Rumours of wars

“Wars, and rumours of wars.” We are living at a very dangerous time, faced as we are by Islamic State, threatening not only the Middle East but any part of the world which might be a suitable target for terrorism. Should we get into the ring or merely cheer the good guys from a safe position in the audience? And what are the likely outcomes of either choice?

It is in this spirit that I am copying here a leader from the Catholic Herald. As you may know, leader writers are anonymous, but I have the permission of the author to reproduce it for you. I have edited it slightly for practical reasons.

On the Monday before the anniversary of World War One we listened to Joachim Gauck, the German president, who apologised fulsomely for the “rape of Belgium” which triggered World War 1 — the war to end all wars. We wonder whether the other representatives listening to him were, at least momentarily, aware of the occasions in their own history for which apologies were needed but are not yet given.

To end all wars? We think not. It is true that institutions such as the Common Market and Nato have been effective so far in discouraging global wars, although the threatening shadow of nuclear warfare has played its part. But Wikipedia lists some 240 wars of various levels of severity since 1945. In current history we contemplate examples such as Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Nigeria, Sudan, Ukraine and the Central African Republic. The US State Department identifies eight states who sponsor terrorism, and, to the shame of all believers, much organised violence is motivated, or at least excused, by religion.

We can spend much time analysing the origins of a particular war. For instance some argue that the volatility of the Middle East can be traced back to the British and French highhandedness in the setting of borders after the First War. AJP Taylor argued that it was the railways, which allowed troops to be moved quickly to threatened borders. Those who have listened to the meticulous diaries of the few days which led up to WW1, will have noted the almost casual sequence which led to disaster. But in the end we know that the origins always lie in power and greed – and the psychology never rises above the level of two five-year olds in the playground. We have deep sympathy with those who hold, and witness, that nothing whatsoever can excuse war.

We have no solution. Wars will not end until we love one another. And that will not be before the end of the world, for St Matthew tells us that the last days will be signalled by nations rising against nations and by famines and earthquakes.”

What do readers of this Blog think? I am confident that most of us will put the highest value on peace. Yet, as we have learnt in our lifetimes, there are occasions when a violent response appears to be the lesser evil. But we can also think of occasions when our military action, justifiable though it may have seemed to be, has led us into situations of disaster. Armchair comment is all very well, but imagine that you are Cameron or Obama – and you have to make concrete decisions whose results you cannot easily foresee. We need to pray for those gentlemen.

Many of us on the Blog have had long lifetimes, and so plenty of experience of the follies of war and international politics. What advice will you give?

About Quentin

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61 Responses to Rumours of wars

  1. Gerry says:

    After 1945, Europe, fed up with repeated wars, determined on two efforts. 1. Make political and economic changes that would bind our countries together so as to make it virtual impossible to fight. 2. Control population growth because, in the 1953 words of the future Pope Paul VI, population problems “have a vital bearing on world peace.” This insight about the need to control population growth has been completely lost.
    The Catholic Herald editorial notes seven countries were there is conflict. In all but one – Ukraine – the populations are increasing at a rate that makes poverty certain and conflict almost certain. Since 1950 Iraq and Syria’s populations have been doubling every 25 years, so that their combined population which was 9 million in 1950, 19 million in 1975, and 40 million in 2000, is expected to be 74 million in 2025; an eightfold increase in 75 years. As far as I can find out, Gaza is increasing at an even faster rate.
    Sudan’s population also doubles every 25 years; Nigeria’s doubles every 30 years, and Central Africa Republic’s every 35 years. All these countries belong to that large region, Africa and the Middle East from Palestine to Pakistan which is doubling its population every 30 years from 300 million in 1950, to 600 million in 1980, to 1,200 in 2010 and to an estimated 2,400 million in 2040. We are going to see terrible events right across this region, but we are not going to do anything about the main cause. We will hardly even mention it.

    • John Nolan says:

      Gerry, what can we (I assume you mean European countries) do about it? Our own birth rate is below replacement level, which can’t be a good thing. With nuclear proliferation there is every likelihood of a localized nuclear war in the future, which might cull some of the excess numbers in the regions you mention. Famine and disease (often resulting from war) also has a part to play.

      Population increase does not necessarily lead to poverty and conflict. Look at England and Wales in the 19th century when the population increased from 9m to over 32m.
      Currently Africa is the only region where fertility rates are not falling and it is where there is the greatest population explosion. A hundred years ago the continent was sparsely populated; could the 21st century turn out to be Africa’s century? Optimists point out that the biggest boom is in young people who are becoming better and better educated and could provide a labour force for rapid economic growth. It could all go wrong, of course.

      Controlling population by reducing the birth rate eventually results in an economically undesirable demographic in which a shrinking number of economically active citizens support an increasingly ageing population

  2. Zara says:

    There is actually a strong precedent for what to do about this, all we have to do is wait for them to invade Italy and Spain and then watch as people uncomfortably admit that maybe the crusaders might have had a legit reason for fighting them the first time around.

  3. Ignatius says:

    The same advice as Pope Francis gave a few days ago…..’.the unjust aggressor must be stopped’

  4. John L says:

    I agree, but how do we stop aggressors without going to war? Granted, western fixing of borders may have had some influence on the Middle Eastern situation, but basically the current problem arises from terrorists who insult Islam, The Prophet and Allah Himself by practising their horrors in the name of Islam. Until Islam itself stands against them we are helpless, because any action taken by western powers is invariably trumpeted as an attack on Islam itself.

