Martin Luther King Jr. once said of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred World War II pastor, "if your opponent has a conscience, then follow Gandhi. But if you enemy has no conscience, like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer."

As was the case so many times on so many controversial issues, King spoke eloquently to the issue of when, if ever, violence was justified. Bonhoeffer--Lutheran theologian, ethicist, and pastor--had once been a pacifist. However, confronted by the relentless evil that was Hitler and the Nazis, he joined the resistance, including their plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. Arrested by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging at Flossenberg concentration camp one month before Germany's surrender in 1945.

After the war, Bonhoeffer's fame and influence grew, undergirded by the fact that he lived out his belief in "costly grace" and direct confrontation with political evil. His martyrdom underscored the authenticity of his message. Bonhoeffer's legacy impacted millions of people in the last half of the 20th century, including King.

As Bonhoeffer, and evidently King, came to understand, when your enemy has a basic moral structure which can be appealed to, and a conscience that can be troubled--as with Gandhi and the British in India, and King and racially segregated America--then disciplined non-violent disobedience and demonstration against injustice must be the morally superior path. However, when your enemy, in his implacable evil, has no conscience, then violence may be permissible and necessary.

With Saddam Hussein, we are dealing with a sadomasochistic sociopath who has murdered his way to absolute power. His hero is Joseph Stalin, a man who rivals Hitler in the annals of perpetrators of monstrous evil. Hussein has used weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors and his own people. He has ignored and defied United Nations resolutions and continues to subject his people to the privations from UN sanctions in his attempt to conceal present versions, and to acquire ever more deadly models, of weapons of mass destruction.

I ask those who demonstrate and protest this potential war to contemplate this question. Is their opponent President Bush or Saddam Hussein? If their opponent is Bush, then protest peacefully, because he has a conscience to which they may appeal as Gandhi did against the British Raj and King did against segregationists. But if the enemy is a conscience-less Hussein--as I believe he is-then, like Bonhoeffer, do we not have a moral imperative to use force to oppose such evil?

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