Raising the Standard for News and Views
A patriotic war is just to protect the citizens
|Volume I, Issue IX|
|Best of the Pittsburgh Standard Sections of 2001-2002
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America’s military response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th is an issue that deserves sober analysis in the minds of those who abide by Christian ethics. Questions that inevitably arise are: How can involvement in war be compatible with the Christian faith? What are the criteria by which we can determine whether U.S. military action is justified? Should actions that lead to the killing of human beings ever be carried out? The idea that war should be fought only for a just cause has been argued for over two millennia, since the time of Cicero (106-43 B.C.). Since then many Christian thinkers including Augustine, Aquinuas, Luther, Calvin, and Grotius furthered and refined the arguments regarding the rightful purpose and conditions of war. Bernard Ramm notes, “If all of these documents are sifted through and summed up, a just war must meet the following criteria,” which he lists as seven principles (Bernard L. Ramm, The Right, the Good and the Happy). The remainder of this article is largely adapted from James Borland’s analysis of these principles in light of the events surrounding September 11 (see “A Nation Responds to Terrorism and War” Christian Research Journal 24(2):32-41, 2002).
Proper Authority. According to Just War Theory (JWT), war must be declared by a proper authority. The main intent of this principle is to prevent rogue insurrections. Given the cowardly and vile nature of the terrorist’s attacks, Osama bin Laden and his followers cannot claim this sanction. The U.S. Congress, in accord with this dictum, voted to grant the president full power to search out and destroy the perpetrators, their coconspirators, and those who aided and abetted them.
Real Injury. A second JWT principle is that in order for a country to justify going to war, it must have suffered genuine injury. Few would question whether the damage sustained by the U.S. qualifies as real injury. The unprovoked sneak attack resulted in the loss of three World Trade Towers (One, Two, and Seven), four Boeing aircrafts, a section of the Pentagon, and about 3,000 priceless innocent lives from over 80 countries. What would not qualify as real injury might be abusive speech, character assassination, the burning of the American flag, or the burning of a president in effigy.
Proportionality. A third principle is that the harm to be caused by a war must not go beyond the original injury. In practice this factor is difficult to assess, but the difficulties involved do not absolve the U.S. from the responsibility of thoroughly evaluating this factor. If the U.S. kills more people - especially innocent civilians - than the number of those who lost their lives on September 11th, then these actions would not qualify as a just war. Our nation’s leaders first sought to avert war by diplomatic means. When the Al Qaeda leader was not surrendered, the Afghan government was warned of an attack. Even before the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan on Sunday, October 7, perhaps hundreds of thousands fled the nation to nearby Pakistan. However, many may not have reached an area of relative safety. Not only is proportionality difficult to gauge, but the factors often used to measure it become skewed in the process or overlooked in pursuit of the larger goal.
Just Means of Fighting. The fourth principle of JWT is that the fighting must use honorable means. This can involve crippling the enemy’s ground, sea, and air forces but not intentionally killing innocent civilians in order to defeat the foe. While it is true that wars inevitably kill some civilians, such killing must be an unintended and indirect product of attacks on the military. Modern-day terrorists and guerilla fighters show a total disregard for this principle. Intentionally locating their command headquarters or military targets within civilian areas, these groups use civilians as human shields for their acts of terror. Ironically, when they hide behind civilians in this way, terrorists pay those nations that adhere to JWT a compliment, acknowledging that such nations do not make it a practice to kill civilians intentionally.
Good Chance of Victory. According to JWT, a country should not engage in war unless there is a good chance of winning without greatly endangering the lives of its own people. Even Jesus counseled in a parable that a king should tally his chances before engaging his forces (Luke 14:31-32). Hopefully, a nation has allies to assist its war efforts. When NATO recently invoked Article 5 of its charter, those nations declared that the attack on the U.S. was an attack on all of them and that the forces of all would be used to defeat the enemy. Friendly aircraft from NATO now patrol the eastern coast of the U.S. in an effort to protect America from further attacks.
Failed Negotiations. The United Nations charter, Article 33 states that disputing nations “shall first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” President Bush sought through diplomatic means to bring the terrorists to justice. Fareed Zakaria also notes, “Every Islamic country in the world has condemned the attacks of Sept. 11.” (Fareed Zakaria, “Why Do They Hate Us?” Newsweek, 15 October 2001, 24). Secretaries of State and Defense were sent throughout the world in an effort to secure justice by peaceful means. The Taliban leaders considered the issue in deliberative council. Pakistan’s president visited the Afghan leaders and urged them to heed the warnings. Nonviolent means of persuasion should always be attempted for a reasonable amount of time before resorting to war. It was nearly four weeks before the U.S. launched a counterattack on the enemy’s hideouts, terrorist training camps, and related targets. America’s attempts to respond through nonviolent measures seemed more than reasonable.
Right Motive. The final point that Ramm emphasized in his analysis of JWT is that a war must be fought with a right motive. As Arthur Holmes explains, “All aggression is condemned; only defensive war is legitimate” (Holmes, “The Just War” War: Four Christian Views, 120). It seems fair to say that the U.S. and its NATO allies are in fact engaged in a defensive war. To defend oneself sometimes means disabling the attacker. One must neutralize the enemy’s capacity to kill, maim, and destroy. This may take years, but it is necessary if one is to preserve and defend an honorable way of life. Without defending ourselves against the onslaught of terrorism, we will be in jeopardy of losing our most fundamental freedoms.
In conclusion, the U.S. has properly applied the key concepts of proper authority, real injury, good chance of victory, failed negotiations and right motive to their response to terrorism. However, Christians should continue to address the issues of proportionality and a just means of fighting, both in our prayers to God, and in our communications with our national leaders. As a nation founded on Biblical truth, America has an obligation to follow this type of war ethic. Michael McKenzie insightfully summarizes this reality:
Christians have long recognized that they hold dual citizenship. As citizens of the kingdom of God and ambassadors of Christ, they strive to let their light shine everywhere (Matt. 5:16). JWT is an invaluable moral matrix for Christians so that their faith may influence even the most horrible of humanity’s enterprises. Given the intractability of sin, Jesus says that wars will be with us until He returns (Matt. 24:7). To ignore that fact is to ignore reality. To ignore our moral responsibility is to invite conflicts to continue without the mediating influence of thoughtful Christians. The just war tradition provides no easy answers, but it can help to mediate Christ’s grace in a fallen and tragic world (“Onward Christian Soldiers?” Christian Research Journal, Fall 1996).
Feedback for "A patriotic war is just to protect the citizens"
Bush should not use war as a "wag the dog tactic!" for re-election! (Merrian Brooks, Oct 13,02)