Skip to comments.The case for a just war against Saddam (Irish Jesuit professor on Catholic ‘just war’ theory)
Posted on 02/25/2003 8:35:44 AM PST by dead
CATHOLIC thinking about war (so-called 'just war' theory) operates on two levels. At the universal transcendent level of ideals, the issue is simple: war is evil. Justified or otherwise, war always involves slaughter and destruction. Intentionally or otherwise, wars always kill the innocent.
Another ideal is also simple: injustice and aggression are evil. The world cannot ignore them. It is at the practical political level in particular situations that ideals have to be balanced and implemented. Moral goals include finding ways to avoid war, while being ready to fight to maintain the rule of law and deal with aggressors.
Catholic thought holds that peace and justice must be pursued jointly, that the state's duty to protect its citizens from crime extends to protecting them from foreign aggression, and that as a result war may sometimes be the lesser evil. To argue that it would be wrong to go to war with Iraq because war involves killing would be to confuse the two levels, losing sight of the practical level. It represents a fundamentalism which sees peace as simply the absence of war and as the only moral value at stake. Two of the conditions for a 'just war' are right intention and proportionality. Right intention is to promote peace and justice prudently, i.e. in a realistic political way.
The philosopher Clausewitz noted that war is meaningless apart from the political intentions underlying it. Accordingly, a government cannot have a right political intention unless it has grasped the other side's intention and is responding accordingly. The 'right intention' condition can be violated, not just by aggression, but also by a naive utopianism in denial about hard realities or by a legalism demanding an inappropriate standard of proof (the "beyond-all-reasonable-doubt" standard in criminal trials) of hostile intention before acting. Clausewitz's point also explains why focusing on Saddam's weapons cannot decide the issue. If the UN inspectors find no more weapons of mass destruction, doves will say that it proves Iraq doesn't have them and hawks that it shows how well they are hidden.
But if a lot more are found and destroyed, doves will say that it means Iraq is now safely disarmed and hawks that it proves how determined Saddam is to get such weapons. The real issue is Saddam's intention in trying to acquire them, particularly nuclear weapons.
Through 16 UN resolutions over 12 years, the international community has repeated that Iraq must surrender such weapons. To no avail: Saddam has repeatedly made it clear that he is determined to acquire them. While the UN's political determination (i.e. its right intention) has steadily weakened, his determination has not weakened at all. Given his past record of starting wars there is a well-founded fear that he intends to use those weapons someday.
Such aggressive intent must be confronted by a right intention, namely, a prompt and determined intention to overcome and if possible forestall that aggression. This can only be done by a change of regime. Unfortunately, right intention is scarce in public opinion. The 'proportionality' condition requires that the goods at stake be worth fighting for and that the suffering war brings be not out of proportion to them. The benefits gained or evils avoided by going to war must be at least equal to those resulting from not going to war.
A government must always weigh the consequences of not going to war, including the possibility of a far more destructive war later. Sanctions on Iraq are increasingly ineffectual, so the suffering they cause violates proportionality and is unjustifiable. While war now would have large costs, not going to war would be costly too in terms of greatly increased prestige for a dictator, continued repression of Iraqis, and loss of UN authority with huge consequences for future efforts to deter aggression elsewhere.
There are important values here which ought not be lost. Besides, there is a better than even chance that Saddam will go to war in the future, and at a time of his choosing, using nuclear weapons to deter UN military opposition. War would be far costlier then. It is precisely because Iraq probably does not yet have nuclear weapons that the proportionality condition can still be met.
Overall, the option that most nearly meets the proportionality condition is for the UN to go to war now, at the time that gives the US army the best chance of a speedy victory.
Seamus Murphy SJ teaches philosophy at Milltown Institute. He is a Jesuit.
I must admit, I did not expect this conclusion from an Irish Jesuit professor.
Please note that it will be the UN that goes to war but the U.S. that will do the fighting. Doesn't that speak volumes regarding the European mindset these days?
Your take is probably correct, but you could also read into that sentence the implication that any lives lost by "the US army" due to delay by the UN will be the moral responsibility of the UN.
(The same can be said of my family's dinner table.)
I was under the impression that Mr. Chomsky is jewish, and that most Jews are happy with President Bush? How do you explain his opposition?
If this is so, then war violates the Pauline principle, doing evil that good may come of it.
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