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September 8, 2014

As terror rages out of control in Iraq and Syria, one should not forget the First Gulf War, begun in 1991, that was so deeply deplored at the time by Pope St. John Paul II and other Church leaders. The sainted pope pleaded with the leaders of Iraq and the United States to avoid a war stemming from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait the previous summer.

War, he said, would be "an adventure without return." We ought never to forget those prophetic words, especially when political leaders proclaim that war will solve the world's problems. In fact, the consequences of war are unpredictable and rarely are they salutary.

One cannot directly blame the then-leaders of the U.S. and Iraq for the current bloodthirsty terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. They did not deliberately will the horrors of today. They do, however, bear responsibility for letting the genie of war out of the bottle, a genie whose destructive ways – including the dropping of depleted uranium on the Iraqi people by Western forces – spur resentment and bitterness to grow, harden and flourish in ways that could not be foreseen.

The genie continued to do his work following that first war. Backbreaking economic sanctions imposed by the Clinton regime had a devastating effect on Iraq, bringing about what the U.S. Catholic bishops called "more than nine years of unparalleled and unmerited suffering."

As the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq a second time – based on the false claim that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction – the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church warned that such an invasion would only strengthen Islamic fundamentalists. Indeed, if the second invasion served any lasting purpose it was to provide the latest weapons technology to those fundamentalists.

The instigators of the First Gulf War are well removed from the scene – Saddam Hussein dead after being executed and George Bush the Elder 90 years old, his days in politics long past. Yet, their legacy of war continues to echo down through the years.

In his 2002 World Day of Peace message, Pope John Paul noted that "situations of oppression and marginalization" facilitate the plans of terrorists. "The recruitment of terrorists in fact is easier in situations where rights are trampled upon and injustices tolerated over a long period of time," he wrote.

The existence of injustice, no matter how severe, can never excuse terrorism. It is, however, a fertile breeding ground for fanaticism.

Pope John Paul was insistent that diplomacy is a better solution than war; dialogue among peoples better than the fostering of enmity; human development better than the greed that seeks to monopolize wealth and power. These are the quiet, undramatic "adventures" that create peace and harmony. Better this path than the path of war, the adventure without return.