  5. John Candido says:

    Genuine peace is the jewel in the crown of life. All of our anxieties and stresses pale to insignificance in comparison. Nothing is as important as peace and yet nothing is as taken for granted as peace. While these sentiments were as true in days of yore, they are certainly magnified in our present age of nuclear-tipped missiles.

    While World War I was a stumble into war, a leap forward without any hard-headed analysis as to the consequences of political acts; the assassination of Prince Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, seemed to be a catalyst that plunged the world into a cataclysm. The world seemed to learn many things in relation to preventing war from the ‘War to end all Wars’. They can be listed. The absolute value of diplomacy was one such lesson. Establishing the League of Nations, a seminal version of the United Nations, was another. The danger of an unbridled nationalism is another. Bequeathing to the world a questionable peace treaty at the conclusion of World War I, (the Treaty of Versailles), which becomes a psychological goad to vengeance & nationalism, and indeed to another even more destructive world war, is another lesson of the highest order.

    It is simply ironic, that one of our finest human institutions, which was developed out of a desire to lessen the destructive nature of wars, (international law), is at the same time quickly tossed aside during wars, much like the truth being war’s first casualty. So as responsible people who must abhor war in all of its forms, we must remain vigilant. A responsible mass media must place the leadership of any country under a microscope in order to examine how, where and by whom, the truth has been sullied. A rampant nationalism that is based on the truth is the greatest oxymoron.

    And so we inevitably come to that obnoxious warmonger, Vladimir Putin of Russia. Despite the irreducible lessons of war that have been garnered through the blood millions of people, we cannot seem to be able to comprehend a leader such as Putin, much as we didn’t understand someone like Adolf Hitler. They both seem to vanquish those same lessons of history into a vacuum, as though they would know better than most people. What was in use in World War II was the ego of a tyrant, a stymied press, and the corruption of the democratic state. Sadly, what the world does not have a remedy for at present, is the development of these very same elements in Russia.

    As the world watches the beginning of the end of Ukraine, we are paralysed. The civilised world correctly makes its protest through diplomacy, the United Nations and its Security Council, and through economic sanctions against the Russian economy. As we have recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, we must seriously pray that what we are witnessing in Ukraine will not creep perniciously towards unrestrained warfare. Much like the war that spluttered along inchoately in 1914, the world cannot afford a similar mistake.

  6. Gerry says:

    John Nolan, Very many thanks. Here goes:
    “Our own birth rate is below replacement level, which can’t be a good thing.” Oh yes it can! Our earthly home would be much safer, much less damaged, if the population was half what it is.
    “Population increase does not necessarily lead to poverty and conflict. Look at England and Wales in the 19th century when the population increased from 9m to over 32m.” Both Marx and Dickens took a different view. The poverty was terrible. And the increase made WW1 possible.
    “Currently Africa is the only region where fertility rates are not falling”. Fair enough. Most Middle Eastern countries are expected to reach replacement levels by 2050. One or two, such as Iraq, not until 2100. Sub-Saharan Africa may only reach replacement levels by 2100.(UN’s best guess)
    “the biggest boom in young people”. Quite right, but it is so big that there isn’t work for most of them, so they are eagerly available for any extremist who can give them a reason to fight.
    “It could all go wrong” I totally agree. I think it will.
    “a shrinking number of economically active citizens support an increasingly ageing population” Quite right. But it’s still much much better to live in Japan where the fertility rate has been below replacement for 40 years than in any country which is doubling its population every 25 or 30 years.
    More on population at
    Here is a memorable statistic: The combined population of Iraq, Syria, and Palestine goes 10 million in 1950; 20 million in 1975, 40 million in 2000, and an estimated 80 million in 2025. We are going to see some terrible events over there. It’s a pity they have not had effective family planning over the last few decades.

    • Quentin says:

      ‘still much better to live in Japan?’ Perhaps a quick glance at my post, Flight into Fantasy, will give you another view. There are two issues to consider: One is resources versus population size, the other is imbalance between generations caused by changes in fertility rates. The impact of either of these will vary from country to country.

    • John Nolan says:

      Gerry, I’m afraid like most SIFs you make connections which don’t hold up under scrutiny. True, the nature of the World Wars of the 20th century was conditioned by the Industrial Revolution, but to attribute their cause to industrialization and the population increase which made it possible is not reasonable. No-one can seriously argue that the average Briton was worse off in 1901 than he had been a century earlier. The Thirty Years War had devastating effects in many parts of Germany, not least in demographic terms; but it was fought in a ‘pre-industrial’ Europe for religious, dynastic and political motives.

      Some historians have argued that before the Black Death the population of Europe was putting too much pressure on natural resources given the agricultural technology of the time, and the culling of a third of the population made things better in the long run. The relatively large population of Ireland (8m on the eve of the Famine when the population of the rest of the UK was around 16m) coupled with its reliance on a single crop, had drastic consequences. Yet the industrial and commercial success of post-1815 Britain both required and stimulated the increase in population.

      The idea that ‘effective family planning’ is the key to human happiness is just too glib. If the population of Iraq, Syria and Palestine (a vast area) reaches that of Germany (a relatively small area) by 2025 – and there’s no guarantee that it will – why is this a disaster? Before the Mongol invasions of the 13th century Iraq sustained a large population with an urbanized culture and an agricultural infrastructure based on a centuries-old network of irrigation canals which the invaders destroyed.

