A Comprehensive View of Just War and Non-Violence
I've written on the subjects of active non-violence and just war doctrine so many times and approached it from so many different angles that it surprises me how frequent readers seem to still misunderstand key aspects of my point of view.
Though it will take me eleven pages in Word, I am setting out to hit every nuance as best I can in one place here.
I honestly believe that my point of view on these subjects is very close to or exactly the point of view of Pope Benedict, and a rationally defensible point of view according to principles of either revelation or natural law.
In saying this, I do not mean to merely say that I have some "authority" on my side that trumps disagreement, whether it is true or not that Pope Benedict and I are in agreement.
Rather, I intend to convey a sense that I see my point of view on these subjects as a close approximation of the timeless or eternal truth that applies always and everywhere, the way Benedict sees his own views in the context of a Roman Catholic faith that has lasted through the centuries and is widely shared today.
In other words, I do not believe that my point of view on active non-violence and just war is politically motivated, though it certainly has political applications.
At least one frequent reader is instinctively suspicious of claims to eternal truths formulated in the abstract and applied to concrete situations because of what he calls "Nuremburg effect".
Ideologies of the twentieth century have rightly made all of us suspicious of the ways the human mind can become ruthless in imposing an abstract order upon messy reality.
Indeed, the appeal of atheism is often a rejection of Christian fascism, while the repugnance of atheism is in Stalin's brutality outdoing anything done by the Church.
Often, we know right from wrong less as an abstract ideal and more from the situation in which we find ourselves on the ground.
Yet, Christ is recorded in the Gospels as the great simplifier who summed up the entire law and prophets in short and abstract quips: treat others as you want to be treated; love God with your whole heart mind and being, and your neighbor as yourself; love one another as I [Christ] have loved you.
When it comes to active non-violence and just war, I am attempting to formulate principles that apply always and everywhere in the same manner that the golden rule or the great commandments apply always and everywhere.
It surprises me that people are shocked that I not only criticize Bush's war in Iraq, but Clinton's air strikes in the Balkans, or the first Gulf War, or the use of nuclear force in WWII, and so forth.
It seems that the shock occurs when someone thought that I am using abstract logic to merely defend a political point of view.
I have written many times that even if I find myself in disagreement with Pope Benedict on some specific moral questions or non-solemnly defined doctrines of faith such as women's ordination, or the morality of using non-abortificient contraception in marriage, or gay unions, and so forth, I am not a relativist.
I do believe in dogma and absolute truth as a general principle, and simply disagree with him, or fail to fully apprehend the truth he wishes to convey, on some specifics.
Where I disagree with him, I do not intentionally base my disagreement on some secular principle and political motivations, but on what appear to me to areas of doctrine creating cognitive dissonance.
I perceive what seem to me to be internal inconsistencies in his presentation, or what appear to be failures to consider how some other Catholic principle he accepts might apply to the question at hand.
Of course, Benedict may very much feel that we who dissent are failing to consider or accept some other principle he sees as essential to Catholicism.
This does lead us naturally to the question that even if we all accept the general principle that absolute truth exists, maybe our ability to know it or apply it correctly is always suspect. That may sound dangerously close to practical or functional relativism.
Yet, it remains the case that I see it as one of the aspects of the absolute truth that it is difficult to discern.
I am admitting here a degree of epistemological humility.
None of us can individually fully comprehend and know absolute truth infallibly in this life time. Yet, each of us must live and make decisions in concrete history according to our best educated approximation of the truth at a given moment.
We must follow the morally certain dictates of conscience at every moment.
Conscience can err, and therefore we should seek to inform conscience with Church teaching giving it every benefit of the doubt and obeying if there is no reason not to obey.
Yet, at any given moment, we must act according to the dictates of conscience even if conscience conflicts with the Church and seems to demand disobedience to the Church.
Moral certainty does not mean absolute certainty. It means the highest degree of certainty of God's will that I can achieve at a given point in time.
And I may grow and change over time, as might a doctrine still under development.
I may be as convinced and morally certain as I can possibly be in the present moment that my view of active non-violence and just war is an accurate reflection of absolute truth - God's truth, even as I admit that I am a fallible human being who may be morally certain and still wrong!
Yet, to Roman Catholics, if what I lay out does, in fact, seem to be supported by the Pope and the bishops and is consistent with scripture, tradition, and natural law, then it follows that my fallible opinion should be taken with some seriousness by Catholics even if politically inconvenient and unpopular.
While it is true that I am a historically conditioned and even sinful human being capable of holding opinions on Church teaching that are corrupted by some non-Christian influence, the test of this remains the teaching itself.
