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Catholics in Time of War

Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq

In the 1990s and 2000s, the United States engaged in a series of conflicts in the Middle East. In the Persian Gulf War (1990–1991), the US joined a UN coalition in pushing Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (September 11, 2001), the US military entered Afghanistan, targeting Taliban forces. The United States led a coalition against Saddam Hussein into Iraq (2003–present).

As in previous wars, the popes—in this case first John Paul II and then Benedict XVI—urged restraint, arguing that armed conflict should be a last resort and, in the words of Benedict, is "always a failure for humanity." Within the United States, opinion over the wisdom and morality of each wave of military operations was deeply divided. Catholic views tended to break down along party lines, as Republican-leaning Catholics supported the commanders-in-chief George H.W. Bush and George Bush, while Catholic Democrats were among the wars' most vocal critics. This already imperfect generalization was complicated further when Democrat Barack Obama became president and assumed responsibility for the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In any case, thousands of Catholics participated in the Middle East conflicts as soldiers, officers, and chaplains. Their experiences represent the latest chapter in the ongoing story of America's Catholics in time of war.

Photo: George H.W. Bush, Thanksgiving Dinner, Saudi Arabia, 1990. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration (unrestricted).

Catholic war memoirs

Fr. Kenneth Schroeder