3. The Problem of Just War & the Image of God in Man
St. Augustine, arguably the most influential Christian mind in Western Civilization, established a “just war” theory based on several specific conditions. Those conditions, further codified by the Catholic Church, have served to guide Christian thinking about war for centuries.
- The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain (that is, war should never be the result of “potential” damages or threats)
- All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective (peaceful diplomacy and appeals must be exhausted)
- There must be serious prospects of success (no endless or objective-less wars, no wars that cannot be won)
- The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power as well as the precision of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition (Collateral damage and civilian casualties must be kept to a minimum; the response of war should be proportionate to the threat).
In a 1996 interview, Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes questioned then Secretary of State Madeline Albright about U.S. sanctions against Iraq which cut off major supplies of food and medicine to the nation. Stahl asked, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”
During the first Iraqi War, seven out of the eight dams used at Iraqi water treatment plants were destroyed by American forces, an admitted strategy going into the war, used to ensure “postwar leverage.” Once the war was over, the sanctions against Iraq continued – this time bringing about rampant disease caused by untreated water.
BBC News reported, in 2010, that doctors in Fallujah had seen heart defects in infants at rates “13 times that of Europe.” The phenomenon began after the concentrated U.S. attacks of 2004 known as the Fallujah Offensive, with doctors in the area noting an increase of infant heart defects from about one per month to one per day after the offensive ended.
There are multiple reports, including some from soldiers who took part in the Fallujah Offensive, that indicate the U.S. used white phosphorus chemical weapons against civilians in the city. Following the attacks, the corpses of Iraqi children killed were found with high levels of white phosphorus burned into them.
But, even with an estimated 597,000 children killed through brutal sanctions, 600,000 more Iraqi citizens killed in the current war, and the loss of over 16,000 American and Iraqi military personnel, conservative Evangelical support for the wars and pro-war candidates has remained firm.
The 1990 sanctions placed on Iraq were supported by “pro-life” President George H.W. Bush, whom Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported in both of his presidential elections. When George W. Bush argued for the need to enter Iraq in 2003, he did so with overwhelming Republican support and, though none of the stated justifications proved true (no “weapons of mass destruction,” no connection to 9/11, no verifiable sponsorship of terrorism, and no mention of how evil Saddam Hussein was before the war began), over 60% of Evangelicals supported his reelection.
The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were an easy sell to Christians, because the U.S. government billed them as wars against “Islamic terror” and the “jihadists.” President George W. Bush, in his speech following the attacks on 9/11, said “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” By combining the danger of Islamic violence with the claim that American freedom was targeted, the government ensured it would have no trouble rallying Christians around the call to war. And although Al-Qaeda clearly stated its motives for the attacks on 9/11 – U.S. occupation of their lands, building bases on their holy sites, and the violation of their national sovereignty by the U.S. – the government’s tale has taken root and Christians certainly seem to believe it.
But, what about the practice of “just war” that Christians have historically seen as so important? The invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and there were no weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, Iraq did not have the military capability of invading America. The war began with no clear mission and the civilian and collateral damages have been massive. In other words, there is no “just war” taking place in Iraq.
American Christians love to proclaim that their country was founded as a “Christian nation” upon “Christian principles.” Yet, the history of America is, sadly, a history of near-constant war – the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the American-Indian War, the War Between the States, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the War on Terror (Iraq, Afghanistan, Philippines, and Pakistan). It should be noted that even this list is not exhaustive. Even now, some Republican presidential candidates are calling for “military intervention” in Iran and North Korea as well as sanctions on Pakistan that mirror those imposed on Iraq.
Conservative support, and therefore Evangelical support, for war has been so consistently high that David Brodner of The Washington Post, one of the more well-respected journalists in recent history and 400 time guest on Meet the Press, argued that starting a war with Iran would be the surest way for Barack Obama to garner conservative support, help the economy, and save his presidency. And, while such a crass admission is troubling, is there any real argument against Brodner’s assertion? Republicans have shown a great love of war and Evangelicals have shown great love for Republicans, their war policies included.
It could be argued that Evangelicals have little or no choice in the matter: either vote for a Democrat who supports abortion or a Republican who supports war. But, this is a false dilemma and that is shown by the deafening silence with which the Evangelical community has treated the current wars. Where is the outcry against the massive numbers of civilian casualties? Where is the outcry against starving children and calling it “sanctions”? The Evangelical community cannot claim they have no option when they have never demanded one and, more tragically, have never seemed to think they needed one.
American Evangelicals rightly sound the alarm over abortion, mourning the deaths of 50 million American babies, and holding that the “sanctity of human life” must be preserved. But, how does one maintain that the child in the womb is to be protected while remaining silent for the 2-year-old in Iraq starved to death by American sanctions or killed by American chemical weapons? Where is the Moral Majority gathering to picket that?
How does one maintain both a “pro-life” and “pro-war” position? How are the followers of the Prince of Peace so given to war? If the peacemakers are the “sons of God” (Matt. 5:9), then where are the sons of God?
The question must be faced, no matter how unnerving: Does the Christian pro-life movement really believe in the sanctity of all human life or just the sanctity of unborn American babies?
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it…He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
– (Isaiah 2:1-4)