Sunday, October 17, 2004

In the Name of Justice

Blogger Derek Melleby relates the following encounter with a friend:

Recently I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is working on his Ph.D. in religion from Temple. Currently he is working on focusing his dissertation topic and much of his reading and thinking has been around democracy and religion. What is interesting to him (and other writers in this field) is how nations become "religions." To illustrate this he asks students in his undergraduate classes if they think people should kill others, or go to war in the name of Jesus. In other words, should Christians attempt to conquer the world, by violent force, for Christ? All of the students say "no," we shouldn't kill others in the name of any religion, particularly in the name of Jesus. But then he asks, "should we kill, go to war, in the name of democracy?" Or, in the name of America? Why is it that it is easy to say "no" to killing in the name of Jesus, but harder to say no to killing in the name of a political ideal, or a country? I know the question is simplistic, and doesn't do justice to all of the angles when thinking about war from a Christian perspective, but it does raise interesting questions about how we understand our faith in Christ, and our relationship to America.

Derek raises the question but leaves it for his readers to answer. He's correct that the question is simplistic and doesn't directly relate to the conflicts in which we find ourselves engaged as a nation. Nevertheless, to the extent that there are Christians who really would find one question harder to answer than the other, it should be addressed.

The short answer to the query is that we should never go to war "in the name of" Democracy or America. We should, however, be prepared to go to war for Justice. Justice may entail defending ourselves and our families, or it may entail defending others who are threatened and oppressed and who live in fear and deprivation.

Justice is a necessary condition for going to war, but it may not be a sufficient condition. There may be times when a war is justified but not wise. If, for instance, success is doubtful then, even though there might be just cause for waging war, actually doing so may be unwise.

The Bible, which is the Christian's guide to faith and morality, does not proscribe war. It calls evil the motives for which most wars are fought: avarice and the lust for power and blood. The protests against the Iraq war often tried to focus on this point. The protestors argued that we were going to war to slake our greed for oil, a claim which is absurd on its face. If it were oil we wanted we could've invaded Saudi Arabia or Kuwait with a lot less trouble. The Bible repeatedly calls upon us to do justice in the world, and there may be circumstances in which doing justice entails the use of deadly force. In such cases war may be a Biblically and morally legitimate option.

The question posed by opponents of the Iraq war - if invading Iraq was justified why didn't we invade Iran or North Korea which are also threats to peace - is both disingenuous and foolish. Disingenuous because the critic knows that if invading Iraq was justified then whether we invade other countries has nothing to do with the rightness of invading Iraq, and foolish because it demands that we do everything all at once.

Invading Iraq was both justified and wise. It delivered 25 million people from a most brutal oppression, it eliminated a major abettor of terrorism and a future threat to peace in the region and the world. It was wise in the same way it would have been wise to have acted preemptively against Hitler before 1938, rather than waiting until he had amassed the strongest military on the continent. Moreover, by attacking Iraq and disposing of the most powerful army in the Arab Middle East in a matter of weeks other countries, such as Libya, which might be considering emulating Saddam's example of pursuing WMD were put on notice that they would do well to reconsider.

There is something of a myth circulating among people who talk about these issues that war should always be a last resort. The truth is that war must never be a last resort. The last resort is to surrender or to do nothing that is effective in relieving an injustice. Making war a last resort is code for never making war at all. Those who say, as Senator Kerry has in the current campaign, that George Bush did not make war a last resort are really saying that as long as the other side is willing to "negotiate", as long as there is a glimmer of hope that they are prepared to concede here or there, as long as they haven't actually attacked us, as long as we can't prove they're going to attack us, as long as .... but this is to keep putting off ending a threat until the other side is so powerful that he makes ending it impossible. It is precisely the lesson Neville Chamberlain learned in the 1930s, and as the Duelfer Report makes clear, it was Saddam's strategy throughout the last thirteen years.

No, we should never fight a war in the name of "Democracy" or in the name of "America", but we should be prepared to fight in the name of Justice. Pacifists argue that war is by its nature inherently unjust, but it is hard to see how this could be so. How is it unjust to rescue people from evil? If, in the course of rescuing a nation, innocent people are accidentally killed does that tragic fact make the rescue of the nation unjust? Were the passengers aboard the hijacked plane which crashed in Pennsylvania wrong to use force, perhaps even deadly force, certainly force which resulted in the deaths of innocent passengers, to save the intended victims in Washington, D.C.?

The pacifist argues that war violates the principle of loving one's enemies, since it entails the deliberate killing of those enemies, but love for one's enemies must be tempered with love for all people. With deep respect for those who consider themselves pacifists and who strive to understand the Bible's teaching on war and peace, it must be said that pacifism is not always an expression of Christian love.

It is not love to see, as in Iraq, your fellow man living in fear, having his children tortured in front of his very eyes, being forced to watch his daughters scream in horror as they are being raped and horribly abused, watching helplessly as his children starve because the oppressors won't let them have food, and ultimately finding himself being tortured and murdered - it's not love to see all this and refuse to do anything more to alleviate the awful suffering of these people after peaceful attempts to end it have met with failure. To be able to end the horror through force, but to refuse to do so because it is believed that it is wrong to kill the people who are responsible for it, is perverse. To be able to end it and to refuse is the exact opposite of love.

What, one wonders, would be the pacifist response to a Beslan here in the United States? Would the pacifist counsel that we negotiate endlessly while the hostage children are delirious with thirst? And when the negotiations come to naught, what then? Give the terrorists whatever they want? Refuse to yield to their demands and stand by and watch as they murder our terrified children one at a time? Do nothing because we don't want to be responsible for the deaths of the terrorists and because the use of deadly force might also inadvertently cause the deaths of some of the children?

There are times in the course of events when the demands of justice and compassion, honor and prudence, come together and make the use of force both necessary and right. God grant us the wisdom to recognize when force is justified and wise, and when it is not.