The traditional "Just War" teaching of the Catholic Church has never been intended to promote war but to prevent or
impede it. It is not a matter of "justifying" war. It is a matter of spelling out the conditions under which a nation may
legitimately go to war, if all peace efforts have failed, and the moral principles which must be observed in the conduct
of the war itself.
I know of the situation in Kosovo and its surroundings only from the media and from a few eyewitnesses. I have
obviously been privy to no high or low-level conferences with any authorities in NATO or in our own government. But
from what I have been able to discern, it is enormously difficult for me to feel assured that the prosecution of this "war"
meets the requirements of "Just War" teaching. I prescind completely from imputing motives to anyone in government.
I merely try to weigh the same basic information available to everyone in the United States against the conditions
required to "justify" a war or any serious armed conflict. Those conditions are not highly complex or exotic. They are spelled out with remarkable brevity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I present them here so that no one need accept my opinion about the current conflict, but may weigh what is reported against what is printed below, then make
his or her own judgment in conscience.
Avoiding war: 2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and
injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine
Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.
2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.
However, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence
and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed."
2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a
decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
· the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
· all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical and ineffective;
· there must be serious prospects of success; · the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the
evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have
responsibility for the common good.
2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.
Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If
they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of
2311 Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way.
2312 The church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. "The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties."
2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.
Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that
command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination
of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that
2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a
crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation." A danger of modern warfare is that it
provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons - especially atomic, biological, or chemical
weapons - to commit such crimes. [2307-2314]
In my judgment, it simply will not do to argue, as many sincere people have been arguing, that one must not permit
tyranny to prevail, or that one must come to the defense of those being brutalized. Nor will it do to argue that Kosovo
is, in minuscule form reminiscent of the Holocaust. Nor is the issue the huge number of refugees, homeless and other
displaced persons. Nor is the question one of a barbaric threat to all of Europe. Every such argument may be valid, but
does any one of them, or do all the arguments collectively justify the bombing? What is happening is horrifying and
barbaric, and only the cruelest of the cruel could ignore what we are reading in the press and seeing on television.
Whose heart does not weep? But for me, it is difficult to see how a single one of these issues satisfactorily answers the
question of why we seem to be virtually obliterating a country. Does the massive bombing in which we are engaged
meet the criterion that "the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated"?
Does it meet the criterion, "there must be serious prospects of success"? (I saw a provocative headline the other day to
the effect that after a month of bombing, NATO is not winning and Milosevic is not losing.) Can we say with integrity
that the kind of bombing in which we are apparently engaged includes only "surgical strikes", without serious danger of
indiscriminate destruction, including the deaths of innocent human beings?
I can but hope and pray that governments of the United States and NATO countries are seriously asking themselves
such questions. Is it sufficient to say to the world at large, "Trust us"? Is it adequate to tell us, "Sit tight; we promise
you the bombing will have its effect if we continue it for a long enough period of time"? Can "collateral damage" be
dismissed with an apology, or as a necessary consequence to the use of armed force?
Finally, while I applaud welcoming refugees to the United States and wish we would impose no limits on the numbers, are
we going to be prepared to repatriate everyone who wants to be repatriated, to help rebuild homes and other property, to
repair whatever infrastructure or means of economic production have been destroyed? Despite 27 years of serving with
the United States Navy and Marine Corps, I am neither a strategist nor a tactician, and I am certainly far from being a
governmental decision-maker. But I am a moralist. It is immoral for a moralist not to ask questions about morality. Such
question-asking may be construed by some as a lack of patriotism or a callous indifference to the plight of the refugees
and other victims of the Milosevic reported cruelties. So be it. As the United States Marines have advertised so
effectively, "Nobody ever promised me a rose garden."