Civilian Losses Rouse Clergy Scorn

Many Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders question the concept of a `just war'. PULPIT AND PROTEST

OUTSIDE the White House, a peace activist waves a hand-drawn sign declaring: ``Hey, George, your bishop is on our side!'' Indeed, the president's pastor, the Most Rev. Edmond Browning, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, opposed the Gulf war long before the bombs flew. He still does.

``A great shadow has fallen over what appeared to be a bright new landscape,'' Bishop Browning told delegates at the current World Council of Churches meeting in Canberra, Australia. ``The new world order looks suspiciously like the old, with bombs and bullets doing all the talking.''

The president acknowledges the bishop's protests. ``I hate to have my bishop in opposition to me,'' Mr. Bush reportedly said.

Browning's voice, like other war opponents', was overwhelmed for a while by the roar of laser-guided bombs. But now, as civilian casualties rise in Baghdad and Iraq's military losses skyrocket under a rain of high explosives, antiwar sentiment is growing again.

Last Sunday, a man shouting war protests was thrown out of a church service that the president and Mrs. Bush attended in Kennebunkport, Maine.

To stop war

The National Council of Churches, at the Canberra meeting, issued a call for dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews ``to address our fears, concerns, and hopes for peace.'' Bishop Melvin Talbert of the United Methodist Church explains that ``the most patriotic thing religious leaders in our country can do is stop the war.''

Protests are escalating outside Christian churches as well. The Soviet Union charges in the newspaper Isvestia that Desert Storm has become ``Desert Slaughter.''

Angry Arab crowds in Jordan scrawl ``Bush the Butcher'' outside the US Embassy.

Near the White House, antiwar activists beat drums of protest day and night.

A full-scale ground war, with much higher casualties, could create a fresh wave of protest, much it from church leaders.

Sir Paul Reeves, a representative of the Anglican Communion at the United Nations, says bluntly: ``The escalation of the Gulf war is neither holy nor just.''

Reeves says the war is strengthening four great evils: maldistribution of wealth, social injustice, militarism, and irreparable environmental damage.

Not all theologians agree, of course. The archbishop-elect of Canterbury, George Carey, calls this ``a justifiable war.''

As he told the Episcopal News Service: ``I have always questioned the just-war theory.... But I believe that certain wars are justifiable, even if not entirely just. I believe this is a justifiable war, but I wouldn't want to say it is holy, and I certainly wouldn't want to say it is just.''

Bush insists the war rests on a firm moral footing. According to the Feb. 25 New Republic, he told a senior staff meeting last month:

``I've reconciled all the moral issues. It's black versus white, good versus evil.''

For hundreds of years, Christian theologians have differed on whether war can ever be justified.

Until about 400 AD, early Christians opposed all war. Then, as the Christian movement was subsumed by the Roman Empire, clerics like St. Augustine began looking for ways to reconcile the use of force.

Eventually, the Christian church's growing acceptance of war resulted in the Crusades, military expeditions of the 11th-13th centuries to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims.

David Little, a scholar at the US Institute for Peace, says Christian thinking on war today can be divided into three major groups: pacifists (such as Quakers), ``just war'' advocates (such as President Bush), and those who support ``holy war,'' in which ``if you have the word of the Lord at your side, then don't hold back.''

Elements of `just war'

When Congress debated the Gulf war last month, most of the arguments centered on the ``just-war'' question. Dr. Little says there are several critical elements to a just war. They include:

A just cause, such as self-defense.

Right intentions.

High probability of success.

Public declaration of intent.

Protection for noncombatants.


Last resort, when peaceful means have failed.

Three of those elements are at risk in Iraq.

The first is protection for noncombatants. When a Stealth aircraft hit a Baghdad shelter with two 2,000-pound bombs last week, scores of civilians were apparently killed. It may have been either a US or Iraqi mistake, but public opinion, particularly in the Middle East, was inflamed.

The second element at risk is proportionality. Bush's goal is the freedom of Kuwait, a nation of 1.8 million. But how many people must be killed to free Kuwait: 10,000? 100,000? 500,000?

Some 525,000 Iraqi soldiers, mostly draftees, are occupying Kuwait, where they are are enduring the largest aerial bombardment in the history of mankind. Tens of thousands may already have been killed. US officials refuse to give estimates.

Are these deaths too much to pay for Kuwait's freedom? Is the destruction of human life out of proportion to the goal?

``That's is a very difficult question,'' says Dr. Little. ``The proportionality criterion is not awfully scientific. There isn't any calculus you can use.... You have to use circumstantial judgment about how important this is, and what costs this is worth.''

The `last resort'

The third element at risk is the ``last resort'' component. Sissela Bok, a philosophy professor at Brandeis University, says she would have preferred to give economic sanctions more time.

``I felt we would run into far greater tragedies than those who started the war expected,'' Dr. Bok says. ``It's now important to ask those who thought the war would have been over in six days whether they still agree with it.''

On Dec. 20, before the fighting began, Bush privately debated some of these issues with his bishop at the White House. Bush argued that the ``rape and the pillage and the plunder of Kuwait'' made war with Iraq a moral imperative.

Recalling the Nazi terror of the 1930s, Bush wondered if a strong stand like his own in this war might have halted the mass executions of Jews and Polish patriots during World War II.

Browning answered the president in a joint statement with other church leaders:

``War will not liberate Kuwait, it will destroy it,'' he said. ``War will not establish regional stability, it will inflame the entire Middle East.''

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