If what I say seems supported by the Pope, a believeing and practicing Catholic should engage it seriously as not only my own proclivity, but a potential representation of teaching of the Church that may very well be a close approximation of absolute truth.
If a Catholic agrees I am representing Church teaching, and still disagrees with my view, that person should admit he or she is in dissent and come to terms with whether there are Catholic principles that allow such dissent.
In other words, I believe I am accurately representing the teaching of the Church, and one of those teachings that happens to make a great deal of sense to me.
I am writing this for relatively frequent readers, though anyone can follow along. Most of the readers I have in mind are Catholic.
Thus, I am going to forego my usual citations and block quotes of scripture and the CCC to lay this all out once again. I assume you have some familiarity. I will attempt to stick to the language of doctrine, but I am not going to provide "proof texts" so much as allusions.
The first point on just war or any form of the use of deadly force that I want to make is that it is never, under any circumstances, morally obligatory to actively kill a human being.
Just war doctrine does not mean that it is unjust to refuse to fight in a war!
I am not responsible for trying to prevent the next Adolf Hitler in history by killing him before he rises to power, as Rumsfeld argues, and as Weigel, Novak and Neuhaus argued in the past. That's silly.
My fallible mind cannot know who is going to be the next Hitler five years from now. God will not hold me responsible for what is literally impossible to know with even moral certainty, much less absolute certainty.
The commandment to avoid rash judgment prohibits me (or world leaders) from trying to predict the intentions of other people in the distant future. Our focus must be with current actions.
And we are not even morally culpable for the evil another does right now.
To dispel the counter argument I sense brewing in some minds where folks begin to imagine situations such as a serial killer torturing a baby to death right in front of me, I am not morally culpable for what another person does. Period.
The serial killer is guilty of murder - not the innocent bystander.
The only way a bystander is "guilty" is when he shares the desire of the aggressor, or makes himself complicit in some way through immoral cooperation with evil.
In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, it is sufficient to denounce evil actions to absolve one from sin of cooperation with evil.
This does not mean that I will not rightly feel some sort of moral obligation to do something, to stop the serial killer.
Nor am I saying that one would sin if one dealt a deadly blow to this serial killer.
All I am trying to establish here is that I am not under a moral obligation to kill the serial killer.
If I can stop him another way than killing him, or even if I believe in my heart that I can stop him another way and am mistaken, I am acting in a morally licit manner to chose the other way to try to stop him.
There is never an instance when I must kill a human being. Ever.
When we speak of the just use of deadly force, we are never speaking of a moral obligation to kill.
Rather, we are establishing strict and rigorous criteria where killing another human being is not the objectively and intrinsically the grave evil of murder!
This is an important point to emphasize. Where the strict and rigorous conditions that render killing a just act are not present, we do grave evil when we kill a human being.
To do so with full freedom, knowledge and deliberation is the mortal sin of murder. Bear that in mind as you read. This is the basis of a presumption against war.
For the purposes of this post, however, I wish to avoid constantly hammering the distinction between objectively evil acts and the subjective culpability or guilt for sin.
Thus, I will avoid mention of sin, while sticking to the problem of evil actions.
Killing a human being is an evil act where certain strict conditions of double effect are not present. On the flip side, we are never under a moral obligation to kill anyone.
Indeed, our Christian obligation is to cultivate love for all people and to show lavish mercy and forgiveness.
What does this mean?
This means that as Christians, the conditions for the just use of deadly force must be interpreted with a presumption against the use of deadly force.
Think of it this way: To err on the side of non-violence cannot be an evil act, where to err on the side of violence can be gravely evil.
I am not a pacifist, but I do believe in active non-violence, which is distinct and different from pacifism.
What is the distinction?
The pacifist may take the notion that we are not morally responsible for the actions of another person and conclude that he or she should do absolutely nothing to stop another person from doing evil aggressive acts. The pacifist may also develop strategies of life that avoid conflict or retreat from the world as a means of living out a non-violent life.
There are many Christians who hold the pacifist view. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it was often lived out in hermitages and religious life, and it finds expression among Protestants with the Amish. For the purposes of this post, I do not wish to dwell on this option further. To date, none of my readers seem to hold that view.
Active non-violence, on the other hand, does assume that when another person does evil, we are morally culpable to do something to try to stop the aggression.
However, we are not required to do physical violence to stop the aggression. Active non-violence does not avoid conflict or retreat from the world, but engages the aggressor in some non-violent way to attempt to change the behavior.
Using techniques of negotiation, diplomacy, reason, non-violent communication and non-violent psychology, grassroots political activity, international development, boycott and protest, and even literally turning the other cheek, active non-violence seeks various ways and means to change the heart of aggressors by appealing to conscience and removing the underlying grievances leading to war.
