So Many “Peace Experts,” so Little Peace


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 PeaceHarmony 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.

17 thoughts on “So Many “Peace Experts,” so Little Peace

  1. A big yes! “Peacebuilding”, in a time of perpetual war, is a sideline to clear cut active opposition to war. This means active opposition to the politicians and their ideological and armaments manufacturers who back them.

  2. In the United States we do not have democrats or republicans who seek peace and harmonious relations with countries- unless it is to buy them off for economic or military reasons. Seeking peace is often considered weak in democrat and republican circles. Look at Donald Trump who praised Putin and said he would like better relations and he was rounded condemned by fools who are managing this country in both political parties. Our “foreign relations” are so skewed and stunted that it is intertwined with two countries who receive 60% of all foreign aid. Congress makes laws constantly making it criminal to associate with and deal financially with certain countries that Congress deems as terrorist while we as superpower have destabilized much of the Middle East in wars and coups causing so much mayhem Islamic young people throughout the world are attacking the European countries and the United States in retribution. At some point members of Congress and government officials may deemed criminals by other countries for supporting terrorism.

    Unfortunately, the old expression, what goes around comes around is still operative. We have elected fools who have discarded one of the greatest documents for governmental guidance in George Washington’s Farewell Address. Then there is President Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex. He wanted to name it the military-industrial-congressional complex but he was cautioned it would offend Congress. Instead Congress offends the world too often, let alone the American people. We should call our mainstream press, especially TV network news on “public airwaves- the Silent Press- because facts that regularly contradict national policies and laws are consistently ignored. The two political parties have created publicly funded havoc in the Middle East, which may only be the tip of the iceberg of their malfeasance. Peace has been abandoned as weakness.

  3. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount seem quite plain to me. They should be plain to the Church as well — and indeed to all Christians.

    • Gee whiz. Where did that come from? From all we’ve heard from the Christian zealots is that God (Christian with a little Judea mixed in) is on our side not theirs.
      The fact that our Commander in Chief and self appointed “leader of the free (hopefully Christian)” world just visited the most backward state ( Saudi Arabia) where mass beheadings of non believers in their orthodoxy is common shows that this true Christian puts up with anything that smells of oil.

      PS Unless your comments were satiric. I,for one, don’t get ambiguity. If that is so you should end with a little “HA HA”

      • The problem with pulling quotations attributed to Chairman Jesus from the scriptures is that it’s always a selective process. Those who wish to portray him as Prince of Peace conveniently overlook the parts about “I bring not peace, but the sword.” Now, of course, we can say “This was figurative, relating to spiritual battles” as the term “jihad” is said to properly refer to. It is well recognized by biblical scholars that the real tenets of Christianity were assembled by the early church fathers (fathers only, women need not apply for admission!) in the first few centuries of the “Common Era” (that’s academic talk for “Christian Era”). Those are the guys who cobbled together what became the establishment, i.e. THE Church of Rome, a.k.a. The Catholic Church. The very name screams irony, since “catholic” originally meant something like “eclectic.” These guys instead built the very narrow-minded monolith demanding strict obedience and delineating the eternal punishments in Hell awaiting those who stray even slightly from the path they prescribed. The Inquisitions are part of the shameful legacy of THEIR teachings. Seems like The Sermon on the Mount sailed over the heads of the perpetrators of those deeds, eh? It took nearly twenty centuries before a Pope arrived who started seriously questioning some of these views. It seems to me the ultimate moral of the story is that one treads on dangerous ground indeed if one wishes to rely on the “received wisdom” passed down in any body of scriptures to advise people on how they should conduct themselves in this world. To voice a dissenting view could literally cost you your life.

      • The overall message of Christ in the New Testament is one of peace. Indeed, some of his followers wanted him to be a general, a soldier, but Christ was having none of it.

        My quoting of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount represents my sadness at how consistently his message is ignored by those who follow him (or say they follow him) most fervidly.

        I think Gandhi said he liked Christ a lot, but Christians? Not so much. And there you have it.

  4. “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” — Thomas Jefferson

    Not “peace,” but “piece,” as in “piece of the action.” Follow the money. The Church will always assist the State in looting the ignorant and credulous peasantry. The Church must get its fair share. Condemning the State for its murderous, venal crusades just won’t do.

    • Was Helder Camara hostile to liberty? Was John XXIII? Was Achbishop Huntausen? Was the Church in Chile which opposed Pinochet? Were the French Worker Priests? Were the six Jesuits murdered by the Salvadoran Junta hostile to liberty. (If these instances are news to you, just look online.) As for Thomas Jefferson, whatever his brilliance, he seems to have been hostile to liberty insofar as it threatened his status as a slave owner.

