A Moral World Requires Moral Violence
Pope Francis had harsh words for the arms industry on Sunday, condemning as “two-faced” those who claim to be Christian while manufacturing weapons or investing in companies that produce them. “It is hypocritical to talk about peace and make weapons,” the pope told an audience of young people in Turin. “Doing one thing and saying another. What hypocrisy!”
It’s not the first time Francis has blasted the defense industry. In May, he denounced the arms business as an “industry of death,” run by people who “don’t want peace” because “they make more money from war.” In February, he labeled weapons dealers “merchants of death” and blamed them for “furthering a cycle of hate, fratricide, and violence.”
So sweeping a calumny would be unworthy coming from anyone; from a moral teacher as prominent as the Bishop of Rome, it is inexcusable. Of course there are hypocrites and charlatans in the arms trade, just as there are hypocrites and charlatans in all professions. But to smear everyone in the weapons business as unethical and anti-peace is sheer demagoguery.
I wouldn’t presume to instruct the pope in theology, but if Francis really means to execrate any commerce in weapons, he goes farther than even Jesus did. “Let him who has a purse take it and also a bag,” Jesus instructs his apostles in the Gospel of Luke, “and let him who has no sword sell his garment and buy one.” In both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, Saint Adrian of Nicomedia has long been honored as the patron saint of arms dealers. There is room for good Christians, the church seems to believe, even in the weapons business.
And would the pope want it any other way? Would the world be better off if the industries that make weapons, ammunition, and military equipment didn’t employ men and women who aspire to live ethically? The Vatican itself is defended by a military force — the Swiss Guard — that is well-supplied with sophisticated firepower, including assault rifles and submachine guns. When Francis slams weapons-makers and firearms-sellers as “hypocrites” and “merchants of death,” does he include those who provide the guns that keep him and the papal offices safe?
In Isaiah’s messianic vision of a world in which universal peace and goodness reigns, human beings will “beat their swords into plowshares / And their spears into pruning hooks.” But until that utopia arrives, there is nothing moral about pacifism. In the here and now, evil exists and the decent must fight it. And unless they are to fight unarmed, they will need the tools of violence.
The pope knows only too well what happens when good people — or good nations — aren’t willing to fight the world’s monsters with every available weapon.
At the very same rally in Turin in which he excoriated those who make and sell munitions, Francis retroactively decried the failure of the Western democracies to do more to stop the Nazi genocide and Stalin’s terror. “The great powers had photographs of the railway routes that brought the trains to the concentration camps like Auschwitz to kill Jews, Christians, Roma, homosexuals, everybody,” he said. “Tell me, then: Why did they not bomb them?”
Does the pontiff hear his own words? He laments the failure to bomb the rail lines and save millions of lives. Who would have made those bombs? Who would have made the bombers to deliver them? Who made the guns and tanks and missiles that did, in the end, defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan? Who supplied the arms that ended the slave trade and eradicated piracy? Were all of them conniving merchants of death?
No, Pope Francis, it is not hypocritical to talk about peace and make weapons. For if the peaceable cannot defend themselves, they will have no peace. “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” Americans sang during World War II. A moral world requires moral violence, and the wisdom to know when to use it.
Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.