BOOK REVIEW:  A Stupid, Unjust, and Criminal War: Iraq 2001-2007 (Andrew Greeley)

BOOK REVIEW:  A Stupid, Unjust, and Criminal War: Iraq 2001-2007 (Andrew Greeley)

by Rev. Martin E. Marty

A Stupid, Unjust, and Criminal War: Iraq 2001-2007 by priest, sociologist, novelist, and columnist Andrew Greeley is a collection of 121 columns dating back to 2001, in their original form. As the title suggests, the columns are not long on nuance. They have going for them guts, consistency, a readiness to use the language of the prophets and the Church, prescience, and not a little hold on truth in reporting. Columnists who once supported the war and others who were critical all along can profitably compare notes with Greeley .

The Chicago priest, who has a passion for Catholicism, is dispassionate enough to have a lover’s quarrel with the Church, and is impassioned about bringing church teaching on wisdom (as opposed to “stupidity”), just war theory (as opposed to “unjustness”), and law-abidingness (as opposed to “criminality”) to bear on events of this long, long war. He celebrates what the popes of these years, Vatican spokespersons, and many bishops have had to say for peace and against capital punishment, nuclear armament, war-making in general, and this war in particular. At the same time he mourns that so little of what they said reached the Catholic faithful. And he is scornful of most religious leaders who were cowed into silence for fear of sounding unpatriotic when they might have been helpfully vocal in criticism of governmental and military policy. In a world where many were snookered into blandness or silence, he remains unsnookered.

The Martys compare opinions as we read four daily papers. We come to most agreement on wartime issues when we read Greeley ‘s syndicated columns in the Chicago Sun-Times. From before the first gun was fired, he stopped just short of charging that we were being led into the war by leaders who, too often, wanted war but didn’t count the cost. Now uncontroversial are his once contentious early comments on how unprepared the U.S. administration and military were before they invaded Iraq. Greeley is no pacifist, and recognizes, for example, the “necessity” of World War II and the valor of those who supported the Allied cause. He is not naïve about the scope of the threat of militant Muslims and terrorists, but was suspicious of those Americans who immediately after 9/11 labeled all forms of action and reaction a “War” on terror.

I do not picture that most readers of Sightings will read this book, either because they do not welcome priestly comment and criticism or because they have been reading the columns all along, usually affirming them, and don’t need a repeat. Nor can I quote enough from these pages to document how true to conditions and prospects Greeley has been. Instead I want to pass on something that crossed my mind while reading him, as follows: Pastors, priests, professors, nuns, teachers, editorialists, and other leaders were consistently told back during the Vietnam War that they lacked expertise to analyze what only some military and governmental leaders, setting out to monopolize comment, knew enough about. We hear the same now on issues dealing with the environment, the global economy, and more. It becomes clear once again that biblically informed, theologically inspired criticism and proposals can come from highly fallible people who, like everyone else, do not “know enough,” but who do “know enough” from another angle, to make their own contributions to conversations that remain urgent. Folks like Greeley have the satisfaction of seeing that their prophecies have been confirmed, but take small comfort in that.

Martin E. Marty’s biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at http://www.illuminos.com.

Originally published in Sightings which comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


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