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

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Just War That Will Never Come

Neither Benedict XVI nor John Paul II have been hesitant to assert that they don't approve of the Iraq War, and that they would much rather see peaceful means used to resolve the troubles in that perpetually troubled region. This has led some Catholics in the anti-war camp to start loudly demanding to know when those Catholics who support the war (of which for the record I am one) will make themselves obedient to "the clear teaching of the magisterium on the Iraq War".

I think that one point that is worth making in this regard is as to what can be a magisterial teaching, versus what can be an individual (however well informed and wise the individual may be) prudential judgement. The Church has a set of magisterial teachings regarding the relations between nations and the nature of just war. However, judgements as to a particular war are necessarily not magisterial in and of themselves. They are applications of magisterial teachings.

However, looking at the Vatican's record on the conflicts of the last fifteen years, it looks to me like recent popes' judgements on specific wars primarily stem from a development in their basic assumptions that serve as inputs in making an analysis of whether a war is just. I suspect that this goes back as far as World War I, but since I know more about the events I've been around for, I'd like to particularly take a look at the first Gulf War in 1991.

You would think this would be a pretty basic moral judgement in regards to just war. A larger country with a rather infamous dictator announces that it is going to enforce it's long-standing territorial claims against a much smaller neighbor and invades. The allies of the conquered country first issued ultimatums, then build up military forces, then finally expel the invader. All done in a highly multi-lateral fashion with the blessing of the UN.

However, John Paul II spoke repeatedly against any attempt at a military liberation of Kuwait. I'm not saying that John Paul II should have been going medieval-papacy on the situation: hurling forth excommunications and interdicts and demanding that all able-bodied men take up cross and sword and go forth to right injustice. However, it seems to me that the pope went far beyond simply calling for all possible diplomatic routes to be tried first, and decrying the indiscriminate suffering that has, throughout history, been caused by war. His statements seem strongly to suggest that he believed that war was simply not an acceptable solution to the problem period -- that trying more diplomacy would always be preferable even if months dragged into years and the likelihood of success approached even closer to zero than it already was.

But if it is possible, though force of arms, to expel an invader from a conquered country quickly and decisively, and yet that situation does not meet just war criteria, one is left to wonder: what does? If even expelling an invader is not just, it starts to suggest that no war could ever be just.

Now, I don't actually think that John Paul II (and Benedict XVI following in his footsteps) was a pacifist in the sense that he literally believed that war was in itself never just and could never be morally waged. However, I do think that he held a position which approached de facto pacifism in that (perhaps quite rightly given his life experiences in Eastern Europe in WW2 and the Cold War) he weighed the negative effects even of success in war as being so great that no real world situation was ever likely to justify them in a just war analysis.

Recall that two of the elements in just war morality, as in self defense, are likelihood of success and proportionality. Thus, if one weighs the likelihood of "success" (as in, producing a result any more just than the current situation) as near nil, and the suffering caused in the process as near infinite, then clearly you're never going to find in favor of military action in any given analysis.

Now honestly, I think it's probably a good thing to have our religious leaders holding us back from war rather than urging us on. If our religious leaders were cheerleading military action, who exactly would tell us to think carefully about the suffering about to be unleashed?

And yet, I think that before someone declares the pope to have made the only possible Catholic analysis of the justice of taking military action in a given circumstance, it's important to remember that (based on his experiences living in Eastern or Central Europe during the 20th century) he is using a set of assumptions that makes it virtually impossible to see any military action as justified.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps JPII couldn't help but see Kuwait as Poland in World War II—a country that the West couldn't give a fig about except as an excuse to go to war and which they will gladly toss to other, equally vicious wolves if it becomes convenient.

Anonymous said...

Another point to consider: the willingness and ability of states to defend themselves prevents the vast majority of just wars from ever being conceived. If states were truly to embrace pacifism, or even a pseudo-pacifism much stronger than the Vatican's, I think we'd see a lot more invasions and a lot more wars that would've been just had the victim been willing to fight back.

Darwin said...

