For those who oppose war, what now?
Boston Globe  By Peter J. Gomes, 3/23/2003

''Morality and religion, with their demands and sanctions, are hustled into oblivion when civilized people embark on mechanized war.''-- From the letters of Herbert Hensley Henson, Sept. 19, 1939

WELL, NOW IT HAS begun. ''Shock and awe'' -- blitzkrieg -- in the name of the United States and in the ostensible cause of a more peaceful and stable world. Who would have thought it?

The conventional wisdom now is that since war is a fact and not just a rumor, with hostilities in view of anyone in the world with a television, all dissent about it must cease. We must rally around the flag and support our troops on the front lines and our president in the White House.

Critics of President George W. Bush's failed diplomacy are told to ''Fermez les bouches,'' and are declared by the war party to be on the treacherous slope to treason.

By what logic, moral or otherwise, however, is a war that millions thought to be unjustified and immoral even before it occurred now made justified and moral by the fact that it is occurring?

Does the fact of a conflict-in-progress nullify all questions about the legitimacy of that conflict?

Are those who opposed the orchestrated drumbeat to war, and who remain unpersuaded by Bush's repeated and changing rationales for his war, now simply to acquiesce in devout silence to the course of international violence from which he has refused to be deterred?

Are we to ignore our own consciences because he has determined to ignore our protests?

Of course not.

The experience of Vietnam reminds us that protest in time of war is a legitimate and powerful expression of those rights for which previous American wars were fought; and make no mistake, it was protest that brought the Vietnam War to an end. Mawkish appeals to patriotism and national unity cannot stifle our right to dissent. A soft 60 percent of the country supports this war with varying degrees of enthusiasm, while the consciences of many are troubled; the fact that the president enjoys a good night's sleep doesn't make sleep come any more easily for the rest of us. What, then, are we to do?

I suggest that:
  • We must not constrain our consciences. War is always the least satisfactory road to peace; we cannot allow ourselves or our country to become accustomed to war as a natural instrument of policy, and therefore our consciences should always drive us the extra mile for peace and for justice. We join with the pope in this.
  • We must pray for a swift and just conclusion to this war. This means that the sooner the fighting is over, the sooner we can begin to assume our responsibility for the restoration of Iraq and the restoration of our reputation as a nation that stands for peace and cooperation.
  • We must offer our unqualified support to those men and women in the military who are placed in harm's way, and who must wage the war whose end we seek. We pray for them and for their families, and we know that the best we can do for them is to get them home as quickly and as safely as possible.
  • We must urge the Bush administration to be as assiduous in its prosecution of peaceful reconstruction as it was in bringing about the conflict. This government should be held to account for a peaceful and nonimperialist postwar reality in Iraq. If ''it is not about oil,'' prove it.
  • We must oppose with every energy the menacing morality of the doctrine of preemption and, while we are committed to the just conclusion of this war, we must continue to challenge the wisdom of those policy-makers who forced this option upon us.
  • We must commit ourselves again to the principles of international cooperation and affirm that such instrumentalities as the UN, NATO, and the International Court of Justice, generally trashed in the run-up to this war, will be essential for the peace.
  • We must affirm that the real work for peace begins the day the war is over; the struggle begins when we take up the hard work of peace-making.
  • We must demand that attention be paid to the real causes behind the threats of terror to our country and our way of life: We must insist that the Bush administration commit itself to a just resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that persuades the world and the Muslim world in particular, that we are as interested in justice for Palestinians as we are in security for Israel, and that we insist upon peace for both.
  • We must remember the promises of those who brought us this war, remember the silent ''do nothing'' Congress, and remember those who stood up for peace in the face of spin, intimidation, and ridicule; and most of all, when the time comes, we must remember to vote.
Of course we will win the fighting war, for why wouldn't we? The fictitious ''Duchy of Grand Fenwick,'' with its cross-bows, has a better chance than Iraq against the most competent fighting force in the world. Victory is a foregone conclusion, as the beribboned generals know, but victory is only a means to an end, and that end is a just and lasting peace.

To this end all Americans are committed, for only a fool or a cynic regards war -- even a smart, clinical war -- as a desirable state of affairs. Work remains for our country and for our consciences.

We who opposed this war could not, alas, prevent it. We can, however, in the great tradition of protest and witness, continue to make our opposition known as have many millions before us, and as will many millions to follow. We can do even more. Our consciences are not on hold during the war, and when peace comes and the rhetoric of bellicosity yields, as it must, to a thoughtful and provocative encounter with new world responsibilities, then we who have been ignored must insist upon being heard.

More than ever, the country will need our moral energy. Now, what are we to do? I have suggested nine points for conscience, and there are many more; but whatever we do, the very least we can do is to work for peace, vote for peace, and pray for peace, in any way possible.

The only hope for the world, and for our place in it, is peace. No one put this better than our Boston abolitionist ancestor, William Lloyd Garrison, when, against the evils of slavery in a culture hostile to the very idea of abolition, he famously said, ''I am in earnest. I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard!''
So, too, will we.

Peter J. Gomes is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and the Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church at Harvard University.
This story ran on page H11 of the Boston Globe on 3/23/2003.