty. Many of the demonstrators have been inspired by the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan, and have chosen not to walk by the victims like the priest and the Levite, and of course not to ally themselves with the thieves and bandits. They do not want to hear God’s accusatory words: “What have you done to your brother?” Many others have acted in the name of other religions, or of human shame and dignity. Whatever the case, this is the reaction: compassion against cruelty, truth against lies, a global solidarity network against arrogance.
6. As Jesuits and Christians, we enormously appreciate the fact that in these grave times there has been a meeting between followers of Christianity and Islam. The meeting between Cardinal Etchegaray and President Saddam Hussein is a symbol. The God of Jesus in whom we believe is the same Father of Christians and Muslims and all humanity.
7. Isaiah said it and it has been repeated by the Popes of our time: “Opus justitiae est pax.” Peace is the work of justice. The most urgent thing is to stop the war, and the most necessary is to encourage justice. We speak today in macabre terms of a “preventive war.” But to “reverse the course of history,” as our martyr Ignacio Ellacuría demanded, it is urgently necessary that we move on to compassion, pity and “preventive justice.” For fear of incalculable suffering, we must stop the war. For love of the poor majorities, we must build justice. The result will be peace in the human family, which is so forgotten in today’s geopolitical visions.
8. In writing these lines, the Jesuits of Central America know what we are talking about. In recent years the Central American people have suffered injustice, war, disappearances, poverty, lies, disdain, submission and the cruelty that accompanies all of this. The US government has often been responsible or partly responsible. For this reason, we understand the Iraqi people, although we live so far away from them, as we also understand the people of Afghanistan, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and of Colombia, our neighbor, and so many suffering, silenced people whose existence is ignored when power has no interest in them.
For this reason, we ask for the end of war and the beginning of compassion and justice. We express our gratitude to and admiration for those working for peace in these days, symbolized by the many people, especially from the United States, who are using their physical presence in Iraq to defend children, women and the elderly from cruelty, who want to show them love and brotherhood. This NO to war, heard from so many millions all over the world, is aimed at helping to break the spiral of violence. As Pope John Paul II said a few weeks ago, “War is a defeat for humanity.”
In Central America, many men and women have defended and loved the weak, no matter the consequences. They are our martyrs, including those in the Society of Jesus. Taking up their human and Christian work we can proclaim, in the words of Bishop Romero, what is at stake for God in Iraq today: “The glory of God is that the poor may live.” This is our faith and our hope. We pledge ourselves to this.