Chemical Weapons, Pope Francis, and Syria’s Civil War

Pope Francis leads those at St. Peters and the world praying for peace in Syria.
Pope Francis leads those at St. Peters and the world praying for peace in Syria as the United States decides whether to respond with force to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people.

One of our regular commenters left a link on my Facebook profile in response to my article about supporting airstrikes against Syria.  Knowing we’re both Catholic, he pulled pretty much the biggest opponent of strikes he could find: Pope Francis.  Yesterday, the leader of the world’s largest asked the 1 Billion plus Catholics of the world to fast and pray for peace in Syria.

Trust me, I really could have used a beer during the Notre Dame v. Michigan game last night.

Pope Francis’ reasoning is hard to debate because it’s rooted strongly in our Catholic faith and I don’t disagree with what he’s saying.  However, the airstrikes aren’t an attempt to bring peace to Syria, it’s about stopping Assad and (more importantly) other dictators and regimes from developing and using chemical weapons.

At World Youth Day, Pope Francis told young pilgrims:

“Have courage. Go forward. Make noise.  Wherever there are young people there must be noise. Things can be toned down later on, but a young person always wants to make noise. Go forward. There will be people who will say things to you to slow you down, to block your path. Please, go against the current. … Go against the current, against this civilisation that is doing us so much harm. Understand? Go against the current: and this means making noise. Go forward, remaining true to the values of beauty, goodness and truth.”

What future do we leave for the next generation if chemical weapons are used freely by dictators?
What future do we leave for the next generation if chemical weapons are used freely by dictators?

And what happens when those young people make noise in Iran and the Ayatollah orders that they be killed with horrifying chemical weapons like Sarin or VX nerve agents?  What’s to stop Iran from using chemical weapons if all they’re worried about is Pope Francis praying that he won’t use them again?   Where’s the justice in telling young people to continue making noise and promote goodness and truth if they and their families are going to be met with mass murder?

This isn’t being overly dramatic.  We’re talking about regimes turning entire neighborhoods into Nazi concentration camps, gassing and murdering thousands of innocent men, women, and children in mere seconds.  That’s what chemical weapons do.  That’s how Saddam Hussein used them in Iraq.  That’s how Bashar al-Assad used them in Syria.

And while these chemical holocausts are looming, we who have the power to stop them are expected to simply pray for peace?  While I respect the value of prayer and the power of God to turn people’s hearts; I also recognize that God often times works though us to do His will.

I’m not sure where this proverb/joke originated, but it seems particularly relevant today.

A farmer is in Iowa during a flood. The river is overflowing, with water surrounding the farmer’s home up to his front porch. As he is standing there, a boat comes up, The man in the boat says “Jump in, I’ll take you to safety.”
The farmer crosses his arms and says stubbornly, “Nope, I put my trust in God.”
The boat goes away. The water rises to the second floor. Another boat comes up, the man says to the farmer who is now in the second story window, “Jump in, I’ll save you.”
The farmer again says, “Nope, I put my trust in God.”
The boat goes away. Now the water is up to the roof. As The farmer stands on the roof, a helicopter comes over, and drops a ladder. The pilot yells down to the farmer “I’ll save you, climb the ladder.”
The farmer says “Nope, I put my trust in God.”
The helicopter goes away. The water continues to rise and sweeps the farmer off the roof. He drowns.
The farmer goes to heaven. God sees him and says “What are you doing here?”
The farmer says “I put my trust in you and you let me down.”
God says, “What do you mean, let you down? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!!!”

Imagine it working the other way around!  A woman and man with boats and a rescue team in a helicopter all see a man stranded by flood waters, but all of them say, “No, I’ll trust God to take care of him.”

Well, the stakes are a lot higher than one man on a roof in rising flood waters.  If we do not respond and the use of chemical weapons goes unpunished, even the smallest of conflicts will become infinitely more devastating, casualties will be through the roof, and the number of civilians killed would be unfathomable.

No matter the cost of these airstrikes, it will pale in comparison to the cost of doing nothing.

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Kevin Tracy is an Air Force veteran, terrorism/counterterrorism expert, and jack of all trades. KTracy's day job is designing electrical systems for new fossil power plants and environmental solutions. On the side, he keeps a blog, fundraises for political candidates and the St. Baldrick's Foundation, writes and illustrates comic books, and studies foreign affairs in depth.

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