Merchants of Death?

on June 22, 2015

The headlines are exasperating, if a bit hyperbolic: Reuters writes, “Pope Says Weapons Manufacturers Can’t Call Themselves Christians” while the Daily Beast puts it, “Pope: Gun Makers Are Not Christians.” In the Pope’s defense, and while I haven’t located a complete transcript of his June 21st speech in Turin, Italy, nowhere in the news pieces cited above does Pope Francis actually use those words. Not precisely. At most, at the rally of thousands of young people following his visit to the city’s famous shroud, Francis called believers who sell weapons “hypocrites.” In calling themselves Christians and yet selling arms, the Pope lamented, they traffic in duplicity: “they say one thing and do another.”

To be fair, the attention-grabbing headlines, however inexact, aren’t conjured whole-cloth. At a few points over the last year, the Pope has described the arms business as an “industry of death” and, correspondingly, those who produce weapons as “merchants of death”. While he may have intended more nuance by utilizing phrases such as “Many powerful people don’t want peace” and “Some powerful people make their living with the production of arms” (emphasis mine), his words have certainly been taken by most observers as a blanket condemnation of all in the arms trade. Moreover, in an address in St. Peter’s Square, he denounced arms traders as being included among those who will have a hard time accounting for their actions before God – grouping them with human traffickers and slavers. Weapons traders, the Pope concludes, “fabricate death” and further cycles of “hate, fratricide, and violence.”

Curiously, in the same address in Turin, Pope Francis criticized an array of moral failings among the political leaders of powerful nations in the 20th Century. Regarding the Shoah, “The great powers,” the Pope reminded his audience, “had photographs of the railway routes that the trains took to the concentration camps like Auschwitz…Tell me,” he insisted, “why didn’t they bomb” those railroad routes? Francis is referring to photographs of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps that have been a source of debate regarding what the allies knew regarding the deathcamps and when they knew it. The photographs were probably taken “accidentally” during flyovers to film nearby targets – including the synthetic oil plant at the Auschwitz III forced labor camp – or, Monowitz. While the photographs indeed show the train lines, gas chambers and crematoria, and hordes of prisoners, military planners, it has been argued, never analyzed the photographs in 1944 and they played no real role in decisions to bomb or not to bomb the rail lines. That said, in July of 1944, The U.S. War Department refused requests by Jewish leaders to include the rail lines in their bombing run against nearby oil refineries. The bombers’ route took them right over Birkenau. At stake in the debate is whether allied bombing of the railroad could have at least slowed the liquidation process, particularly of the Hungarian Jewish population whose final annihilation began in the spring of 1944.

Francis also pointed his finger at world leaders who did nothing to stop the Medz Yeghern, the Great Crime, the extermination of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915; a systematic slaughter that would eventually claim somewhere between 800,000 and 1,500,000 lives. The horror visited against the Armenians was among those moral cataclysms, including as well the 1933 Simele Massacre of Assyrians, through which evolved the American Polish émigré Raphael Lemkin’s study of the crime of “barbarity” – from which he would later develop the descriptive concept of “genocide.”

These later two critiques I call curious because it leads me to wonder precisely what Pope Francis wanted accomplished if he simultaneously condemns the arms industry. With what, precisely, did he intend the allies to bomb the rail lines? The 20th Century ought to have convinced us, including us Christians, that those kinds of folks who enjoy genocide cannot usually be talked out of their malevolence with prayers or harsh language – they most often have to be forced out of it. If soft power cannot get those who are murdering the innocent to stand down then hard power is necessary to knock them down. Such business is about more than “hate, fratricide, and violence.” If stopping genocide is a good thing to do then those who have done it – and those who supply the tools to help them do it – have, well, done good. To be sure, the motives of some who sell arms might be mixed. But while this might, in those cases, marble our moral evaluation, we oughtn’t allow the marbling to eclipse the good nor to forget that, just as soldiering can be a Christian vocation, so too can be making the tools of their trade.

The Pope’s comments ought naturally to call to mind Dwight Eisenhower’s “The Chance for Peace” speech in which he acknowledges that every dollar spent on arms is a dollar lost to something else: every bomber robs us of thirty well-built schools, or two electric power plants, or a pair of fully appointed hospitals. Many have made much of this and pair it with his farewell warnings about the “grave implications” regarding our nation’s reliance on the military-industrial complex and our need to remain remaining vigilant against its “unwanted influence”. But despite this moral sobriety, Eisenhower, in the same address, sounded another, less-often quoted, caution:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea. Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.

