Friday, July 21, 2006

Just War?

I hesitate to write this post because I am pitifully lacking in the detailed knowledge of the many complicated political issues in the Middle East. So this is a first hack at my theological response to the recent violence between Israel and Lebanon, and I reserve the right to refine my thoughts.

According to Just War Theory in order for a war to be just it must be defensive first and foremost. The recent actions between Israel and Lebanon suggest to me that Israel does feel the need to defend itself. As defense is the first requirement of a just war, the war in Iraq becomes more hazy. Many try to define the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as an act of aggression that we must defend ourselves from. While I agree that 9/11 was a horrific and tragic day and definitely an act of aggression, cruel and inhuman aggression, the connection between 9/11 and Iraq has never been established well enough for my comfort. It is this aspect of just war theory(defensive action) that the Bush Administration was appealing to in stating (falsely) that Iraq posed a serious threat to the U.S. Just War does allow pre-emptive strikes in cases of extreme threat. Now of course, lacking proof of threat, we are engaged in a war to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq, but that does not meet the requirements of Just War theory. Apparently few care about that.

Getting back to Israel and Lebanon; Just War Theory goes on to state that a defensive war is justified given that fact that the action 'outweighs the risks and losses of war.' This is where just war theory breaks down in my personal opinion. Since our own Civil War this matter of weighing the losses of human life and natural resources, and choosing other means of finding justice given armed conflict resulting in too great a loss, has been all but forgotten. For details on this see On the Altar of the Nation: a Moral History of the Civil War by Harry Stout. Quoted in an article from the NYTimes and printed in the Providence Journal the Israeli defense minister, Amir Peretz says, 'We have no intention of occupying Lebanon, but we also have no intention of retreating from any military measures needed. Hezbollah must not think that we would recoil from using all kinds of military measures against it,' (emphasis added.) Just war theory goes against just this kind of thinking... any measures needed, all kinds of measures.' A just war not only looks at the gross affront to the attacked nation, but to the losses that will be sustained on both sides, and is supposed to weigh losses as well as gains. According to this same article over 300 people have been killed, largely civilians. 'Any military measures needed,' leads to civilian casualties and deaths (you can call it the wonderfully sanitized 'collateral damage' but it is still a child, someone's mother or grandfather.) This is a direct violation of Just War in my opinion. Over 300 largely civilian casualties cannot and must not be an acceptable risk and loss in war.
What is the alternative? Well, I admit that here is where my knowledge runs short. Unfortunately our modern world has become so used to the idea that violence is the quickest, easiest, and only cure for social ill, even I have a hard time coming up with an alternative. Jim Rice the editor of Sojourner Magazine has a piece entitle 'New War in the Middle East' in which he discusses non-violent options. You have to sign in to read the piece, but it costs nothing and only takes a minute and I highly recommend it to you.
Stubbornly though I hang on to my main point. Regardless of my own lack of a viable option, as Christians we must take an ethical stand against violence as an acceptable social method. We may not have any great ideas or answers, but to fall back upon violence and the destruction of human life as the only answer never lifts up the best of humanity, it only sinks to the least of who and what we are. It does not honor the Imago Dee in ourselves or 'the other,' and therefore we need to wean ourselves from this addiction to violence. That recovery program 'Violence Anonymous' will be painful, but so is it painful to read about the stacks of bodies that are building up in the hospitals in Lebanon, bodies of children. How much more painful to be the mother or father who must claim their now dead child.

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