September 11, 2002

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"To everything there is a season" and a reason.

by Greg Grimer

        "As dreadful as war is, there is 'a time for every purpose under Heaven' Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. As distasteful as it may sound to some readers, when judged by modern day standards, Saint Augustine was arguably the first Christian 'hawk'."

   In 410 AD, St. Augustine of Hippo, in what is now Algeria, watched in horror as the Roman Empire fell to Visigoth invaders. In his book, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, the author Edward Gibbons blames this fall of civilization on Christianity. Augustine had the same fear because for years critics had warned that Christian pacifism would weaken the empire. Didn't this confirm the fears that Christianity was too soft and "next worldly" for its followers to be responsible citizens of the state? Though church and state had worked together for nearly a century, Augustine still felt that he needed to establish once and for all that Christians could in conscience assume the full obligations of citizenship, including the participation in warfare. The task was a challenge. Critics seemed to have on their side the teachings of Jesus Himself.

   Though Jesus never talked about war directly, His message of love, humility, and compassion seemed incompatible with violence and killing. And so it was understood by many early Christians. Rome, the most powerful state in the known world, fell because many Christians had a false concept of peace. 1600 years later we are facing a new threat of nuclear tipped rogue states and religious extremism from people who covet our standard of living but despise our way of life and our culture. Many Christians today, many Catholics and Catholic leaders have a false concept of peace. We should be prudent that our own desire for peace, isn't so blinded by fear, weakness and misinterpretation of our right to defend ourselves, that our own civilization goes the way of Rome. The west is morally decadent, but if those cultures that seek to attack us were superior, then they would not put walls around their countries to keep their own citizens in, but rather to keep our citizens out. If you think democracy has problems, try clericalism in Saudi Arabia.

   As dreadful as war is, there is "a time for every purpose under Heaven" Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. As distasteful as it may sound to some readers, when judged by modern day standards, Saint Augustine was arguably the first Christian "hawk".

   Political authorities are not only permitted by God to wield the sword for the sake of justice, order and peace, but are REQUIRED to do so by God Himself, whether or not they personally acknowledge God as the ultimate source of their authority to do so. To not enter a just war to defend the innocent is as great a sin as to wage war unjustly.

What does just war require?

   The first requirement according to Saint Augustine was proper authority. As he put it, "The natural order, which is suited to the peace of moral things, requires that the authority and deliberation for undertaking war be under the control of a leader." The leader Augustine had in mind was one whom God had entrusted with the responsibility of governance. In his time, this was the emperor. Later, it would be kings and princes. Today, it's our elected leaders. These people are answerable to God for the welfare of their states in a way that no private citizen is. President George W. Bush and the US Congress are undertaking the war with Iraq, he is the elected leader of the US so this condition is fulfilled.

   Proper authority is not the only requirement. Proper cause, the reason(s) for which we go to war, was as important as who authorized the action. St. Augustine specifically ruled out as justifications for war such causes as "the desire for harming, the cruelty of revenge, the restless and implacable mind, the savageness of revolting, [and] the lust for dominating." He saw war as a tragic necessity and we should keep in mind his admonition to "let necessity slay the warring foe, not your will."

   St. Augustine was not, however, specific on what causes can be considered just. He has been interpreted narrowly, as saying states may go to war to avert (defensively) or avenge (offensively) a violation of their rights, or broadly, as saying war may be waged to redress any wrong against God's moral order.

   America is waging war defensively, since it is known beyond reasonable doubt that Saddam Hussein is seeking/developing weapons of mass destruction (WOMD) and Iraq, under his leadership, sponsors global terrorism. It is unreasonable to believe that, given his track record, he intends only to use these merely as a deterrent like the rest of the civilized world, since he has made specific threats to various countries publicly and recently.

   Those who genuinely seek evidence in support of potential military action in Iraq will find there is plenty of it; those who oppose intervention at all costs will never find enough of it.

   America is also going to war to free the people of Iraq from a despotic ruler as God freed the Israelites from a despotic Egypt. So there are two good reasons (where one would be enough) to satisfy St. Augustine's principle. That there are other despots that America is not waging war against yet (North Korea) is NOT a reason to avoid attacking Iraq. No Christian thinker has ever suggested we have to show equality and fairness to despots.

   America's willingness to wage war against people like Saddam Hussein may well curb the worst excesses of tyrants all over the world and encourage the people under them to rise up and overthrow them as the people did in Serbia, Romania and the former Soviet block.

    Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
    Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: "In God is Our Trust."

    Star Spangled Banner - Frances Scott Key, 1814

Are there other requirements?

