Sunday, October 24, 2004

"Good" Wars?

To all my vehemently anti-war pals, can we at least agree on one thing? Can we agree that war is bad?

Can we also agree that sometimes war is the lesser of two evils? That is to say, that sometimes it is necessary to go to war because to avoid that war would make things worse? And in that sense, that wars can also be "good"?

I can already see you trying to wiggle out of that one. Some of this makes me squirm, too.

After Sept. 11, 2001, I did a lot of thinking about the Christian tradition of the Just War. In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas addresses the issue of whether some kind of war is lawful. Ironically, or perhaps not, he writes about war in his section on charity. More on that later.

In addressing whether war can be considered lawful, Aquinas lists four objections to the idea.

In his first objection he says it would seem that it is always sinful to wage war. He reasons that punishment is not inflicted except for sin, and points out the punishment mentioned in Matthew 26:52. "All who draw the sword will die by the sword." Therefore, he reasons, all wars must be unlawful.

In his second objection, he notes that whatever is contrary to a divine precept is sin. He quotes Matthew 5:39 ("But I tell you, do not resist an evil person") and Romans 12:19 ("Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.) By this, too, Aquinas reasons that war is always sinful.

His third objection to the idea that war can be lawful is to note that something that is contrary to a virtue is sin. Because war is contrary to peace, it is a sin.

His fourth objection seems tied to Aquinas' particular historical period and environment. He states that the exercise of a lawful thing is itself lawful, but notes that tournaments in which warlike exercises take place are forbidden by the church, "since those who are slain in these rituals are deprived of ecclesiastical burial." (I wasn't aware that the church would not grant ecclesiastical burial to those killed in such a tournament. You learn something new every day!)

Aquinas then notes a contradiction from a sermon by Augustine. Augustine points out that when some soldiers came to John the Baptist asking what they should do in repentance, John told them "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay." (Luke 3:14) Augustine notes that John did not tell them to give up soldiering. "If the Christian Religion forbade war altogether, those who sought salutary advice in the Gospel would rather have been counselled to cast aside their arms, and to give up soldiering altogether."

Aquinas then concludes that in order for a war to be just an lawful, three things are necessary.

First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. 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. . . .

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. . . .

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.

In summary, in order for a war to be just, it must be waged by someone in authority, for a cause that is just, and with the intent to advance the good and/or avoid evil.

Aquinas then replies to the objections he raised earlier, noting that although it is important that we be ready to obey the commands to refrain from resistance or self-defense, "it is necessary sometimes for a man to act otherwise for the common good, or for the good of those with whom he is fighting." He also notes that "Those who wage war justly aim at peace, and so they are not opposed to peace, except to the evil peace."

When we consider our reasons for going to war in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power, and later in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, we must consider them as being done in opposition to an evil peace, and with the intent to advance the good.

The section from the Summa Theologica which adresses this question is short and can be found here for those interested in reading through it.

Again, note that the question of whether a war can be considered lawful is found in Aquiinas' section on charity--or love of one's neighbor.

Does Aquinas really see war as having anything to do with love?

This article by Darrell Cole was published in "First Things" in October, 2001, before a military response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had yet taken place. In it, Cole addresses the concept of the "good war," and the relationship between war and love. The article concludes:

The most noteworthy aspect of the moral approach to warfare in Aquinas and Calvin is that it teaches—contrary to today’s prevailing views—that a failure to engage in a just war is a failure of virtue, a failure to act well. An odd corollary of this conclusion is that it is a greater evil for Christians to fail to wage a just war than it is for unbelievers. When an unbeliever fails to go to war, the cause may be a lack of courage, prudence, or justice. He may be a coward or simply indifferent to evil. These are failures of natural moral virtue. When Christians (at least in the tradition of Aquinas and Calvin) fail to engage in just war, it may involve all of these natural failures as well, but it will also, and more significantly, involve a failure of charity. The Christian who fails to use force to aid his neighbor when prudence dictates that force is the best way to render that aid is an uncharitable Christian. Hence, Christians who willingly and knowingly refuse to engage in a just war do a vicious thing: they fail to show love toward their neighbor as well as toward God.

Viewing it like this, a Christian who is anti-war should consider whether his opposition to the war is simply because it is a war. Perhaps this is a paradox. I can agree with my anti-war friends that war is a bad thing--or at least a tragic thing. But for all the tragedy that occurs, I don't know if I can completely agree that war is never a good thing.

Am I wrong to conclude from this that sometimes war really is a "holy" thing?

Why does that idea frighten me?


At 4:55 PM, Blogger Dan Cummings said...

I addition to subscribing to the just war theory, I also believe that killing evil before it commits further acts of evil is actually a showing of love (as in sort of a Dante's Inferno context of a hell that spirals deeper and deeper.

At 4:55 PM, Blogger Dan Cummings said...

I addition to subscribing to the just war theory, I also believe that killing evil before it commits further acts of evil is actually a showing of love (as in sort of a Dante's Inferno context of a hell that spirals deeper and deeper.


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