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For the sake of life

Elliott Pearce | Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Many people have written, both here in The Observer and in other publications around the world, about how the killing of Osama bin Laden is not a cause for celebration. They say that it is never right to rejoice at the death of another human being, no matter how heinous his crimes. They make further accusations against the government that orchestrated bin Laden’s death and the people who celebrated it that our policies of war and retaliation only increase the hatred directed against us. Some within the Notre Dame community have also said that those Catholics who celebrated bin Laden’s death are pro-life only with respect to abortion and have failed to observe Christ’s commandment to love one’s enemies and forgive those who have done injury.

I believe that these people, though they are right in many ways, are wrong in others. Americans of all religions, weary of the cost in blood and treasure that we have paid and will continue to pay in the war on terrorism, are losing sight of the reality of human evil within the world. They decry as immoral the regrettable but certainly just and necessary measures civilized people must take to curb such evil and prevent it from infecting every corner of the planet. When we can find no better means of protecting ourselves and our allies, we must fight vigorously and decisively against those who threaten us.

As Catholics, Christ calls us to promote a culture of life throughout the world. Such a culture respects the fundamental right that each person has to live a full life from conception until natural death. Many within the Church argue that the use of military force unjustly violates the right to life of those upon whom we wage war so often, that we can only legitimately use it against a massive direct assault upon our nation.

I respectfully disagree with this view. Osama bin Laden and others like him are sworn enemies of the culture of life. Bin Laden could have chosen to live pleasantly and peacefully as a rich Saudi prince, but instead sought to dominate and control other human beings through violence and fear. Bin Laden’s al-Qaida massacred thousands of innocent civilians in a brutal and unprovoked attack on America and they have also killed tens and maybe even hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians in the name of expanding their power and influence. No life has any value whatsoever to a man like bin Laden. His organization slaughtered the people for whom it claimed to fight and even encouraged its own members to destroy themselves for the cause by becoming suicide bombers. Such people have no cause other than power and no method other than savagery.

The human race is one body in Christ, but just as our broken and imperfect bodies become diseased and need harsh and painful medicine in order to heal, so the body of humanity sometimes needs to be cut and cauterized to remove those parts of it that threaten to destroy the whole. We are called to love those like bin Laden who have been corrupted and to pray for their conversion, but our leaders cannot stand idly by waiting for a miracle when they have the responsibility to protect both us and the people of the nations with whom we have continuing security arrangements. If the infection of evil continues to fester in the world despite our best peaceful efforts, we have no choice but to excise it through violent means.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a great advocate of peace, brotherhood and nonviolence, once said that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I believe that cancerous members of the human body like Osama bin Laden are a threat to the sanctity of life everywhere and that trying to ignore them into irrelevance by withdrawing from our international diplomatic and military involvements is dangerous and irresponsible. The only reason al-Qaida and similar terrorist groups have not been able to acquire weapons of mass destruction and carry out the kind of devastating attacks that would provoke even the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to take up M16s and charge into battle is that American and allied military and intelligence units have been tirelessly pursuing and eradicating such groups throughout the globe.

Foreign military intervention is still a regrettable occurrence. We cannot and should not deploy troops to resolve every case of injustice, oppression and illegitimate violence that exists in the world. We must work tirelessly to pursue peaceful solutions to the conflicts that threaten Americans and people of all nations. However, when conflicts and tensions escalate too rapidly for nonviolent means to take effect, we must reserve the right to strike quickly and decisively in the interest of our people and of humanity in general.

The recent conflict in Libya is a good example of this. If we consider President Obama’s statements and actions leading up to the NATO air campaign, we can see that he desperately did not want to use military force again after Iraq and Afghanistan. He could not stand idly by and watch Gadhafi’s forces massacre them and their families in a hail of rockets, bombs and shells, so he offered what forces he had to do what they could, as they are still doing now.

Those Americans who cheered and danced in the streets after hearing that Osama bin Laden was dead celebrated the death of a human being, an occasion for regret, not joy. However, unlike those who celebrated the fall of the World Trade Center, these Americans rejoiced at the death of a man who had dedicated his life to the pursuit of illegitimate power by any means necessary, including the mass murder of innocents. Bin Laden was still an important figurehead and recruiting tool for al-Qaida, the Taliban and their affiliates up to the time of his death. His demise dealt a heavy blow to the radical Islamic terrorist movement and saved the lives of many American, European, Middle Eastern and South Asian soldiers and civilians who would have been killed in attacks by his followers, as well as the lives of those young men whom he would have rallied to death for the terrorist cause with his continued video broadcasts. The protection of these lives is an occasion for hope and happiness. I hope we never have to face such an enemy again, but if we must, I pray that we will have the strength and courage to swiftly end his reign of terror for the sake of life itself.

Elliott Pearce is a sophomore living in Knott Hall. He can be reached at epearce1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.