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A Just War or Just a War?

Continuing the analysis of the 9/11/01 terrorist attack on America....

From the LA Times, 9/30/01:

Catholic Church Debates 'Just War'

Religion: Leaders, including the Vatican, give mixed signals about how far a U.S. response should go.


ROME — In the 16 centuries since St. Augustine spelled out the concept of the "just war," the Roman Catholic Church has often assumed the role of its custodian, trying to guide the use of force according to Christian ethics. Last week, as the United States mobilized for war on terrorists, the Vatican weighed in with two distinct voices.

Pope John Paul II told an audience of Muslims and Christians in Kazakhstan that the terror attack on America, which has been blamed on Islamic extremists, must not lead to "a deepening of divisions" between the two faiths. "I beg God to keep the world in peace," he added.

The next day, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls made it clear that the Vatican would understand if the United States decided to use aggressive means of "self-defense," as long as they were "proportionate to the threat" and did not harm innocent people. He insisted: "The pope is not a pacifist." The bottom line is that the Vatican, which opposed the 1991 Persian Gulf War and criticized the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, appears ready to give its blessing to a limited strike against terrorists. But the mixed signals indicate that Catholic moral debate over such a campaign is only beginning.

Some leading cardinals have joined the pope in emphasizing the horrific consequences of war.

"It is an extremely serious risk," said Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the archbishop of Milan. "I hope the Americans understand that."

Others have stressed the need for some kind of response. "Something has to be done, or else we will all become hostages of these terrorists," said Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top ecumenical official.

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Catholic bishops conference, has told President Bush that the country has "a grave obligation" to defend itself, as long as military action is restrained by "sound moral principles . . . of the just-war tradition." But the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing 80,000 nuns in the United States, has urged Congress to work for peace "without resorting to violence."

Bush is attuned to this debate, church officials say. His ambassador to the Holy See, former Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson, is reading up on just-war theory, ready to press the administration's case here on moral grounds.

Catholic teaching holds that war may be declared if the cause is just, if it is led by a legitimate authority and not guided by revenge, if the results do not produce more evil than the good sought, if it is waged as a last resort, if there is a reasonable chance of success, and if the goal is peace.

A war that meets these requirements must, once under way, avoid excessive force, the teaching says, and seek to avoid damage or death to innocent parties.

The latter requirement gained force in recent decades with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the church became more reluctant to justify any use of force. It opposed the U.S.-led invasion and bombing of Iraq on the grounds that the possibility of a negotiated Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait had not been exhausted.

On Kosovo, the Vatican reacted to Serbian atrocities against ethnic Albanians with a just-war scenario, saying it could support armed police intervention to stop the slaughter. When NATO decided to bomb Serb forces instead, however, the Vatican protested the cost in civilian lives.

The Sept. 11 attack confronted the Vatican with a similar horror that cried out for a response. But the Vatican's tentative support for a forceful response could vanish if the United States, in its view, violates the just-war standard.

Many Catholic ethicists in the United States agree that these standards are a useful way of judging Bush's campaign.

"Without such criteria and their advocacy, the 'fog of war' will lead U.S. actions to emanate from [a] legal and moral carte blanche," George A. Lopez, director of policy studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, wrote in the current issue of America, a leading Jesuit magazine.

But because this is a war against a hidden enemy, not a state, the just-war standard is under strain.

In confronting terrorists, some theologians argue, just cause cannot be limited to repelling aggression but must allow for preemptive military strikes. Others warn that those making such strikes must resist the argument, made by Bush, that nations supporting terrorism must be treated the same way as terrorists.

Since the U.S. government has stated that a number of countries support terrorist groups, it could quickly be at war on many fronts. Such a conflict would not have the likelihood of success required by the doctrine, said Father Drew Christiansen, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington.

Many Catholic theologians say they could support a surgical strike aimed at capturing Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the terrorist attacks, but not a massive bombing campaign that would cause civilian casualties.

Theologians are split on whether just-war principles make it permissible to kill Bin Laden while trying to bring him to justice.

Father John Langan, a Georgetown University professor who has advised the U.S. military on the morality of war, said that by their nature wars muddy the doctrine's moral dictates.

Pacifists make the same argument to reject war, even when fought for a just cause. Mary Lou Kownacki, a Benedictine nun and co-founder of Pax Christi USA, said that no major armed conflict today could satisfy the just-war tradition's criteria for avoiding civilian deaths.

Kownacki supports such nonviolent methods of fighting terrorism as freezing terrorists' bank accounts.

Pacifism has grown as a legitimate Catholic position, along with the just-war doctrine, since the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Pacifist thinking was widespread in the Vatican during the Gulf and Kosovo wars. John Paul's repeated appeals for negotiations drew crowds of pacifists to St. Peter's Square for his weekly addresses. They plastered Rome with posters of his warning: "War is an adventure with no return."

The pope could again become a rallying point for Catholic pacifists. While denouncing the Sept. 11 attacks as "unspeakable horror," he has urged the United States "not to give in to the temptation of hatred and violence" and made no mention of just-war criteria.

Vatican watchers say the pope embraces just-war theory but cannot espouse it publicly without undermining what he feels is a more important goal—cooling religious hatred in the wake of a mass slaughter motived by radical Islam.

Moderate Muslim leaders around the world say they would support a just war against terrorism, using Islamic criteria similar to the Catholic standard. But any talk of such a war from the Vatican "could undermine the pope's effort" to ease religious tensions and help justify "another form of terrorism" by U.S.-led forces against Muslim countries, said Din Syamsuddin, head of Indonesia's supreme body of Islamic organizations.

"John Paul does not believe that his role is to conduct a review of the criteria for legitimating a just war and then give a pontifical blessing to the use of armed force if those criteria have been met," said George Weigel, author of the papal biography "Witness to Hope."

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

Rob's comment
Judging by Pope John Paul II's strong stand against war and violence, I'd say he is a pacifist. As was Jesus, of course.

This war arguably fails the "just war" standard on several counts—most noticeably on the "waged as a last resort" count. Bush never gave peace a chance and intended to go to war from the beginning. War was his first and only resort, not his last one.

Related links
Terrorism:  "good" vs. "evil"
Winning through nonviolence
Violence in America
America's cultural mindset

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