These days, when the drums of war are beating, it may be helpful to pause and read Pope John Paul II's words from his encyclical Centesimus Annus:
"[I]t must be remembered that true peace is never simply the result of military victory, but rather implies both the removal of the causes of war and genuine reconciliation between peoples" (CA, 18).
Perhaps an uncomfortable question that we Americans need to ask ourselves as we consider military action in Iraq and Syria is, "What are our true motivations behind military action?" We ought not be too quick to take the moral high ground when we reply that military action is simply to prevent the continued slaughter of innocent peoples. Are our motivations really that pure? Do I really want "genuine reconciliation between peoples?"
Sure, my gut reaction is to support military intervention in Iraq, especially in light of the slaughter of thousands of innocent Christians. It pains me to no end to hear of the mass murder of my brothers and sisters in Christ. But on the other hand, will military intervention also secretly accomplish some of my lesser spoken intentions? For example, could revenge be one of my motivations? Could I feel some satisfaction at the use of military force precisely because I am allowing myself to put forward alternate justifications for use of force while mixing un-Christian motives with Christian ones at a sub-conscious level? These questions are not unreasonable; our Catholic Vice President recently made the public statement, "We will follow them [ISIS] to the gates of hell!" I can't judge the Vice President's true intentions, but the tenor of his response confirms the validity of my questions.
Vengeance qua vengeance "is the Lord's" (Cf. Romans 12:19), and we ought to leave it to Him. Our sinful nature as human beings may prevent us from ever reaching this ideal of intentionality as our military carries out legitimate actions in defense of the defenseless. At the end of the day we have to allow our Catholic faith to inform our judgments about these things -- our faith should force us to honestly ask ourselves uncomfortable questions: What are our true intentions? What would be accomplished if we pursued this course of action? What might some of the negative consequences be?
Deep down I may have to admit that my motives are not always 100% pure. It wounds my pride for me to admit that, but perhaps this is a good thing. It can become a source for begging the Lord for mercy. In times like these, I find myself fervently praying the well-known Jesus prayer :
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!