August 21, 2014

War or peace?

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, August 21, 2014

War or peace?

Which would you choose: war or peace? Peace, surely.

But what about these options: war or a peace at home which permits a murderous tyranny in other countries, a tyranny bent on world conquest?

In such a scenario, if peaceful diplomatic efforts are ineffective and cost the lives of large and growing numbers of innocents, I would choose war—just war.

I would choose just war as a last resort, with reluctance, to protect innocents from evil aggressors. Lethal force would be limited to what's needed, protecting non-combatants, aiming for a just peace.

Bear with me as I address three objections.

Objection 1. The Bible commands "Do not kill."

No, the Bible commands "Do not murder." Killing and murder are different morally. All murder is killing, but not all killing is murder.

Think of a police officer who must kill someone engaged in a deadly shooting spree in a school. The police officer doesn't murder; the killer of the students murders. The police officer kills the murderer to protect innocents; the murderer kills innocents. The police officer kills justly; the murderer kills unjustly.

Objection 2. Jesus said: "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Yes, Jesus said this, but this has to do with personal relationships, not matters of government. It has to do with a backhand slap to the face, which in Jesus' culture is an insult. It means that if someone insults you, suck it up.

Context is important. Jesus is talking to individuals about how to relate to one another within a society ruled by a foreign power. Jesus is not talking about the affairs of state. (About the affairs of state, Paul in Romans 13 says the state legitimately bears the sword and is God’s agent of wrath.)

C. S. Lewis, in his essay "Why I am not a Pacifist," points out that Jesus' audience consists of a "private people in a disarmed nation" and "war was not what they would have been thinking of."

Also, Lewis asks:  "Does anyone suppose that our Lord’s hearers understood him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim?" For Lewis, context renders such an understanding impossible.

The turn-the-other-cheek passage, then, doesn't mean we shouldn't use force to protect others.

Interestingly, Jesus even commends a centurion—a soldier—for his faith.

Objection 3. Aren't we supposed to love our neighbours? Doesn't love preclude war?

Yes, we should love our neighbours. No, love doesn't preclude war.

Here I side with Augustine (354-430 AD). According to Augustine, love of neighbour sometimes requires that we use violence to protect our neighbour, as when our neighbour is threatened by an assailant.

In the name of love, according to Augustine, we may have to use military force—a lethal force—to stop an army from murdering innocent neighbours.

Reminder: Not all killing is murder. Think again of the good police officer who justly kills a rampaging killer of innocents. Soldiers—just soldiers—are like that good police officer.

Of course, much more can (and should) be said.

I am neither a warmonger nor a pacifist. I believe that sometimes violent force is justified—as in police situations and on a larger scale when military force is needed—to protect innocents from aggressive, murderous thugs.

Just war is never completely just, to be sure, and it's terrible.

But a so-called "peace" that permits large and growing numbers of innocent men, women, and children to be raped, tortured, cut in half, beheaded, and slaughtered is worse—much worse.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. After high school, Hendrik served for three years as an infantryman in the Canadian Armed ForcesThe views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.


Climenheise said...

You can guess, my brother, that we do not agree entirely--although we go further together than you might expect.

My own reading of Lewis' objections (much as I love and use his writings) is that they do not succeed in justifying participation in war. He had his blind spots too (just as you and I do)!

#1: Agreed with the commandment to not kill. #2: The early church appears to have understood Jesus' commands to mean that you cannot fight in war. See (for example) Alan Kreider, "The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom." My own rejection of violent force is rooted more in a desire simply to do what Jesus says than in any other source. #3: Just War is a good path to follow, but rarely if ever used. Daniel Bell ("Just War as Christian Discipleship") is an excellent effort to take that tradition seriously. (Are you the one who recommended Bell's book to me?)

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Daryl, I'm pretty sure that there's much that we don't agree on entirely! Nevertheless—and happily—we do agree on the essentials of our common faith (especially that Jesus is God in the flesh, who was killed and resurrected bodily). We are brothers in Christ!

Brothers, of course, can disagree about stuff. Clearly, we disagree about the strength of Lewis's argument, in spite of (and because of) our blind spots. Also, I'm not sure that the early church's unwillingness to fight in war was due to a pacifist understanding Jesus' commands, as you suggest. I've read that it was likely due to the requirement of soldiers to swear allegiance to Rome (instead of Christ), which precluded early Christians from military careers. But I'll check the Kreider article.

I appreciate you saying that Just War is a good path to follow, though you think it's "rarely if ever used." I suspect it's more of a question of degree, and we probably disagree about that degree.

About Daniel Bell's book, I believe I did introduce you to it. I can't find the book on my shelf. Did I also loan the book to you?

Stewij said...

Daryl, how's the family doing? And your son, what's he up to these days?

Does inaction mean that you are rejecting violence or, in the situation in Iraq/Syria, allowing it to happen (thus making it violence)?

Unknown said...

Hank, I wish you had loaned me the book because I would love to read it and never give it back to you. I just do stuff like that. Thank you for this entry (I'm a newbie to Apologia) and wish I had read it yesterday as last night I had a conversation with a young guy in prison who asked specific questions about his "relationships" in jail. Should he hit his friend to prevent his friend from taking a "prison minute" (punched repeatedly for a minute)? It was a fascinating insight into prison society and an unusual basis to consider "just war". You settled some of my rather jumbled thoughts on Iraq and the Ukraine not to mention Nigeria and Egypt etc &etc.

