On this unhappy 4th anniversary of “Shock and Awe,” the beginning of the War in Iraq, I am reminded of the passionate speech that Pope Paul VI made at the United Nations in 1965 — “Jamais la guerre!” he proclaimed in French, “No more war! War, never again!”
His speech riveted the world — this was the first time a sitting Pope had ever visited the United Nations, ever set foot in the United States, and he brought an unyielding message of peace. His message carried forward the Church’s teachings on peace so eloquently stated by his predecessor Pope John XXIII in the encyclical Pacem in Terris. Later, Pope John Paul II would become a tireless and forceful advocate for peace.
Alas, as with so many other dimensions of the social justice teachings, the world took little heed of the Pope’s plea. 1965 in hindsight seems like a much more innocent time, a time before the true catastrophe that Vietnam became, a time before we had a conscious recognition of Bosnia and Chechnya and Rwanda and Somalia and Afghanistan. In 1965 we could hardly imagine September 11 and the violence that monstrous act of terrorism would unleash in response.
Now, four years after the start of the War in Iraq, a pre-emptive war based on now-disproven evidence of weapons of mass destruction — a war that the majority of the American people now clearly oppose, a war that has devoured 3200 American military personnel and left tens of thousands of others to live with serious physical and emotional wounds, a war that has destroyed more than 100,000 Iraqi lives and immeasurable dimensions of Iraqi culture — it’s time to recall and act upon the simple, compelling message of that singular figure in white standing in the well of the U.N. General Assembly so long ago.
Jamais la guerre. No more war.