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Doctrine Of War Made Easy

Gustave Dore', "Godfrey enters Jerusalem"

I have found here an excerpt from an excellent Moral Theology course. The work has both imprimatur and nihil obstat and comes – crucially – from times largely not polluted from false theology and “new times/new men/new rules” illusions, the safest indication of the heresy of Modernism.

If you take the time to read the entire piece – which, if you ask me, you should do as these questions pop up again and again in international relationships, in the media, and even at the pub – you will understand both the reasonableness and orthodoxy of this script, and the scandal that it would cause to the modern generation of wannabe pacifists; many of them, alas, clergymen.

I will proceed to mention some of the points more in conflict with modern “peace worshiping” thinking. Again, I suggest that the piece is read and understood in its entirety.

1. There is just war and unjust war.

2. A just war can be an offensive war, and still be just. It can even be a preventive war, and still be just.

3. Bits and pieces from the Gospel cannot be taken as justification for a pacifist agenda.

4. When the evil of toleration is worse than the evil of war, the evil of war can be chosen (1386).

5. To wage war a country doesn’t have to be entirely on the right side, but its right must be strongly prevalent. It’s not that the Crusades would have been illegitimate just because Christians might have had their faults.

6. War may be waged in defence of a weaker nation, attacked (say: Korea war, Vietnam war) (1390)

7. It is not allowed to wage war just to export Christianity. It is allowed to wage war to defend Christianity and Christians. “No war ever had a more legitimate cause than the Crusades, which were undertaken to defend the Christian religion against the unspeakable atrocities of infidels” (1391)

8. It extreme cases, though, war can be waged to put an end to unspeakable atrocities, like cannibalism or human sacrifice (1391)

9. It is lawful to wage war to bring peace and prosperity to uncivilised populations constantly at war with each other. It is not lawful, though, to attack an organised and peaceful country for the sake of colonial expansion. Note here the laudable use of the politically incorrect word “uncivilised”.

10. It is immoral to fight to obtain a stalemate. The only morally justified war is the war fought to win.

11. Sacred (or neutral, I add) buildings are legitimate military targets, if used for military operation. Points in case: German snipers on French tower bells; Iraqi rebels shooting from the roof of hospitals; Hamas fighters hiding in kindergartens.

12. Collateral damage is explicitly allowed (1406, 1410). “[..] it is lawful to bombard the fortifications, arsenals, munition works, and barracks of a town, to sink passenger liners that are carrying arms or stores to the enemy, to cut off food supplies from a town or country in order to starve out its troops, although these measures will entail the deaths of some civilians as well as of combatants“. However, every effort must be made to minimise these casualties.

13. “According to natural law, it is lawful to kill or wound the enemy in battle, or to starve him by blockade, just as it is lawful in self-defense to kill or wound an unjust aggressor”. This is interesting as a blockade will in practice almost never only affect combatants. The typical sieges of past ages come to mind; or the Napoleonic “Continental blockade”; or the possible (and never put in practice) blockade of Japan in 1945.

14. Reprisal is allowed under certain circumstances. “For example, if the enemy, contrary to agreement, uses poison gas in warfare, it is lawful to use poison gas against him”; but not if this is opposed to natural law: “if the enemy murders the civil population, this does not justify one in murdering enemy citizens who are in one’s power” 1417).

15. Si vis pacem, para bellum. “Reasonable preparedness is not only lawful, but a duty of the state to its own people”. (1426). This must be accompanied by a factual effort to preserve peace (1427).

There is only one article in the extremely clear and well formulated exposition which in my eyes requires further comment: article 1400, which examines the “modern world” and states that in the present circumstances only the need for survival can justify war, and the delegation of sovereign powers to declare war to supra national organisation (say: NATO, UNO) is a step which helps prevent war.

This is clearly said in view of the conditions of the times (1958), when “war” was -wrongly- largely perceived as “nuclear war” or “world war” at the very least, as clearly referenced in the words “enormous destruction of modern war”. It is absolutely clear that a relatively minor controversy (say: Italy’s claims on Istria) does not justify the potential risk of a nuclear holocaust, or of mass bombardments.

Fifty years later, we can safely say that “modern war” is in nothing different from “ancient war”; that, if anything, modern wars are more and more similar to the wars of past centuries; that the typical war scenario of nowadays doesn’t comprise mass bombardments, much less nuclear holocausts, but rather a series of intermittent, small-scale engagements with a diffused enemy either using guerrilla tactics, or operating in small units. Afghanistan, Iraq after the end of the main military operations, Lebanon 2006, Libya 2011 all follow this pattern, and it is now not uncommon for a Western country like the United Kingdom to be employed in one or two conflict stages at the same time, as it was at the time of the British Empire, without anyone fearing world wars or nuclear confrontations.

It is, though, a weakness of the analysis to identify “modern war” with “enormous destruction”. The equation was never true other than in the popular imagination, and in the Fifties many local conflicts were ongoing that didn’t justify the equation at all. To speak to the British readers, only during 1956 the British Army was involved in three military campaigns: in Kenya against the Mau-Mau, in Cyprus against the marxist guerrilla, and in the Suez campaign; mind, I might be forgetting something. War has always been a much more diffuse affair than the pacifist rhetoric wants you to believe.

My suggestion is to read this brilliant piece of moral theology; but at the same time, to always be extremely cautious every time you get the suggestion that “modern times” would require to……  change the rules. If humanity had changed, Christ would be past “best before” date.

Men don’t change, and God’s rules don’t change either.


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