  7. Horace says:

    An interesting quote :-
    Bertrand Russell once said, “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” 

  8. Gerry says:

    But Quentin, At what number would you try to halt population expansion – 10 billion, 11 billion, 12 billion, 13 billion…. Even now the World Fact Book can state “The addition of 80 million people each year to an already overcrowded globe is exacerbating the problems of underemployment, pollution, waste-disposal, epidemics, water-shortages, famine, over-fishing of oceans, deforestation, desertification, and depletion of non-renewable resources.”
    And in 2012 the Royal Society reminded us that “Developing countries will be building the equivalent of a city of a million people every five days from now until 2050″ believing that everyone would realise that this spelt trouble. They didn’t reckon with Fr Stanislas de Lestapis. I remember even now the first time I read Flight into Fantasy the (metaphorical) headache I got on seeing his name!
    Just personally I feel that the troubles we see in Africa and the Middle East are on a different plain to those psychological troubles some – but not those I meet who have been there – see in Japan, and presumably also in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. These psychological troubles in the Far East don’t disturb me as do the shortage of food, water, medical care and the flight of tens of millions afflicting Africa and the Middle East.

    • Quentin says:

      Gerry, in an ideal world we would want to see population expansion at a rate which can adequately be maintained. In developed countries that suggests a fertility rate of around two life births per woman. So I would opt for a little higher than that to correspond with our ability to make better use of resources. Of course there is a theoretical maximum – but we don’t know what it would be.

      The problem lies in the fact that the natural fertility rate of women is somewhere around five to eight live births. This means that family planning is essential if the astronomic population sizes you mention are to be avoided.

      However we are in a period of transition. Japan, for example, was exposed to strongly promoted family planning as a result of US influence following WWII. The outcome has been that a relatively small population of workers (thus taxpayers) are obliged to support a large population of the aged. Other developed countries have similar problems coming up rapidly, and in the UK we are already taking (probably inadequate) steps such as raising the retirement age.

      The less developed countries are not far behind, as family planning, lower infant mortality and increased longevity dramatically change the ratio between the young and the old.

      This is why I say that we have to look at the balance between different generations as well as the total populations. This is difficult to do but we must start by being aware

      of the whole problem to have a hope of succeeding.

  9. Gerry says:

    John Nolan, thanks, What does SIF stand for?
    There is much in what you say. Mind you there is much in what I say as well!
    Yes, poverty was much less in 1901 than in 1801, but it was terrible in 1850, otherwise what were Marx and Dickens carrying on about.
    Birth control started to be used widely after 1877, when the sensational trial of Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant for publishing a pamphlet on birth control informed people about it. In 1877, the birth rate in England and Wales was 35 births per 1000 population. This rate fell in every decade from then until the 1930s, when it was below 15 births per 1000 population.

    • John Nolan says:

      SIF = Single Issue Fanatic. There was poverty and overcrowding in the 1850s (there is now) but conditions were improving as the population continued to rise. Dickens always seems to be describing a society a couple of decades earlier than his published works, and Marx’s critique of capitalism was quite simply wrong. The grinding and unremitting poverty of a low-population agrarian society is usually overlooked.

    • milliganp says:

      Gerry, you may also note that the loss of a significant part of the young male population in the first world war had its own impact on population growth. Similarly the aftershock of that event meant that many people were reluctant to bring children into the world to be canon fodder in another war. At the same time there were dramatic improvements in life expectancy -people often had 5-6 children in the expectation that only 2-3 would survive,. I suspect few were considering the economic aspect of birth rates.
      There is a fundamental error in your premise though. Improvements in education and economic activity lead to a reduction in birth rates – not the other way round – we cannot contracept ourselves into economic growth. There is a futurologist, Ray Kurzweil who sees growing population as benefit, not a curse to humankind.

  10. Geordie says:

    John Candido
    It wasn’t Putin who started the conflict in Ukraine; it was the EU and US politicians who encouraged the Ukrainians to oust by force their elected President(Russian speaking) because he wouldn’t sign a deal with the EU. Putin quite rightly objected to this. He’s no angel but he had right on his side this time. The Russian speaking Ukrainians had reason to be anxious, but very few were in favour of armed conflict. The actions of the EU and Angela Merkel, in particular, gave the militants an excuse to take up arms.
    The corrupt politics of Europe and the Ukraine also contribute to Russia’s mistrust of the West. We are quick to condemn corruption in Russia but very few (if any) western leaders condemn the EU where the accounts have not been signed off since the 1990s. Corruption is rife in Europe but too many politicians have their noses in the trough to make any objections.
    Wars are the result of injustice and lies and I for one do not want our young people being thrown into another useless conflict to gratify the egos of hypocritical politicians.

    • milliganp says:

      Geordie, have you no recollection of the Orange Revolution. Interference by Russia in Ukraine’s internal affairs have marked their politics for over a decade. Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, and other Russian speaking territories, is a direct parallel of Hitler’s annexing Sudetenland.
      What with Gerry quoting Marx, I wonder which way this blog is moving.

  11. Geordie says:

    I do recall the Orange Revolution and I know Putin would like the Soviet Union back under his control. I realise there are parallels with Hitler. However the ousting of a President by force only serves to give excuses to potential invaders. The EU should have encouraged the Ukraine to press for an election or await the next constitutional election. If that had not been forthcoming then they would be justified in using force.
    My friends would find it very amusing to hear me accused of hob-nobbing with Marxists. They consider me to be a right-wing agitator, slightly to the right of Margaret Thatcher. In fact I’m neither right nor left. I pick and chose from all sorts of policies but I don’t liked politicians in general; although I recognise them as a necessary evil.

