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As teenagers in the 1960’s we were exposed to the anti-establishment pop culture of the Beatles, and the anti-war protests of the hippies. The latter’s war cry (sic) was “Make love not war”. As I write this the Russian invasion of Ukraine has entered its second week. Time will tell how and when it will end. Pope Francis appealed for Ash Wednesday (2nd March) to be observed as a day of prayer for peace in Ukraine. A couple of days earlier he had made an unscheduled visit to the Russian Embassy in Rome, as against the protocol of summoning the ambassador to meet him. The pope is undoubtedly concerned.

In the past, he has spoken out strongly against the arms race and in favour of migrants displaced by war. Earlier he had condemned the then American President Donald Trump’s plan for building walls. He had said that we should build bridges to bring people together, not walls to separate them. This is very different from the role his predecessor Pope John Paul II played with the Solidarity Movement in his native Poland; resulting in the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, the USSR and one of the largest communist regimes. It is common knowledge that because of his Polish roots he had a strong aversion to anything remotely Leftist.

In contrast, Pope Francis comes from Argentina, one of the South American countries that experienced Right-wing dictatorships. So he has a natural proclivity to the Left. A former Indian diplomat recently described him as a pinkish pope (a milder shade of communist red)! Opinion in India is divided on the Russian invasion. Officially the Government is walking the diplomatic tightrope of neutrality. As the saying goes, “Nations don’t have permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests”. In the midst of State elections, our government’s major concern is the perception battle, as to how it will impact the ballot. So the primary concern is a high on optics, concern for fellow Indians in Ukraine, most of whom are there for cheaper medical studies.

Since the rise of right-wing politics in India, only to be expected when the BJP is in power, the vast majority of Indians would quickly condemn the Russians. But my left-wing friends (and there are many) would rather put the blame on the Americans for their expansionism and belligerent ambitions for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). When I had gone for a haircut recently my barber was wondering if Nato was another vegetable like potato and tomato! I confess that I am left of centre in both politics and ecclesiology. I am neither a rabid extremist (left or right), but a radical (one who goes to the centre/ heart of an issue).

For this reason, I condemn the USA’s acts of aggression in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately, Biden had the good sense to withdraw from Afghanistan, even at the cost of right-wing hardliners accusing him of being a softie. On the other hand, Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the cold war even though it resulted in the Balkanisation of the Soviet Union. He may not be popular in macho Putin’s Russia. Neither is Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace, popular with the right-wingers in today’s political dispensation in India. Apostles of peace choose to follow the path of truth rather than pander to cheap popularity for short term political gain.

Let us also examine contemporary church teaching on war, including the “just war” theory first propounded by St Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century CE. Shortly after the Bay of Pigs standoff between the USA and USSR in 1962, Pope John XXIII issued his encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth) on 11/4/1963. It advocated truth, justice, love and freedom for attaining lasting peace. Chronologically the next important document is the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, one of the documents of Vatican II. It was promulgated on 7/12/1965 and is commonly referred to by its Latin opening words “Gaudium et Spes” (GS). Chapter V dwells at length on “The Fostering of Peace and the promotion of a Community of Nations”. Does this sound utopian? Should we not
rather constantly strive to conquer insurmountable odds?

It condemns “those actions designed for the methodical extermination of an entire people, nation or ethnic minority” (GS 79). However, it still follows the Augustinian line of a “just war”. It states that when all else fails “governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defence, once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted” (Ibid). Notice that the emphasis is on defence, not aggression. Even in a just war, it exercises a note of caution saying that it “does not mean that all is fair between the warring parties” (Ibid). This cuts at the root of the popular notion that “All is fair in love and war”.

It goes on to say that “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation” (GS 80). Those right-wingers who claim that Putin is a devout Christian are requested to please revisit this page. Condemning the arms race it states that “it is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which injures the poor to an intolerable degree” (GS 81). Hence there is an urgent need to “free ourselves from the age-old slavery of war” (Ibid).

Moving on to the official Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 11/10/1992 we could turn our attention to Article 5 on the Fifth Commandment. Picking up on the doctrine of a just war it states that “The act of self-defence can have a double effect; the preservation of one’s own life and the killing of the aggressor. The one is intended, the other is not” (CCC 2263). This is based on the theology of St Thomas Aquinas. Speaking of legitimate defence it says “Those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility” (CCC 2265). It distinguishes between an unintended defensive act and an intended aggressive one. “The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war” (CCC 2307). It demands that even “legitimate defence by military force requires rigorous consideration” (CCC 2309).

For example, is the damage inflicted by the aggressor lasting, grave and certain? Have all other options been exhausted? There should also be a reasonable chance of success. They should “not produce evil and disorders greater than the evil to be eliminated” (Ibid). There are several other riders even to what may be considered a legitimate defence or a just war. Pope Francis is even more forthright in his condemnation of war. In his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” promulgated on 3/1/0/2020 he warns against “false answers that do not resolve the problems they are meant to solve and do no more than introduce new elements of destruction” (FT 255). He quotes Proverbs 12:20 to say that “Deceit is in the mind of those who plan evil” (FT 256). War is “frequently fuelled by a breakdown in relations, hegemonic ambitions, abuses of power, fear of others and a tendency to see diversity as an obstacle” (Ibid).
Besides the human price paid, “War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment” (FT 257). Both people and places are destroyed by marauding armies. War is often undertaken under a false pretence, but “there can be no room for disguising false intentions or placing the partisan interests of one country or group above the global common good” (Ibid). Rebutting such lame excuses he says, “War can easily be chosen by invoking all sorts of allegedly humanitarian, defensive or precautionary excuses and even resorting to the manipulation of information” (Ibid). So Goebbelisation is not buried with World War II. “Disinformation campaigns have become an integral tool for justifying war” (FT 258). As is often said, “In war, truth is the first casualty”.

Perhaps the best way to avoid war is to “touch the wounded flesh of the victims. Let us look once more at all those civilians whose killing was considered collateral damage … Let us think of the refugees and displaced … and listen with an open heart to the stories they tell” (FT 261). Maybe now the world will understand why Pope Francis made that “unscheduled’ visit to the Russian embassy in Rome. He may have sent a copy of Fratelli Tutti for Putin. It is time Putin put down arms and learnt from the hippies to make love, not war.

Note: The writer (Chhotebhai) is the Convenor of the Indian Catholic Forum.

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