Notes On Just War Theory – ever just or just for whom?

claude microphone

Fr Claude Mostowik msc Convenor, Pax Christi Australia NSW Photo taken by Fr Shenouda, General Secretary of NSW Ecumenical Council.

War is obsolete.  We are not here to fight something or tear something down;  We are here to be the example of what is possible. Any sane individual will tell you that violence is … not the way…Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation:

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other [people] and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are war makers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.    

Last Thursday evening the Marrickville Peace Group hosted the film We Are Many. One person who featured a lot was Jeremy Corbyn as he opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 2015 he caused controversy, as Labour Leader, by his opposition to the bombing of Syria and the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent. Despite asserting support for the use of military forces under certain conditions he was labeled a ‘pacifist’ by critics within the government, the media and his own party. The label was used as a term of shame and insult and that he was about holding up a white flag to any enemies. I mention this at the outset because of the low regard that pacifism (nonviolence) is held in our culture: it is seen as naïve, unrealistic, dangerous, immoral, etc.

Objections found in the media, in academia, political discourse, conversations with friends and relatives and people in the street include:

  • Unsuitable for politics and society because it rejects any and all force and violence. There are in face many kinds of pacifism or nonviolence.
  • Form of passivity which means do nothing in the face of violent attack. This argument also suggests that it is dangerous because it signals weakness in the face of, and encourages, aggression. Further, it is considered immoral because it is unwilling to protect vulnerable people for the sake of a principle. In fact, people such as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, John Dear shows us that pacifism and nonviolence is rooted in a vigorous practical opposition to violence as well strategizing for a nonviolence form of politics. Violence must be resisted but not violently. The argument about weakness encouraging aggression is difficult to evaluated because it has not been tried by too many states, but we have the example of Cost Rica. It is immortal to protect some people by killing others which create the conditions for further acts of violence.
  • There is the individual attacker argument where a violent personal attack occurs the pacifist is immoral for doing nothing to protect one’s loved ones. This argument fails to understand that unlike a contained incident between a small group of people, the use of military force is a form of organised violence which requires extensive force, a supporting economic base, the construction of a violence-supporting culture (including the cultivation of enmity sufficient for the mass killing of other human beings), and in practice, the organised and deliberate killing by and of people who have no direct involvement in the dispute itself.
  • That it is ineffective when faced with overwhelming force used by an unprincipled foe. It is argued that nonviolence only worked in the past because it was employed against democracies, the experience of Hitler and the Nazis proves that nonviolence is naïve and unrealistic and so military force is the only option to stop threats. In fact, the objection that it will not work, nonviolent action does work and has a history to document the claim. Robert Holmes, the ethical philosopher says, ‘we simply do not know whether there is a viable practical alternative to violence, and willnot and cannot know unless we are willing to make an effort, comparable to the multibillion-dollar-a-year effort currently made to produce means of destruction and train young people in their use, to explore the potential of nonviolence action.’
  • That pacifism is naïve and unrealistic about human nature and the nature of evil. If we look at the record of military violence: total failure of over 15 years in the war on terror since 911 with the loss of 1.5 million people, millions of refugees, use of torture on a wide scale, terrorist attacks that are increasing and new terrorist groups being formed; since 1945 over 300 wars with 3-4- million dead; ‘the war system’ resulting in over 100 million dead, 10s of millions displaced, scarce resources spent on the military, spread of nuclear weapons……with little or no increase in security, peace, stability or democracy.

The Just War Theory goes back about 1600 years. It has not been restricted to the Catholic Church but was used, abused, by other churches and political institutions. Any talk about the Just War tradition cannot be isolation from the emerging thought and action towards Just Peace – as a way of relating to ourselves, one another, Mother Earth and our God. In 2012, the World Council of Churches published a superb document The Just Peace Companion which was meant to be used alongside another called An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace which at one point says, ‘To care for God’s precious gift of creation and to strive for ecological justice are key principles of just peace. For Christians they are also an expression of the gospel’s call to repent from wasteful use of natural resources and be converted daily. Churches and their members must be cautious with earth’s resources, especially with water. We must protect the populations most vulnerable to climate change and help to secure their rights.’ (p 12). The Just Peace Companion provided extensive direction on implementation of just peace theology and practice by comprehensively reviewing scripture, ethics, values, practices, curricula, human stories, and prayer, to embody just peace within the Christian tradition and within the reality of our world.