Active non-violence has always been part of the Christian tradition, though often as current flowing under the surface. I see aspects of it strongly represented in Francis of Assisi, such as when he tried to dialogue with an Islamic sultan waging war with Christians.
In the twentieth century, both within Christianity, and outside of it in examples such as Gandhi, active non-violence saw some amazing development in its philosophical underpinnings and its practical techniques. Even distinguishing itself from clearly strict pacifism was a major historical development of thought.
Active non-violence has achieved such successes as the independence of India, the fall of Pinochet, the fall of apartheid, and the fall of the Soviet Empire.
We are never under an obligation to do physical violence to another person. We can err on the side of grave evil when we chose to do violence, even to an aggressor.
There has been an amazing development in the principles and practice of active non-violence that make it a more viable option for Roman Catholics than ever. The Church explicitly supports those who renounce violence for the sake of the Gospel.
It is my contention that all Roman Catholics are called upon by God to give more serious consideration to adopting a life-style of active non-violence that adds to the presumption against war.
Yet, the Church also explicitly supports those who do not renounce all violence, so long as the strict and rigorous conditions of legitimate defense are employed always and everywhere that double effect may apply. She also recognizes the right and duty of the state to place an obligation on citizens who do not reject all violence to serve in national defense of the common good in various ways.
In interpreting those conditions that distinguish just uses of deadly force from unjust murder, there remains a presumption against violence that is made all the more urgent by the fact that active non-violence is always a morally licit option.
Just war doctrine has also developed over the 2000 year history of the Church. In saying the doctrine has developed, I mean to imply that what began as a sort of mushy and imprecise idea has sharpened over time.
Distinctions have been made, nuances and caveats added, new situations considered and so forth that we must be cautious in interpreting the tradition. We must not read it anachronistically.
For example, I am reasonably certain that when Aquinas speaks of the just use of military force to disarm an aggressor preemptively, he is speaking of the right of the king to disarm private militias within his own realm.
Today, we would consider this more as a police action, or issue of law enforcement, as distinct from just war doctrine.
In Aquinas' day, I do not believe the distinction between internal law enforcement and defense from external aggression was always as clear and as well thought out as it is to our minds.
In other words, I do not believe that Aquinas was intentionally providing fodder to neoconservative Republicans in 2002 to mount the case for disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction by military force.
Indeed, I hold the opinion Aquinas would consider the neoconservative argument as an absurd rationalization for unjust aggression.
In a similar vein, the vague concept that military force could be used to "right a wrong" likely had applications more appropriate to law enforcement today than to waging wars between nation states.
Even using terminology like "nation states" or "private militias", as I have done, is a little anachronistic. Aquinas lived in an age of city states and feudal fiefdoms and smal geolopitical regions where the entities I am calling "private militias" are the historic forerunners of what might eventually evolve into the Italian mafia.
The point I am emphasizing here is that we need to dig deeper into Aquinas' world view and the historical circumstances under which he wrote to derive the most likely eternal principles he dimly grasped as those principles would actually apply today to the new historical moment.
In other words, I believe it is the same error of the biblical fundamentalist in interpreting scripture anachronistically to take quotations of Aquinas out of historical context to rationalize the invasion of Iraq.
Speaking of biblical fundamentalism, it is also an error to turn to the Old Testament wars of Israel in an anachronistic fashion to derive principles of just war.
Furthermore, in trying to discern the eternal verities contained in Old Testament passages, we Christians must not only try to understand the historical and literary context of the passages in question, but we believe that there is a progressive revelation occurring in the Old Testament preparing the way for Christ.
The Old Testament must be interpreted in light of the New Testament.
Where there seems to be conflict between what is contained in the Old Testament understood in its historical context, and the teaching and example of Christ, we must admit a degree of misapprehension of God's will is occurring even as the eternal truth is being conveyed in some deeper sense.
Maybe Israel was morally right to be disgusted with neighbors who sacrificed their children to Moloch and practiced temple prostitution, even if morally wrong in the ways they expressed that deep disgust through wars of aggression and plunder.
We cannot derive from the Old Testament that there simply is no presumption against initiating war as an eternal verity. That seeming verity must be tested by the revelation of Christ.
I understand that some Jews reach the position of non-violence other ways, and I am addressing Christians - particularly Catholic Christians. We interpret the Old Testament in light of Christ.
It is difficult for many if not most Christians to imagine a situation where it is definitively clear Jesus would employ deadly force against another human being.
