John Cardinal O'Connor of New York was a chaplain with the Marines during the Vietnam War -- sometimes under fire. He wrote a book, "A Chaplain Looks at Vietnam," justifying that war. Years later, he told me: "That was a bad book. I regret having published it. I didn't take enough account of the enormous cost in lives, resources and the brutalization of some of the American troops."
During the bombing of Yugoslavia, the cardinal, writing in his weekly column in the newspaper Catholic New York, questioned whether this war has been a "just war."
It is not enough, O'Connor said, to argue that "one must come to the defense of those being brutalized. But can we say with integrity that this kind of bombing includes only `surgical strikes,' without serious danger of indiscriminate destruction, including the deaths of innocent human beings?"
The most remarkable source of moral objection to the bombing was Henry Kissinger, architect of the "Christmas bombing" of Hanoi during the Vietnam War -- an air attack that took place during the celebration of a Mass in the city's Catholic cathedral and that destroyed the Bach Mai hospital.
"Pounding away on a civilian population day by day," Kissinger recently told a forum at the New York Post, "is, in effect, saying our moral principles stop at 15,000 feet. I find this very difficult to accept."
During a discussion of the bombing on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation," Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies noted that although Slobodan Milosevic has unquestionably committed "terrible war crimes . . . the NATO bombing violated specific rules of war. Our government has committed war crimes by bombing civilian infrastructures.
"Things like water treatment plants, sewage treatment plants and the electrical grid certainly have military capacity, but they also have civilian necessity. . . . The United States is responsible, along with its NATO allies, for having deliberately chosen those targets -- knowing what the effect would be on the civilian population."
But Thomas DeFrank, Washington bureau chief of the New York Daily News, notes that "a well-placed Clinton official" says: "We fought a [more than] seventy-two day air war and nobody died. That's the bottom line for us."
DeFrank noted that this White House assessment "skims over the deaths of thousands of Serb troops, ethnic Albanians and Yugoslav civilians during the war."
No American was killed, but our use of cluster bombs involved not only immediate but long-term "collateral damage" below 15,000 feet.
Steve Goose, program director of Human Rights Watch's arms division, points out that "the submunitions inside cluster bombs have a high failure rate and can leave unexploded ordnance over wide areas, ready to detonate on contact -- in effect becoming land mines and killing civilians even years after the conflict has ended. Because of the submunitions' appearance -- some are orange-yellow soda-can-sized objects and green baseballs -- children are particularly drawn to the volatile live remnants.
"On April 24, five children playing with colorful unexploded submunitions were reported killed, and two injured, near Doganovic in southern Kosovo."
Also not sharing NATO's, Clinton's, Tony Blair's and much of the American press's satisfaction in the success of the bombing is Richard Haass of the Brookings Institution. "It's hard to feel good about a humanitarian mission in which [so many] of the people you're trying to help are now homeless."
Dr. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, also points out: "Those who act in the name of human rights bear a responsibility to see that their own actions scrupulously accord with human rights standards."
But the New York Times, in a June 4 lead editorial, declares that "the most dangerous military conflict in Europe since the Second World War will conclude as a victory for the principles of democracy and human rights."
Meanwhile, a federal district court has dismissed a lawsuit by 26 members of the House charging that the president has violated the War Powers Act, let alone the Constitution ("The Congress shall have Power to declare War"). But Clinton already has shown that the Constitution has little to do with him. Having escaped conviction on, in my view, clear serial violations of the Constitution, he has justifiable confidence in his immunity from such hectoring charges.