As the possibility of war with Iraq looms ever more likely, and the task of convincing our “allies” that we are in the right appears no closer to being accomplished, it is appropriate to examine the philosophical underpinnings of armed conflict.
The concept of a “just war” was first articulated by the Roman statesman and scholar Cicero, around 54 BC. Two of the greatest saints in the history of the Church, Augustine (354-430), and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) framed the concept in a Christian context, and it has been refined and debated ever since.
- A just war can only be waged as a last resort.
- A just war can only be waged by a legitimate authority.
- A just war can only be fought in self defense or the defense of others.
- A just war can only be fought with a reasonable chance of success.
- The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace.
- Care must be taken to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.
Unfortunately, these precepts will raise more questions than they answer. Clearly, the notion of “last resort” could allow the inspections to go on indefinitely, while a preemptive strike would always fail the test of “defense” for some. Is a “legitimate authority” merely a sovereign nation, or is it rather a world body like the UN? What if the enemy deliberately places non-combatants in harm’s way?
Then, there is pacifism. What would Jesus do? Proponents will cite Matthew 5:39–
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.
But, Jesus was hardly a passive wallflower when He cleansed the Temple (Matthew 21:12). He offered plenty of resistance to what He perceived as evil, and we are called to imitate Him. Turning the other cheek is an example of perfection. In the community of saints, some may be perfect, and there are also different vocations for mankind. Perhaps the clergy (or some of them) are meant to be pacifists, while the laity may fight. Jesus never told soldiers to lay down their arms. Instead, when they asked Him what they should do, he said
“Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3:14)
While pacifism, like an oath of poverty, might be perfectly valid states for an individual, they are suicidal for a country at large. Thus, logic and right reason would bar their advocates from any serious discussion of pending hostilities. As to the various and sundry America-haters, both here and abroad, the entertainment industry morons, and those who simply despise George W. Bush, there has been more than enough coverage of their bankrupt points of view.
Perhaps the most interesting group of war opponents characterizes itself as “A Conservative/Libertarian coalition opposed to the bombing and hypocrisy which brings retaliation from enemies that we ourselves create, turning our free Republic into a military empire.” Assuming that their assertion is correct, does it somehow follow that these enemies that we have created are then not really enemies, and thus, we needn’t defend ourselves? What happens to our free Republic then?
You can also examine the rather odd assortment of articles and writers they have assembled: a former Clinton administration official, ultra-Leftie Ben Cohen (Ben & Jerry’s), a host of thinly veiled anti-Semitic and anti-Israel pieces, and even a loopy sort of anti-federalist paper by Lew Rockwell, calling on all Catholics to stand against the evil US Government, in keeping with a somewhat exaggerated earlier tradition. And, of course, there is all the ranting about this and that being unconstitutional, as if the US Constitution presently means anything at all after its shredding at the hands of Lincoln, the activist Federal courts, and decades of an over-reaching Congress.
It is frankly most tiresome for Rockwell and his cohorts to lament that the United States became Hamiltonian instead of Jeffersonian. This is truly ancient history. Far better that his ilk show some patriotism, and be a bit more cognizant of the rabble they have sadly chosen to embrace.