Thursday, July 27, 2006

Just War

The doctrine of "just war" is something that regularly comes to mind. Every time I hear a news broadcast about the war in Iraq, and now the war between Israel and Lebanon, always it is in the back of my mind.

I was driving to Town Point church last night for the final evening worship service of the summer, and heard a report of hand to hand combat among Israeli and Hezbollah soldiers. All I could think of were men, each of them the beloved son of a mother and father, fighting for their lives. It brought tears. It brings tears again. A flash of fear strikes my heart- what if my two year old son is some day fighting in a war? I try not to envision my children's future for them- I want them to discover it for themselves on an adventure with God. But having my child fight a war would be heart breaking beyond words.

I think of the FDR memorial in DC with the great quotes by this president. "I have seen war....I hate war." I can scarcely imagine how damaging it is to the fabric of each human being fighting- both to the person who is injured or killed, and the person physically unscathed who will always carry memories of their actions that injured and killed. This is why there is a syndrome called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that has been identified since at least the Vietnam war. One of my seminary professors who fought in Vietnam to this day cannot watch war movies.

People have known how horrible war is for a VERY long time. Long enough that the Christian church developed a doctrine about what constitutes a just war all the way back in the fourth century. For the first three centuries, Christians were by definition pacifist, strictly interpreting Jesus' Sermon on the Mount about loving enemies. Then the Roman empire was sacked, and Saint Augustine wrote about just war theory. It became so widely accepted in western culture, that up until the war in Iraq, it was considered the baseline. Bush's doctrine of preemptive war is, ironically, unorthodox from a Christian perspective.

The Just War Theory asks these three questions, and all of these conditions must be satisfied in order for a war to be called just.
1. What are acceptable reasons for going to war?
To protect human rights and ensure basic decencies for human life (basically, defensive responses to inhumane actions)
2. When is war acceptable if human rights are in danger? All five of these criteria must be met:
a. If the good outweighs the evil of war
b. If there is a legitimate ruler in leadership
c. If the purpose of getting involved is to restore peace/fight for justice.
d. If all other options have been exhausted
e. If there is a reasonable chance of winning
3. How is war to be conducted? With proportional tactical goals, and discrimination in avoiding harm for non combatants.

The Bush doctrine of preemptive war is rooted not in the defensive mode of just war theory but in the offensive idea of addressing a serious issue by using war as the primary instrument.

Why do I write such things on my blog? I guess because I take seriously the value of life. I truly believe life is a sacred gift from God, and that this is true for all life regardless of what country or even faith a person is born into. And I also suspect that many of us who hold such values have never been taught just war theory. I did not learn it (or at least remember learning it) until I went to Seminary. Perhaps if more people were well versed in such things, we could find a way forward that honors these values.

1 comment:

  1. Very thought provoking. Back in June when Zarkawi was killed and there was much rejoicing in the media (why I watch Fox News at all is a mystery to me - it just makes me crazy!)and the administration, and I just felt such sadness. All I could think was that even he was someone's son - and where does a life go astray like that? That being said, these are scary times when you have an 18 year old son who just registered for the selective service. I don't know if my heart could be so empathetic if something were to happen to him.