What is a "just war"?
Friends, Brothers, Sisters,

Here's a recent exchange of letters to the editor about the ethics of war, from the pages of the North Manchester News-Journal, North Manchester, Indiana.

The letter comes from David Waas, professor emeritus of history and world civilizations from Manchester College, and member of the Manchester Church of the Brethren.

Kudos to David for a well-written letter, which is an encouragement to us all to bring our ideas and convictions into the public square. One free method of debate is the editorial page!

From David Waas:

This week the NM News Journal carried a letter to the editor from Tim Morbitzer, pastor of a church here in town [North Manchester, Indiana]. I thought you might be interested in his letter and my response:

Dear Editor:

There is much talk about the war in Iraq and whether or not we should be involved. I hate war. War is hell. However, there are time when war is necessary (remember Hitler?) History teaches us that appeasement nd pacifism do not always work (remember Neville Chamberlain?) For many Christians, there is such a thing as “just war” – a position first formulated by Augustine, one of the early Church Fathers, who is commonly recognized as one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time (Reasons to Believe, “Facts for Faith”, Issue 5, 2001, at www.reasons.org.

The “just war doctrine” is a doctrine that has shaped Western Civilization for 1600 years. It seeks to answer the question of when it is permissible to wage war. (A search under “just war” at www.breakpoint.org will provide a “Just War Fact Sheet” and many informative articles pertaining to just war. Also, an insightful article on “Can Preemptive Military Action in Iraq be Justified?” can be found.) sic I pray we do not so soon forget what happened on 9/11 and the thousands of lives that were taken. As difficult as it is at tmes, we must stay the course in the war against terrorism. –Tim Morbitzer

My reply:

Dear Editor:

In his February 23 letter Tim Morbitzer argued for interpreting the war in Iraq as a “just war” on the basis of the writing of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD). Augustine took great pains to project a powerful image of himself beyond the churches and towns where he wrote and taught in Roman North Africa. He was successful in doing so because he fully accepted the unity of imperial Roman and the young Christian church which Rome now blessed. He argued that Rome had the right to crush its enemies if certain arbitrary conditions were met. In subsequent centuries the kings and nobility of Western Europe and the emerging Roman Church gave each other mutual support to do what was necessary to strengthen themselves and in doing so frequently quoted Augustine. In that context Augustine’s argument that kings were justified in waging war underscored his popularity as a Christian thinker and his prominent role in the history of the west was assured.

It is important to note that background because “just war” is simply a 4th century theory that Christianity can validate war. It was embraced by, and gave succor to, the wildly violent medieval kingdoms of Western Europe. If you want to believe that it has validity you may, but yours would not be a view shared by many persons outside the European Christian community. One person's “just war” might well be another’s “slaughter of innocents.” After all the victors are those who declare the war “just” - not those who are crushed by a war machine.

In my judgment war is never just – war is sin. It is sin because war cannot be waged without horrendous slaughter and every war perpetuates the evils that preceded it.

Listen to what Louis de Bernieres writes in Birds without Wings: “Where does it all begin? History has no beginnings, for everything that happens becomes the cause or pretext for what occurs afterwards, and this chain of cause and pretext stretches back to the Paleolithic age, when the first Cain of one tribe murdered the first Abel of another. All war is fratricide, and there is therefore an infinite chain of blame that winds its circuitous route back and forth across the path and under the feet of every people and every nation, so that a people who are the victims of one time become the victimizers of a generation later, and newly liberated nations resort immediately to the means of their former oppressors. The triple contagions of nationalism, utopianism and religious absolutism effervesce together into an acid that corrodes the moral metal of a race, and it shamelessly and even proudly performs deeds that it would deem vile if they were done by any other.”

David A. Waas
February 24, 2005