James Carroll is a best-selling author of both fiction and nonfiction books and a winner of the National Book Award. The son of an Air Force general with whom he had his own political disagreements, Carroll was ordained in the Catholic Church as a member of the Paulist order, a community of priests known for their public communication skills and media savvy, and became active in the antiwar movement. Eventually leaving the priesthood to become a full-time writer, he also lectures widely on the issues of war and peace and on religious topics, especially those involving Christian, Jewish, and Islamic relations. I mention these few important points about his background merely to show that the author of this critique of President Bush's current foreign policy is no lightweight and Carroll cannot easily be dismissed by those who may disagree with his analyses and interpretations.
"Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War" is a collection of Carroll's columns which appeared in The Boston Globe from September 2001 through March 2004 and, the title of the book notwithstanding, his writing goes far beyond the topic of war to include discussions of religious power and theology, domestic policy issues, capital punishment, the separation of church and state, and even a damning criticism of Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ." Although the author and I are not exactly at the same place on the political spectrum, I must admit that his analyses and criticisms are fair and well-reasoned and do not constitute just another noisy and mindless rant from a left-wing apologist. In fact, there are a number of his positions regarding contemporary issues with which I am in agreement.
Let's take the current "war on terror" and its most recent manifestation, the war on Iraq, which is, after all, the major focus of Carroll's book even though he covers other topics. When President Bush announced the beginning of the actual conflict, after stating all the alleged justifications for a preemptive attack against the Saddam Hussein regime, I, like so many of my fellow Americans, rallied to the "cause," at least morally and intellectually, and settled in front of the television to watch the overthrow of an extremely brutal and fundamentally inhumane individual and his cohorts. While I subscribe to the concept that any war is a terrible waste of necessary resources -- physical, financial, and human -- a war may nevertheless be "just," provided it is a defensive action against clear and present aggression and constitutes a last resort after other, more moderate, means to resolve the matter have been exhausted.
Carroll's position is that the war on Iraq was an "unjust" war. I may now have to agree with him on this specific point. It is obvious to me, as it has become to many others who initially supported the action, that the original officially-declared rationalizations for the war have not subsequently been shown to be justified. There were apparently intelligence failures all over the place with plenty of blame to go around. Furthermore, and this is especially disturbing to me now as it apparently is to the author of this book, I must question whether there were other motivations in play here than merely to remove a brutal dictator from his house of horrors. Carroll raises this issue, also, along with the whole matter of modern American "imperialism" and the potentially disastrous consequences of an American foreign policy which seems to have run amuck.
Another topic, unfortunately only briefly raised by Carroll, is the death penalty and America's seeming enthusiasm for this barbaric practice. The author, a modern liberal, and I, a classical liberal, would have no difficulty joining forces to criticize capital punishment as a policy and to seek its abolition. While my opposition is basically related to its contradiction of the principle of an "inalienable" right to life as expressed in America's founding document, Carroll proposes a more practical and immediate problem with the death penalty as it relates to the war on terrorism. He suggests that "the American death penalty is a serious obstacle to a fully effective war on terrorism" because other countries, such as Germany and England and possibly other members of the European Union (which prohibits capital punishment), may refuse to hand over terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, "without assurances that the death penalty will be waived." I agree with Carroll on this point. The Bush administration, as far as I know, has not responded to this issue in public.
This is a book not to be read in one sitting, but to be read in fits and spurts. Publications of this type, reprintings of essays without a logical common thread binding them all together, can be difficult to handle all at one time. Regardless of the structure of the text, Carroll stands by his opinions and beliefs and presents some pretty persuasive arguments. He raises some important questions and problems and we are forced to pause and think about answers and solutions. The author writes with the passion of a committed believer and pragmatic activist. While there are many issues about which Carroll and I would argue, particularly with regard to his analysis and interpretation, I would suggest that even the most pro-war or hawkish political partisan will be challenged by some of Carroll's analyses and opinions. Certainly, the author is one of the most important voices in today's world speaking out about the direction that America is taking in world affairs. He should be heard and his opinions debated. This book should be read by the largest possible audience. Regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum, there is much to learn in this book and much to think about. Highly recommended to those on the Left and the Right and, of course, to the majority of Americans who consider themselves to be independent thinkers without definitive ties to either side.