Friday, August 22, 2014

When War is Unjust

I just finished the book "When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Christian Just War Theory" by premier teacher and writer on the subject of Jesus, violence and Just War Theory, John Howard Yoder.  While Yoder believes Christians are to follow Jesus' teaching and example by not participating in violence, he stated in another book that he should spend less time trying to convince people to not use violence and more time educating the on the Christian Just War Theory that most Christians claim to follow.  He realized that if Christians were educated on CJWT and committed to living it out, wars would be rare, if not non-existent.

Here are Yoder's thoughts on CJWT from this book.

Pg. 68
Counter to the standard history, the just-war position is not the one which has been taken practically by most Christians since Constantine.  Most Christians (baptized people) in most wars since pacifism was forsaken have died and killed in the light of thought patterns derived from the crusade or the national-interest pattern.  Some have sought to cover and interpret this activity with the rhetoric of the just-war heritage; others have not bothered.  The just-war tradition remains prominent as a consensus of the stated best insights of a spiritual and intellectual elite, who used that language as a tool for moral leverage on a sovereigns for whom the language of the gospel carried no conviction.  Thus just-war rhetoric and consistent pacifism are on the same side of most debates.  When honest, both will reject most wars, most causes, and most strategies being prepared and implemented.

Pg. 78
Does any church teach future soldiers and citizens in such a way that they will know beyond what point they cannot support an unjust war or use an unjust weapon?

Until today church agencies on any level have invested little effort in literature or other educational means to teach the just war limitations… The understanding of the just-war logic that led American young men to refuse to serve in Vietnam came to them not primarily from the ecclesiastical or academic interpreters of the tradition but rather from the notions of fair play presupposed in our popular culture.

Those who conclude, either deliberately or rapidly, that in a given situation of injustice there are no nonviolent options available, often do so in a way that avoids responsibility for any intensive search for such options.  The military option for which they so quickly reach has involved a long lead time in training and equipping the forces… Yet the decision that nonviolent means will not work for comparable ends is made without any comparable investment of time or creativity, without comparable readiness to sacrifice, and without serious projection of comparable costs.

Pg. 80
In sum, the challenge should be clear.  If the tradition which claims that war may be justified does not also admit that in particular cases it may not be justified, the affirmation is not morally serious.  A Christian who prepares the case for a justifiable war without being equally prepared for the negative case has not soberly weighted the prima facie presumption that any violence is wrong until the case for the exception has been made. 

Pg. 94
The Gulf War had a just motive, namely, counteracting an aggression, but “by its own inexorable inner logic” it escalated and inflicted unjustifiable levels of damage.  Thus the theory is “untenable and needs to be abandoned.”  The only justified war would be “pure defense against an aggression actually taking place.”  There are other remedies for the injustices war seeks to rectify.

The ideal appeal to institutions of world order, which, if they existed, ought to make war unnecessary, avoids coming to grips with the tragic choice of martyrdom when the good is authentically overwhelmed.

Pg. 95
Just war thinking:
- tends to obscure the ambiguity of justice claims in conflicts where typically both sides are responsible.
- tends to avoid the imperative of repentance, which is a precondition for reconciliation and self-restraint; thereby it fosters self-righteousness.
- tends to respond only to one episode instead of seeing events in historic continuity.
- condemns overt military action but not other (systemic, institutional) evils.
- credits the intention to avoid targeting the innocent without holding the belligerents responsible for actual disproportionate and/or indiscriminate consequences, undervaluing the suffering caused by calling it collateral or unintended.
-tends to reationalize unilateral action in an age when decisions should be shared.
We may note that while each of these observations implies a serious limitation to the adequacy of just-war thinking, they do not sweep it aside in favor of pacifism, realism, or something else.  If carefully taken account of, these considerations would contribute to a much more refined and dense just-war analysis, which could issue in a heightened capacity for restraint and a greater capacity to give one’s own government a blank check.

Walter Wink, another well-documented and empathetic interpreter, names the following shortcomings:
- No Christian body has ever used the just-war criteria to declare unjust any war in which its government was engaged.
- No war Christians have supported has in fact met the just-war requirements.
- No deliberative process appealing to the repertory of just-war criteria has taken place in the lead-up to any of the major wars of the West.
- The decisive criteria have no clear and objective definition; for example;
     What is the “legitimate authority” in settings of guerrilla insurgency?
     If “aggression” is always wrong, who really started this particular conflict?
     Does democracy change the definition of who the combatants are? 
     Does “total war” change the definition of noncombatancy?

Pg. 98
[There must be a] rejection of public triumphalism.  Back at the beginnings of the just-war tradition, Augustine commented that the acceptance of any killing was “mournful.”  Such regret in the face of killing even when justified was implemented by the rituals of penance for killing even in a just war.  Discerning observers of the American response to the 1991 Gulf War pointed out that a ticker-tape victory parade celebrated just days after tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths demonstrates that the resort to violence in that case was not reluctant and mournful, as the Christian case for just-war requires, but rather triumphal.  The same issues surfaced in Great Britian when some clergy refused to be as happy about the country’s victory over Argentina in the war for the Malvinas/Falklands as was Prime Minster Thatcher.

Pg. 110
In 1993, after the Gulf War, it judged that the bombing of civilian infrastructure, the most morally problematic issue to arise from the Gulf War, “can amount to making war on noncombatants.”

Pg. 112
A particularly serious gap is any lack of provision under US law for selective conscientious objection, that is, objection to military service in particular circumstances because of a conscientious judgment that a given war or military action is contrary to just-war norms.  The Catholic church in the United States has long sought such protection as a corollary to the acceptance of the just-war tradition.
Simply put, if it is morally and even obligatory to engage in a just-war, then it is morally impermissible to participate in an unjust one and one would be morally required to refuse to serve under such conditions.
The failure of the military to revise its own regulations to process selective conscientious objectors, and of the Congress to allow for selective objection on just-war grounds continues to put those who adhere to the just-war tradition in jeopardy.

Pg. 114
In a culture of violence, to be sure, the uses of the just-war tradition can easily degenerate into “a weapon to justify a political conclusion or a set of mechanical criteria that automatically yields a simple answer” quite inconsistent with the underlying intention of the tradition to prevent conflict and to discern the moral limits of justifiable force.

Catholic teaching affirms that “a citizen may not casually disregard his country’s conscientious decision to call its citizens to legitimate acts of defense.”
At the same time, the teaching maintains that “no state may demand blind obedience.”  Accordingly, as we have seen, the church in the United States has actively supported legal protection of those who conscientiously refuse to participate in any war (conscientious objectors) as well as for those who cannot, in good conscience, serve in specific conflicts they consider unjust or in branches of the service (e.g. strategic nuclear forces) which are required to carry out morally repugnant policies (indiscriminate killing).

Pg. 116
In sum, civilian leaders and officials, like military personnel, should be prepared to bear the onus of selective conscientious objection.  While the price one may pay today is not as heavy as it once was, the effectiveness of the just-war tradition as a system of moral constraints on the use of force depends very much on the willingness of conscientious men and women to pay a price for their moral convictions.

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