According to the Zenit news service (linked here in the Daily Dispatch for July 30, 2006), Pope Benedict XVI used a Sunday Angelus message to call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. "In the name of God," Benedict said, "I appeal to all those responsible for this spiral of violence, so that they immediately put down their weapons on all sides."

As Joseph Bottum noted here on July 27, talk like this implies a moral equivalence between Hezbollah, which intentionally kills civilians, and the Israelis, who in attempting to put an end to that sort of thing sometimes unintentionally kill civilians despite reasonable precautions. Glossing over that difference fatally vitiates Benedict’s conclusion.

But there’s another problem with Benedict’s position. It may seem unobjectionable, from a moral point of view, to say that parties involved in an armed conflict ought to stop fighting immediately, but in fact there are cases in which this solution would be wrong. An immediate ceasefire between the warring parties in France on, say, June 13, 1944, would have worked to Hitler’s advantage admirably. Whether, in any particular conflict, an immediate ceasefire ultimately promotes justice and peace is, in important part, an empirical question on which popes are not well-qualified to pronounce.

Worse, the immediate ceasefire Benedict favors fits squarely within the definition of victory that Hezbollah has set for the current conflict. Here’s Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, in an interview (transcribed and translated by Memri ) with Al-Jazeera last week:

Victory in this case does not mean that I will enter and conquer the north of Palestine . . . . The victory that we are talking about—If the resistance survives, this will be a victory. If its determination is not broken, this will be a victory. If Lebanon is not humiliated, if its honor and dignity remain intact, if Lebanon continues to face all alone the strongest military force in the region, and if it perseveres and refuses to accept any humiliating terms in the settlement of this issue—this will be a victory. If we are not militarily defeated, this will be a victory. As long as a single missile is launched from Lebanon to target the Zionists, as long as a single fighter fires his gun, as long as someone plants an explosive device for the Israelis, this means that the resistance still exists.

So, although this is not Benedict’s intention, if he gets the ceasefire he wants, he will have contributed to what Hezbollah sees as a military victory over Israel.

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