Saturday, February 22, 2003

On War

I
was at an anti-war rally in Pershing Square, downtown LA,
in October 2001, less than a month after 9/11. I was there because I had friends in attendance
who would variously describe themselves as anarchists, communists, or
progressives. I talk with them, and enjoy sharing views, but can't
describe where I stand in their terms.


As for war in general, I had an early life crisis in high school over the
matter. At age 17, I was very gung-ho about going to the Air Force
Academy and flying F-16s. It was part of a larger dream of eventually
flying the Space Shuttle. But then I realized I didn't want my job
description to consist of "killing people and breaking things" as I
cynically put it back then. So I chose to study physics instead,
hoping also to get a second degree in political science,...


But anyway, as regards war, I've recently learned about the 'just war
tradition,'
a form of moral reasoning that traces its origins to St.
Augustine in fifth-century North Africa. In the international debate
launched by the 'war against terrorism' and the threat of 'outlaw states
armed with weapons of mass destruction,' we can hear echoes of the moral
reasoning of Augustine and his successors: What is the just cause that
would justify putting our armed forces, and the American homeland, in
harm's way? Who has the authority to wage war? The U.S. President? The UN? Is it
ever right to use armed force first? How can the use of armed force
contribute to the pursuit of justice, freedom, and order in world affairs?


The just war tradition is an attempt to think through the public meaning
of the great commandment of loving our neighbor. The public good is the
ultimate end of just war thinking; defending and advancing the public good
is what legitimate governments are for; and that is why provision for the
common defense is a moral obligation of states, not an option. The just
war tradition begins, in other words, with a judgment about the moral
obligations of rightly constituted public authority. This line of
thinking starts with a 'presumption for justice,' not a 'presumption
against violence.'

The presumption for justice, and for rightly ordered public authority’s moral obligation to pursue justice, is what sets the horizon for moral analysis in just war thinking. Classic international relations theory defines a more specific goal within that framework: public authority is to pursue a just peace, the peace of tranquillitas ordinis, the peace of “right order,” among nations. Mere Christianity does not teach the possibility of a world without conflict, a utopian fantasy that ill fits biblical religion. However some in the larger body of Christ do teach the possibility of tranquillitas ordinis, the peace of order, which (in contemporary terms) means that legal and political processes are the primary instruments for resolving conflict. That is the “order” that right–minded governments are to defend and advance in the contemporary world.

It is, admittedly, a humble sort of peace. It can coexist with bruised spirits, broken hearts, and ill will. It is a peace in which swords remain—sheathed or used to defend order—but are not yet beaten into plowshares. It has, however, one great advantage for moral realists, Christian and otherwise: it is a peace that can be achieved in this world, in and among nations.


So that's kinda where I am, long winded as it may be. I cannot rule out war in general; there are circumstances in which the first and most urgent obligation
in the face of evil is to stop it. 'Is this such a time?' is just one of
many questions on my mind regarding the present situation, as I struggle with the news, my friends, my
God, and my own conscience.

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