Michael Iafrate of Vox Nova states:
The Church’s views on this war are well known, and less than 1% or Catholic soldiers have the ___s to do what is right. This statistic indicates to me that few soldiers take the Church’s teaching seriously.[blanking is present in the original text]
Fellow Vox Nova author Henry Karlson concurred:
Here is a question. How many soldiers willingly said no to their commanders when Church officials said the Iraq war is not a just war? How many of them didn’t care and cared more for what their orders were? The truth of the matter is you find the soldier’s true master when they are pressed in such situations, and they go with the flow. This is the problem historically. It’s how the Nazis were able to get people to follow their evil. “Well, the Church is wrong. We are the authority.” And the thing is, people dare teach the Church moral law and argue with the Church on just wars, saying the Church has no authority to declare a war unjust. Viva nationalism.Iafrate is the same author who some time back was deeply indignant that the pope had appointed a new archbishop to the US military archdiocese, saying among other things:
The Church has no trouble denying communion to those who are theoretically in favor of the unjust killing of persons through abortion, but follows persons who participate in unjust killing [in war] around with the ciborium!Clearly, we're seeing a strong belief here that the only right choice for a Catholic soldier is to refuse to participate in any war which does not meet just war criteria. At first glance, this might seem to be an obvious conclusion. Given that people tend to think in dualities, one would at first think that any war that was not a "just war" was obviously an "unjust war", and that therefore it would be "unjust" and wrong to participate in any way.
Is that so?
This is not a new question. Shakespeare addresses it in Henry V, which remains one of the great meditations on war, leadership and soldiering in the English language:
KING HENRY VShakespeare puts the moral weight of deciding if the war's cause be just upon the king, leaving the soldiers responsible only for their own personal conduct as they render their lives up unto Caesar.
...methinks I could not die any where so
contented as in the king's company; his cause being
just and his quarrel honourable.
That's more than we know.
Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know
enough, if we know we are the kings subjects: if
his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes
the crime of it out of us.
But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at
such a place...
We have no king. We live in a fairly democratic republic, and so in some sense all citizens bear the responsibility for the state's actions. And yet, this is not a direct democracy. No one imagined in November of 2000 that which candidate he voted for would determine whether and how two wars would be waged. Nor, indeed, do any of us have any idea what Gore would have done had he been in the Oval Office during those years (though I can't help suspecting we would have seen more of the alternating indecisiveness and high altitude bombing with which the Clinton White House dealt with foreign crises.) Thus, while we as a people chose the leaders who brought us through the last eight years, we did not in any direct sense choose the course of action that our country took.
So we find ourselves, I think, with two questions:
1) Is it in some cases true that soldiers are responsible only for obedience and their own personal conduct, while their rulers are responsible for the justice of the cause?
2) If the above is sometimes the case, is it still the case in a semi-democratic polity such as our own?
At this point I think it's appropriate to turn to specific Catholic teaching. The Catachism of the Catholic Church talks about Just War doctrine and about morality in regards to military service in its section on the Fifth Commandment, under the subheading Safeguarding Peace. The quote is a little bit long, but I think it's worth not snipping at all in order to avoid any appearance that I'm cherry-picking through the text:
2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.Usually, small snippets of this section get quoted on their own, but I think it may be illuminating to look at the section as a whole. First we get the criteria that define a war as "just". We are then told that "evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good". Who are those who have responsibility for the common good? It seem to me that many different people and groups hold responsibility for it in different ways, but clearly a war can only be declared by the rulers of a country. And indeed, we hear more about their responsibilities in regards to war immediately: "Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense." And lest there should be any doubt whether these "obligations" include soldiering, we have: "Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace."
However, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed."105
2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.
Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.106
2311 Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way.107
2312 The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. "The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties."108
2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.
Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.
The catechism then moves from jus ad bellum (justice of a war) to jus in bello (justice in war) and reminds the faithful that war does not mean a suspension of the normal moral laws. Non-combatants, prisoners and the wounded must at all times be treated with fairness and compassion. It also states the limits of military obedience, "Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out." It goes on to specifically list obeying orders to commit genocide as being a mortal sin and always unacceptable. Although not specifically mentioned, the language seems to clearly say that other actions which are clearly against the laws of nations and the moral law (mistreating prisoners, refusing medical care to the wounded, intentionally targeting civilians, theft, rape, unnecessary destruction, etc.) must not be engaged in even under orders.
In this, it seems to me, the catechism is following in much the same line as Shakespeare: The rightness of the cause is the moral responsibility of a nation's leaders, while soldiers are responsible only for the rightness of their own actions.
Does this mean that it is morally right for a soldier to serve in any nation's military at any time, no matter what the purpose of the war it is engaged in, so long as he refuses to engage in the sort of personal immoral acts mentioned under jus in bello?
Perhaps not. It seems to me that there might be cases in which serving in a specific war or under a specific regime might in and of itself be considered to fall afoul of the statement about never following orders that command, "actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations." However, it seems that in many other cases, one might doubt whether one or more of the four points of just war criteria were met, and yet the cause could well be just enough that it would not be engaging in "actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations" for a soldier to obey his military oaths and go to war.
A consideration of the saints is often in order when looking at moral questions. In this case, I imagine one person who would be brought up is the recently beatified Franz Jagerstatter. Jagerstatter was executed by the Nazi regime for his principled refusal to serve in the Wehrmacht.
Jagerstatter was convicted in a military trial at which he explained that if he fought for the nationalist socialist state, he would be acting against his religious conscience. He had reached the conviction that as a believing Catholic he could not perform military service. Jagerstatter, however, offered to serve as a medical orderly. The court did not respond to his request.It seems to me that Jagerstatter would be a clear case of thinking that fighting for a particular regime at all would constitute "actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations". And, as if working directly from the catechism which wouldn't come to be for another fifty years, he acknowledged that he was "nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way" by offering to serve as a medical orderly instead. (An offer which the Nazi regime unjustly refused.)
I would tend to be sympathetic towards those who were forcibly drafted into the Werhmacht and the Nazi state's various paramilitary organizations, but regardless of whether or not Jagerstatter's path was the only possible one that avoided grave sin, he clearly provides a heroic example of principled conscience.