Pope Francis has stressed that ‘faith and violence are incompatible.’ In 2014, when addressing Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, said, ‘Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities.’  In 2015, he said, ‘It is not enough to talk about peace, peace must be made. To speak about peace without making it is contradictory, and those who speak about peace while promoting war, for example through the sale of weapons, are hypocrites. It is very simple.’  Pope Paul Vl’s ‘no peace without justice’ was extended by Pope John Paul II to ‘no peace without justice and no justice without forgiveness’ (2002). Pope Francis has turned our attention to Jesus’ focus on mercy being at the heart of ‘shalom’ and the alternative to violence. He calls war the ‘suicide of humanity’. We have to decide what God we believe in, the Dieu des armées (God of armies) or Dieu désarmé (unarmed God). But: the legitimation of war in Catholic social teaching remains when Jesus’ mission was active nonviolence seen in his engagement viagra with friends and enemies. Modelling ‘just peace’, in care for the outcast whether a sinner or a person in need of healing, love and forgiveness towards the enemies, welcoming of the stranger, as well as challenging domination by religious, political, economic, and military powers, he centred ‘shalom’ on embodying mercy and compassion. Focusing on healing and reconciliation, even with enemies, we see that we are directed towards restorative justice, i.e. focus on the wounds to relationships and how to heal.

Conditions for a just war?

The conditions of a Just War are: it must be fought by a legal recognised authority, e.g., a government; the cause of the war must be just; the war must be fought with the intention to establish good or correct evil; there must be a reasonable chance of success.

Rome Conference Catholic Initiative on Peace and Nonviolence

In April 2016, a ground-breaking and unprecedented gathering occurred co-hosted by Pax Christi International the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. At the time of the conference, Jose Henriquez said: ‘We need to go back to the sources of our faith and rediscover the nonviolence which is at the heart of the Gospel.’ A ‘just peace’ offers a vision and praxis where peace is built up as well the prevention, or defusing, and healing the damage of violence. It calls for a commitment to human dignity and thriving relationships. The goal of nonviolent resistance to injustice is to awaken humanity in every person. The conference said that it is by practicing love and not dehumanising the other that the transforming power of love and action becomes effective. The end of nonviolent resistance is reconciliation with those who have been the oppressor. Love overwhelms hate, making possible the creation of a community that would otherwise be impossible. It is not about passivity but a creative, active nonviolent resistance. The Sermon on the Mount suggests numerous responses to abuse and domination. The invitation is to be creative. All in all, Jesus is presenting an alternative way which is neither flight, flight nor accommodation. It is a form of resistance without being contaminated by the violence that one is resisting. The call is to act against domination by using our imaginations, courage and strength.

In Rome, senior Church people and NGOs (Pax Christi International and others) engaged in open conversation, not only about war but about the presence of an alternative – reflected in the appeal the participants issued for the Vatican to ‘re-commit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence.’ Cardinal Peter Turkson relayed a very supportive and enthusiastic message from Pope Francis, who said, ‘your thoughts on revitalizing the tools of nonviolence, and of active nonviolence in particular, will be a much needed and positive contribution’. Pope Francis’ letter echoed but went further than the messages of his predecessors. He wanted to activate the church of the poor, the church of the people. ‘Humanity needs to refurbish all the best available tools to help the men and women of today to fulfil their aspirations for justice and peace……..‘Accordingly, your thoughts on revitalizing the tools of nonviolence, and of active nonviolence in particular, will be a needed and positive contribution.’ The church needs a viable alternative to war… not preaching peace by righteous hand wringing. He noted that ‘It would be dangerous to identify the gospel message with this or that political program… (because)… The Christian contribution to peace must take a different path’ which lay in recommitting to the centrality of gospel nonviolence and developing practices of Catholic nonviolence and just peace. Cardinal Turkson said that maintaining the just war theory has often obstructed our attention, imagination and will to commit to nonviolent practices. Rarely  do Catholic leaders speak about or promote nonviolent resistance (especially boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, etc.) to injustice and violence; they mount little resistance to enormous military spending; little is heard from them about the need to humanise or illuminate the dignity of our enemies, whether it be ISIS or any other group.

The conference did not intend to invent something new. It was about a return to the sources – to the experience of the early church. The final statement An appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence’ called for the Catholic Church to commit in doctrine and practice to the central importance of «the Gospel of non-violence ». It was o not content to add a paragraph on non-violence within the doctrine of just war, but called into question a doctrine that has been used to condone war rather than to prevent or restrain it. We called on all ‘not to promote theories of just war’, but to ‘promote non-violent practices and strategies’.