Eric said...

I will leave the theologians to debate what Jesus and Paul actually meant with their statements (although I wish to take what they say very seriously).

I have two serious problems with Just War thinking. The first is that it leads to yes/no thinking. Is armed intervention justified: yes or no. And in the process any other [non lethal]interventions are inadvertently eliminated. Creative searching is discouraged. In this regard much could be said about the current Ukraine struggle.

The second is simply the historical record. The notion that good will come out of armed intervention is simply delusional. Look at Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Gaza. And the brutalizing effect the notion that "we" have just force, whereas "they" do no has had on Americans should not be discounted. Yes, the case for armed intervention (just war) in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo was compelling, but it did not happen. Had there been armed intervention in those cases, what would the outcome have been? We will, of course, never know. Would it have been more benign that what happened? There is good reason to doubt that.

Climenheise said...

Hendrik, 1) I bought my own copy. Good book! 2) My objection to military service (as is common with the larger Mennonite family) shares with the early church my concern with the question of allegiance. To be a soldier one must obey orders immediately and without question. As an American, I do not recite the pledge of allegiance in the USA for the same reason. I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Stew, the great weakness of seeking peace without violence is precisely the actions of people like ISIS. As Eric says in this thread, a problem for the just war side is that war does not normally lead to a good resolution either. Behind both problems is the fundamental problem of human evil.

I seek to follow Jesus, but I do not know how that works out in every situation. Even if we end up using violence in this case, we must acknowledge that we are participating in evil. The way of Christ is the way of the cross. People like Ron Sider (for example, "Pacifism and Nuclear holocaust"--or some such title) has worked out responses from a position of non-violence with much greater rigour than I have.

(P.S.: My sons: a) the older one is teaching maths at the University of Houston; b) the younger is studying philosophy at Notre Dame.)

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Eric, I disagree that Just War thinking leads to "yes/no thinking" which eliminates any non-lethal interventions (definitely it doesn't lead to this with logical necessity). It seems to me that when Just War is understood as a last resort which is entered reluctantly, the Just War option can provide a broader spectrum of interventions than without having Just War on the table: we now have non-lethal and lethal options. Moreover, it seems to me that the non-lethal interventions have more teeth when there is a real threat of armed intervention and thus greater probability of success.

Years ago I worked in an institution for delinquent teens. Ultimately behind all negotiations and reasoned discussions with the young thugs (one of whom had killed a man) was the quiet but real threat of my fellow staff and me using physical force or calling police who would use greater measures of physical force. Otherwise, chaos would result, with innocents getting seriously injured. ISIS, of course, is much more delinquent/ lethal than these young thugs, and ISIS isn't willing to negotiate or engage in reasoned discussion, so armed intervention should be on the table of options—for the sake of protecting innocents.

Also, Eric, I disagree with your view of the historical record. Your claim—that it is "simply delusional" that good will come out of armed intervention—is false. Think of the armed intervention that stopped the Nazis in World War II. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles suffered under the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, and it's truly good that they were saved by the Allied forces. In fact, countless others across Europe were also saved because of the Allied armed intervention, and this, too, is truly good. The alternative to such armed intervention was a "superior race" bent on conquering and enslaving, if not destroying, all the "inferior" peoples the world. Or think of Imperial Japan and its desire to conquer the world. ISIS has similar desires. Yes, of course, there are horrors in, and abuses of, Just War. History proves that, to be sure. But merely because an armed police force sometimes abuses its power doesn't mean we toss the force and permit evil aggressors to murder, rape, pillage, behead, and enslave our neighbours. Rather, we strive to make the force just—for the sake of, and out of love for, our neighbours.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Daryl, I appreciate your pledge of allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord. I am grateful to you for your open and submitted life. You and Lois are a blessing to many.

Pledging allegiance got me to thinking further about the early church. The swearing of allegiance to the Roman emperor kept the early church out of the military. Also, the early church was persecuted by the Roman military, which kept the early church out of the military. This provides an alternative, non-pacifist explanation for why the early church didn't encourage Christians to enlist in the military. At the very least, it's consistent with both a pacifist position and a just war position.

Interestingly, J. Daryl Charles, in his book Between Pacifism and Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition (IVP 2005), writes: "The conventional portrait of the early church that comes to us is that the early Christians were uniformly pacifistic….This portrait, however, does not bear up under close scrutiny….The limited evidence we have of the early Christian attitudes toward war is inconclusive. Both strands—pacifist and nonpacifist—can be detected. Clearly, many Christians did oppose military service, but this was not universal. Nor was opposition due to explicit prohibitions in the New Testament, evidenced by the fact that soldiers in the New Testament are never called to abandon their profession [e.g., Jesus commends a centurion for his faith, John the Baptist answers soldiers who ask what they should do by saying don't extort others and be content with your wages]….[E]vidence is mixed. Thus it is fair to contend that the early church was not absolutist on either pacifism or military service."

Anyways, thanks for the conversation. I'm sure this conversation hasn't come to a close!

Climenheise said...

Alan Kreider suggests that Roman soldiers could and did become Christians, but that they had to agree not to kill. Which meant that they could not join the legion and were restricted to duties more akin to police work today. And meant that their opportunities for advancement were limited. Clearly the choices have never been simple and clear cut.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Thanks Daryl.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Murray, I see that you couldn't resist alluding to the book you loaned me 23 years ago(and which I kept for a few years before returning). Shouldn't you forgive me for that?