April 29, 2003
By Joseph Loconte
Take their suggestion that Saddam Hussein was not the devil many
made him out to be. Some religious leaders even denied that he ever
used chemical weapons against the Kurds. George Hunsinger,
professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, cited approvingly the
Nation's dismissal of the charge as "a catchy slogan to demonize
Saddam in the popular American imagination." Meanwhile, Frank
Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, derided prowar
Christians for holding "simplistic views of good and evil."
Yet "evil" is the word that most often passes from the lips of
newly liberated Iraqis to describe Saddam's regime. "If you only
knew what this man did to Iraq," said an elderly man in Baghdad
beating Saddam's portrait with his shoe. "He killed our youth. He
killed millions." Day by day we learn more about the arbitrary
arrests, tortures, and executions; the special prisons for children
of dissidents; the diversion of food and medicine intended for
needy Iraqis. None of it should surprise anyone: For years, the
same facts had been uncovered by Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch, and the U.N. special rapporteur. Not since Cambodia's
killing fields had a government terrorized so many of its own
Antiwar clerics remained silent about these facts, apparently in
order to keep the faith about containing the Butcher of Baghdad: He
had no serious interest, they said, in weapons of mass destruction.
Seeing little evidence that Saddam was rearming, editors at the
Christian Century rejected arguments for war as "extreme and
unfounded." Jim Winkler, of the United Methodist General Board of
Church and Society, complained of "an astonishing lack of evidence"
to justify military intervention.
What's truly astonishing, however, was the clerics' willful
neglect of Saddam's deception and defiance of U.N. weapons
inspectors. Kenneth Pollack, a former Iraq specialist with the
National Security Council and a scholar at the Brookings Institute,
doubted that any inspections regime could prevent Iraq from
developing the most deadly weapons. "Saddam is working to
reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction programs," Pollack
wrote on the eve of war, "and the more time he has, the more lethal
that arsenal will become." Even German intelligence services
concluded in a December 2000 report that Iraq was close to
producing a nuclear bomb. Yet church leaders said nothing when
Secretary of State Colin Powell exposed Baghdad's "web of lies"
with chilling clarity before the U.N. Security Council.
As to the conduct of the war, opponents were certain that a U.S.
strike would devastate Iraq's infrastructure and foment a
humanitarian crisis. The Church World Service, an association of
faith-based relief agencies, expected "horrendous humanitarian
consequences." Jonathan Frerichs of Lutheran World Relief
complained bitterly that "we're attacking the government who's
running the food distribution system for two-thirds of the
country." The reality, of course, was that Saddam built lavish
palaces and hijacked the country's oil-for-food program while
400,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died of
In fact, Pentagon planners engineered a brilliant military
campaign that minimized the war's effects on daily life. Five
months prior to the invasion, the State Department assembled
emergency relief organizations at Iraq's border. Thousands of tons
of food, water, and medical supplies were delivered within days
after the conflict began. By quickly putting troops on the ground,
coalition forces secured the nation's 600 oil fields, preventing an
ecological disaster. Bombing raids, which focused intently on
military targets, left bridges and power grids mostly
Indeed, the most shameful accusation made by religious liberals
was that American troops would blithely ignore the rules of warfare
and kill "massive" numbers of non-combatants. Joseph Sprague, a
bishop of the United Methodist Church, said innocent civilians
"will not be protected." Bob Edgar, general secretary of the
National Council of Churches, insisted that U.S. forces wouldn't
hesitate to kill women and children. Rose Marie Berger, an editor
of Sojourners, agreed: "Imagine our 200,000 troops . . . bringing
home pictures of kids they helped save, rather than images of
children they were trained to kill."
Innocents have died in this conflict, as they do in every war,
which is one of the reasons war should be a last resort. But
considering the tactics of the Iraqi military--using human shields,
dressing in civilian clothes, hiding in schools and
mosques--civilian deaths could have been much higher. Indeed, in an
extraordinary effort, the U.S. military linked moral principle to
modern combat. Satellite-guided bombs were carried by almost all
navy and air force fighters, giving them unrivaled accuracy. Cities
were bypassed to avoid bloody urban campaigns. Coalition troops put
their own lives at risk to get civilians out of harm's way. When
all is said and done, military historians will identify Operation
Iraqi Freedom as the most justly fought war in the history of
What of the wailing prophets? Susan Thistlethwaite, president of
Chicago Theological Seminary, warned that if America attacked Iraq,
"then it is Americans who have become the barbarians." Catholic
Bishop John Michael Botean called the war an "objectively grave
evil." Any killing associated with the conflict, he intoned, is
"unequivocally murder." Even Pope John Paul II, no pacifist,
declared it "a defeat for humanity." Compare all this with the
cries of joy from Iraqis after Saddam's 40-foot statue was toppled
in Baghdad: "We are still scared but we are happy," said Maysoun
Raheem. "Thank God this has happened and the Americans have come."
For them, this was indeed a war of liberation. "I am 50 years old,"
said Kareem Mohammad Kareem, "but my life just started today."
The victims of tyranny always seem to understand the implacable
nature of its evil better than anyone--better than those who safely
hurl jeremiads at the world's injustices as their bread and butter.
The clerics were wrong about this war, wrong about the despicable
regime it toppled, wrong about nearly everything. And yet they
remain unrepentant: "Prophetic voices are always way out ahead of
the congregation," boasted the NCC's Bob Edgar. "None of the Old
Testament prophets had a majority."
Perhaps, but at least their predictions conformed to reality.
That's a lot more than can be said of the prognosticators of our
-Joseph Loconte is the
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the
Heritage Foundation and a commentator for National Public
Originally appeared in the
Anti-Liberation Theology: According to Joseph Loconte, some religious figures have called Operation Iraqi Freedom an "immoral" act of aggresion and have denied the destructive actions of Saddam Hussein.
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society
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