by Michael Gallagher
Michael Gallagher, a coeval of Sr. Megan and a former Jesuit seminarian, served as a paratrooper during the Korean War. His book on Catholic activists, The Laws of Heaven, won the National Jesuit Book Award in theology in 1992, and his translation of Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow was a finalist for the National Book Award in translation in 1972.
I confess to being under-whelmed by the recent conclusion of a slew of peace experts in Rome who pronounced the just-war theory morally null and void, and called upon Pope Francis to write an encyclical or something that declares that “non-violence” is now the only way to go. (Presumably the Swiss Guards will be allowed to keep their halberds for the tourists–though maybe with rubber blades—but will have to give up their arsenal of modern automatic weapons.)
Fr. John McKenzie, S.J., the eminent biblical scholar—and peace activist—had an irreverent sense of humor. In his classes at my seminary he referred to the aptly named Bathsheba’s rooftop ablutions as history’s most famous bath. Then more seriously, but with a satirical sting, he wrote in The Civilization of Christianity that reasonably intelligent Catholics realize in their heart-of-hearts that the Mennonites have gotten Jesus right, but if the Church dared to give a like witness, the harmonious and mutually advantageous relationship between the Church and the American government would come to a crashing halt.
The marriage of cross and flag did, in fact, give signs of doing just that a generation ago when the America bishops shook up the Reagan administration and the Pentagon with the first draft of their peace pastoral The Challenge of Peace. Harmony was swiftly restored, however, when the bishops, under pressure from John Paul II and the NATO bishops, came out with two denatured subsequent drafts and, after a bit of the usual pious boilerplate, concluded not with a bang but a whimper: declaring the nuclear standoff “morally acceptable,” not as a permanent state but as a stage towards nuclear disarmament. That was more than three decades ago, and nothing new has come either from Rome or the American hierarchy.
To put it in somewhat vulgar terms, when you’re up to your ass in alligators you can’t think how about how best to drain the swamp. What you have to do is focus on the biggest and most ferocious alligator and use whatever means you have at hand to dissuade the son of a bitch from eating you. At the moment the biggest and meanest alligator that we have to contend with is nuclear weapons. (Not that any less attention should be paid to Global Warming.)
Junk the just war theory and forbid teaching it in favor of “peacebuilding,” a term coined by peace institute academics eager to be relieved of the risk of being obliged to call an American war unjust and lose their government grants, and how do you go about condemning the expenditure advocated by our Nobel Laureate president of a trillion dollars over the next decade to modernize our nuclear arsenal (i.e. make it more user-friendly), and this after having already spent more than a trillion on the glitch-prone F-35 superfighter—while our bridges collapse and our school children drink lead-contaminated water?
You can’t of course. No, no we don’t do condemnation. That’s just war thinking. That’s negative. We do peacebuilding. And while we’re busy peacebuilding over our coffee and danish, one day in the next few years, if not sooner, a drone with a nice modernized nuclear warhead might come crashing through the dome of St. Peter’s . . . or maybe the Capitol’s . . . or maybe both.