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This attack on Iraq is morally wrong - and I was involved in the last one

By Gary Stone - posted Thursday, 6 February 2003

I write this as an Australian citizen concerned at the threats to world peace and the need for us to courageously confront evil, even using lethal force, but in circumstances that are morally justified.

I believe Saddam Hussein must be confronted, but I am concerned that a unilateral pre-emptive assault on Iraq without UN mandate has not yet been justified and may result in dire consequences.

For the past 33 years I have served in the Australian Army, firstly as an infantry officer, and for the past seven years as a chaplain. As an infantry lieutenant colonel, I commanded an Australian Army peacekeeping contingent on the Iran-Iraq border in 1989-90. I have dealt with senior Iraqi and Iranian officers, and seen first-hand the catastrophic outcome of more than eight years of combat that cost more than one million lives. I have seen, felt, even "smelt" the evil emanating from the regime of Saddam Hussein.


Upon my return to Australia I was employed as the land operations officer in the Defence Command Centre in Canberra, and was Watch Commander when in January 1991 we sent a "flash" message to our troops in the Gulf authorising them to use lethal force to liberate Kuwait from Saddam's forces. I wholeheartedly supported that action, and today I consider the war on the terrorist activity of the al Qa'ida network just as necessary and morally justifiable.

But as the spectre of a new war against Iraq looms closer each day, I have grave reservations about involvement by us, on military, strategic and ethical grounds.

As a Christian soldier deployed to five conflicts I have taken great solace in adhering to the long-established 'just war' doctrine which has informed ethical action in conflict situations since the time of St Augustine.

It is not just practical wisdom; I consider it to be divine wisdom. It obliges all citizens and governments to work toward peace and the avoidance of war, but acknowledges the right of legitimate defence by military force in circumstances where, at one and the same time:

  • The damage inflicted by the aggressor is lasting, grave and certain.
  • All other means of resolution have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
  • There must be serious prospects of success.
  • The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, para 2309)

This doctrine has been tried and tested over hundreds of years and remains just as valid today. Troops sent to restore peace in a conflict vitally need to know that they have both moral legitimacy, and parameters on their use of lethal force.


Readers might be interested to know that the Australian Army, in its most recent rewrite of our keystone doctrinal document, The Fundamentals of Land Warfare (2002) specifically endorses the criticality of adhering to the 'just war' precepts for the long-term restoration of peace to be achieved.

I hope our military leaders will not be asked to turn a blind eye to this doctrine and commit our soldiers to an unjust involvement which may haunt them for years to come, simply in order to satisfy the urgent demands for action of our US allies.

From my first-hand experience, the politics and culture of the Middle East are complex issues that most Westerners would have great difficulty understanding. No simple or quick-fix solutions can be expected to work there.

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This article first appeared in The Catholic Leader, Brisbane, on 12 January 2003. Article courtesy Church Resources, a member of The National Forum.

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About the Author

Gary Stone is a deacon of the Catholic Military Ordinariate, and is based in Brisbane.

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