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Thoughts on War and Peace

Lately I have been thinking about war, peace, interventionism, and such things. Obviously they are difficult to avoid in light of the ongoing conflict in Iraq, and the spectre of conflict with Iran. In Moral Philosophy we engaged in a rousing discussion on Tuesday, which prompted me to write down a few thoughts relevant to the issue. The following are quite disjointed; I make no claims to possessing a systematic Christian ethic of war and peace, or of government for that matter. Views I once felt quite settled in I have lately begun to reconsider.

1. War is never "good." There are perhaps "just" wars in that the reasons for war were just; but the prosecution of war is always dogged by ethical fuzziness and outright evil acts, no matter how just the cause may be. Passions run extremely hot in warfare, and decisions cannot be mulled over, theologians are ethicists consulted, in the midst of combat. Further, the very fact that humans slay humans in warfare runs counter to the ontology of man as created by God. Man is not intended to kill other men; the provision of war is economia for a fallen world. But war and killing, even if justified, still have a serious impact upon the human person. In the ancient Church this was recognized in the canons that temporarily barred from the Eucharist those who had taken human life in war. Likewise, other canons prohibit the giving of holy orders to any who have taken a human life, whether it was justified or not. There is a basic ontological problem encountered in the act of killing; while it may be "allowable" in God's economia for a fallen world, it never becomes a "good," properly speaking.

2. Perhaps the greatest concern I have with the so-called “war on terror” is the extreme broadness of the term’s possible definitions. When does a “war on terror” end? It is an extremely open-ended term, capable of justifying war for an undetermined and essentially unlimited period: war without end. This is deeply problematic for a number of reasons. One of these is the danger posed to the national consciousness when the state of war becomes daily business. The enormity of war is reduced to merely another item in the twenty-four hour news cycle; it has its slot alongside run-away brides and stock prices. Waging war becomes just another category on the national agenda. Military violence becomes internalized; it is everyday policy, not the occasional necessary exception. This internalization of violence goes alongside the normalization of violence and sexual depravity so prevalent in modern American society. As many have noted, the prisoner abuse scandals in Iraq were in many ways manifestations of the dark undercurrents of American life: undercurrents not very far at all from the “mainstream.”

3. One of the problems with the so-called "good wars" is that upon examination they almost always are found to have had either issues of justification, or issues with their opperation and results. For example, one grows up in America hearing about World War II as being a "good war." However, not only were some of the tactics of the Allies arguably deeply unethical (such as the mass bombing of civilian centres), but the war ended with Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, the immiment fall of China and eventually much of Southeast Asia to Communism; not to mention the extreme problems involved with having a state as brutal as the Soviet Empire as a principal ally. Certainly, one may argue that these things were unavoidable for the winning of the war; however, they remain as examples of the dirtiness and nastiness of war, and hence the extreme caution upon which a nation should approach it with.

4. Humanitarian interventionism has become rather vogue in recent years. It would seem to present a particularly altruistic justification for war. But there are problems with the idea. One of these is a problem that bedevils act-utilitarianism: one cannot know the results of an action until after those results have transpired. One may be able to predict certain results with a near absolute certainty, but with “human events” it is a much more difficult matter. History can provide a guide, to be sure, but history does not repeat itself. History is a matter of contingency, of almost inumerable variables, for it is acted out by often unstable and uncertain actors. No bureaucratic prophet can foresee with any true certainty the results of his nation’s action. This is particularly true concerning long-term results. We cannot safely predict at the present what sort of course the fledgling Iraqi republic will take: will it devolve into ethnic conflict, into a Sharia-dominated Islamic state a la Iran, or into a nation along the lines of modern Turkey- or something else entirely? We cannot know. We cannot know before taking the military action whether we will merely increase the misery and oppresion felt by the people of the subject nation.

5. Further, we cannot truly know whether or not the people of said nation desire our military intervention. Let us suppose that they truly are oppressed, and desire liberation. Would they wish for a bloody and perhaps protracted conflict to come upon them through outside intervention? Is there not a serious moral dilemna in introducing violence and turmoil through an outside force for the stated goal of uninvited liberation? This is not to question the altruistic motives of the interventionist force, but instead to confront the problems inherent in such intervention. Another problem is the simple fact that military might is often an inadequate resolution to deeply complicated issues, particularly ones in which faith, ideology, or ethnicity- or all three!- are strongly entwined into the problem.

6. This should lead us to consider what the Christian knows to be the truth about the world: the complications and evils of it find their ultimate resolution only in Christ. War is an imperfect measure wielded by imperfect governments whose operations will always carry difficulties and contradictions, as a result of existing in a fallen world. The ultimate Christian response must always be the presenting of the Gospel of Christ as the way to the true peace and healing of the world. The Church must offer into every human conflict the strange paradigm of the forgiving God, the Savior Who saves by giving up His life to the violent. While the Church need not embrace pacificism, it must strenuously avoid viewing the State and its means as ultimate or as a means of man’s salvation.


Blogger the unworthy seraphim said...

Your post reminded me of this prayer, perhaps one of the harder prayers I have ever encountered. It is hard to comprehend what grace is required to contemplate its theme much less the grace to offer it in singleness of heart. But it is definately apropos to the Christian soul in a time of great trouble. It was composed by a Russian Bishop in the Soviet era, I think around the time of WWII...the good war, as you put it.

Perhaps you have encountered it before:

Prayer for Enemies
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf. Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background. Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand. Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep. Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me. So that my fleeing to Thee may have no return; so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger; so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; ah, so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Amen

-- St Nicolai of Zica

1:21 PM  
Anonymous jj said...

thanks for such an enlightening post

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Dana Griffith said...

Albert Einstein said that there was no such thing as a good war or a bad peace...

I was driving, listening to the wow 2005 CD and started sobbing when I heard "Letters from War." I thought of how thankful I am that my neice's Daddy is home from Iraq, and was thankful to have him home for Christmas.

I thought of the phone call I got the prior day asking me to call a fellow veteran and share my story with her, convincing her to reach out and trust a caring hand that wants to help her throught the heartache she's facing.

There are evils, and beauties of our world. Would either be appreciated without the other?

Who did God love? David, a warrior king. But God didn't want him to build his peculiar. The stain of war isn't beautiful, but it is necessary at times.

Now, the current war...well...I wish we could pull out and be done with the mess. I think we should have just nuc'd them...but that's a bit extreme. Why is it our mess to clean up? No matter. We have to. If we don't...who else will? We can't leave the country in shambles.

I don't like it any more than you, but it's gotta be done. Like you... I just want it to end too.

11:28 PM  

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