Tag Archives: just war

Thoughts about just war

Veteran’s Day is coming up tomorrow, and so this Sunday I decided to preach about the concept of just war as it pertains to religious liberals. That meant I wound up reading Thomas Aquinas on just war, from the Summa Theologica.

What particularly struck me was Thomas’s three criteria for just wars:

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.): “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.”

It’s amazing how current each of these three criteria sounds. I have heard variations of all three used in the ongoing debate about whether or not the Iraq war is a just war. The interesting question in my mind is to what extent can religious liberals feel comfortable with Thomas Aquinas’s thinking, especially given how much he relies on appeals to scriptural and ecclesiastical authorities (which is not really our cup of tea). No answers to that question, but it seems to be leading me in interesting directions….

Neither right nor left

I’ve been skimming my way through the 1,000+ page Duelfer report. Fascinating reading. Wow.

It presents a far more nuanced view of the origins of the current Iraq conflict than I have been getting through the news media. Unfortunately, partisan political points of view have had the tendency of obscuring actual events. I mean, we all know the New York Times is blatantly Democratic, and the Wall Street Journal is blatantly Republican — and frankly, I’ve long felt their news reporting has lost some nuance because of partisan bias.

The Duelfer report seems far more balanced — plus it places the entire Iraq conflict into historical context. If you want to blame someone there’s plenty of blame to go around — or to be more blunt, if you want to blame the opposite political party, you’ll find plenty of ammunition no matter what your party affiliation. But I think that misses the point of the Duelfer report. Blame is less important at this point — understanding is what we should be striving for. Given the expense and the cost in human lives, obviously we all want to avoid another conflict like this one if at all possible.

Unfortunately, what I get out of the Duelfer report is how simple misunderstanding was a major contributing factor leading to the Iraq conflict. For example, in my post yesterday, I quoted from a section of the Duelfer report that pointed out how badly Saddam Hussein misunderstood the United States. You can also find examples of how we in the United States managed to misunderstand Saddam Hussein — for example, how we misunderstood how Saddam Hussein had to maitain a fiction that Iraq was capable of producing weapons of mass destruction even when it wasn’t, in order to save face and to keep Iran aggression at bay. It also seems we in the United States misunderstood the extent to which Saddam Hussein posed a threat — he was worse in some ways than we had expected, and not as bad in other ways.

I continue to be bothered by the fact that the Democrats and the Republicans — the “liberals” and the “conservatives” — continue to point fingers of blame at each other, continue to indulge in shrill rhetoric rather than reasoned debate that might lead to a deeper understanding of the situation in Iraq. I find this increasingly unacceptable. We need to understand what’s going on in Iraq in order that we may end the Iraq conflict safely, effectively, and as quickly as possible. I am concerned that reasoned debate about the Iraq conflict, and about foreign affairs in general, has degenerated to the point where liberals and conservatives have essentially stopped talking with one another — particularly within Unitarian Universalist circles. We all need to get over being angry with each other. That’s just a waste of our time. We need to re-learn how to have effective, and openly democratic debate and conversation.

So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this — 1. Read the Duelfer report. 2. Find a Unitarian Universalist who has the opposite political position from you (liberals, find a conservative, and conservatives, find a liberal). 3. Ask that person what s/he thinks — then, before you respond, repeat back to them exactly what they said, and ask them if you got it right. 4. Then ask them what we, as Unitarian Universalists, can affirm about the religious implications of the Iraq conflict — again, before you respond, repeat back to them exactly what they said and ask them if you got it right.

In other words, let’s see if we can move towards dialogue — and understanding — as “seekers after truth and goodness,” and as “not agreeing in opinion.”

Just war, unjust war?

In a democracy, citizens have to keep themselves informed about key events and issues. That’s why I’ve been working my way through the Duelfer Report, the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. And from a religious point of view, this report poses the difficult question — is the second Gulf War a just war?

The report now available on the Web in HTML and as extremely large PDF files. Forget the PDF files, they’re too big — go straight for the HTML version of the report at http://www.cia.gov/cia/reports/iraq_wmd_2004/index.html

I was struck by this passage:

Saddam did not consider the United States a natural adversary, as he did Iran and Israel, and he hoped that Iraq might again enjoy improved relations with the United States, according to Tariq ‘Aziz and the presidential secretary. Tariq ‘Aziz pointed to a series of issues, which occurred between the end of the Iran-Iraq war and 1991, to explain why Saddam failed to improve relations with the United States: Irangate (the covert supplying of Iran with missiles, leaked in 1986), a continuing US fleet presence in the Gulf, suspected CIA links with Kurds and Iraqi dissidents and the withdrawal of agricultural export credits. After Irangate, Saddam believed that Washington could not be trusted and that it was out to get him personally. His outlook encouraged him to attack Kuwait, and helps explain his later half-hearted concessions to the West. These concerns collectively indicated to Saddam that there was no hope of a positive relationship with the United States in the period before the attack on Kuwait.

Although the United States was not considered a natural adversary, some Iraqi decision-makers viewed it as Iraq’s most pressing concern, according to former Vice President Ramadan. Throughout the 1990s, Saddam and the Ba’th Regime considered full-scale invasion by US forces to be the most dangerous potential threat to unseating the Regime, although Saddam rated the probability of an invasion as very low.

Clearly Saddam Hussein misjudged the political situation in the United States. As I work my way through the rest of the report, perhaps I’ll have additional comments. You look at the report, too, and tell me what you think….