Even when just war defenders pull out Jesus' expression of just anger in the temple cleansing, I must point out that not one of the relevant texts say that he struck a human person. His act might be called physically violent in a sense - but the violence does not appear to be aimed at human persons.
This piece of datum alone - our difficulty imagining Jesus acting with deadly force - may reflect the supernatural sense of the faithful, if not natural law itself, that we know in our hearts a strong presumption against killing any human being, even in situations where it might be morally licit if not necessary!
We should be far more focused on cultivating the virtues of Christ than seeking excuses to act less like Christ than he seemed to ever act.
It is often said that just war doctrine originated as a controversial idea of Saint Augustine. The controversial nature of this idea is even more apparent when we examine the context of Augustine's writing supposedly supporting just war.
It is not clear in those writings whether Augustine is arguing that there is such a thing as a just war. He seems to be arguing the finer point that there are sometimes people do evil acts with good motives, and the ends may not justify the means.
In outlining the first jus ad bellum arguments in Church history, Augustine may very well have been arguing that war is evil even when waged with the noblest intentions.
Again, I am emphasizing that when just war doctrinal developments are read in historical context, there is, and always has been, a very strong presumption against the use of deadly force.
This also holds true in official pronouncements regarding the death penalty.
There is steady and constant effort in the tradition not to defend the practice in some absolute sense, but to limit it as much as possible and place morally licit applications of it under the strictest and most rigorous conditions that might even render it practically, if not theoretically, impossible.
We are never under a moral obligation to kill another human being. Ever.
Let us move from history to the present moment.
We have a daunting task set before us if we believe that there are just wars, and we do not personally feel called to totally renounce violence, and we are somehow to understand just war doctrine correctly and communicate it to a pluralistic society based on the Bible and Augustine and Aquinas.
For that very reason, the magisterium has tried to distill what is eternal wisdom from the tradition into categories and language that make sense to the modern ear. We find such teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
When neoconservatives quote Aquinas against the CCC or a papal address to rationalize wars the Popes oppose, I want to be clear that I believe that it is demonstrable that they are taking Aquinas out of context.
I am reasonably certain that Pope Benedict would agree.
In other words, I do not believe that when Pope Benedict suggests just war doctrine may develop to the point where we need to ask if any modern war is morally licit that he sees himself as introducing a new doctrine opposing the tradition.
Far from it. He sees the constant tradition of the Church as having a clear application that would raise the question whether the way wars are fought today can ever be called morally licit.
If I am correct, that means that those who disagree with the Pope are in dissent on a matter of doctrine. Of course, I withhold assent on some issues of doctrine not yet solemnly defined.
So, I am not saying dissent excludes one from the Church - but it needs to be clarified that disagreement with the Pope on just war doctrine is dissent with the Pope on just war doctrine.
In order to understand part of the doctrinal problem Benedict is grappling to convey - and a big part - we must bear in mind that the historical context of almost everything ever written on just war prior to the twentieth century dealt with conflicts fought with swords and clubs and so forth.
I believe that Pope Benedict shares my grave concern - a concern that stirs very strong passion in me and which he expresses in strongly emotional language - that modern warfare seems to inherently involve weapons and tactics that kill innocent people.
Earlier, I stated that the strict and rigorous conditions where deadly force may not be immoral apply to situations where "double effect" is present.
The principle of double effect holds that an act may be taken that has two direct foreseeable results, one intended, and the other unintended.
In close quarters, such as the sadist torturing a baby to death, when an aggressor threatens the life of an innocent human being, one may act in such a way as to stop the aggression as the direct and foreseeable consequence of your action.
Both the practitioner of active non-violence and the practitioner of just war agree that we can act to stop the aggression.
The practitioner of active non-violence may try talk, prayer, throwing his or her own body in the way.
He or she may even simply film the aggressor promising to distribute the images widely in an effort to shame the aggressor into changed behavior.
We might even resort to tossing a net over the aggressor, which is a form of violence, but not deadly.
The practitioner of just war may simply shoot a gun at the deadly aggressor if there appears no more probable way of stopping the aggressor.
In some cases, I won't fault such a person, even if I would not pull a trigger myself.
The intent of the practitioner of just war must not be to kill the aggressor who is killing an innocent human being. The intent is to stop the aggression. Other conditions apply, which we will explore momentarily.
The practitioner of just war cannot throw a grenade at the aggressor, because such an act would not fulfill the intended aim - which is to protect the baby.
The ends do not justify the means. You cannot kill the baby to save the baby. You cannot even kill this baby in order to save future babies from this particular aggressor.
The act of using weapons and tactics in war that have the foreseeable direct result of causing collateral damage weigh very heavily in the presumption against war I have been highlighting throughout this post.