Pope Francis has been a stalwart defender of those goods that come from peace, order, and justice. He needs to be known as an equally clear defender of that just expression of force that, in the last resort, is the only means to ensure or restore those goods. We mustn’t believe that this is a choice between violence and non-violence. If it were, then of course we choose non-violence. But the Shoah and the Medz Yeghern each remind us that the question is not how can a Christian kill one made in the imago Dei but, rather, what on earth do we do when one imago Dei is kicking apart the face of another imago Dei?

It will do no good to claim, as some have, that this is the business of the government and not of Christians. To claim that God ordained the sword for the government to maintain just order but that he has called Christians away from such business in order to provide an alternative, peaceable kingdom is, in my judgment, the true hypocrisy – not the notion of Christians providing weapons of war. If the peaceable kingdom were a viable alternative to hard coercion then, surely, God would have ordained such a kingdom instead of, rather than alongside, the government’s sword. Given that God has ordained the sword, I stand among those who infer, therefore, that the sword is necessary. And if the sword is necessary than that makes the peaceable kingdom parasitic – because it cannot remain in a world in which the good do not bear arms. The idea that Christians should allow their neighbors to dirty their hands while keeping their own souls clean is, frankly, morally abhorrent.

  1. Comment by Sordello De Goit on June 22, 2015 at 4:10 pm

  2. Comment by MLiVecche on June 22, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks. I looked and missed it there. I think it proves my suspicion – he pokes at their hypocrisy and but leaves room for their being Christian hypocrites. Better than the headlines but still dissatisfying…

  3. Comment by Avniel on June 22, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    …like I am worried about anything the Pope says. I have it from a very Good source who it is I must listen to and it is not the Pope. Praise the Lord & pass the ammo.

  4. Comment by MLiVecche on June 22, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Good to have you in the foxhole, Avniel. However, I think we do want to engage with major Christian leaders precisely because they lead. They therefore influence people and paradigms and, therby, have some role in determining how power is expressed in the world. Christians need to think rightly about important moral issues. When we think our contribution to the discourse can correct error or strengthen truth in ourselves and others we out to engage one another in frank and winsome ways. We most often have much to teach each other.

  5. Comment by Randy Jenks on June 23, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Well, then, let’s look at how the Pope *acts*. When he disarms the Vatican, and insists that all host nations disarm their security details when he visits, then at least he won’t be open to the charge of hypocrite.

  6. Comment by Greg on June 23, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Hear, hear! When the Pope’s security detail disarms, then I’ll listen.

  7. Comment by Tomas Pajaros on June 23, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    The Pope is unfortunately distracting the faithful from much more important matters. He’s not going to make a difference in global arms trade, or the “climate change” debate. Meanwhile persecution of Christians continues throughout the world.

    21 Christians killed by ISIS in Libya.
    33 Christians executed by North Korea last year.
    12 Christians thrown overboard to drown in the Mediterranean by Algerian Muslims.
    3,000 Chinese Christians killed since 2000.
    thousands of Christians killed for their faith in Syria.

    millions of baby girls killed at birth in India and China under “population control” policies.

  8. Comment by Charles Cosimano on June 23, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    As the Pope descends into irrelevancy…

  9. Comment by valwayne on June 23, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Or worse. The Pope’s recent decision to give up his spiritual authority to engage in the most radical kind of left wing nonsense is already dividing and hurting the Church. The fact that his statements are hypocritical and lack logical coherence is even worse. He needs to stop babbling and start thinking about the damage he is doing.

  10. Comment by Mongo on June 24, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Yeah. A little thought on his part certainty wouldn’t hurt.

  11. Comment by Joe Monte on June 24, 2015 at 2:47 am

    The sooner the Catholic Church descends into irrelevancy the better off we all are.

  12. Comment by David Holland on June 23, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Not sure when it was decided that the Pope speaks for non Catholics

  13. Comment by Greg on June 23, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    The main problem here, as I see it, is that the Pope goes off script too much. It is a baaad habit of his. Certainly, he will eat his words regarding weapons manufacturers since he has already called for the use of force to stop ISIS

  14. Comment by retiredarmy43 on June 23, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    If so then he to is a hypocrite, as he is surrounded by men with guns who will kill to protect him.

  15. Comment by Lauri Moyle on June 23, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    It would help to have more of a context to this article. What is the contexts of the Popes talk? When he refers to such folk is he talking about a shop keeper in South Carolina or a mass merchant such as would sell weapons to a country or armed movement without impunity? What is the role of the state/states he is talking about? A short paragraph of what sort if arms trade he might be talking about would help might clarify some things.

  16. Comment by valwayne on June 23, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    You’re right. If the Pope is talking about international illegal arms merchants his comments might make sense. If he’s talking about legal arms manufacturers like those that make the guns and automatic weapons that his own security forces use than his comments are hypocritically to say the least.