  12. Freddie says:

    delenda est Islam with apologies to cato.

    • Quentin says:

      I get your point, but there’s a problem. Islam comes in many flavours, so we have to discriminate. Evangelium Gaudii (paras 252/3) gives us a reminder of the basic truths Islam professes.

  13. Gerry says:

    Quentin, Our views are very close. You would go for a fertility rate a little higher than 2 live births per woman. I would go for fertility rate a little lower than 2 live births per woman, even though this would mean lower pensions and a longer working life. But especially do we agree that “family planning is essential if the astronomic population sizes you mention are to be avoided.”

  14. Gerry says:

    Geordie, You mention my quoting Marx so here is my favourite quote:
    Karl Marx, in Chapter XX111 Section 4 of “Capital”, notes: Dr Lee, medical officer of health for Manchester, declared not long ago “that the average age at death of the Manchester…upper middle classes was 38 years, while the average age at death of the labouring classes was 17; whilst at Liverpool those figures were represented as 35 against 15.”

    Marx found these figures in the “Opening address to the Sanitary Conference, Birmingham, January 15, 1875, by Joseph Chamberlain, mayor of that town”

    These days the average age of death in both Manchester and Liverpool is over 70 years..

  15. Brian Hamill says:

    The original saying was Delenda est Carthago ‘Carthage must be destroyed’ which was quite a rational, if not particularly reasonable, statement since Carthage was a city which was capable of destruction. Islam is an ‘belief’ and beliefs cannot be destroyed, only the people who hold them The Romans more or lest destroyed Druidism but they had to destroy the Druids to do it. Are you suggesting we wipe out all Moslems?

  16. John Nolan says:

    Pope Francis’s superficial and un-nuanced reference to Islam in Evangelii Gaudium (that rambling, diffuse and frequently obscure document which STILL has no official Latin version) is looking rather hollow in the light of current events.

    Western liberalism is incapable of understanding anything or anyone that doesn’t fit its own Weltanschauung. Three years ago John Candido was exulting over the so-called Arab Spring – I expressed my scepticism then, and believe I have been vindicated. I was horrified when Britain and America were considering arming the Syrian rebels. Now a senior British diplomat has warned that defeating the ‘Islamic State’ is a priority and if it means allying with Bashar al-Assad, then so be it. Churchill loathed Bolshevism, but that did not stop him allying with Stalin.

    • Quentin says:

      “Revolution devours its own children” – the lesson of history.

      At the time of the Spanish Civil War the good guys were all for the mob. But the other view was that this Republican mob (an alliance of left wing forces normally at each other’s throats) were incapable of bringing order. Franco, however dislikable, was strong enough to do this. This is why the Catholic Herald reluctantly supported Franco. And indeed order was effectively maintained for decades. The Herald was much criticised, but it knew its history.

      The question of how one might peacefully turn a settled dictatorship into a democracy has not yet been solved, I think.

      • John Nolan says:

        Very good point, Quentin, although Spain might provide an example. Even while Franco lived the younger members of his government (the so-called Opusdeistas) were modernizing the economy and the transition to democracy was surprisingly smooth – it was accomplished without a revolution. Franco’s Spain was undoubtedly repressive but was relatively crime-free and this was one reason why foreign tourists flocked there.

        The Spanish Civil War was exactly that; it needs to be understood in the context of Spanish history and the ideological gloss put on it in the 1930s is misleading. Even now one hears aged Lefties intoning that ‘Hitler should have been stopped in Spain’. Balderdash. He might have been stopped in the Rhineland, in Austria or in the Sudetenland. But to see the Spanish Civil War as a dry-run for the Second World War is complete and utter nonsense. When the latter conflict began the two supposedly opposite ideologies were in alliance with each other.

  17. Geordie says:

    It was milliganp who mentioned you quoting Marx. I agree with his statement re average life span: “That’s capitalist social progress”. Capitalism has brought great benefits to us but it has to exist in a free and open society. I worry about attitudes in western society where lying and cheating seem to be the norm. Capitalism needs Christian principles in order to benefit the whole of society. Under present conditions Capitalism is dangerous.

  18. Ignatius says:

    It does seem fairly clear that not many on the world stage have much to gain from the IS foothold in Syria and Iraq. Therefore it is probably likely that sooner or later the militants will be forced back to a stronghold in some hapless Syrian city. I cannot see that the military situation that exists between Kurds, Iraqi’s and ‘the West’ is especially a religious concern and I don’t think it should be treated as such. Rather what is required, and what seems to be happening, is a cobbled together alliance of sufficient power to defeat the IS fighters and rob them of their equipment. This seems to be an achievable and pragmatic short term goal and one which should be pursued with as much firmness as can be mustered. I doubt the notion of hundreds of thousands of Islamic warriors pouring forth from the nether regions of cities the world over especially if it is likely that they go forth to ignominious death. Though suicidal idealism is enticing I’m sure the appeal wears off for many when faced with its reality. I agree with Paddy Ashdown in this , there is a convulsion in the East which will eventually settle provided distant sparks are stamped out when found.

    • pnyikos says:

      So far, ISIS has not proven to be particularly suicidal, and its appeal is in large part religious: the concept of Caliphate combines religious leadership with the political and military. With Assad still in the doghouse, Israel being kept busy by Hamas, Qatar supporting jihadists, Iran pushing towards nuclear capability, and Turkey still at odds with the Kurds, it is not clear what shape the “cobbled together alliance” will take nor how it will come about.

