Tuesday, June 6, 2017

More on Just War

Katherine's post brought up the subject and I see that Peter Steinfels has a post about it at Commonweak - The War against Just War.

I didn't grow up, like Peter Steinfels, considering Just War theory, but when I was in high school most of my friends and I were against the war in Vietnam. In college my boyfriend was a conscientious objector. Our ideas were informed by guys like John Kerry (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) ...

And guys like Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) ...

When I became a Catholic and learned about Just War theory, I thought it was another disingenuous way for the church to get around being true to what's in the gospels. I still think that.

It's not that I think there are no good reasons to fight but I'm still pretty much a pacifist because war seems like one of the most dehumanizing events in which people can participate, even when fought for the right reasons. I've watched a lot of movies about war, looking for insight, but though almost all of the wars in the films were fought for good reasons, they were all horrific in their way. Here are some I've seen and think are worth a watch ...

- The Killing Fields ..... Alexander Nevsky ..... The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc ..... A Bridge Too Far ..... Das Boot ..... Casualties of War ..... Lawrence of Arabia ..... Enemy at the Gates ..... Black Hawk Down ..... Helen of Troy ..... The Last of the Mohicans


  1. Wars just don't spontaneously ignite. There are often pre-existing conditions that have been building up for decades. Eventually, some party seeks a military solution. The problem with just war theory is that it us unaccompanied by a just peace theory. Perhaps if we spent a fraction if what we spend on the military to establish a just peace, wars, just or otherwise, would be less frequent.

    1. I think you are right, Stanley. I have heard the saying, "If you want peace, work for justice."

  2. Well put together and timely post. I was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam era. I thought just war theory was very outdated then, and even more outdated now.

    However my approach to war is very different from those who are for or against Just War theory. Right now I have a lot of projects going (such as finishing putting my garden in). When I have time I will review what is being said now about Just War, and try to articulate how my approach is different.

  3. I think Bonhoeffer's take is more coherent than just war:
    "If any man tries to escape guilt in responsibility he detaches himself from the ultimate reality of human existence, and what is more he cuts himself off from the redeeming mystery of Christ’s bearing guilt without sin and he has no share in the divine justification which lies upon this event."
    "Real innocence shows itself precisely in a man’s entering into the fellowship of guilt for the sake of other men.
    "Whoever wishes to take up the problem of a Christian ethic must be confronted at once with a demand which is quite without parallel. He must from the outset discard as irrelevant the two questions which alone impel him to concern himself with the problem of ethics, “How can I be good?” and “How can I do good?,” and instead of these he must ask the utterly and totally different question “What is the will of God?”'
    He seems to be saying that war is never "not wrong" but sometimes charity obliges us to assume the guilt and commend ourselves to the mercy of God.

  4. I don't know what to think of Bonhoeffer, given that he colluded in a plan to assassinate Hitler - that seems to have nothing to do with being a follower of Jesus.