Bombs Away?

Imagine yourself as a German citizen some I decades back, one who knows what is being done to the Jews. Say you live in Dachau and are perfectly well aware of what is taking place on the edge of town. If you had a chance to destroy the ovens, of course you would seize upon it. (Heroism comes easily in thought experiments.) So you blow them up and are arrested and a public discussion of the morality of destroying property breaks out! You want to talk about the Jews, but your angry fellow townsmen complain that you might have injured a guard. Labeled a terrorist, a menace to society, you end up behind barbed wire yourself.

This analogue to the firebombing of abortion mills occurs, indeed it has been developed powerfully by Richard Cowden-Guido in The Wanderer. Why then is unanimous condemnation of the bombings called for? Might not a good case be made that, rather than condemn, we have an obligation to join in? One of those arrested in Florida said that if he could save only one life by what he did, it was worth it. He is treated as a kook.

When the Berrigans attacked some nuclear warheads that had not hurt anyone, they were not universally condemned. Fellow peaceniks did not dissociate themselves from this destruction of property while avowing their horror of nuclear weapons. Was the destruction of draft records condemned by those opposed to the war as an unconscionable destruction of property? If it was, I missed it. Why then is everyone in the Right to Life movement urged to condemn the bombing of abortion clinics?

I watched a call-in show on C-Span featuring a very attractive and clean-cut young lady representing Planned Parenthood of the District of Columbia. She spoke softly and deferentially but with infinite sadness in her voice whenever those dreadful bombings of the abortion clinics came up. Her moral universe seemed to include two concepts: the law and feelings. She always understood the feelings of callers but the Supreme Court had ruled that a woman could get an abortion if she felt like doing so.

It is not a feeling but a fact that the Supreme Court did so rule. The bombings protest the decision; they are instances of civil disobedience. They are presumably efforts to make it impossible for us to ignore—as many Germans doubtless deliberately did—what is going on in clinics and pavilions and hospitals all around us. So why, keeping in mind the Nazi analogy, should we join the chorus of condemnation?

We cannot agree that the Supreme Court has spoken and that that is an end of it. That is what abortionists say.

We cannot say that the bombings were wrong because they possibly endanger life, first because this is farfetched in the extreme (I don’t think abortionists need fear, anymore than I think any military commander trembled at the thought that the Berrigans were at the gate) , and secondly because it obscures the actual killing that goes on in such places.

I cannot bring myself to condemn those young people in Pensacola who felt called to bomb the abortion clinic. I don’t like the company it would put me in. Let the abortionists look out for their own position.

Nonetheless, just among ourselves, I do not advocate the Carrie Nation approach. Civil disobedience is justified when there are no peaceful and legal ways to alter the situation. On Roe v. Wade, we will overcome. There is nothing automatic about this, of course. But it is not unreasonable to think that this can be brought about by definable efforts and within a predictable time.

Meanwhile, the slaughter goes on. This is what hurts. And if one can save but one life….

In the occupied Netherlands a strike was called to protest the imposition of the Nazi ideology on the country, and it was a successful strike. But in its wake, a reign of terror took place. The transportation of the Jews, Edith Stein among them, began in earnest.

Similarly, what the bombers have to recognize is that their action can be the excuse for others acting in ways they will not like. The great crusade against religion that is taking place in the media has seized upon the bombers as instances of “religious fundamentalism” and portrays them as real weirdoes. The thought will be inculcated that those opposed to abortion are mad bombers, theocrats, unwashed and dangerous.

If the analogy with Nazi Germany is drawn we must not forget the strike in the occupied Netherlands.


Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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