Monday, December 14, 2009


Dear Mr. Robert Mackey of NYT’s Blog "The Lede",

[In reference to Dec. 10, 2009 post: ‘Just War’ Theory and Afghanistan ]

Thank you for investigating the crucial question of whether this Afghanistan war is a "Just War." All war is hell, but an unjust war is morally certain to bring desolation to those who pursue it. Such a war, is and has been, the war in Afghanistan, and more so the war in Iraq. There follows a shortened version of a paper I presented at the Pax Christi Michigan yearly conference in April 2002. Most of my points have been validated by events in the past eight years of war.

For the Christian all of the nine conditions must be met without exception, and few were. A follower of Christ views war as a last ditch dire exception to Christ's new commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you." And practically, the just war theory is invalid on the surface. It’s inapplicable. In at least 1700 years of its existence, no nation's prelates or politicians have ever used it to prevent their country's going to war. In my reading of Michael Walzer's book [and other sources] at the time I wrote my paper in 2001, no historical evidence of the theory being successfully used exists. The "theory" has been and continues to be a fig leaf for the fierce violence of war. Lord have mercy on our souls.


This war first dubbed “Infinite Justice”, now renamed, “Enduring Freedom” is being called a “just war” by many secular and Christian newspapers. The appeal is to get the Churches and Christian believers behind the massive and long-lasting military operations that have just started. Those who ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” need to take a closer look, as we begin bombing Afghanistan.

First it must be said that for followers of Jesus, during the first 300 years when we were closet to His appearance in time, one could not participate in war and be a Christian. It was unthinkable. The central teaching and experience of Jesus’ life, at the heart of the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount--unmistakable--is “love your enemy.” But then an escape clause was created for those committed to making the Church just another worldly institutional power among violent worldly powers: the just war theory.

The theory has two parts. Jus ad bellum {justification allowing one to go to war} and jus in bellum {justification of one’s conduct in war once begun}. In our present situation confronting the terrorists of Afghanistan how do we evaluate the conditions for going to war? They are seven.
1. A just cause. Yes. A tragic, terrible loss of thousands of innocent civilians in the Sept. 11th acts of terrorism. But there is a problem calling this a war. Wars are declared between states, and terrorists are not subject to any national government, but only to their own ideology.
2. Must be called by a legitimate authority. There is a real question of whether President George W. Bush was democratically elected. History will be the judge. And it was George W. Bush with his advisors who declared this war--no declaration of war by Congress.
3. Must be guided by right intention--the decision to enter war. It is difficult to judge intention. One must consider the great temptation to go beyond patriotism and protection, towards power and profit, in our hugely military economic system {called by President General Dwight D. Eisenhower the military-industrial complex}. It’s planners have been searching for a fearsome constant enemy, and thereby clear mission, to rally the country against, lost and not replaced {not even by Saddam Hussein} since the cold war. The hidden, ever-possibly-present terrorist danger now shown capable of striking the homeland is perfect for those who want a blank check written to the military.
4. Must not produce more evil than the good sought. Killing people who believe that dying trying to kill the infidel is a direct path to happiness with God is unlikely to produce any good--only more believers in killing the infidel, especially if the infidel has 10 to 100 or more times the outward worldly trappings of happiness than the Taliban true believer.
5. Can only be undertaken after all peaceful measures have failed. In this case President Bush made an ultimatum on national TV: the non-negotiable terms that the Taliban immediately turn over Osama bin Ladin {amplified the next day, after the Taliban responded they might turn over bin Ladin}, and also all members of al Qaeda {are their numbers known?}, destroy all their bases, and then allow the U.S. to inspect the destroyed bases to our complete satisfaction. This was done without any recourse to legitimate international authority, bypassing the UN and the World Court. Evidence was not provided to judicial authority for arrests and detentions {as opposed to the recent cases of Slobidan Milosevic and other committers of crimes against humanity}. On the contrary, President Bush raised up the prospect of extrajuridicial killing--”Wanted dead or alive.”
No alternatives were even considered. A large UN police force could have been delegated, composed mostly from countries with Muslim majorities, to intervene and make arrests. The highest authorities of Islam worldwide could have been engaged to censure the Taliban, demanding arrest and detention by legitimate international authority of those whom evidence would show likely responsible for the criminal terrorist attacks.
6. Must have a reasonable probability of success. Even our leaders admit targets are scarce in Afghanistan and that stamping out terrorism will be long and costly. The Russians could not subdue these people, their next door neighbors, in over 10 years of bombing and shooting. We are to do better from halfway around the globe? Afghans are already poor in the extreme. They have little to lose, and salvation to gain in perpetual war. It is much more reasonable to assume that our counter-attack with all sophisticated firepower will fan the flames of terrorism all over the world.
7. It can be foreseen that the eventual outcome be the establishment of peace. That a peace treaty will be signed is beyond comprehension. There is no definite entity to declare peace {as above in #1} with either, but a collection of independent and changeable groups. A more plausible outcome would be enduring hostilities and a proliferation of terrorist organizations.

Now to consider the conduct of the war as it has been entered, jus in bellum.
1. Proportionality in the means used, avoiding force that is in excess of that needed to achieve the ends of the conflict. The means of the conflict in the “War Against Terrorism”, are already our most advanced weapons of precise, immensely powerful destruction. The makes and models are featured in many news stories, print and telecast. Can they create the minimum peaceful coexistence we should expect to result from this conflict? Can we precisely beat terrorism to death? The infrastructure our strategists are determined to destroy may be of service to the Taliban, but the roads, power generation facilities, water supplies, etc. we attack are the only means the civilians have to maintain their minimal quality of life. This may become near genocidal, as has been the recent situation in Iraq.
2. Must avoid damage to innocent parties. The Taliban militia and al Qaeda terrorists are young men who live amongst their families and communities, as much as they do in barracks. “Collateral damage” to civilians is certain. In countries this poor everyone depends on each other and lives close with extended families. No amount of food drops from bombers will make up for this loss of life.

From these nine conditions for just war in our situation we have met only one certain, just cause, and one possible, legitimate authority. The Christian stricture against war, given the words and witness of Jesus Christ, is so strong that all these conditions must be met in their entirety. One missing--no justification of the war for a Christian.

As Pope John Paul II has said, “Never again war! No, never again war which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution to the very problems which provoked the war.” We must become peacemakers, bold and creative in our conflict resolutions on all fronts, trusting in God, not our weapons, as our strength and salvation.

By Michael McCarthy PA-C
Faith Perspective on War & Peace
2714 Stone St.
Port Huron, MI 48060
810 982 2870

P.S. This structure for the just war theory is taken from the U.S. Bishops’ document,
The Challenge of Peace, and a recent Michigan Catholic article “A just war and the fight against terrorism” {from} 09-28-01. The theory itself was first devised Cicero and adapted by St. Ambrose and St. Augustine. Later it was further codified by St. Thomas Aquinas.` `

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