The End of Illusions

Posted: Oct 29, 2004 12:00 AM

He was a brutal dictator, a crazed man, the personification of evil.

He massacred, brutalized, tortured and mutilated more people than you and I will ever meet in our lifetime. His victims were political opponents, people of faith, average citizens on the street, innocent men, women and children. He victimized anyone he chose to -- for any reason.

He invaded neighboring countries, raping and murdering along the way. He threatened to destroy others.

He was, himself, a weapon of mass destruction.

The world began to notice his atrocities. Decent people in many countries said it was time to stop the madman.

Yet, many liberal religious leaders in America said that to intervene would be a mistake -- to confront a madman in another land would be wrong.

Take for instance, the arguments of Ernest Fremont Tittle of the Methodist World Peace Commission:

In a world that is suffering from injustice piled upon injustice, the immediate overcoming of evil may be impossible. There may be no escape from the wages of sin. The question then is, what course, if faithfully followed, would eventually lead to a better state of affairs? War, I am convinced, is not the answer. War can overcome a dictator; it cannot rid the world of dictatorship. It can stop an aggressor; it cannot put an end to aggression. On the contrary, it can only provide new soil for the growth of dictatorship and aggression.

When America and her allies finally did defeat the madman, instability filled the region. While the victims rejoiced at being free, those who supported the madman created havoc and mayhem. The religious leaders shook their heads at the "liberation," pointing to the mayhem as proof they had been right.

Yet, in the months that followed the liberation, mass graves containing the beaten and starved bodies of civilians were found. Torture chambers were discovered. Diaries and records of unspeakable atrocities against the innocent surfaced. Horrific stories of brutality from survivors struck the hearts of even the hardest of men.

Eventually the world began to ask, "Why didn't we intervene sooner? Why did we let evil reign for so long?"

Who was this madman? Hitler.

We still ask ourselves, "Why didn't we intervene sooner?"

The voices of the religious pacifists eventually fell silent about America's involvement in fighting the madman that was Hitler. But today, the same cries for pacifism have arisen once again.

Today?s madman was different, and so were his tactics. But the consequences for the victims reek of the same insidious evil.

America and her allies removed the brutal, crazed dictator known as Saddam Hussein. He was taken out before he could carry his rampage against humanity through a continent and beyond. Yet, the liberal religious pacifists still cry fowl. The arguments above by Reverend Tittle, made in 1941, are eerily similar to what we hear today.

As our nation seeks to define her political and moral responsibilities around the world, perhaps it's time we take a closer look at the similar debate that occurred during the rise of European fascism.

Perhaps it's time to see what history says about intervention, madmen and securing peace.

Joseph Loconte, my colleague at The Heritage Foundation, has just released what I believe to be one of the most important books of the year. "The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm" contains a collection of arguments by the religious leaders of the day -- both pro and con -- for American intervention against the Third Reich. There are priceless lessons to be learned from the debates and consequences of non-action versus military intervention during WWII. These are lessons that must not be lost to the dusty shelves of forgotten history.

Hitler was not the last madman to gain power and inflict untold damage and destruction on mankind. Nor will Saddam Hussein be the last.

Loconte's book is "must-reading" for every religious and political leader in the civilized world. And it's must reading for the rest of us, too. War affects all of us, and as the conventions and tactics of warfare change, we must remember that the key moral issues do not.

As Loconte writes in the introduction to ?The End of Illusions?:

The United States eventually would join Britain?s struggle, but waited until it was almost too late. The ensuing debate over U.S. engagement proved to be one of the most contentious in the history of the American church. Only a handful of religious leaders realized the blackness of the evil that had been let loose in the world. Few could imagine the sacrifices that would be required to meet it. And fewer still dared to predict the consequences of shrinking back from the duties assigned to America, Britain and their allies.

?A penalty is attached to non-action in such a situation,? warned Lewis Mumford as most of Europe lay in ruins. ?A human society in which men will not help their neighbors to resist evil and struggle for justice, will presently cease to exist as a society, since it will lack even the animal loyalties that are necessary for survival.? Perhaps their example can help us avoid that chilling judgment in the present hour of crisis.