Dear Parents and Older Students,
Years ago when I was in kindergarten there was an eighth grade boy assigned to help us little guys learn how to play organized games in the schoolyard. His name was Richard Wheatly and he was so cool. He knew us all by name and truly seemed to care for us.
By the time I got to first grade Richard had graduated and I rarely thought about him. But a few years later he appeared at our front door announcing that he was the new Chronicle delivery boy and that he had come to collect for last month’s service. It was exciting to see him again especially because he remembered my name. For the next few years, I would see Richard once a month when he came to collect and he always took the time to chat with me. Older kids can make younger kids feel so important. But again, Richard drifted out of my life and I rarely thought about him.
In the spring of my eighth grade year Sister Mary Euphrasia announced to the class that one of her former students, Richard Wheatly, had been killed in action while serving our country in Vietnam. She asked that we pray for him and his family. This made quite an impact on most of us.
Over the years, I’ve told this story to my kids and my students many times. In fact, about nine years ago, Kelly and Mike visited a traveling version of the Vietnam Memorial Wall and found Richard’s name. I’ve been thinking about him the last few days because I’m still puzzled that a committed pacifist like myself can be the proud father of a US Marine.
Mike (my son, the Marine) celebrated his tenth birthday on September 13, 2001. This was two days after the Twin Towers were attacked in New York. Although I am still a pacifist, I understand his reasons for enlisting in the USMC. He and his band of brothers have pledged to go into whatever trouble the president and / or congress send them. As a Dad, I must support my son. As a citizen, I must be actively engaged in the political process that determines when and where our troops are put in harm’s way. As a Catholic, I need to know my Church’s moral teaching. Below is the teaching of the Catholic Church on “just wars”. Please read it carefully and consider the implications.
The Catholic Church begins with a presumption against war, always promoting the peaceful settlement of disputes. However, in extreme cases (like unjust aggression), as a last resort, the Church recognizes that governments have the right and responsibility to pass laws to enlist citizens to help defend the nation. It is possible for Catholics to fight in a “just” war if all the following conditions are met (CCC, 2309):
1. There must be a real, lasting, grave, and certain damage inflicted by an aggressor on a nation or community of nations. Examples of these situations include the violation of basic human rights, killing of innocent people, or the urgency of a nation to defend itself.
2. War must be a last resort. All peaceful alternatives must have been tried and failed.
3. The rights and values in the conflict must be so important that they justify killing.
4. A war cannot be just unless waged for the noblest of reasons and with a commitment to postwar reconciliation with the enemy. No just war can tolerate needless destruction, cruelty to prisoners, and other harsh measures like torture.
5. Only proper representatives of the people, entrusted with the common good, have the right to declare a war of defense.
6. The chances for success must be calculated against the human cost of the war to prevent hopeless use of force and resistance when either will prove futile anyway.
7. Armed conflict must not create even worse evil than that to be eliminated. Therefore, military damage and costs must be proportionate to the good expected.
Finally, I ask that we keep in our prayers all who serve our country and their families. And as I’ve learned in these last several years, nobody prays for peace more than the families of our young men and women in uniform.