I started this write-up in the node pacifism, but it changed, as these things are wont to do.
Today (November 29, 2001) in religion class (I attend a Catholic high school), we read an article from a Catholic magazine about the war in Afghanistan. It was an interview with two Catholic theologians, one agreeing with the "just war" theory of Aquinas and Augustine, while the other went straight for pacifism. Both condemned the US's current actions, although for different reasons. The first stressed that the war itself was completely outside of the definition of a just war, despite the fact that a Catholic bishop had officially proclaimed it to be so. The second simply dismissed the thought of war at all, saying that he attended a mass on September 12 where a giant American flag had hung above the crucifix, in his mind dwarfing the Church's symbols with those of nationalism.
It's a powerful image, isn't it? The glory of a nation outshining the ideals of religion. Of course it is just that: an image. September 11, 2001 may have changed America, the world even, but it has not changed the fundamental values of the human race. As we rebuild, and the date recedes from our immediate consciousness, the priorities that were foremost before that day will return. The theologian called current patriotic fervor nationalism because he wanted to draw a parallel to cases in which nationalism had become something bad: Nazi Germany, Senator Joseph McCarthy, the French Revolution. Right now, no one can tell if the current state of the American psyche will cause lasting damage. They can't tell if bombing Afghanistan is going to solve any problems. They can only make predictions and stand away from the front lines, pointing fingers and passing judgments.
World peace is a beautiful dream that will never be achieved by the human race. The same goes for ending poverty and hunger and prejudice and disease and hate and any other countless evils that are banished in your private utopia. This world is a mixture of good and evil, as are all people, and as such good people and nations must sometimes do evil things for the greater good. The first theologian, the advocate of the just war theory, said that this war was wrong because America did not have "strong knowledge that it could win." How can any war be truly won when there is always evil in the world? To say that a just war is a war that is inherently winnable is almost a paradox; no war is assuredly won, no matter who you are, and how long you've been a superpower, and how many soldiers you have. When the Visigoths sacked Rome, it wasn't that decayed. The theologian seemed to think that this was an outrage and that there was no cause for a war like this; unfortunately, she also looked back on history through the rose-tinted glasses of retrospect. In further reading, I discovered that she did not condemn America for entering World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, although certainly at the time there was great fear that American citizens would one day soon be speaking Japanese and German.
The second theologian was even more absurd. Pacifism is another one of those beautiful, unachievable dreams. To ignore or to avoid the idea of war is completely unrealistic, and always has been. If you want to rebut me, give me one example of a nation surviving for any length of time on pacifism alone. Remember that Gandhi's followers used violence; that the Civil Rights movement had its share of riots. As I said before, in a world where good and evil must coexist, forever battling without a possible winner, good people and nations must sometimes perform evil deeds for the greater good. In Afghanistan, we must bomb innocent civilians because their deaths might be enough to frighten terrorists and extremists into not killing more innocent civilians. It might just bring out Osama bin Laden and the rest of his organization. It has already brought freedom to citizens oppressed under Taliban rule. It has also already revealed that terrorism is a massive Hydra: for every head we cut off, two more will appear. For every dead terrorist, two new ones are trained. This war-- indeed this tenuous existence-- is a constant gamble between the forces of good and evil, and the only redeeming hope-- and horror-- of it is that it can never be truly won or lost.