Below you will find a short article I wrote for our church as America was gearing up for war in Iraq. I would change some things if I were to write it today. For instance, I would focus on Aquinas’ first requirement and would probably view an “undeclared war”, like we have now, as being unjust.
Here is what I wrote in March of 2003:
Throughout church history the appropriateness of war has been discussed and debated. The discussion and debate continues today in light of world events. The so-called War on Terrorism and the war against Iraq have brought the issue of what constitutes a “Just War” to the front of our collective minds.
Thomas Aquinas listed three articles required for a just war:
1. The country waging war must be a sovereign nation. No individual or private cohort should engage in warfare.
2. The nation being attacked must deserve it. The attacker should have just cause for going to war. Thomas Aquinas quoted Augustine on this point in saying, “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”
3. The attackers must have “rightful intentions.” This does not include revenge, “the fever of revolt,” or a lust for power.
There have been additional articles that have been accepted by Christendom over the last few centuries.
4. War must be the last resort; all other methods for peaceful settlement through diplomacy must have been tried first.
5. The good achieved as a result of the war must outweigh the evil which led to the war.
To begin our discussion, I am sure that in any conflict imaginable you may find apologists who will call the conflict “just.” There are also those who will oppose such a conflict. From the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War you will find arguments on both sides of the issue. Warmongers and pacifists will always be with us, and they are surely not silent in this period of our history.
Following Thomas Aquinas’ objections/reply framework, I will attempt to present the case that both the War on Terrorism and the war against Iraq are just.
1. Objection 1: God has promised that all who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52). God does not wish his people to defend themselves against aggression. Governments are made up of people; therefore; there is no such thing as a just war.
2. Objection 2: We are to meditate on and receive from God that which is virtuous (Phil 4:8 and 2 Peter 1:3). War robs us of the virtue of peace and is therefore sinful.
3. Objection 3: We are not threatened by Iraq since their missiles and other weapons cannot reach our shores, and there has been no link to terrorists proven. Our actions in this case do not meet the requirement that a “nation deserve war” to make it just.
4. Objection 4: The U.N. is the sovereign authority over the affairs of signatures to its charter. We are not sovereign in this instance; therefore, this will not be a just war.
5. Objection 5: There are avenues of diplomacy still open to us through the U.N. Until those are exhausted no war is justified.
Reply to objection 1:
If God had determined that war was always sinful then John the Baptist would not have given the following instructions to Roman soldiers who were unjustly occupying a sovereign nation: “Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages’” (Luke 3:14). The great John the Baptist (Matt 11:11) did not call these soldiers to repent; in fact, he told them to be good soldiers. War is not inherently sinful.
Reply to objection 2:
Jesus said that He came not to bring peace but a sword. There are times when peace must be displaced that a greater peace might ensue. We were at peace with our sin even while under the condemnation of God. God has divided us even to our very marrow (a war-like term) that we might have a greater peace. Peace is no virtue if it is simply the avoidance of conflict.
Reply to objection 3:
While some might object that we (the American public) do not have a “smoking gun” that shows Iraq has been involved in terrorism, we do have convincing circumstantial evidence that provides us with reason to believe Iraq has been providing material support to international terrorists. After the events of September 11, the bar has been lowered with respect to self defense.
Groups without the constraints of government are not subject to the same pressures of diplomacy that move sovereign nations; i.e. trade restrictions, embargos, etc. But they must have sponsors. If you or I were to finance a murder that we did not actually participate in, we would still be culpable. Nations that finance terrorism in any way are culpable for the crimes committed. We imprison individual conspirators; nations are dealt with via diplomacy or war.
Reply to objection 4:
The United Nations charter allows for the exercise of self-defense of any signatory of the charter. The United Nations is not under threat of attack by terrorists supported by Iraq. The sovereign nation of the United States of America is. We did not give away our sovereignty to a world government. We may act in our own defense.
Reply to objection 5:
In the minds of some there will always be room for more diplomacy. Neville Chamberlain said the following: “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.” Personal contact with the dictators may avail much, but there comes a time when good men must excuse themselves from the discussion to get their guns.
So, do today’s events meet with the definition of a just war? Clearly we are a sovereign nation and have the right to act in our own defense. What is not as clear in this case is whether the nation of Iraq deserves to be attacked. All the other points of discussion will find their affirmation or denial in this one point.
There seems to be evidence that Iraq has failed to live up to its obligations under the cease-fire it signed in 1991. A state of war technically exists between the U.S. and Iraq. We have not been active in our pursuit of war up until now, but the tension was still there.
We might make the case that the government in Iraq is guilty of crimes against humanity with the gassing of their own people. This does not automatically mean that other countries which are equally guilty of such crimes require invasion, but it may justify war in this case.
The president of the United States has access to information that few others posses (case in point: 2000 lb. bomb dropped on one house in Baghdad). Were there troops massing on our borders? No. Was there a blockade of our ports? No. Does Saddam Hussein support terrorists with designs on attacking our country? Those with access to information we don’t have say, “yes.” Do we trust the president?
If Saddam was supporting terrorists, will his removal establish a peace that will be greater than the peace that existed prior to the first bombs dropping? There is every chance that this might lead to more attacks in the near future. If we are removing a sponsor of terrorism, though, then we are achieving a “good” that will outweigh the good that existed prior to our war.
The last point involves rightful intentions. I do not believe we are in Iraq for oil as so many war protesters believe. It does not matter who controls the oil in the Persian Gulf since they will have to sell it to someone in order to feed their people. Are we there for revenge? Glory? Imperialism? Lust for power? The aftermath of this war will tell that story. Until then we will have to trust that our president is telling us the truth.