Am I saying, along with Pope Benedict, that all modern warfare is potentially morally illicit?
Yes I am, and with caveats that I think the Pope intends to convey.
It is not that a just war is literally impossible as though all war is intrinsically evil.
If weapons and tactics are used that make collateral damage unlikely as a foreseen consequence, that particular factor weighing heavily in the presumption against war is removed.
Note, there would still remain a presumption against war for all the other reasons that I have outlined, but causing the foreseen death of innocent civilians would not be one of them.
Engaging in an act that directly kills innocent civilians as a foreseen consequence is gravely and intrinsically evil for the exact same reasons the Church says abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research are intrinsically immoral.
Indeed, waging war may be worse for society than merely permitting abortion. Waging a war is more like the state mandating abortion. Our cooperation with evil is increased when the state mandates death.
Intentions do not matter when it comes to killing innocent people.
Claiming you did not "target" the civilian does not let one off the moral hook for engaging in an action where it was foreseeable civilians would be killed.
Jus ad bellum does not excuse causing collateral damage by killing non-combatants.
And trying to redefine "civilian" such that every member of the enemy nation is a combatant is silly. A baby is never a combatant. If you have reason to believe dropping a bomb could kill babies, you cannot drop that bomb.
If waging a just war, one must use weapons and tactics where killing babies would truly seem unlikely.
In considering jus ad bellum questions, one must weigh how likely one is to succeed at war without using tactics that have a high probability of causing collateral damage.
I am now ready to explore jus ad bellum questions and it should be clear by now these conditions should be interpreted with a presumption against war that has a practical application of meaning the conditions very rarely apply.
There are several types of use of deadly force addressed in the CCC that are distinguished in ways Aquinas had not imagined.
For the purposes of this post, I do not want to deal with law enforcement (which can be just) or the death penalty (which is immoral today in practice, if not in theory).
There are two types of wars described in the CCC itself, and another in the writings of John Paul II. The three types of war are as follows:
1) A legitimate defense by military force of the nation from external threat.
2) A humanitarian intervention.
3) A just revolution against a despotic regime.
The same conditions seem to apply all three types of war.
First, a just war must be a defensive use of military force.
Interpreted with the presumption against war, the language used by the Church seems to clearly indicate that aggression by the enemy has already begun and is lasting, grave, and certain.
I do not believe that even a first strike of preemption against a tangible and imminent threat that has not yet struck is permitted when read with the proper presumptions against war that applies to modern warfare.
Given that we are never obligated to kill anyone, and active non-violence is always an option that is becoming a well developed tactic, we must wait to see if the tank driver will be stopped by the lone man standing in Tiananmen Square, so to speak.
We cannot wage war a moment prior to the non-violent resister or innocent civilian being killed. We are not morally culpable for the death of that innocent resister.
The aggressor is morally culpable for that!
Our responsibility prior to actually being attacked is to do everything we can to non-violently prevent war from starting - including active non-violence.
This leads to the second criteria of a just war: all other options must have been practically exhausted and war is truly a last resort. We can never say this until aggression has begun, and not a moment prior.
There must be a reasonable chance of success (no suicide war), using proportionate reason weighing the outcomes of war against the outcome of not going to war - with a very heavy weight applied to the question of collateral damage.
Finally, each type of war must be authorized by the legitimate authority responsible for the common good to wage the type of war in question.
Legitimate defense by a nation must be declared by those with authority for the common good of the nation. For example, the state of Texas cannot declare war on Mexico without federal Congressional authorization.
A humanitarian intervention must be authorized by an international body responsible for the international common good. Currently, the United Nations is the only internationally recognized institution with such authority.
The Church and I recognize the weaknesses of the United Nations and its failure to assume responsibility for the international common good in some instances where many wish it would do more to stop unjust aggression.
Even with its weaknesses, the United Nations remains the only type body that currently meets the criteria of being the type of body that can authorize a humanitarian intervention.
Perhaps NATO can authorize an intervention within NATO's domain of sovereignty, but for global purposes, the U.N. is the only show in town.
Thus, the presumption against war in dealing with a crisis like Lebanon or the Sudan demands that global citizens work to resolve the crisis peaceably, or, if believing a just military defense is needed, pressure the United Nations to authorize it.
Without that authorization, we must presume that military intervention, even in a humanitarian crisis, is not morally licit. We must work through other means while continuing to pressure the U.N.
When an internationally recognized authority does sanction a humanitarian intervention, the action must be a last resort after non-violence has failed, and it must be limitted in scope and precise in its aims and in accord with international laws.