      I do see one thin ray of hope with certain moderate Muslims finally speaking out. This news report from Rimini three days ago is heartening:

  19. Gerry says:

    Geordie. I fervently agree with your views on capitalism as far as I understand them, i.e. that it is the best economic system available but has grave faults.
    I realised that communism was a disaster in the late 1940s and it stunned me when I saw in the late 1960s students marching with banners in praise of Stalin and Mao, men responsible for the two greatest man-made famines in history.
    And, in 1968, although the affirmation of the ban on the use of artificial contraception was by far the greatest tragedy, there was a minor tragedy for our Church and for the poor, which could be called the opening to Marxism, with many active Catholics falling for liberation theology.
    This minor tragedy is with us yet. We find our lovely Pope Francis talking to leaders of liberation theology and hinting that capitalism is the cause of the poverty. When combined with the control of population growth, capitalism, for all its grave faults, is by far the best economic system going.

    • milliganp says:

      Gerry, you seem to confuse capitalism with feudalism. Capitalist societies are largely based on industrialisation. The problems of much of South America revolve around the need for agrarian reform and in this area some of the orthodox aspects of liberation theology could apply.

      • pnyikos says:

        Agrarian reform was successfully carried out in a number of East Asian countries, including Taiwan and the Philippines, without Marxism having a hand in it; in fact, some of the latter took place when the communist Huk rebellion was still raging. And Mao came to power partly because he promised agrarian reform, as did Fidel Castro. So how is liberation theology supposed to relate to this?

      • milliganp says:

        You appear to make liberation theology co-terminus with Marxism. Liberation theology also emphasised the eschatological dimension of the gospel message and the preferential option for the poor, which is hardly pure Marxism.

  20. John Nolan says:

    Gerry, like you I was around in 1968. In Vietnam there was the Tet offensive. In China the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was going through its most extreme phase, with untold numbers of victims. In Biafra there was mass starvation and genocide (aided by Harold Wilson who supplied arms to the Nigerian government). In Europe ancient seats of learning were being turned into agitprop factories and centres of intolerance while the pampered youth took to the streets to shout mindless slogans and commit mindless acts of destruction. In America two prominent public figures were assassinated and race riots made dozens of cities resemble war zones. In Northern Ireland the first clashes between the RUC and NICRA signalled the start of a thirty-year conflict.

    Yet you would have us believe that the ‘greatest tragedy’ of that year was a papal encyclical which contained nothing new and which the majority of Catholics ignored in any case. You and I seem to have been living on different planets.

  21. Gerry says:

    John Nolan, Thanks for explaining SIF to me. It fits pretty well. I do have views on a great range of subjects but they are odd and put people off, so I keep quiet about them. For instance:
    (1) I believe there are innate difference between women and men. A recent President of Harvard lost his job partly because he said at a meeting that some research suggested that women were less good at mathematics than men. At this mention of innate differences, Nancy Hopkins, professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology walked out. She said, “This kind of bias makes me physically ill” “I just couldn’t breathe.” If she had stayed in the room, she said, she would have “blacked out or thrown up”.
    (2) In 1990, after he had invaded two countries, I thought that Saddam Hussein should have been removed. This view was undoubtedly influenced by events in the 1930s.
    If I continued to express these views and others even more upsetting to many, people would turn away from my efforts to get the message across that we should provide the poor with the same family planning we have ourselves.
    Wisely or unwisely, as you can see from the above, I’m beginning to be less of an SIF. But I still want to do the best I can to get my principle view across. “After all” as Simon Barnes wrote in The Times of 28th July 2014 “the biggest problem on the planet – the problem that dare not speak its name – is the ever expanding human population.”

    • milliganp says:

      On point (1), 8 years ago isn’t quite recent any more; It’s a pity as I might have chipped in that only a woman could get that irrationally upset! Most studies favour nurture over nature but the current bias towards political correctness in academia would require a very brave person to contradict the popular liberal thesis that it’s all down to repression and bias.

      • Horace says:

        Also on point (1) – since this impinges on my field of electrical brain activity – there is good scientific evidence of male/female differences (although not to say that one is better or worse than the other).
        See, for example, :- Olga Razumnikova (Cognitive Physiology Laboratory, Siberian Branch Russian Academy of Medical Sciences) “Our results propose a different hemispheric organization in men and women during creative thinking.” (2004)

    • pnyikos says:

      Interesting how Nancy Hopkins is a biologist and not a mathematician. I doubt, for one, that any mathematician — man or woman — would get that emotional over a suggestion like that.

      It will take a long time to establish, one way or the other, whether this difference is due to innate nature or to the discouragement women get against pursuing mathematics or to women being less single-minded about things on the whole than men. A long time ago I read that women are, on the whole, better bridge players than men, but that the very best bridge players are men because, as the article put it, “women lack the killer instinct” or else because the top bridge players pursue the game in a single-minded fashion few women feel like emulating.

      Be that as it may, I can say for sure that the top researcher in my specialty, set-theoretic topology, was for several decades a woman, Mary Ellen Rudin. Any time now, an issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society should appear in which there is a long article about her, full of reminisces and praise for her, and I feel honored to have contributed to it myself. She had this status despite having four children, the third being one with Down Syndrome. He was still under twenty when I visited Mary Ellen for the first time, and she had produced at least two first rate, very deep research papers in the preceding five years.

