Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Just War, Terrorism, and Empire

Bearing Blog as an post up asking interesting and difficult questions about the nature of just war as regards a diffused threat such as terrorism.

I've sometimes wondered if one of the difficulties in applying just war doctrine to some of our current problems is that our thinking on just war was mostly developed during the medieval period, when there was indeed a "community of nations", all based on at least somewhat similar principles, in Europe.

In some ways, our current situation seems to me vaguely like that which faced Rome in the period from 100BC to 30AD. Picture America as late republican through early imperial Rome. A large, wealthy country, only recently (last century) a major player on the world stage. Very proud of its middle class family virtues and republican form of government -- despite the fact that the ruling elite has almost entirely abandoned those ideals.

Picture Europe as the aging Helenistic world of the same era: Old, cultured, tremendously proud of its intellectual and cultural heritage, and yet producing few thinkers or artists of the level of those who came several hundred years before, demographically imploding, morally corrupt, politically Byzantine and militarily powerless.

Now, Rome felt it to be a necessity for security and stability that it begin to take possession of outlying, unstable countries and put in place stable, friendly governments there. Later, as their innate distrust of empire wore away and was replaced with an increasing need for funds and citizens, they simply started annexing outlying countries.

And, of course, there were the 'barbarian' tribes and countries outside the Roman sphere of influence. During certain periods they and the Romans pretty much left each other alone. But as they became dangerous and unstable the Romans felt that security necessitated that they fight a series of low level defensive and offensive actions -- either conquering or driving back various tribes.

How does just war doctrine deal with such a situation? Should the western world simply try to keep the 'barbarian' hordes out? Does it try to set up stable client states to keep the natives under control. (Our record there certainly isn't good.) Does it do its best to police the unstable countries at its periphery and hope that eventually cultural conquest will achieve what military conquest cannot?

5 comments:

Jay Anderson said...

I definitely think Just War is one of those Catholic doctrines that needs to "develop".

Big Tex said...

I echo Jay's sentiment. The Just War Theory was developed at a time when warfare and political climates were very much different from what we are seeing today. I had never thought about that before until I read your post.

Rick Lugari said...

Hmmm, I am actually quite comfortable with the Just War doctrine. It makes perfect moral sense, but like with many other things, knowledge, intent and will are determining factors of what is truly moral action and what isn't. Sometimes it's pretty cut and dried, other times it isn't.

i.e. a toughy would be is the war in Iraq just? The objective reality of that is only God knows for sure, because He is the only One privy to who knows what and what their intentions are.

Darwin said...

I wouldn't so much deny that just war doctrine makes total sense -- I think it does -- as wonder if some further thinking needs to be put into how it is correctly applied to the type of world we seem to be drifting back towards.

There weren't Christian theologians around at the time the Roman Empire was going though its first century growth spurt, but my impressions from the way that people regarded some later historical events (say, Charlemagne conquering the Saxons) is that there has at times been an implicit "barbarians don't count as nations" or to attempt modern terminology "failed states don't have sovereinty rights".

Now, I'm really not sure what I think about that in reference to our current problems, seeing as in many ways I do not approve of the way either Charlemagne or the Roman Empire dealt with "barbarians". And yet, I do wonder if there are certain situations where a nation (or area) essentially forfiets its right to sovereignty.

Rick Lugari said...

I guess I was looking at the whole question of, or desire for further development, as a longing for some guidance in this "different age". A sentiment I can relate to, but I think what we would really be looking for are rules of engagement, and that is not something the Church can or will dictate.

Those responsible for peoples (like W.) have to measure every action they take or rule of engagement they issue and measure those to the various articles of the just war doctrine. We can't expect the pope to develop the doctrine to the point of saying, "if the threat comes from individuals who may or may not be supported by a sovereign nation, then you can do x, if y is applicable, but never if z is present, etc."

I don't know if I make any sense, but it's pretty clear in my mind, even though I wish there were a morality S.O.P. that covered every possible scenario in detail.