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Monday, April 30, 2012

Just War Theory

Just War Theory

          I recently attended the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California, as the teachers at my school do every year.  I was blessed to see some great speakers, such as Fr. Leo Patalinghug and Matthew Kelly.  One of the talks I attended was from a dynamic and holy priest from Washington whose name I have forgotten.  He gave a wonderful talk on the marriage of social justice and the new evangelization, but there was one thing he said that was a departure from Catholic teaching.  He said that he didn’t believe a war could ever be justified.  Certainly he presented it not as dissent, but as a personal prudential opinion that may be likened to recent popes’ opinions that in our day and age the death penalty can no longer be justified.

          However, I had to admit that I disagreed with this priest on this point.  I can certainly relate to his hatred of war, but I also relate to the adage, “The only thing worse than a people that is fighting is a people that no longer believes there is anything worth fighting for.”

          The Catechism makes Catholic thought on the issue of war quite clear in paragraph 2308: “All citizens and governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.  However…governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.”

          The Catechism then goes on to enumerate those things necessary for a war to be considered just.

1)    The damage faced by the aggressor must be lasting, grave and certain.

2)    There must be serious prospects of success.

3)    The evils resulting from the war must not be greater than the evils avoided by the war.

4)    War is to be only a last recourse, after all reasonable peaceful attempts at a solution have failed.

As Catholics we are also aware that the means of fighting a war must be just, not targeting civilians, etc.  We can use these criteria to put into perspective the morality of past wars we have fought, at least the reasons for going to war if not the manner in which they were fought.  For example, though the Vietnam War proved to be very unpopular, it seems to me the use of force, once South Vietnam was invaded, was justified.  Same for Korea.  Of course the very popular Mexican-American War would have a much more difficult time standing up to the test.

But what about today?  Pope John Paul II spoke against the Iraq War and although it was not a statement under the charism of Infallibility, when the pope speaks, Catholics should at least pay close attention.  To be sure, pre-emptive strikes have to be very closely considered, particularly in light of criterion number one above.

It has become clear that once again we will not have a Catholic President after the November elections, so we can’t assume our Commander-in-Chief will be well-versed in just war theory.  And he will be tested, especially by Iran and North Korea.

During the Republican debates this primary season the issue of Iran came up a lot, but not nearly as much was said about North Korea.  However, that country has recently come to the fore with at least a show of testing nuclear missiles, proving to the world what every rational person already knew, that their nuclear ambitions were weapons-based.

It has also come to light that North Korea has numerous Nazi-style concentration camps, in which dissidents and their families for three generations are forced to work until they starve to death or are murdered.

I am not advocating a war with North Korea, but it’s hard to imagine that we can comfortably turn a blind eye to Hitler’s regime reincarnate, only this time on the brink of obtaining a nuclear weapon.  There are serious, difficult decisions to be made.

It is important that we Catholic citizens of the United States become familiar not only with current events, but also with just war theory and prayerfully contemplate its application.  Our voices will need to be heard, and we can have a reasonable hope, at least if Mitt Romney is elected, that they may be.  Not that we will be making decisions of that nature ourselves, but at least that there is a serious, Catholic moral perspective brought into the debate.  And above all, let us pray for true peace.