In a just revolution it is less clear who may authorize the war, though it remains the teaching of the Church that the authority must be recognized by the people experiencing unjust aggression from a despotic regime.
Where is the infamous room for "prudent judgment" among officials responsible for declaring war?
After an attack, it is not absolutely necessary to wage war, and the scale of war must be prudently determined.
For example, does the defense begin when an enemy declares war, or after someone is killed? If the latter, do we mean the first citizen is killed? The second? Many? Do we send massive numbers of troops, or make a small defensive strike in the hope of sending a calibrated message? etc...
Prudence is not about the principles of just war, but their specific application once it is clear all strict and rigorous conditions have met minimum standards to overcome the strong presumption against war.
It seems clear to me that agression must have already begun to even begin to say the conditions for legitimate defense have begun to be met.
In just defense of a nation, the nation or its formal allies must be attacked and the defending nation must limit response to the attacker and its formal allies.
In the case of humanitarian intervention, there must be agression in progress against people - as with genocide or a brutal repression by a despot.
In the case of revoution, you must be revolting against a despot who has already made grave attacks on his own people.
All other conditions must also be met, but the primary condition of a just war is that it is a defensive use of military force against aggression already underway.
Once we move past jus ad bellum questions, we do need to pay attention to jus en bello questions.
Torture is intrinsically evil. Deliberately using weapons and tactics with the foreseeable consequence of killing civilians is intrinsically evil, and so forth. I won't dwell on this topic.
I have outlined the general principles now in great depth. How do these principles apply to America and our current war on terror and foreign policy?
America is not dealing with issues of a just internal revolution.
As much as many of us dislike the Bush Administration, we are not under the sort of direct attack from our own government that makes just revolution seriously thinkable.
We already saw that the United States is not the appropriate body to initiate a humanitarian intervention by its own authority. We must use our position in the United Nations to mount such interventions, or forgo them.
This leaves us with just defense of our own nation, which I will grant as extending to direct attacks on our formal allies.
Unless we are attacked by the party with whom we wage war, we do not have just cause to go to war. That was the critical issue with the invasion of Iraq.
Iraq had not attacked us or our allies at the time of invasion. There was no evidence of involvement between Iraq and Al Queda.
The question of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs was not an American concern providing just cause for war.
If we were concerned about this, we could work through the United Nations or work through other non-violent means to convince Iraq to disarm, but we could not invade for this reason.
Only aggression in progress justifies military response. There is no other just cause for war.
Those who argued that the 2003 invasion was a continuation of the First Gulf War made the best effort at true just war thinking - except that the First Gulf War was not between the United States and Iraq.
That was a U.N. intervention, and the U.N. considered the first war over and did not authorize the second invasion.
And there remain questions about the way the First Gulf War led to the death of hundreds of thousands of civilains.
Only a direct attack justifies a nation in declaring war.
This remains true with Iran.
We cannot attack Iran in any way shape or form apart from the U.N. even if we are morally certain that they actually possess or are in the process of obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Only when and if they attack us or our formal allies can we mount a legitimate defense. Period.
America has made mistakes in war from an unjust revolution (King George wasn't killing us prior to the revolt), to carpet bombing Dresden, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Clinton's uses of air and missile strikes where there was no attack on the United States.
With Afghanistan, the Taliban government sided openly with Al Queda who had attacked us killing innocent civilians.
We had just cause for that war, presuming we could overcome the issue of potential collateral damage.
How do we overcome the presumption against war we hold due to the fact that modern warfare seems to inherently involve collateral damage as a condition for success?
I would answer this by saying that even with modern weaponry, it is not inherently the case that war must involve collateral damage - and I am not referring to so-called "smart bombs" as an out clause for modern war. They are not.
The United States is a large enough nation with advanced enough technology where we can place sufficient force on the ground to entice aggressors to lay down their arms voluntarily.
We shy from using sufficient ground force to deter agressors from fighting back because technology allows us to cave into our fear of death.
We cause collateral damage to save our own skins!
To use a different example than Afghanistan, if the U.N. authorizes American intervention in the Sudan, 140,000 of our troops could easily stand down the ill equipped and poorly trained janjaweed - probably without firing a shot.
If the enemy refuses to voluntarily stop aggression or disarm, as would have always been more likely with the muhajadeen, taliban and al Queda forces in Afghanistan, large ground force can wage a war that is less likely to cause collateral damage than air strikes and missiles - even if so-called smart bombs.
In order for America to have sufficient troop levels to forgo the use of heavy shock and awe air strikes and missile launches, I believe that we need to institute a draft.
