Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Our very own 'victory disease'

In addition to my other vices, I like to read military history. One of my favorite authors is H.P. Willmott, a Briton with some very interesting takes on World War II, especially the early days of the Pacific war.

One of Willmott's themes is the frequent failure of nations to appreciate the crucial importance of time. Especially in war, those in charge often think they've got plenty of time when they really don't, and the result of such complacency is usually a catastrophe. There's a lesson for Catholics in this. But the history first, please, if you'll indulge me.

For one example, Willmott points out how the U.S. thought there was plenty of time to get ready for an attack by Japan, and planned to have the Philippines, where the first blows were expected to fall, fully reinforced by April 1942. As we all know, the Japanese declined to oblige us by accommodating our leisurely timetable, and by April 1942, American soldiers were staggering into captivity in the Bataan Death March.

But this delusion knows no national boundaries. The Japanese, elated by the ease with which their early conquests had come to them, thought they had plenty of time to consolidate their empire. Then came the embarrassment of the Doolittle Raid, then rebuff in the Coral Sea, then disaster at Midway only six months after Pearl Harbor. By then, skeptical Japanese had already coined a phrase for that fatal delusion of unlimited time and assured triumph: 'victory disease.'

I was reminded of all this while listening recently to a fine interview on EWTN's The World Over, featuring the remarkable Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute, and Fr. Thomas Euteneuer of Human Life International. The subject of in vitro fertilization came up, and the host remarked on the lengthy interval that seemed to elapse between the first application of IVF technology in 1979 and the Church's response. Fr. Euteneuer replied that the first definitive Vatican declaration against IVF came in 1987, and that after all, in Vatican terms, that was almost instantaneous. Or words to that effect.

Eight years? Instantaneous?? Perhaps in heaven, where a thousand years is as a day, but not here on earth. In those eight years, everyone got used to IVF being a neutral part of the moral landscape, so that the Church's opposition, when it eventually firmed up, seemed to come out of left field. And then there was the little matter of the tens of thousands of human embryos made for IVF during those years, with the "extras" getting frozen so they could become a giant temptation for the embryonic stem cell folks. All this, while the Vatican carefully, carefully, carefully decided what to think.

The Catholic Church at the upper levels is much afflicted with its own special version of 'victory disease.' Lulled, it seems, by the assurance that Christ has won the final triumph already, they act as if nothing really bad could ever happen to His flock no matter how long they dither and discuss. Besides, they say, the Church has always thought in terms of centuries...

Gentlemen of the hierarchy: stop it. We are still living on earth, not in heaven. And this is the 21st century, not the 9th. You will never again be able to take all the time you want to respond to evil, without courting disaster. The Enemy is moving too quickly now. Shake off your 'victory disease' and get cracking. It's way, way later than you think.