The War in Iraq

How Catholic Conservatives Got It Wrong

H. Richard Niebuhr once wrote that the first question of ethics is not “What should I do?” but “What is going on?” The Baghdad version of that principle might be, “What the hell is going on?” It is a question that comes to me when I wake up to a car bomb or fall asleep to the sound of mortar fire. I was asking it when a Kurdish colleague took me to see the memorial at Halabja, where Saddam gassed five thousand villagers. I asked it again last March when 223 Shi’a pilgrims died in Karbala. And again when, in the late afternoon of August 1, there were two loud thuds and the hotel shook and I saw the plumes of smoke rising over the buildings north of my balcony, buildings occupied by people I work with. I was asking it the next morning when I discovered that two more car bombs had exploded next to a Christian seminary, killing ten, leaving professors and students shaking and looking in vain for loved ones, and burnt car parts spotting the lawn.

Perhaps my confusion and fear were something like what Tolstoy’s Count Bezukhov was feeling in War and Peace when he surveyed the carnage at the battlefield of Borodino. I don’t know. Maybe it is more like the terror felt by a nine-year-old Iraqi friend who for weeks spent the nights crouched by her window, waiting for the U.S. soldiers to come again, heavy metal blasting from their Humvees, blowing up doors to drag her brothers from their beds and take them off to Abu...

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About the Author

Peter Dula is assistant professor of Bible and religion at Eastern Mennonite University. He was Iraq Program Coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee from 2004 to 2006.