   Augustine's ideas have been expanded upon over the years. In addition to proper authority and proper cause, Christian just war theory as well as common sense requires that there be a reasonable chance of success. Even if you have a good reason to attack, you cannot recklessly send young men out to die as was done in World War I. Human life is too precious, too sacred to waste.

   No problem here either. Nobody seriously doubts that America (and her allies if any have the fortitude to support her) will not be successful. As showed in both the Gulf War and Afghanistan, the wars were quickly resolved and the damage far less than the vast majority pundits had expected. America is likely to beat Iraq quickly, faster than any other nation state could wage war against any other nation in the modern world.

   The final requirement is one of proportionality. In waging a war, authorities must make sure that the harm caused by their response to aggression does not exceed the harm caused by the aggression itself. Annihilating the enemy in response to an attack on one of your cities is an example of disproportion.

   This requirement is a bit more tricky, because Saddam Hussein has not committed an act of war on America or anyone else recently, which has lead to more than let us say 1000 deaths. He does continue to practice mass-murder against minority groups and the Kurds. If America attacks a well prepared Iraq, it is reasonable to imagine they will kill around 100,000 Iraqi combatants assuming there is no internal coup. If Iraq uses its own civilians as "human shields", or soldiers fight in civilian clothing, then conceivably there could be 50,000 "civilian" deaths too. At first sight this might seem to transgress the rule of proportionality.

   Clearly however, St. Augustine as brilliant as he was, could not anticipate the creation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WOMD) capable of killing 100,000 people or even 1 million people in a single minute. When he thought up these justifications men fought with swords and the numbers killed, while thinkers and leaders pondered strategy their military responses were small. A proportionate response was relatively easy, because war until the beginning of this century was a tit-for-tat affair.

   Common sense dictates that in modern day warfare where WOMD are involved, "that the harm caused by the aggression itself", is assessed potentially, since its outcome is binary. No weapon of mass destruction used, harm caused small. Weapon of mass destruction used, harm caused HUGE.

   Now the proportionality argument changes because an attack on Israel and disproportionate nuclear response from them, (the Jews are not limited by a Catholic thinker's guidelines but operate by their own rules), could easily result in a million deaths.

   Bush and his advisors have to use the latest intelligence which he MUST keep secret, in the most part, to assess the likelihood of this potential outcome. We have to TRUST IN GOD, as the above anthem suggests, that our leaders are not going to attack Iraq if intelligence reports show Saddam is many years away from weapons capability and delivery. In another 10 years Saddam may well be dead or overthrown by his own people, allowing the potential for the problem to be solved without war by diplomatic or other means which is certainly preferable. Remember that directly after the Gulf War, UN weapons inspectors were surprised at how advanced Iraq's weapons program was. It was beyond the expectation of even the pessimists. If Saddam does not have a weapons program today then why not let UN weapons inspectors back in? He, of course, claims they are spies, but what great secrets could Iraq have that the western world could possibly want to know about apart from WOMD?

   President Bush has that intelligence and the mandate (from God) to act on it. For agnostic and atheist readers who say "ahh but no god, no mandate", I simply retort, "No God, No Rules, anything goes". It is only down to Christian principles being applied historically and luck, that you are reading this in English and not German, Japanese, Turkish, Visigothic or luck-forbid French.

   Let us hypothesize. What if tomorrow morning a spy-satellite would reveal Chinese ICBMs being wheeled out of underground bunkers in Iraq and prepared for take off. The US have no means of stopping them reliably other than an immediate nuclear attack; can the United States MORALLY nuke these locations? Yes. Do the leaders have to rush to the United Nations or US Congress for a mandate or wait till the "birds" are being fuelled up or indeed leave the ground? No. Do they have to parachute in an army of 100,000 US soldiers on a rushed mission to try and battle their way to the launch sites and so reduce Iraqi civilian casualties caused by nuking this site, EVEN if the launch-site is slap bang in the center of Baghdad. No. Do you have to send in a high speed US spy-plane from Qatar on a low level potential suicide-mission to confirm it is a nuke and not a giant statue of Saddam's mother (the mother of all battle-axes), if there is time and you have reason to doubt the images. Yes. Why to all of the above? Because you MUST, by those very same just war principles, also consider the harm that Iraqi nuke(s) could do when it hit a major city. If Tel-Aviv or London were hit and launched a massive counter-attack, at least double the number of people would be killed. By being too scrupulous you might well fail to stop this ICBM launching, whereas there is no possibility that a missile on the ground or very recently taken off could survive a proximate nuclear strike. If the blast wave didn't destroy it, the EMP would. Of course IF you could take it out with a smaller warhead, or non-nuclear bomb WITHOUT significant additional risk of failure then you should.