Mairead Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said, ‘If we haven’t taught the church’s way of nonviolence, then we only leave people with two options: fight or flight.’ The just war tradition taught how to fight. The ‘pacifist’ tradition, when constrained to a point of individual conscience, often resulted in flight. She did not mention another option: that of accommodation. Jesus showed us a fourth alternative: the reign of God where we work to build an inclusive community, which includes so-called enemies, by using the power of nonviolent loving, willing-to-risk-suffering action. Instead of a narrow exclusion he called for the practice of arms-wide-open- inclusion. Just War theory does not work. Very recently again, Cardinal Turkson said that you cannot stop war with war. Just war criteria assume that a strategically applied use of violence under the right conditions will end violence, creating the possibility of peace. This approach does not work given the weapons of mass destructions available, particularly from the perspective of those on the receiving end of the of the one remaining superpower actions. Sr Matty said at the conference, ‘You [Americans] ask, can we talk to terrorists, can we talk to ISIS in Iraq? The answer is yes!……. our destiny as Christians in Iraq is not controlled by ISIS. It is controlled by the United States. ISIS in Iraq is a bunch of desperately hungry people who will kill for some bread. But if the rich people in the U.S., in Russia, in Europe stop arming them, then we will have life. We will live. Otherwise, we will die. If the rich want us to stay alive—as Christians in Iraq—then we will live. If the rich want us to die, then we will die.’

I wondered how many people heard about the Vatican conference that took place in April (2015). Unfortunately, it was largely ignored except by some selected news services. There was no mention of it on the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference website. But it was exhilarating and inspiring to be with 85 people from 35 countries and many active in peace work and human rights who were determined to move our Church forward in its understanding of and commitment to nonviolence and away from the doctrine of Just War. They came from Africa (South Africa, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya), Asia (Afghanistan, Philippines), Europe (Croatia, Italy), the Middle East (Palestine, Iraq), Australia and the Americas (USA, Colombia, Mexico) with their broad spectrum of peace-building and active nonviolence experiences. They shared their experiences, analysis and effective actions/strategies. I will make mention of some of these later. In my view, these people are the experts on our subject today. They make daily choices to live non-violently in violent situations. They have paid the price in so many ways. One from Iraq said that we can dialogue with ISIS. A Colombian priest declared that there is always scope for dialogue. A Ugandan bishop elaborated on how interreligious leaders had negotiated with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Mairead Corrigan Maguire, spoke about Northern Ireland, and Katerina Kruhonja from Croatia and others shared how they were ‘catapulted by violence’ into finding a faith-based response. US Foreign Policy specialist Maria Stephan, has shown that nonviolence was twice as effective as violence in the 323 conflict situations she analysed, and greater likelihood of producing a sustainable democratic society. Sr Matty and others are the experts that we need to listen to. She proclaimed ‘Just war is killing us! There is no just war’ – a proclamation that fell on very receptive ears. That was the aim of the conference: to listen carefully to what people in those conflict and violent situations have to say about the place of nonviolence in our church teaching. The message was clear. Just war theory is not working. What is needed from the church is leadership on strategic nonviolence and training in conflict resolution; study of the principles of active peacemaking; support for unarmed civilian protection teams; public stands against violence by bishops and priests; preaching on gospel nonviolence; and standing shoulder to shoulder with people in the streets. Together we wrestled with how we could ‘recommit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence.’ As Sister Matty witnessed members of her religious community die for lack of medical care during war, she asked ‘Which of the wars we have been in is a just war?….. ‘In my country, there was no just war. War is the mother of ignorance, isolation, and poverty. Please tell the world there is no such thing as a just war. I say this as a daughter of war.’ (Rose Marie Berger)

Not all present were of the same mind. Some, at the conference, defended the just war theory who tended to be academics and diplomats from the United States and Western Europe, maintaining that just war criteria are useful for restraining excessive use of military force by a state. But, as I mentioned already, those who came conflict zones brought a different perspective. Their message was clear: Just war theory is not working. Nevertheless, the conference was a clear summons to the church to live walk in the path of Jesus’ nonviolence and turn to just peace. It was a call to take steps to reaffirm:

  • the centrality of active nonviolence to the life of the Church,
  • to prophetically proclaim another way,
  • to commit to the long-term vocation of healing and reconciling both people and the planet – according to the vision and message of Jesus.