      An anecdote is told about her and another leading topologist, F. Burton Jones, recounted in my contribution to that Notices article. At a research level workshop in Laramie, Wyoming, she had been going over a particularly intricate construction when Jones interrupted: “What allows you to say that?” Mary Ellen replied, “Why, that’s — that’s just God-given.” “Yes,” Jones is supposed to have said, “but what did God say when he gave it to you?”

  22. overload says:

    There is little in this discussion to indicate the (One) HCA faith. The issue of world peace and the concerns of this world are not to be dismissed, yet whilst these might be the primary concerns of humanists/ecologists, for the HCA Christian these must be secondary concerns, and not clung to. Otherwise one flies in the face of Biblical prophetic revelation, doing which is in itself — for a “Catholic” — symptomatic of both conformity to fear, and failing to understand the true meaning of “peace in Christ”; heaven in our midst — where the treasure is the heart is also.
    And we should recognise that it is not merely the “human” propensity to evil we are fighting against.
    Furthermore, adhering to political worldly concerns, even when in the interests of peace, are perpetually plagued with the problem of “the means justifies the end”; a presumptuous/speculative/incomplete engagement with — or evaluation of — reality (ie. as utility/process/evolution). The more we trust and are in tune with the will of God here-and-now, the more we will and can only enter into the — or any — political sphere when necessary, and in good faith.
    Jesus did not fight for himself. Nor did he fight for the nation of Israel; politically speaking he knew that peace was out of the question, even if he did cry for it on a donkey.

    Prayer is our most powerful tool in effecting the world situation and the lives of others. We must be open to the gifts and prayer of the spirit such as to be moved beyond that level of prayer which is hovering on mere detached lip-service — and to the other extreme moving beyond over-emotionally or over-technically driven concern. The spirit effects (and can even take entirely in his own hands) both how we pray and what we pray for. And of course prayer often includes active engagement in the physical realm. So whilst it might well please God to pray for peaceful solutions on the world stage, for the good will and discernment of a nations leaders, and, for instance, for children in the mist of a war to find security, or an ISIS fighter to return to his former-self and family in Portsmouth; I would put these concerns as secondary to reaching out with the Gospel.

    We are moved when we see a distressed orphan, hungry and thirsty, on the news? What makes us think we are too far away to do anything? Can we in spirit share with that child and let that child share with us? (We are also children in need so much as we have not been perfected.) If the spirit does agree, we should seek to open that child up to the cross, and share of the body and bloody of Jesus, sharing knowledge of his salvation and love, and if it please God so: may they also have food and water and security for their physical person. Thus absence of peace becomes an instrument of (true) peace rather than a bitter inconvenience to it (which is indeed the reality of the cross: God’s “power made perfect in weakness”).

  23. Gerry says:

    John Nolan, You are quick on the keyboard. I’m not sure I can keep up. This is turning into a bit of a ding-dong. We argued the thing at breakfast/We argued the thing at tea/ And the more we argued the matter/ The more we didn’t agree. Nevertheless, here goes:
    Virtually all the dramas you note happening in 1968 have been resolved. But the tragedy of HV is still with us.
    In 1968, commenting on HV, 2,600 American scientists wrote: “the appeals for world peace and pity for the poor made by a man whose action helps to promote war and render poverty inevitable do not impress us anymore.”
    In 2013, commenting on a book “The Family Planning Fiasco – How the Vatican subverted family planning in the developing world.” by a retired German civil servant and former UNFPA Representative, a retired USAID worker wrote ” But in the less developed countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Vatican induced opposition to effective birth control practices still imposes excessive fertility, grinding poverty and killing fields unending.”
    The criticism has not changed in the 45 years. These criticisms are from good men wanting to do good, wanting to ease the sufferings of the very poor. It is an important and widely held point of view and we need to take note of it.

    • John Nolan says:

      You need to prove that HV has had any effect on population, given that the parts of the world you quote are not even Christian, let alone Catholic; that Catholics in the developed world have largely ignored it; and that poor people have large families for reasons other than a scrupulous adherence to Catholic moral teaching.

      You cannot do so.

  24. Gerry says:

    milliganp and Geordie, Apologies for mixing you up earlier on.
    milliganp: As regards which comes first education and economic activity or contraception, David Coleman, Professor of Demography, Oxford University put it like this in a letter to The Times on 3rd October 2005 “Reducing population growth will not of itself solve Africa’s problems, but without it they will become insoluble.”

    • milliganp says:

      At a practical level, I can’t help but agree. However I struggle, as one who accepts the teaching of the church, with any idea of affirmative artificial contraception. Given the difficulties of that unhappy continent the current population trajectory is obviously a recipe for a difficult future.

  25. John Nolan says:

    Pope Francis seems to have moved from the traditional ‘just war’ argument to the idea that war is legitimized by the United Nations. Presumably he now regards the British response to the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, authorized by UN Resolution 502, as being right and proper. He was not of this opinion at the time, in 2008, and indeed in 2012.

    Recent release of government documents give the impression that JP II (and Cardinal Casaroli )urged the British government to concede the Falklands since the fall of Galtieri could have resulted in an opening for the Marxists. Much the same argument was advanced at the UN by Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Fortunately Reagan, the State Department and the DOD under Cap Weinberger realized that the military defeat of the second most powerful NATO member at the hands of a banana republic would have been disastrous at the height of the Cold War. And Galtieri’s fall ushered in democracy (of a sort).