   Moreover, the requirement of a "reasonable chance" or possibility "of success" under these (not impossible) circumstances may actually OBLIGE you to use a nuclear weapon according to just war principles. Using a conventional weapon only because you didn't want to go down in history as "Babylon Bush the Butcher of Baghdad", would be wrong, if you believed you were endangering the lives of innocent Israelis or Londoners. You would be risking far more massive loss of life, to save your reputation. Hands up, who wants to be the next President? Now you know why we are asked to pray for our leaders.

   Similarly, proportionality has also come to mean that non-combatants must be shielded from harm. They can never, for any reason whatsoever, be targeted for attack. The history of modern warfare is characterized by "total warfare," the expansion of targets beyond strictly military ones. That's why, of all the requirements of just war theory, proportionality is the most likely to be violated, even by governments with the most just of causes. There is no problem here, other than "collateral damage" issues. A state must take reasonable steps to safeguard civilians and laser guided bombs, accurate intelligence about troop movements and other technologies are those steps.

   In 1991 only 10 per cent of weapons used on Iraq were "smart". Now that the proportion is reversed and 90 per cent are "smart", guaranteeing an equal proportion of strikes on target.

   No war just or otherwise has ever been without "collateral damage" and the steps need only be REASONABLE, not excruciatingly painful. So fire bombing Dresden was arguably immoral as was bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, (unless you take the view that the Japanese population because of their fanatical devotion to the Emperor and preference for suicide rather than surrender were in fact combatants). But bombing a wedding party in Afghanistan when the guests are shooting Kalashnikovs into the air in celebration which you mistakenly take as an attack on your aircraft is not immoral, because it is reasonable to think as the pilot they are shooting at you and armed civilians are combatants!

   The present Pope John Paul II, has placed a great deal of emphasis on the principle that nations should always go that extra mile in seeking non-violent means of resolving disputes. Still, he has been careful not to rule out the use of force. It should be added that even the Pope himself is a bystander in all this. Provided the principles of a just war are met, he can cry out for peace, negotiation, truce, reconciliation, forgiveness, sanity all he likes. That is his task and we should pray that he does it and does it well but it is NOT within his God given authority to command any leader whether King, Prime Minister or President on how to conduct affairs of state.

   But wait a minute! Isn't nuking central Baghdad to stop an Iraqi ICBM being launched at Tel-Aviv, "deliberately targeting civilians" which should never be done? No, rather it is deliberately targeting an ICBM aimed at other innocent civilians which has been deliberately placed in downtown Baghdad. Your intention is not to kill innocent Iraqis but to save innocent Israelis. You are not morally culpable for the "collateral damage", even if there is a lot of it because Saddam decided to place his Chinese ICBMs in major cities to avoid them being targeted.

   If all this seems like splitting hairs (hairs of course need to be split in war) or doesn't convince you, then look at it another way. If nuking Baghdad was not morally permissible under these circumstances, then God would have handed a perfect strategy (an Ace of trumps) to every despotic leader and a dilemma to every Christian one. God is smarter than Saddam Hussein and he must have given Christian leaders who apply these principles the ability to deal with cynical tyrants under every possible circumstance, so they don't find themselves unable to act.

   And finally there is another important principle to be applied here if we are to follow the rules of Christianity. Know thine enemy.

   You must understand the psyche of the people you are going to war with and the psyche of their leaders. While this is NOT a principle of a just war in itself, judgments about the principle of proportionality, especially given the existence of weapons of mass destruction, cannot be correctly exercised unless you consider the mindset of the enemy and how he is likely to act. The admiral who was the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack told Japan's leaders at the time it was likely to be suicidal for them to engage in that kind of warfare against the USA. They went ahead anyway, because suicide is preferable to their Japanese psyche than suffering "lack of honor", which is certainly NOT the case in western civilization. Judging Saddam's possible response according to a western mindset is a TRAP that many anti-war pundits fall into and is likely to color judgments about whether the war is just on the proportionality principle. Saddam has shown historically that his promises are paper thin, but his threats are normally bluff, (remember the "mother of all battles" he threatened us with). His is the opposite of an Anglo-Saxon mindset, where promises and commitments are usually delivered and threats, if they are made are usually carried out. He has also shown us that he is capable of genocide and using chemical weapons against his own people.

   Know your enemy. http://www.chaldeansonline.net/chaldeanews/chaldean_nun.html
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/gulf/voices/4.html http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/gulf/voices/4.html

continued on PART TWO

September 9, 2002
CATHOLIC PewPOINT commentary