Outcome: An Appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel Nonviolence

The ‘just peace’ approach is not pacifism but a challenge to become a peaceful and just people/community that includes compassion, mercy, solidarity, reconciliation. Just war has been ineffective in limiting or preventing war, and more often used to ‘justify’ war by religious (George Pell and Tom Frame), political and military decision-makers (Iraq, being one example). ‘Just war’ cannot cultivate the kinds of people that imagine and engage the broad-range of effective nonviolent peacemaking practices. We have ended up with a culture that often glorifies violent actors with terrible consequences on the victims who are usually poor, weak, and vulnerable. We just have to look at one condition of a ‘just war’ that ‘The probability of success would have to be greater than the damage caused. The violence committed within the conflict must be proportional to the damage inflicted, and civilian populations should as much as possible be distinguished from military aggressors’ how this has not been achieved. Technology alone makes it impossible. In fact, the more technological the more barbaric with even less recognition that those being attacked are fellow human beings. (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria).

A Third World War in Instalments

Pope Francis in his World Day of Peace Message Non-Violence: A Style of Politics for Peace has clearly taken note of the conference message and will probably move towards that encyclical we called for.  Francis often speaks of the proliferation of hotbeds of violence in terms of ‘A Third World War in Pieces’ or ‘World War III—but in instalments’ which produces serious negative social consequences. The church stands at a watershed: Will it reject the necessity or justification of armed force? Will it counsel the state against the use of violence? Will it promote active, effective alternatives to armed force? Will it confront the evil so clearly at work in the world?

The media is filled with the deafening clamour of war echoes but we do not always consider them as such.

Do we not call it war?

  • when unruly police assault and kill young people;
  • when governments make war on the young as we saw in the recent Fair Work Commission report on Sunday and public holiday penalty rates;
  • when young people are increasingly marginalised from training and the ability to secure work;
  • when people of colour are harassed in our cities more than others because of their race and social background;
  • when Indigenous people stand up for their rights and dissent discriminatory treatment and they are confronted by a system that does not listen (nuclear waste dumping in South Australia; McArthur River mine, destruction of traditional islands in Hawai’i, South Dakota pipe line; etc);
  • the indigenous health gap is still as wide as ever and indigenous incarceration at proportions beyond their population;
  • when Indigenous people are killed and ignored when white people killed by Indigenous people is called murder;
  • when women, Muslims and gay people are vilified or branded as trouble-makers;
  • when people with disabilities do not have full access to services and venues, railway stations, use of public transport; even churches;
  • when chainsaws clear forests or assault sacred lands for mining, etc.;
  • when mountains lose their tops because of the minerals beneath them;
  • when animals are abused in chicken pens, pig pens, forests, jungles and oceans;
  • Daniel Quinn (American writer) has written that ‘We’re not destroying the world because we’re clumsy. We’re destroying the world because we are, in a very literal and deliberate way, at war with it.’ The dominant culture – the mode of social and political organisation we call civilisation – is killing our planet. Those in power would tell that the status quo is natural, inevitable, even good for society. They imply by their action or inaction that everything is fine. Mass poverty is not a problem. Climate change is not an emergency. Those who warn of dangers and problems are just ‘fear mongering’.

We can only hope that the just war theory which lost credibility, relevance and justness will actually ultimately vaporize. We need to take serious account of the unconscionable collateral damage which traditional considerations of just war theory have shielded if not deflected from public view for way too long. It seems shameful that it has taken so long for the very serious limitations of the ‘tradition’ of just war theory itself were not noticed and named, or reacted against.

‘Just war’ has been interpreted as a male centred ‘ethical’ understanding. Little wonder it has taken so long for the deficit of women’s voices, women’s critique, and women’s opposition to the spurious claims of just war. There are undeclared ongoing wars on so many fronts intentionally pitched against the humanity of women. And then of course there are all those undeclared wars against the humanity of indigenous peoples, still ongoing, readily fueled by blatant greed, racism, imperialism. Indigenous peoples have had their communities ravaged as young men eager for life chances like no others on offer, are seduced by the military myths around patriotism…..myths so dishonestly crafted and cleverly deployed so as to secure unflinching loyalty.

We need ask who is absent from the table and the public discourse and why. These absent people are omnipresent but only as unnamed, unnoticed, unmentioned as fatalities of war; there will be no impressive memorials erected for them, no eulogies, no flags at half mast, no public holidays declared. There are all those who have been and still are being brutalised, oppressed, displaced, maimed, murdered, made mad by many unjust ‘wars’ exacted upon them. There are those millions of people never named, never humanely regarded as victims, casualties, collateral damage, targets of equally unspeakably cruel acts of war, whether primarily psychologically, spiritually, economically, politically or militarily sanctioned.

