We publish today a letter from Canon Paul Oestreicher criticising a leading article on the Falklands War. Oestreicher insists that, in the political controversy about the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s, the clerics who criticised Margaret Thatcher were motivated not by pacifism but by a wish for an “expression of compassion for the victims on both sides”.
In fact, we didn’t accuse the Church leadership of pacifism, though we did cite the judgment of Reinhold Niebuhr, the Protestant ethicist, on that issue. We observed that the politicians had a surer sense than the bishops of what the nation was giving thanks for: victory in a just war against aggression. But Oestreicher’s intervention gives me an opportunity to relate the background of this prominent clerical campaigner.
Oestreicher is a pacifist. His position illustrates Niebuhr’s point that pacifism ends up either making no judgments at all or having an undue preference for tyranny. Some years ago he wrote a letter to The Guardian comparing the US/UK occupation of Iraq, mandated under UN Security Council Resolution 1483, to the Nazi occupation of France.
In the 1960s Oestreicher was a leading figure in a bizarre exercise of Christian-Marxist dialogue. In the Catholic Herald he recounted the contributions of the “intellectual giant” and French Communist ideologue Roger Garaudy, who later became an indefatigable Holocaust denier, and a “charming and pretty young sociologist from Prague”, who predictably urged Christians to combat “blind and irrational anti-Communism”.
The Marxism in this “dialogue” was unlike the contemporary and creative New Left. It was rank Stalinism. A volume of essays by the participants was co-edited by Oestreicher and James Klugmann, a leading British Communist who had worked clandestinely for Soviet intelligence in the 1930s and tailored his own convictions to whatever happened to be the Soviet line of the time. In his own essay, Oestreicher made the pitiful claim that it took as much courage to be a Communist in the US as it did to be a Christian in the USSR.
Oestreicher’s longstanding politics, in short, appear to be not anti-war so much as anti-American and anti-British.