War or no war, innocent people are likely to die
10/22/2002 12:00:00 AM - Marvin Olasky
One reader, Randy Yelverton, asked some good questions from a
biblical perspective about support for the Bush administration on Iraq.
Yelverton notes, "If we believe in the sanctity of life, then we must
seriously scrutinize any action that will take so many lives." He's
absolutely right. We should listen to liberals who raise thoughtful,
critical questions. We should not applaud some conservatives and
neo-conservatives who seem gung-ho about the prospect of throwing others
into the hell that is war.
The only reason to fight this war is that doing so will save
lives -- and that type of calculation is dangerous. If the United States
attacks Iraq, even though our intent is only to take out Saddam Hussein and
his soldiers, it is certain that some innocent people will suffer alongside
the guilty. If the United States gives Saddam more time, it is likely that
many more innocent people will die from terrorism in this country and
Saddam's terror against his own people in Iraq. But comparing a certainty to
a probability is difficult. Other factors add additional permutations. It
seems likely that regime change in Iraq will make for less terrorism, as
terrorists lose a patron and a haven, but we cannot be sure.
Yelverton is right to raise numerous objections about past U.S.
policy: "We abandoned rebelling Shiites and Kurds to whom we had originally
offered support and instructed to rise up against Saddam. We stood by and
watched Saddam punish them." Sad but true -- and our sanctions have hurt
innocent Iraqis more than they have hurt Saddam or his soldiers. I love the
United States, yet if we ever think of our country as above wrongdoing, we
are fooling ourselves. Some like the idea of the United States pre-emptively
striking threatening nations whenever we choose. That's a very risky general
proposition, given the presence of sin in our own ranks.
What to do? We do not have the luxury of simply saying that we
shall do no harm. Many on the left emphasize an ideology of multilateralism
in international relations. Many on the right emphasize American autonomy
and even spin abstract theories of pre-emptive war. But a biblical position
that I'd suggest starts with an emphasis on the specifics of this particular
situation and the realization that there are no good answers. Whether we
choose war or temporary peace, we do some harm.
President Bush had laid out well the specifics of this
particular situation. He has noted that Iraq has stockpiles of biological
and chemical weapons and is racing to gain nuclear arms. "So what?" we might
say: Other countries also have weapons of mass destruction. But, as the
president said, Saddam Hussein has already "used these weapons of death
against innocent Iraqi people, and we have every reason to believe he will
use them again." Saddam has "ordered the torture of children and instituted
the systematic rape of the wives and daughters of his political opponents."
Saddam not only has the weapons but has vowed to use them -- on
us. That makes him different than other blusterers, and puts him in a league
with the two most barbaric European dictators of the 20th century: Hitler
Aha, we might say: We didn't engage in pre-emptive war against
those two. But wouldn't it have been better to stop Hitler early? Stalin was
unstoppable because the Soviet Union was too big and, at the end of his
life, he had atom bombs. Do we want to dither until a nuclear-tipped Saddam
Hussein is untouchable?
So, my sense is that President Bush's policy is the one most
likely to minimize the loss of innocent life. We should go into this
conflict with much sadness and humility. We'll use smart bombs, but smart
bombs are not omniscient. Innocent Iraquis will die. Americans will die. But
Saddam is a murderous tyrant, and he has left us only with bad choices.