    The Holy See has had a long and mostly honourable record in arbitrating disputes. This depends on its perceived neutrality. In my opinion (which is just that and therefore open to argument) the Holy See in the late 1960s embarked on an Ostpolitik which was misguided, shameful and scandalous. It limped on into the 1970s and JP II finally buried it, but it had done a lot of damage. Yet this was of nought compared with the internal damage inflicted on the Church at roughly the same time (again this is my own opinion but is shared by many who are more erudite and experienced than I am).

  26. Gerry says:

    John Nolan, Hello again,
    When Chris Bain, Director of CAFOD, gave the 2009 London Newman Lecture he noted that “it is estimated that nearly half of sub-Saharan Africa’s health care, education and social services…..are provided by the Catholic Church” If we accept this, it is difficult not to believe that the Church has an immense influence on the provision of family planning in sub-Saharan Africa.
    In countries such as Rwanda and DR Congo about 50% Catholic the unmet need for family planning is about 25% according to the UN.

    • John Nolan says:

      And yet because of the AIDS epidemic government-sponsored condom provision is widespread. One would therefore assume that in those countries where the RC Church has the most influence the occurrence of HIV would be more widespread. But this is not the case.

      Even conceding your general thesis concerning population (which I don’t, although I accept that it is tenable) you still have to demonstrate that Humanae Vitae has had a direct bearing on demographic change. ‘It is not difficult to believe’ is not good enough since people generally believe what they want to believe.

      In any case, the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception is based on her interpretation of Natural Law and is not dependent on mundane considerations. You may disagree with it, you may (like most Catholics) accept it in principle and ignore it in practice, but it’s not going to change.

  27. Gerry says:

    John Nolan,
    John, we’d best stay with the population/HV debate and not get diverted onto the AIDS/condom debate. The Catholic method of controlling AIDS – abstinence – is by far the best, 100% successful and completely free. The only catch is that lots of people can’t manage it.
    As far as I can tell, all living members of the hierarchy across the world are on your side so you are going to win the HV debate easily.
    All these are not only dead but, as far as I know, after HV, rightly or wrongly, kept their opinion to themselves. So, I think you can rest on your laurels

  28. Gerry says:

    Pnyikos, You note some differences between women and men such as “women being less single-minded about things on the whole than men” and , “women lack the killer instinct”. Are you implying that these differences are innate?

    • milliganp says:

      (Opinion) If we look to the animal world, there are innate differences in the sexes over and above basic adaptation to the different roles in reproduction, so denying innate difference in the species homo sapiens would seem counter-intuitive. In evolutionary terms women’s liberation has happened in the last minute (if we take human evolution as 24 hours) of human history. Given that all but the last 20mins (continuing the analogy) of human history has been predominantly about survival specific adaptation to intellectual pursuits is unlikely to have taken place. (/Opinion)

  29. Gerry says:

    Milliganp, Thanks, Going back to your remarks about liberation theology and its most famous quote: “preferential option for the poor” is an unexceptional phrase like “workers of the world unite” but for those in the know – e.g. belonging to J&P – it means that we should dismiss out of hand the ideas of the four Asian Tigers who used population control and capitalism to climb out of poverty so successfully that they converted China.
    Liberation theologians believe that oppression of the poor by rich capitalists is the cause of poverty and they want to liberate the poor from this oppression, sometimes by supporting violence, when what was needed was effective family planning.
    I’m in interesting company as far as believing that liberation theology is influenced by Marxism, both Cardinal Ratzinger and Fidel Castro believe it is. The Tablet of 5NOV05 quotes Cardinal Ratzinger in 1984, “The radical representatives of liberation theology regard criticism as an expression of class interest: he who voices it ranges himself on the side of the oppressors and wants to cement the current power structure. Where the scheme of class warfare becomes the only key to understanding reality and thought patterns, criticism and fruitful dialogue are made impossible. Furthermore, social reform and non-revolutionary action on behalf of the poor comes under suspicion as a means of maintaining the power, which stabilises the system. Revolution becomes repudiation of reform and of direct action as performed, for instance, by Mother Teresa.”
    And see “Age of Extremes” by Eric Hobsbawm, page 451. Unfortunately I’ve lent my book out so I can’t give you the quote. But Hobsbawm himself was at Castro’s speech when Castro expresses his surprise at Jesuits in Latin America taking up Marxism.
    In, I think, the late 1970’s, Malcolm Muggeridge remarked that “Catholics are taking to Communism just as everyone else is giving it up”. It was possible to believe it was a joke. It wasn’t.
    In 1984 – of all years – the Catholic Institute of International Relations published a frankly pro-communist pamphlet praising Russia, China, North Korea etc You can see an extract from it in one of the very earliest entries on my website It is not directly liberation theology but it reflects the mood of liberation theology at the time.
    It will always be something of a mystery as to why fine, good, courageous theologians and bishops failed to see that giving people the impression that they were pro-Marxist was not a good way of helping the poor. Their wish to avoid blaming the lack of family planning for poverty is almost certainly a factor.
    I’ve written too much. I’ll stop.

    • milliganp says:

      The potential for mere disputation in a blog like this is high. However if we take Korea, as the largest and most radically transformed of the four Asian Tigers, the people who have effected the transformation were born when the TFR (children per woman) was 3-4 and the transformation was primarily effected by education in combination with liberal economic policies. Korea now has a TFR of 1.2 and its low fertility is seen as its biggest obstacle to future prosperity -we need adult workers (human capital) to fund an economy.

