Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Human Costs of War

The past hundred years have been the most war-ravaged and war-scarred in human history. The human toll has been unbelievable. Not only the millions killed in direct combat, but those killed by resultant disease and starvation. Millions of people in the middle east and other places have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in places which are often unwilling to help them.
Four countries in Africa are facing famine:
From the article:  "A potentially historic famine is also threatening Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. Far from Western eyes and far from the headlines, an estimated 20 million people in those four countries are at risk of dying due to a lack of food."  
"....these famines weren’t caused by natural disasters like crop failures or droughts. They were man-made — the direct result of the bloody wars and insurgencies raging in all four countries.
The upshot is that the current famines, unlike others in recent history, could have potentially been prevented."
"....But it’s Yemen, where 7 million people are facing starvation, that’s perhaps the clearest illustration of how war is directly causing famine... Yemen has suffered from food shortages for years, but a war between the Saudi-backed government in exile and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who control much of the north of the country has brought food shipments into Yemen to a grinding halt.
With US assistance, Saudi warplanes have destroyed bridges, roads, factories, farms, food trucks, animals, water infrastructure, and agricultural banks across the north, while imposing a blockade on the territory. For a country heavily dependent on foreign food aid, that means starving the people."

More after the break... 
Coincidentally, I came across this piece on the Commonweal site, entitled Just War? Enough Already by Gerald W. Schlabach:
If you can access it, it is well worth reading.  I will quote some of it here (I would copy the whole thing, it's not that long, but I think that's probably not kosher with copyright rules.)
Said the author:  "A year ago I participated in the Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference, an historic event organized by Pax Christi International and co-sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome. At its close, the conference issued an appeal to the Catholic Church, urging that it “re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence.” The document reflected the consensus of eighty-some attendees from more than thirty countries—lay people, theologians, religious, and priests, including six bishops—that the church must abandon its reliance on “just-war” theory"
"What is so wrong with the just-war theory? The answer lies in the way it overlooks and even undermines alternative approaches. The critique that emerged at the meeting was that while many Christians have come to assume that Jesus’ nonviolent teachings are impractical in the face of violence, they know little about the practice, power, or effectiveness of those teachings. When Pope John Paul II looked back on the 1989 revolution that brought down the Soviet empire, he did not credit Ronald Reagan or Mikhail Gorbachev, but resolute nonviolent action by ordinary people. And rightly so. Political-science researchers Maria Stephan (a participant at the Rome conference) and Erica Chenoweth have extensively surveyed conflicts around the world since 1900 and found that nonviolent resistance campaigns have been twice as successful as violent struggles."
"Why have we relied on militarism and so often ignored the power of nonviolence? Arguably, the church’s centuries-old focus on “just war” bears great responsibility. In this view, just-war teaching has distracted Catholics from learning, developing, and practicing strategic nonviolence. At times it has excused them from even trying."
Isn't it time that Catholics and other Christians stopped giving "just war" a pass? 


  1. Katherine, for many years I have struggled with the concept of war. War is horrible, senseless and a thousand other negative things.

    But I run into a wall as far as total pacificism goes when I think of Hitler. If the UK and the US and the other allies had not gone to war against Hitler, how would he have been stopped? I have never received an answer on this when I have asked total pacifists how one can stop a Hitler. I would welcome a response from those who read this site. Hitler was horrible for those in the nations he occupied. But he was immediate suffering and death to Jews, homosexuals, people with mental and physical disabilities, and the Roma peoples of Europe. Non-violence could not save these innocent people.

    I live in a community that is predominantly Jewish. About 2/3 of my immediate neighbors are Jewish. The Holocaust is not simply a history lesson, but a tragedy that touched their own families. Two of my immediate neighbors are the children of Jews who managed to escape Poland, losing other family members to the death camps. Jesus told us that love may mean laying down our lives for another.

    How do you stop a Hitler?

    1. Anne, I struggle with that same issue. Part of me would like to be a pacifist, but like you I don't know how that addresses a Hitler. For that reason I can't totally discard the "just war" idea. I do think that for something to be a just war it needs to be subjected to a much more rigorous moral scrutiny than is usually the case. War seems all too often to be a first response rather than a last resort.
      I know Jean Raber has mentioned some Amish relatives. I hope she will chime in and discuss that tradition's approach a little. Do they totally abstain from all violence as a matter of belief, or are there circumstances under which they would support "just war"?

  2. Just War theory as a Christian philosophy seems like an oxymoron. There doesn't seem to be anything in the gospels to back it up. That doesn't mean there are no compelling reasons for people to fight in a war, but to try to cast that as Christian seems dishonest.

    1. "That doesn't mean there are no compelling reasons for people to fight in a war, but to try to cast that as Christian seems dishonest."
      Crystal, I am in agreement with that. I think there are circumstances where war might be the lesser of evils, but I think of it as a choice between two wrongs, not as something we can baptize as Christian.

  3. I think the early church was very pacifist until Augustine got worried about the Vandals heading his way.

  4. PS - one guy I've followed and who has written a lot about Just War and pacifism is Jeff McMahan, the White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford (but he's an American).

    Here's one of his articles in the New York Times - Rethinking the ‘Just War,’ Part 1

  5. I've struggled with nonviolence as a life practice because it seems to be the logic of the Gospel. I can get as far as accepting hostility against myself, but I can't make others follow it. Hitler, as has been mentioned, had no moral core that could be appealed to by nonviolence. Nor, apparently, has ISIS; it will kill people if it is not resisted by violence. If I can curb ISIS by war, ISTM I have to for the sake of the innocent.