catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 3 :: 2003.01.31 — 2003.02.13


Black and white make gray

President Bush made a lot of statements in the first half of the recent State of the Union address that were pro-life in the broadest and best sense of the term. These statements included commitments to:

  • Ensure high quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans by taking power away from HMOs.
  • Protect all American citizens’ abilities to make an honest living by prosecuting corporate criminals.
  • Provide $1.2 billion in research funds so America can lead the way in developing fuel cell technology for automobiles.
  • End partial birth abortion.
  • Enact the Emergency AIDS Relief Plan, which would prevent 7 million and treat 2 million cases of AIDS in Africa by allotting $15 billion over ten years.

Commentators after the address immediately analyzed the first half of his speech as developing Bush’s image as a “compassionate conservative” before he rallied the nation for war against Saddam Hussein. Regardless of the political rhetoric and games, I turned off the television after the address with two convictions. First, we must hold Bush and the Republican party accountable for the above statements because they represent an overarching commitment to life that we can all agree on. Second, it is indeed pro-life to stop Saddam Hussein.

In the absence of concrete information, it took me a long time to come to this second conclusion, but I feel that President Bush presented concise and convincing evidence in his address that it is necessary, for the good of all people, to take drastic measures against Saddam. What is not settled in my mind is what those measures should be.

I understand both sides of the argument. Given Colin Powell’s presentation on February 5, there might indeed be validation for a just war according to the defined principles of that theory. On the other hand, there are many creative pacifist solutions that will minimize the killing of innocent people and deserve consideration in the places where these decisions are made. Even according to the just war theory, war is the last resort and it will take a lot to convince me that we have done absolutely everything we can to solve this problem without war. War is not a default setting.

For me, the war debate has been connected through a series of circumstances to the debate over the death penalty. If you take a look at this issue’s feature, you’ll see my husband and me at the homecoming party for three of four pardoned Death Row inmates from Illinois. In a history-making decision, Governor Ryan commuted 156 death sentences to life in prison and pardoned four men after concluding their innocence. Essentially, he could not in good conscience support a system with proven deadly flaws.

Aside from arguments that this decision was a political move, Ryan’s action served to put another significantly gray issue into the spotlight alongside the war. On both sides of both debates you have people appealing for justice. For some, the only just approach to the crime of murder is to take the murderer’s life: “an eye for an eye.” And Saddam, being not only a murderer but also a source of terror for citizens both inside and outside of Iraq, justly deserves to have his dictatorship and his person murdered through military action.

For others however, the first consideration in approaching Saddam Hussein is protecting the innocent people he has terrorized, along with the citizens of our nation who are finding themselves shipped to the Middle East to prepare for war. To achieve this goal, war is not an option. And many of these same people would argue that the death penalty serves no purpose but vengeance and often that vengeance is enacted against innocent people who, crippled by circumstances, cannot defend themselves.

A wise friend of mine said in conversation a couple of months ago, “The more you know about an issue, the more gray it becomes.” We sometimes think education is a means to clarity, but often it’s the opposite, especially when it comes to war and capital punishment. The question I’ve been asking myself as a result is, “To what principles am I committing when I call myself pro-life?” Is it naive of me to think that we should call ourselves to higher principles of peace and forgiveness? That we should forgive instead of avenge, that we should value the lives of innocents more than the death of a dictator?

Is it better to be too idealistic or too realistic? Both paths are equally difficult to walk. Both paths involve sacrifice and guilt. But perhaps it’s the tension between us that keeps us all from walking off the cliff that looms in either direction. Ultimately, our difficulty is learning to negotiate justice within a framework we ourselves have corrupted. No answer is ideal as long as sin exists. We have only to try to “be perfect, even as my heavenly Father is perfect.” The model we seek is not found in our own reasoning or emotions, nor is it found in the successful examples of history. Our ultimate allegiance is to the God we serve who is love and gives life and to the principles laid out in his Word. “Seek and you will find.”

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