Saturday, December 12, 2009

President Obama and Just War Theory

When is war ever justified? If you listen to our modern far left, war can never be justified - particularly when it is in our national interests. But for the rest of us, when is war justified? Was Bush's war in Iraq a "just war?" If Obama chooses to confront Iran militarily, will that be a "just war?" Does Christianity allow for just wars? The answer is found in our Judeo-Christian roots and the dusty writings of Catholic theologians who, near two millenia ago, articulated the Just War theory.

Obama, to his credit, raised the Just War theory in his speech in Stockholm, defending his decision to up the ante in Afghanistan and the recent wars we have fought - though cravenly and incorrectly omitting our war in Iraq. And recently, one of my favorite bloggers, Robert Avrech blogged on the roots and meaning of Chanukah, stating that "[t]his holiday establishes the necessity of war when the enemy uses diplomacy as a tactic of warfare." Robert was referring to the war retold in the Bible at 1 and 2 Macabees. The war, which began in 167 B.C., was a 25 year war undertaken by the Israelites to throw off Greek oppression on one hand, and a civil war for the soul of Judaism on the other. (Joshuapundit has a good overview of the war). That war, like many of the wars appearing in the Old Testament / Torah, are part and parcel of the Just War theory.

The Catholic Church's reasoning for the Just War theory first finds its textual support in the bible. At Matthew 5:17, Jesus embraced the Old Testament, and the divinely inspired author of 2 Timothy 3:16 provides that "all scripture is inspired by God." And while Jesus often seemed to embrace pacifism, most famously in the Sermon on Mount where he tells us to "turn the other cheek" (Matt 5:39), he also acknowledged that use of force would at times be necessary, telling his apostles "one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one (Luke 22:36).

Beyond biblical text, religious scholars trace the development of the Catholic Church's doctrine of Just War back to the 4th century A.D. and St. Augustine of Hippo, the most influential philosopher in the Church's first millennium. This from the Crusade's Encyclopedia:

Augustine did not necessarily claim the right to self-defense, as he argued that it was never permissable to kill over one's life or property. This thinking was derived from concepts of Christian charity, in which one had the obligation to turn the other cheek. Yet this rule did not apply to one's moral obligation to provide for the defense of others, such as the weak, infants, children, etc.. Augustine argued that Christian rulers had such an obligation to make peace for the protection of his subjects even if the only way to eliminate such a threat was through force of arms.

Augustine laid the foundation for the Just War theory in a number of his sermons and writings, but it fell to the famed 12th century theologian and scholar Thomas Aquinas to clearly articulate the Just War theory in Question 40 of his Summa Theologica. This from the English translation of Aquinas's work:

In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. . . . And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Romans 13:4): "He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil"; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Psalm 81:4): "Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner"; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): "The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority."

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (QQ. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): "A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly."

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine's works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1): "True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good." For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): "The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war."

So the decision to war must rest with the sovereign and can only be undertaken for just cause - i.e., because of another nation's fault - and with a rightful intention - to secure the peace. It is a doctrine that does not presume against war, nor does it require a sovereign to limit war to only times when the nation is attacked. It is elastic enough to allow for preemptive wars if such are deemed necessary to secure the peace.

I would strongly recommend that, if you have an interest, you click on the link to Aquinas's Summa Theologica as, while I have quoted his affirmative reasoning for the doctrine, Aquinas also responded to many objections to his reasoning, all of which makes for interesting reading. At any rate, the Just War doctrine is apparently updated about once a millennium. The doctrine was modified following the Second Vatican Counsel to provide additional emphasis on insuring that other means of conflict resolution are considered, that, in this era of deadly weaponry, the force used is proportional, and that reasonable efforts are made to minimize collateral damage. You can read the doctrine here.

Insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ" (Gaudium et Spes 78). The danger of war will never be completely removed prior to the Second Coming.

Christ's followers must be willing to meet this challenge. They must be willing to wage war when it is just and they must be willing to wage it in a just manner.

The just war doctrine articulated by the Catholic Church is based on our Judeo-Christian roots and it is eminently practical. It is not in the least pacifistic, and it draws reasonably bright lines in the moral morass of war. While war is undesirable, it is not intrinsically evil. Under this doctrine, soverigns have an affirmative, moral duty to act when the need arises, Thus, allowing evil to metastasize while failing to face it with force of arms would indeed be itself an evil. When one thinks that the UK and France could have could have preempted WWII by facing down Hitler in 1937, saving the lives of tens of millions of people, it puts war - and preemptive war for that matter - in clear perspective. I am glad the President reminded the world of the Just War theory in his speech. I hope he takes it to heart in regards to Iran.


Dinah Lord said...

You have so eloquently explained the Just War theory. I just wish I shared your optimism that Obama believed in it - unfortunately, I think it's another case of being 'just words'.

For my part, I remember singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" with great gusto as a kid at our Methodist church. I would bet cash money that song is no longer sung in a single Methodist church in the United States today.

(Now I'm going to be singing it all day today, though...thanks GW! haha.)

OBloodyHell said...

> Sermon on Mount where he tells us to "turn the other cheek" (Matt 5:39)

I am a major fan of the Sermon on the Mount, but, as I understand it, there are somewhat alternate interpretations possible for this, dealing with euphemisms of the times.

Since I can't argue it accurately, I limit myself to calling attention to it as a subject of possible interest. I would assume some querying of a specialist in Apologetics is in order, if interested.

OBloodyHell said...

As I comment over on No Oil For Pacifists:

"I'll take Obama's position as more serious when he demonstrates with action in any way, shape, or form, that he actually grasps the essence of it.

Until then, he had someone write that who has nothing in common with his actions or intentions.

You can mouth all the blatantly self-evident platitudes you want. As the saying goes:

"When all is said and done, a lot more has been said than done."

I'll wager that this speech will reflect that dictum sufficiently to be its poster child.

GW said...

Oh, I dont think Obama understands or believes in the Just War theory. I think that a very good speechwriter introduced him to this venerable concept as a way to justify sending more troops to Afghanistan before the Euro-elites, all of whom tossed Christianity long ago.

That said, I think the concept is as valid today as two millennia ago. I will have to do some more research on the Sermon on the Mount in light of ol'bloodyhell's comments.