Yet, I have stated all along that active non-violence is becoming a highly developed and viable option and alternative to war that every Roman Catholic could consider as a personal choice.
How do we square the desire to see more Catholics renounce all violence with a draft?
You make something like the Peace Corps an option for fulfilling the duty of conscription, and you make it foreign policy that we always send Peace Corp troops prior to using military force.
The Bible says we can conquer good by doing evil, and my basic attitude is that we should be so busy with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, prayer, and meeting family obligations that we have little time for war. A Peace Corps draft allows for this sort of life-style.
I would take the Peace Corp option.
My own biological brother, who served in the Navy for twenty years, would more likely take the military option.
Catholicism currently allows both choices in its teaching if the option were merely available.
And Catholicism demands that those who follow my brother's choice follow just war doctrine very strictly.
If just war doctrine is not adhered to strictly, the soldiers risk comitting murder!
Why have I said things like that Pat Buchanan is the only politician advocating just war principles, even though I think he is a nut on many issues?
Buchanan holds a sort of principle that could be described as "fortress America" - an isolationist view of how American military might should be used.
Buchanan is a Catholic but no pacifist, nor even an advocate of active non-violence like myself.
However, for those who do not chose pacifism or active non-violence as a way of life, his is the next closest option to true just war doctrine.
Pat does not believe in a weak military, because a strong military has a deterrent effect. I acknowledge that when active non-violence doesn't seem to produce results, deterrence is the next best thing.
Indeed, while active non-violence ultimately and primarily aims to change the behavior of aggressors by appealing to conscience, it often works because the aggressor can imagine the more violent alternatives.
In actually using that strong force for more than deterrence, Pat Buchanan and his paleoconservative type actually have a strong presumption against actual war. He pretty much would use it exactly as I advocate - only as a defense against direct attack.
He may not share my concerns entirely about collateral damage once we are attacked, but if we avoid war, it is sort of a non-issue. Where we may squabble is in producing weapons of mass destruction for deterrent purposes. Yet, many paleocons prefer conventional force to WMDs.
The other thing I like about Buchanan's otherwise nuttiness is that when it comes to the danger of foreign entanglements and the pitfalls of taking on things like nation building, Buchanan provides more "practical" reasons explaining how my abstract principles actually turn out to be "enlightened self interest".
Nation building, as opposed to an intervention to prevent a humanitarian crisis already in progress, is really a futile exercise.
Buchanan also questions all the ways we wind up getting too entangled in messy situations that cannot realistically be resolved by military force.
He puts dollars and cents around it, appeals to the American spirit, finds the best historical analogies, and counts every soldier unnecessarily killed to drive home the emotional cost.
At this point, I sense that some readers who had followed my arguments up to Buchanan's isolationist military policy are beginning to think I may have contradicted myself in some ways.
After all, I stated that if a humanitarian intervention is appropriate, the United Nations could authorize it, and America should help with ground troop support.
Buchanan would never go along with that!
But recall, I also said that in every kind of war, we interpret the application with a presumption against war and an awareness that killing human beings is never, ever, morally obligatory.
What I am emphasizing here is that if you chose not to renounce violence entirely, you must go through the United Nations to wage a humanitarian war.
Whether neocon Republican or non-peacenik Democrat, wars that are not the result of direct attack must be sanctioned by international authority.
As for me, I am not convinced military solutions are the only solutions to these types of crisis, and I want to put more effort into preventing the crisis state of affairs.
Thus, I want America using its Peace Corps abroad, while the military protects our shores at home.
I want the international community to promote peace and international development and human rights, but gernerally with non-violent means.
At this point, you may be thinking that I just said Buchanan was right that nation building is futile, so why am I suggesting Peace Corp volunteers can prevent a humanitarian crisis from developing?
I do not believe in nation building if it means attempting to mold another culture into the image of the United States at a macro level from above.
Change of an entire culture does not work well when it comes from the top down. It works better if it bubbles up from the bottom.
I do not believe the primary task of a Peace Corps is to change the governments of other nations.
I wrote on this at great length before, and I have been writing too much already.
To sum it up briefly, our efforts at international development must generally take a micro-economic approach.
Rather than trying to change a regime, we should seek to change the life of a family, or a small village, etc,....
Long range, I do believe that if we help those in the most dire need, that will have a transformative effect on other cultures.
We can also spread the concepts of active non-violence at the grassroots level so that people in other nations learn non-violent ways to resolve local conflicts, and then carry lessons learned to more macro change.
This allows change in the other cultures in ways that are more continuous with their own traditions than Americans dictating how to run the government and economy from above.
Of course, this all depends on the Peace Corps having adequate people power, financial resources, and training to work effectively.