Perhaps JPII couldn't help but see Kuwait as Poland in World War II—a country that the West couldn't give a fig about except as an excuse to go to war and which they will gladly toss to other, equally vicious wolves if it becomes convenient.

It may be that JPII did see all the suffering of Poland during WWII as not actually achieving any political good in the end -- however, I think your analysis of the intentions of the West in WWII. It seems to me that there was a genuine desire on the part of the Allies (certainly Churchill) to free Poland.

However, rightly or wrongly, the desire wasn't strong enough for the Allies to decide to go up against the several million Soviets troops sitting on it in 1945.

I suspect the only way to get the Soviets out of Eastern Europe would have been with nuclear weapons.

NAT! said...

Okay, time to fess up that I stil occasionally check out this blog, AND that I've found the last few posts to be brilliant. Seriously. Bravo Darwin.

NAT!

Darwin said...

Don't worry, Nat. I won't tell anyone.

It can be our little secret.

(Just play nice next time I offend you...)

Rick Lugari said...

It seems to me that there was a genuine desire on the part of the Allies (certainly Churchill) to free Poland.

However, rightly or wrongly, the desire wasn't strong enough for the Allies to decide to go up against the several million Soviets troops sitting on it in 1945.


Yes, Churchill was definitely concerned about Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe - but apparently the only one of the big three. Unfortunately, it wasn't the thought of going up against Soviet troops in Poland that was the issue - to his eternal shame, FDR had already forsaken those people to Stalin at the Yalta Conference.

Donald R. McClarey said...

"Perhaps JPII couldn't help but see Kuwait as Poland in World War II—a country that the West couldn't give a fig about except as an excuse to go to war and which they will gladly toss to other, equally vicious wolves if it becomes convenient."

Doubtful. If he thought that he was an idiot, and the Pope was actually quite a thoughtful man. I think the truth is that he had simply become close to a pacifist by that time. The fall of Communism in the eighties without a shot being fired, and the whole process starting in Poland, convinced the Pope I think that war was no longer necessary and that all problems could be solved peacefully. He was wrong in this belief unfortunately, but it was a noble hope.

NAT! said...

Darwin,

You have my word.

NAT

Nancy said...

Then why did JPII not oppose the war in Afghanistan? That's one little fact that doesn't seem to get much play in the discussion.

And if my memory serves me correctly, he also tried to push the international community into action in places like Rwanda.

Donald R. McClarey said...

"Then why did JPII not oppose the war in Afghanistan?"

Nancy, did the Pope or the Vatican make any comments on the war in Afghanistan? I can't recall any comments pro or con but I could easily have missed it.

Darwin said...

I'm not clear if John Paul II made any official statements on Afghanistan.

I do recall that he supported a multi-national peace keeping force in the former Yugoslavia, as well as peace keepers in Rwanda and other places. However, I don't think the he saw deploying peace keepers as being a "war" situation, since they're not supposed to actually go anything other than stand between the two sides.

CMinor said...

Thanks for the analysis, Darwin--
yer keepin' me sane. Really.

Winnipeg Catholic said...

I see what you are saying. It is well said. But it is hard to listen to conservatives when they start talking about teachings that are just too hard to follow. We liberals have admitted to having trouble balancing pragmatism and magisterial teachings since forever. So I took a blurb or two from your post and changed "war" to "condomistic sex act" changed a few other words around, and you sound a whole lot like a typical dissenter liberal ... like me.

Darwin said...

WC,

You might want to take a closer look at the words you moved around, or else your understandings of the Church's relative positions on birth control and war. The Church teaches that birth control in inherently disordered and is never permissable in any circumstances. On the other hand, the Church teaches that war (like capital punishment) can be just given certain circumstances. The development of late is that many have begun to think that those circumstances are so difficult to meet that it is virtually impossible for war or capital punishment to be just -- but only virtually, not certainly.

I'm not saying that the Church's teaching on war is "just too hard to follow". I'm saying that given that it relies on an analysis of factors such as the likelihood of success and the proportionality of means and ends, it admits to varying analyses.

If you want to bring sex into it, it's more like decided what exactly constitutes "grave reasons" for using NFP to put off having another child.