      • Michael Gallagher–Thomas Jefferson’s personal contradictions are hardly news. (I highly recommend the book AMERICAN SPHINX by historian Joseph Ellis.) And of course he was far from alone among the Founding Fathers in being a slave owner (paging George Washington!). Jefferson was, of course, generalizing and speaking of THE OFFICIAL CHURCH. The Spanish version of the latter was infamously “in bed” with Francisco Franco in Spain for decades and THE OFFICIAL CHURCH of course was the perpetrator of those charming intervals in history called Inquisitions. All generalizations have exceptions, of course. The Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan and his siblings, the former just deceased at age 94, were glaring, flashing neon signs of exceptions, and gentlemen I greatly respected and admired. That said, as a generalization, Jefferson’s observations on Official Churches’ tendency to egregiously abuse liberties of the citizenry any time they got their mitts on the levers of state power are spot on. And the danger is an ever-present menace, not a mere historical relic. Beware of Theocracy!!

      • Whenever I write something for Contrary Perspective critical of the Catholic Church, most of the comments have little or nothing to do with the specific point I’m trying to make (in the most recent case, the silence of the Church with regard to modern war, a moral failing that the American media and American politicians abundantly share) but rather serve as the occasion to launch a stereotypical assault on the Church and all its works and pomps. If, dear fellow commentators, you’re so eager to attack the Catholic Church, try your hand at writing your own damn essay and see how compelling you can make it.

        Jefferson, by the way, had a copy of the works of 17th century Jesuit Robert Bellarmine in his library, and he must have found Bellarmine’s dispute with James I of England over the Divine Right of Kings of some interest–despite his professed conviction that no group was more destined for the fires of hell than the company of Loyola.

      • Mr. Gallagher–I don’t need to write my “own damn essay” about the evils THE OFFICIAL CHURCH has perpetrated over the centuries. There are whole books on the subject, it being such a rich vein to mine!! Of course, all these things are conveniently ignored by true believers. In my initial reply to you, triggered by your response to Mike Murry’s comments, I certainly did not go off topic. The topic was hostility of THE OFFICIAL CHURCH to our hard-gained liberties. I stand by my previous comments.

      • Mike: A few of our contrarians are much like Voltaire. About the Catholic Church he said, “Crush the infamous thing!”

        But some contrarians don’t realize they can be as doctrinaire and biased as the most fervid Trinitarians.

  5. The institution of Warmaking has become THE AMERICAN WAY. The ONLY way. “Our” system, with the one political party of Big Money consisting of two “wings” or sides of the coin with its internecine squabbling over specifics of policy, is way beyond the possibility of reform. The “choice” we’re being given this year among presidential candidates plays right into the game of “vote for the ‘lesser evil.'” The perceived “lesser evil” this time already has blood on her hands from her prior involvement in crafting and executing US foreign policy and her rivals are all champing at the bit to show how much Muslim blood THEY can accumulate if given the title Commander-in-Chief. I regret having to say this, but if that small nuclear device DOES land on St. Peter’s or the US Capitol it will be another example of the “chickens coming home to roost” referred to by Malcolm X in the wake of JFK’s death, which followed so closely on the heels of the assassinations of Patrice Lumumba, the puppet head of “south” Viet Nam, etc. With the system so fortified against reform, that only leaves revolution as a means to real change. The future will not be pretty. We will reap what has been sown by allowing our nation to fall into this cesspool of corruption. Or, to put other labels on it: Rampant, rapacious Capitalism/the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex. Its proponents and defenders and apologists, of course, will continue to call it “Making the world safe for democracy.” And George Orwell will continue to howl with laughter from beyond the grave. Or might he shed a tear?

  6. Mr. Astore–“doctrinaire and biased”? That’s your opinion. To the following charge I happily plead guilty: I am a PARTISAN for Science, which leads us to Truth (or as close as we can objectively come), versus superstition. You apparently consider yourself a Good Catholic. In that regard, I can only quote a certain Mr. Dylan: “Most likely, you go your way and I’ll go mine”!

    • Hi Greg: I’m definitely not a “good Catholic.” I’m not practicing. Every week, I suppose I commit a mortal sin by not attending mass.

      I was raised Catholic and respect certain Christian beliefs, some of which you’d probably agree with. And I’ve always been fascinated by relations between religion and science, especially Christianity and science, which was the subject of my master’s thesis (Catholics and science) and doctorate (evangelicals and science).

      • All well and good. Just to be clear, for the benefit of new or “casual” readers of The Contrary Perspective, I personally respect 100% the right of individuals to hold dear any religious doctrine they choose. The problems begin when the “very religious” decide that their particular beliefs simply must be THE LAW OF THE LAND. This is a very real and serious problem in our nation today. Should I/we take any comfort in Trump’s triumph over the more “evangelical” of his GOP rivals? For all we know, Trump may be a secret atheist! Unfortunately, his other “beliefs” on what’s needed to “Make America Great Again” are vile enough to far outweigh any cheer I could find in his apparently lackadaisical attitude toward religion. Oops, have I gone off topic? Just trying to stay relevant to today’s headlines.

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