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

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wise War vs. Just War

Burrowing back through a chain of links the other day, I found myself on the blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education, on there I found a post which quoted a post by "a poet and humanities professor" who had written on "Why I don't 'Support The Troops'":

The phrase is a cliché & buried in the cliché are a pair of pernicious ideas: 1) That individual soldiers are without moral, existential, responsibility for their acts; 2) that to argue the Iraq war is wrong, misguided, ill-conceived, badly managed, stupid, indecent, horrifying, & damaging to U.S. interests is to somehow wish harm to 'the troops.' Each 'troop' is a moral agent & though we make certain allowances for individuals acting under military orders, one of the benchmarks of civilization is that we hold soldiers to a moral standard of responsibility. ... I hate the war & I understand those fighting it to be participating in an immoral undertaking; that does not mean I wish them harmed. On the contrary, I wish that they would come to their moral senses.
(His original blogpost is linked to on the Chronicle post should you wish to read the rest.)

Now first off, while I strongly disagree with this guy, I think there's a basic consistency to what he's saying. If one believes that the war in Iraq is clearly and obviously wrong at a moral level, than one necessarily believes that it is sufficiently wrong that the troops should realize that and make known or act on their realization. (This doesn't mean I agree with or even respect his position all that much -- but given his assumptions he's being consistent.)

Two things struck me reading this, the one following upon the other.

First off, I found myself wondering if the author supported "doing something" about Darfur. It seems terribly fashionable right now -- one of those rare occasions on which the fashion of the world seems to have things right. However, while I myself would strongly support "doing something" about Darfur, I often wonder if those who call for such things have thought much about what "doing something" would require.

Our experiences in Bosnia and Rwanda have both underscored the difficulties of intervention which does not seek to decisively defeat one side of a "situation". One either tries to place oneself between the warring parties and ends up (if one has the courage to stay put) absorbing the blows of both, or (if as on key occasions in both Rwanda and Bosnia, the peace keepers are ordered to step back when things get hot) one simply ends up herding all the victims into one place and thus making them easier to wipe out. Nor did the approach of high-altitude-bombing-as-peacekeeping seem to be very successful, unless someone out there considers bombing the Chinese embassy a success...

If we were to intervene in Darfur and be any use, we would essentially have to do the same sort of thing we're currently engaged in doing in Iraq: try to identify the small bands of bad guys causing trouble and then kill or capture them. Why exactly would doing this in Darfur be so much more PC than doing it in Baqubah Province I'm not entirely clear. But I do have a theory: Liberals and conservatives in our current body politic are often typified by different feelings as well as different ideologies. I think that the idea of invading a country and getting rid of its brutal dictator seems inherently "bully-ish" and "mean" to people of a sort. However, swooping into an equally foreign, sovereign country to protect the weak from the strong (especially if there are no stated political objectives of getting rid of the regime that allowed this to occur in the first place) is seen as noble.

This in turn brought to mind something about the question of when waging war is right that I've been turning over in my mind for some years. Back when I was trying to get into the Air Force Academy (mid nineties) Bosnia was still the war of the day, and not a popular one with many conservatives. The argument was not so much that trying to end the fighting there was in inherently bad idea. Rather, the claim was that going in with no clear objectives would neither serve our interests nor help the locals.

In the process of thinking that over, I tentatively came to the following conclusion: there are many occasions when a head of state (whether king, congress or president) might be wrong to enter into war for a host of reasons (unlikely to succeed, situation might be resolved by other means, none of that country's business, etc.) and yet the aims of the war itself might in fact be good, and thus not unworthy of individual soldiers' efforts.

This is where I think the author above goes clearly over the line in suggesting that our soldiers in Iraq need to come to their moral senses and refuse to serve. Clearly, one can have reach varying conclusions as to whether or not it was the business of the US to invade Iraq. One can argue as to whether the aims we are trying to achieve are worth the suffering that has resulted from the destabilization of the region. (On the same principle, one could could question whether overthrowing communism was really a good idea in some countries, given the suffering that has resulted in the power vacuum created.)

However, it does not seem to me that one can reasonably content that getting rid of Hussein's dictatorship and defeating the Al Qaeda and radical Shiite/Iranian militia groups which have been causing trouble since are not inherently worthwhile things to strive to achieve by force of arms. Without denying that there have been individual wrongs done (some of them pretty appauling) by some individual soldiers and groups of soldiers at given times, the actual things that they are striving to accomplish on the ground on Iraq seem to me to be pretty clearly good.

It seems to me that this may be particularly important to keep in mind in some of the conversations that go on in Catholic circles about the morality of the war, where the phrase "unjust war" is thrown around a lot. In the context of the moral theology in question, a war might be "unjust" in the sense that -- given proper weighing of the proportionality between suffering likely to occur, the good being sought, the likelihood of success, etc. -- it is determined that declaring war would not be a right decision for the ruler to make. However, this is not necessarily the same thing as the war actually being waged to achieve unjust aims.

This, I think, is where the changes some people have made in the weight that they assign likelihood of success and proprotionality of good sought versus suffering caused have got ahead of the terminology that is traditionally used. And I think it would be a good thing for people to keep in mind in regards to such debates.

1 comment:

CMinor said...

Well said!