      As an avowed Christian I can’t accept that the best way to end poverty is simply to stop poor people being born.

      On the issue of Marxism and Liberation Theology I accept your “if it looks like a duck” analogy but the practical history of South America would seem to indicate that it was more about resistance to oppression than the armed revolutions of Cuba, Russia or China.However much of the language is, in hindsight, chillingly similar to Marxist rhetoric.
      I went to university in the late 60’s – early 70’s and the love affair of students with various forms of communism was, fortunately, comedic (Brits don’t have the heart for a proper revolution), the experience in France, Germany and Italy was slighter more worrisome.

  30. Gerry says:

    John Nolan,
    John, it dawned on me as I sent off my last reply to you that, although you will know who all the prelates are who I’ve put into capital letters, there may be one or two who don’t, so I’ll clarify the matter.
    The prelates in capital letters are those who believed there should be a change in the teaching on the use of artificial contraception. At the end of the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth 1964-1966 they voted for a change.
    John Carmel Heenan, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, who was Vice President of the Commission, abstained.
    However, Gerard Noel noted in the Catholic Herald of 12 January 1996 that the Cardinal privately disagreed with Humanae Vitae “but in public was, quite rightly, scrupulously circumspect.” (The ‘quite rightly’ is Gerard Noel’s view. He may be right. I’m not sure.)
    In the Catholic Herald of 18 December 1998 Gerard Noel expands on this. Noel writes: The Cardinal, as vice-president of the papal commission on the subject, had confidentially expected a change of official teaching in accordance with the majority finding of the commission in early 1966. He was dumbfounded when he opened The Times on July 26, 1968, at his country retreat in Hare Street, Hertfordshire. He there read for the first time, as he told me himself later, that the opposite had happened.

    • John Nolan says:

      Gerry, thanks for that. I haven’t actually taken sides on the question of artificial contraception; my private opinion is that methods which are not in themselves abortifacient can (at a pinch) be reconciled with the Church’s teaching, provided that it is not done with the intent of never having children. I do believe that easy access to contraception can have adverse moral consequences. I think that the low birth rate in Europe puts European civilization at risk, but it does show that smaller family size is a result of increased prosperity and not a cause of it.

      I have yet to see any real evidence that HV had any demographic effect. One would have to compare birth rates in poorer countries where the population was (nominally) Catholic with those where it is not.

      I don’t have a lot of time for Gerard Noel. His much-trumpeted book on Pius XII ‘The Hound of Hitler’ turned out to be a rehash of two earlier contentious studies by other authors. I am enough of an historian to recognize original research when I see it, although John Candido, with his exaggerated respect for academic paper qualifications, may not agree. However, Noel, despite his limitations, was always well-connected and his reflections on Cardinal Heenan might well be accurate.

      I liked the Muggeridge quotation. He also presciently remarked that the Catholic Church after Vatican II was embarking on its own protestant Reformation at precisely the time when the original one (Luther’s) was running into the sand.

  31. Gerry says:

    John Nolan and milliganp, Thanks.
    Before we move on to another subject just two points:
    John, as you have an open mind about contraception, it is worth remembering that the morning after pill is not an abortifacient according to the World Health Organization. (Not every Catholic writer to the press knows this.) See WHO fact sheet 244 “Levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs)…. will not cause abortion.”
    milliganp, remember the words of David Coleman, Professor of Demography Oxford University noted earlier, “Reducing population growth will not of itself solve Africa’s problems, but without it they will become insoluble”
    Overpopulation in Africa and the Greater Middle East will be controlled either by disease, famine, and war, or by family planning. It looks as if it is going to be left to the former, although most people would much prefer the latter. If any country in the region decided to go for family planning Iran would show them the way. The importance of it has to be taught and in Iran, where the fertility rate fell from 5.62 children per woman in 1985-1990 to 1.89 in 2005-2010, this was done by the provision of virtually free family planning, with pro-active health workers and clinics in most localities, encouragement from the government and from religious leaders, and lessons on family planning for both men and women before marriage.

    • milliganp says:

      Gerry, I’m holding onto my trust in Catholic “morality” by my fingertips. Our wonderful logic seems to say God would prefer people to die of starvation than not be born.
      The one thing that is not at odds with faith is at least encouraging women to take control of their lives and teaching men to respect the cycle of life – and the womans right to say no; abstainance is still the most effective form of contraception.
      The interesting point is that Iran is a Muslim country and many of the countries with high birthrates (other than Catholic) are Muslim, Iran has also encouraged education for both men and women – even if segregated.

  32. Gerry says:

    The people of Iran are the most sensible group in the Middle East. I’ve just heard on Channel 4 news Iranian ladies sympathizing with America over the killing of the news reporters. Jon Snow says “But you are enemies.” The reply, “That’s just the politicians”.

  33. jimbeam says:

    Hypothesis: the root obstacle to peace is deadlock confusion about the meaning and legitimacy of the Papacy.

  34. Quentin says:

    I don’t want by any means to check this discussion but, because I post today, I am taking the opportunity to say what a good discussion I think this is. It’s very refreshing to see knowledgeable contributors debating their often different viewpoints. If this isn’t a way the Church edges a mite closer to truth, I’d like to know what is!.

  35. jimbeam says:

    How about everyone becomes a vegetarian, and scientists develop artificial wombs and governments enforce human sterilisation for birth control?
    “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.”

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