  17. Comment by Bern7777777 on June 23, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    The Swiss Guard must buy their weapons from some gun company.

  18. Comment by valwayne on June 23, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    As a Roman Catholic who had a very favorable view of this Pope I’m increasing shocked. After an intellectual heavy weight like John Paul the Great with incredible Spiritual authority who pulled the church and clergy away from secular politics, and another very intellectual heavy weight in Pope Benedict who followed in the tradition of John Paul the Great, we seem to have a Pope of limited logical and intellectual capacity who has cast aside his spiritual Authority to engage in the worst kind of secular politics that have begun to make him look absurd and ridiculous while the spiritual authority of the Church is being seriously damaged. Does nobody in the Vatican Security services carry any kind of weapon? The last time I looked the Swiss Guard was carrying pikes and such. Those are weapons? Are their makers condemned. Do the rest of the security services have NO weapons, including NO automatic weapons? Has this Pope ordered all Vatican Security Services to disarm? My assumption is of course he hasn’t. Which by itself seems to expose the Logical and intellectual inconsistency/Hypocrisy of the Pope. Pope Francis has appeared to be a very humble man, but suddenly that seems to have changed. He now seems to want to abandon his spiritual authority to pursue extreme left wing, socialist/Marxist politics in a very arrogant and authoritarian way, and outside of Vatican City the Pope has no secular political authority except that derived from his Spiritual authority that he is rapidly damaging.

  19. Comment by Jim Rogers on June 24, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Are the manufacturers of surgical equipment merchants of death because their products are (mis)used to perform abortions?

  20. Comment by Mongo on June 24, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Re arms manufacturers

    Are those making the arms used by the Swiss Guard equally culpable?

  21. Comment by Openthreads on June 24, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Are The Pope’s guards armed with sticks?

  22. Comment by Rajinder Nijjhar on June 26, 2015 at 4:43 am


    We have approached the End Times and the Tares are getting bundled up in Israel; see Matt. 13v24-30. Wholesome destructions of Tares, unfaithful to tribal fathers will take place all over the world.

    Jesus came to get rid of these Rabbis in Dog-Collars and you have got them in one form or the other to fulfil Matt. 12v43-45, what do you expect? They are greater hypocrites than before the arrival of Jesus. Jesus threw Judas Iscariot out at the Last Supper for he was a Thief stealing money from the Purse. People donate money at Churches; this Dog-Collared Priest dips his hand into the donations as his salary. No wonder a retired Vicar when addressed as a Vicar by the BBC presenter Nicky Campbell objected strongly and told him that he is no more a Vicar like a Policeman in uniform. All the life he was serving Mammon with a Dog-Collar making fools of the people that he is a man of God. In God, we have Royal Priests and they enjoy Fellowships.

    If you study the present organisations of the Churches, they are based upon the Synagogues; some are Pharisees and the others more than Sadducees. At, the times of Jesus, these Blind Rabbis had two or three divisions and today in Jesus, more than 300 Cults when Jesus proclaimed One Fold, Church of God, headed by One Shepherd Christ Jesus, our Bridegroom.

    These Churches are like blind men defining an elephant and their Dog-Collared hireling Priests are the most happy job satisfaction people fleecing the devotees of Jesus called turning stones, simple-minded people, into Bread and Butter.


    Luke 16v16: Law and Prophets were till John, the Baptist whilst lowest in the Royal Kingdom of God, a Saint, is greater than John, the Baptist, also known as the Angel of Israel.

  23. Comment by Ted R. Weiland on June 26, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Marc Livecche: “Given that God has ordained the sword, I stand among those who infer, therefore, that the sword is necessary.”

    It’s more than necessary:

    “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house [beginning with spiritual and physical protection], he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

    For more, see online tract “Firearms: Scripturally Defended” at

  24. Comment by Grundune on June 26, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Thank goodness for the 2nd Amendment, Ted. Ops, I forgot you are trying to get folks to hate the U.S. Constitution. And why do you do that? Only you, Comrade Weiland know for sure.

  25. Comment by Bob on June 26, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Obviously you should look up the term ORDAINED.

    When a strong man, “fully armed,” guards his own palace, his possessions are secure.

  26. Comment by Gregory Alan of Johnson on June 26, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Since the Vatican has continually/consistently proven itself to be under the spiritual authority that is not the one true Christ Yeshua/Jesus (leaving only one other authority)(research “Black Pope” and “Black Jesuits”), I praise my Lord/Savior that Francis does not speak for me, nor will I ever submit to the Vatican or its teachings, thus I will never be Roman or any other kind of Catholic. I’m under Yeshua, period.

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