There is the utterly amoral delusion where we might passively and ignorantly categorise only very specific acts of militarily supported aggression as war, and not those equally heinous politically, racially, religiously acts of inspired death dealing violence against powerless human communities. We need to draw public attention to ongoing injustice especially that which is so often ‘hidden in plain sight’ but never actually seen.

All of the public narrative pertaining to the just war tradition has been deafeningly silent on the extraordinarily brutal ‘wars’ waged and still being waged against those whose particular his and her stories are constantly being denied their proper legitimacy, are deftly and often brutally denied any media mention or worse are utterly misrepresented. There is the stark unconscionable gender and racial imbalance among the world’s political and economic leaders remains as an ominous portend of things yet to come.

 Catherine of Siena: ‘Speak the truth in a million voices. It is silence that kills’. Her words are haunting words as we notice how much silence there is, and how it is growing. Sr Jeannine Gramick, a woman who has for decades worked with LGBTI people and suffered for it in the church, recently wrote about the violence of silence. ‘One kind of violence not often recognized is the violence of silence.’ Speaking of the Orlando massacre, she said some in the church were guilty of this kind of violence. The world headlines said that the shooting occurred in a gay club, but Church statements conspicuously passed over any references to the fact that it was lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender that were targeted. Some church leaders issued no statement at all. ‘Silence is violence when, as in this instance, it denies the existence of a whole category of people, people who have been targeted with physical violence because of who they are. If I don’t acknowledge your existence, I do not need to recognize your rights; I do not see that you need added protections. Furthermore, I am unable to know you or to relate to you in a meaningful way.’ The violence of silence kills. (Jeannine Gramick)

Some 230 million people died in war and conflict in the 20th century. And war is hardly a thing of the past but an ever present reality for many countries and peoples. Between 1986 and 2015 United States has been at war in 28 out of the 30 years somewhere in the world, and every year between 1914 and 2014. Worldwide military expenditure continues to increase and the pursuit of peace remains remain a pressing issue for public engagement. Though war did not stand still over the last 1700 years, tremendous increase in brutality and dehumanisation with the incredible weaponry that continues to be invented to kill more people, more ‘efficiently;’ and the metamorphosis of war-fighting from battlefields to closely-packed villages and cities where civilian casualties have increased to 80% or more after World War l. And there have been the deliberate suppression of humane sensibilities among the military which began with US forces when during the Korean War they realized that very few (15%) soldiers actually used their weapons in combat. Within the panoply of wars, nuclear war has a very special place. It is quite remarkable indeed that, whereas the doctrine of the just war has served and can serve still to justify many wars, it can only be used to condemn nuclear war.

The Afghan Youth Volunteers for Peace say ‘talk of peace must walk. It promotes social positive consequences and allows the achievement of real progress, and non-violence can acquire a more comprehensive and new meaning as a realistic political method that gives rise to hope. If this political method flows from the rights and the equal dignity of every person which need to be safeguarded without any discrimination and distinction, then non-violence, understood as a political method, can constitute a realistic way to overcome armed conflicts. A book I read last year by Yasmine Sherif called The Case for Humanity talks about the will to power versus the will to humanity. A political approach recognises the force of right over the right of force. Dispute settlement may be reached through negotiation without degenerating into armed conflict. Within such a perspective the culture and identity of peoples are respected and it overcomes the view that some are morally superior to others. It means that no nation can remain indifferent to the tragedies of another. It means a recognition of the primacy of diplomacy over the noise of arms. Arms trade is so widespread that it is generally underestimated. Illegal arms trafficking supports not a few world’s conflicts. Non-violence as a political style can and must do much to stem this scourge.

I have promoted here that the alternative to the Just War doctrine is that of Just Peace. Without it, peace is not possible. This is the peace that Pope Francis outlines in Laudato Si’. This is the way of gospel nonviolence. It cultivates justice and peace in ourselves, our relationships, our social and political structures, and our culture, whilst also resisting injustice and violence in this areas. To do this it is necessary to recognise and acknowledge suffering, violence and harm rather than blame and punishment them. This is restorative justice.

Buckminster Fuller (Richard Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller, American architect, systems theorist, author, designer and inventor. 1895-1983):