Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Nature of Peace

With the Hezbollah militia attacking the State of Israel and the State of Israel attacking the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, it seems that true and lasting peace for the Middle East may be a way off. Let's hope that the "end game" has not already begun.
The Israeli air attacks on Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Hezbollah has its headquarters, continued throughout the day and evening, after heavy raids on Saturday against Hezbollah offices and apartment houses and, the Israelis said, bunkers underneath them where Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has spent much of his time.

Streets were deserted, littered by debris, broken glass and parts of shattered buildings. Heavy plumes of black smoke rose over the city in the late afternoon as Israeli jets circled over the shut Beirut airport, hitting fuel storage tanks and an oil refinery.

“We are facing a real annihilation carried out by Israel,” Lebanon’s information minister, Ghazi Aridi, said after an emergency cabinet meeting. Beirut had an eerie, empty feel, with many residents having fled to the surrounding mountains. (“Israel Strikes Lebanon After Hezbollah Missile Attack” by Jan Mouawad and Steven Erlanger, July 17, 2006, N.Y. Times)

Much thought, analysis and rhetoric has already been given as to why this military operation by The State of Israel commenced last week. President George W. Bush gave his opinion on “stopping the violence”:
“In my judgment, the best way to stop the violence is to understand why the violence occurred in the first place,” Mr. Bush said. “And that’s because Hezbollah has been launching rocket attacks out of Lebanon into Israel, and because Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. That’s why we have violence.” ("Israel Widens Scope of Attacks Across Lebanon" by Greg Myre, July 16, 2006, N.Y. Times)

We all perhaps know and understand to a degree to the consequences and results of war. The “root cause” of some sort of injustice seems to be readily identifiable. Much less thought it seems —if we can judge from what is written — is given to the nature of peace. Fortunately, the Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes , December 7, 1965) authoritatively addressed this topic.

Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice. Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine Founder, and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice. The common good of humanity finds its ultimate meaning in the eternal law. But since the concrete demands of this common good are constantly changing as time goes on, peace is never attained once and for all, but must be built up ceaselessly. Moreover, since the human will is unsteady and wounded by sin, the achievement of peace requires a constant mastering of passions and the vigilance of lawful authority.

But this is not enough. This peace on earth cannot be obtained unless personal well-being is safeguarded and men freely and trustingly share with one another the riches of their inner spirits and their talents. A firm determination to respect other men and peoples and their dignity, as well as the studied practice of brotherhood are absolutely necessary for the establishment of peace. Hence peace is likewise the fruit of love, which goes beyond what justice can provide.

That earthly peace which arises from love of neighbor symbolizes and results from the peace of Christ which radiates from God the Father. For by the cross the incarnate Son, the prince of peace reconciled all men with God. By thus restoring all men to the unity of one people and one body, He slew hatred in His own flesh; and, after being lifted on high by His resurrection, He poured forth the spirit of love into the hearts of men.

For this reason, all Christians are urgently summoned to do in love what the truth requires, and to join with all true peacemakers in pleading for peace and bringing it about.

Motivated by this same spirit, we cannot fail to praise those who renounce the use of violence in the vindication of their rights and who resort to methods of defense which are otherwise available to weaker parties too, provided this can be done without injury to the rights and duties of others or of the community itself.

Insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ. But insofar as men vanquish sin by a union of love, they will vanquish violence as well and make these words come true: "They shall turn their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into sickles. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaias 2:4). (Gaudium et Spes, No. 78)

Gaudium et Spes recognized that some military actions may be necessary but that these should be tempered:
[I]t is one thing to undertake military action for the just defense of the people, and something else again to seek the subjugation of other nations. Nor, by the same token, does the mere fact that war has unhappily begun mean that all is fair between the warring parties. (Gaudium et Spes, No. 79)

Gaudium et Spes, readily points out that respect, dignity, and brotherhood are required for peace: “A firm determination to respect other men and peoples and their dignity, as well as the studied practice of brotherhood are absolutely necessary for the establishment of peace.”

Surely peace on earth will be obtained where “personal well-being is safeguarded.” It will be obtained when respect, dignity, and brotherhood are extended to innocent and blameless human life and the family in addition to nations, peoples, and true cultures. Let’s all pray for true peace and not for simply the avoidance of war.

Photo: Man in Lebanon (Tyler Hicks/ New York Times; July 17,2006)
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