A draft helps ensure that, and funds that currently are spent on weapons of mass destruction could be spent on this more moral option that focuses on people power for maintaining both a strong Peace Corps and strong military.
In other words, if Buchanan gave a liberal like myself a better Peace Corps than we have and the freedom to use federal monies in international development, I will give him a strong defense of our borders at home as long as it is never used prior to an actual attack - and he would deliver because he understands how it is in our best selfish interest to follow just war principles very strictly.
I am not campaigning for Buchanan, by the way. On issues like gays, multiculturalism, and so forth, he's a nut, IMHO. Besides, he ain't runnin'.
I am merely using him as a prominent paleoconservative, as oppossed to neoconservative, to highlight a conservative point I happen to like.
Let's return to Afghanistan.
We had just cause for war, and if sufficient troops were on the ground to reasonably believe collateral damage could be limited to no foreseen damage, how would the war play out?
We'd probably have our military troops home by now, because we would not be trying to rebuild a country that attacked us.
They would go in with one mission: Break up Al Queda and capture Osama Bin Laden alive if possible, or kill him if necessary under double effect.
When the job is done, they come home with no side ventures in Iraq unless and until Iraq attacks us, or is proven to be an ally of a party that has attacked us.
The message to the entire Arab world would have been crystal clear: you attack us, and we will get you. Leave us alone, and we'll leave you alone.
That's a far cry from the message that we are coming to spread the American way of life to you poor Muslim slobs who can't build your own countries.
If we want to help the Afghans rebuild, and they want our help, we send in the Peace Corps.
Any military presence that we keep in Afghanistan would have the sole mission to protect American Peace Corps volunteers if the Afghans accept it.
Anyone who wants a larger military operation for the purpose of some other type of grander nation building such as promoting democracy, go through the United Nations.
The importance of gaining United Nations' support for any larger mission than defense against attack is that it adds international credibility to whatever is being done.
If we are not defending ourselves from direct attack, have not been asked for Peace Corps help, and do not have U.N. support, the best thing to do is stay home.
That sends the clearest message that we are not out to colonize or take over oil reserves or anything of the sort.
I don't want to go into all the nuances of just law enforcement, but restrained and cooperative law enforcement may be used against terrorists when they are operating outside of a nation formally siding with and supporting an organization like Al Queda.
What do we do today now that Bush has taken us down paths so far from everything I describe?
We work step by painful step to responsibly disengage from Iraq and get back to what we really should be.
This includes trying to right the wrongs we have done recently, and leading up to 9/11. It also means being more involved in global economic justice and development.
The saddest thing about the war in Iraq, and what was most infuriating, is that the war was clearly unjust, and the negative outcome we are seeing today was so very predictable three years ago.
It was predicted by paleocons and peaceniks alike, not to mention quite a few military leaders!
But alas, according to the Biblical notion of justice, we shold expect to sow as we reap. If we do injustice, we pay a price for it.
As one reader frequently points out, maybe we need to work harder as Christians at cultivating virtue that will serve as an antidote to focus on how to simply avoid evil.
Recently, I wrote on the importance of prayer for peace, explaining that true for prayer for peace should move us to heart-wrenching cries of anguish and literal tears on behalf our enemies even before we decide to wage wars.
I wish to make one last point specifically on the war on terror.
We are in an ideological clash with what is called radically militant jihadist Islam - a group of people who are a minority of larger Islam who believe that God does want certain people to kill other people.
At the very root of all my thinking on this subject is the fundamental theological axiom that the true God never morally obliges anyone to kill another human being under any circumstance, and generally does not look too favorably on any kind of killing.
I believe that anyone - absolutely anyone - who thinks that God places a moral obligation to kill a human being on us is worshiping a false god - whether that person is Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, or whatever.
Those who interpret just war doctrine in such a way as to imply we must kill people are bordering on or comitting idolatry!
If we Christians acted as if it were true that we are never morally obliged to kill, and usually a mortal sin to kill, I believe that our actions would appeal to moderate and reform minded Muslims to recognize that the Allah they worship is more like our God than Bin Laden's idol.
In other words, waging war by strict just war principles interpreted with a strong presumption against war (including the en bello considerations I haven't covered such as refusing to use torture), helps win the battle for minds and hearts and helps marginalize idolatrous people.
Is everything I just wrote promoted by any political party today?
Why take it seriously then?
Because if I am right that the principles I have outlined here represent eternal and timeless truths as those principles correctly apply to what America can and should be, then we need a new political option on foreign policy.
That can begin as soon as upcoming elections.
I am trying to help anyone who cares to listen to imagine an alternative.