Cardinal Bevilacqua Defends U.S. Response to Sept. 11

«The Military Action … Has Been Both Measured and Discriminate»

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PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, OCT. 24, 2001 ( Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua wrote this letter to President George W. Bush regarding the U.S. military action under way in Afghanistan. The text is also at (

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October 16, 2001

The Honorable George W. Bush
The President of the United States of America
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Like all Americans, I have been reflecting a great deal on the evil events of September 11, 2001, and about their immediate and long-term consequences. I write to thank you for the strong and wise leadership that you and your administration have been providing, and to express my prayerful support for the multidimensional response to the terrorist attacks that you have been detailing for the American people.

Mr. President, you have rightly called these attacks acts of war. They are the most catastrophic in a series of lethal assaults that include the earlier attack on the World Trade Center and the bombings of United States embassies, a military barracks and a naval vessel. Undeniably, terrorists pose a threat to the lives and security of all people, and a particular danger to Americans here and overseas. Our government has the right and the duty to defend its people against this modern plague upon mankind. It is encouraging to see that other nations also recognize that same moral obligation as they join us in protecting humanity from the evils inherent in this latest form of tyranny.

Over the past few weeks, calls for retaliation motivated by anger and vengeance have been replaced by careful reflection on the need for self-defense. You and your chief advisors aver that the responses by our government and the international coalition currently underway — political, financial, economic and military — are directed toward defending the free world. The United States and its partners in the coalition made clear their preference to protect humanity by diplomatic means rather than military force. Sadly, because past and recent diplomatic efforts and political and economic sanctions failed, military action became necessary. These facts, together with the well-founded hope that we will ultimately succeed in the war against terrorism, demonstrate that we are engaged in a just war.

You, your administration and the Congress are to be commended for the manner in which this war has been conducted so far. The formation of an international coalition, the shared intelligence and coordinated efforts of national and international law enforcement agencies and the steps undertaken to cut off the terrorists´ financial resources are all part of a well-conceived and effective plan. By all reports, the military action which began on October 7, 2001, has been both measured and discriminate. I have every confidence that our government will ensure that all future military action will continue to be directed only against the terrorists and the regimes that protect and support them.

You are to be commended also for the humanitarian assistance currently being given to millions of innocent people in Afghanistan who have suffered for more than a decade at the hands of the Taliban. It is heartening to know that the leaders of the coalition intend to continue this assistance in the post-Taliban era, and to create the conditions needed for the people of Afghanistan to establish a just and stable government. It is also heartening to know that the United States and other nations are prepared to support such a government in addressing the conditions and causes of poverty and illness that have brought so much suffering to the innocent people of that land. Hopefully, the unique alliances forged by this war on terrorism will foster new political and diplomatic attempts to address the poverty, suffering and hopelessness from which so many people in that region and elsewhere in the world continue to suffer.

Mr. President, you have been realistic and forthright in stating that the war against terrorism will take a long time. We, the American people, must be equally realistic in recognizing that it will involve sacrifice on our part. It will require patience in coping with security measures that will cause inconvenience and may seem overly intrusive. It will require a willingness to put the common good above some individual civil liberties. It will require unity, courage and steadfastness, especially at times when there may be little tangible evidence that we are succeeding or that a serious threat still remains. For the men and women of the armed forces, the sacrifices will be great indeed. They must be reassured that the cause they champion is just, and that this nation supports every moral means they employ in our defense.

Many Americans believe that life in the United States was changed forever by the terrorist attacks of September 11. To a degree, this is unquestionably true. The unspeakable evil made vivid in the horrific images of commercial aircraft commandeered by suicidal murderers crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field are now permanently etched in the national memory. Mercifully, those images are offset by countless displays of the fundamental goodness of the American people. They have turned to God in this hour of need and prayed for guidance, strength and healing. They have mourned the dead and prayed for the repose of their souls. They have tended to the physical and spiritual needs of their families and of all the injured. The valor and dedication of the rescuers, medical personnel, clergy, civil and religious leaders as well as the loving and tangible concern of the entire nation prove that the American spirit was not buried beneath the rubble. In its best instincts and highest ideals, America remains unchanged by the barbaric attacks that killed thousands of innocent men and women. I pray that, in time, this nation will also recover its sense of security and return to its way of life.

As we search for reasons for the attacks, we must be careful to avoid two unsupportable conclusions: first, that they were God´s punishment for moral decay within our nation; second, that they were an inevitable and deserved response to United States foreign policy. These were the acts of men with evil in their hearts, perpetrated against innocent human beings. No reason can be given to explain them or the loathing which inspired them. Still, as a nation victimized by acts of incomprehensible hatred and violence, we must emerge from this experience with a more profound respect for one another, for the world community and for human life itself. A new world order without terrorism must also be one of global solidarity in caring for the needs of every human being.

The anxieties of these perilous times have reminded us all of our utter dependence upon God. Let us continue to ask Him to help all men and women to pursue justice and to live in peace.

With gratitude and with prayers for God´s blessings upon you and this great nation, I am

Sincerely yours,

Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua
Archbishop of Philadelphia

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