How Can Iraq be a Just War?
John’s original Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper column examined whether America’s attack and invasion of Iraq abides by historic Christian teachings of just war. The momentous post has been archived and is no longer available on their site, so below is the original article.
American Christians don't have the luxury of ignoring the question of whether America should have attacked Iraq.
The action that began last month will sow consequences for ourselves and our children. Human history and the Scriptures auger that violence will again beget violence. This compels us, for the sake of future generations of Americans, to confront the issue.
I am thankful for the theory of just war. It is a peculiarly Christian notion that aims to preserve the moral distinctives of Christianity even during and after war, as well as to restrain the state from establishing itself as an all-powerful god unto itself. Though the theory allows for war as a last resort in self-defense, it reflects the desire to avoid war as a fundamental idea in the Christian view of politics, as opposed to the romanticization of war in a pagan worldview that reflects a disregard for the sanctity of human life.
The failure of the U.S. government to abide by the consensus rules of just war in its dealings (and proposed dealings) with Iraq is as disturbing as its protestations to the contrary. Augustine, Aquinas and others posited that a just war must have a just cause. This one does not.
Despite the most extreme attempts of President Bush and warmongering officials within his administration and without, no evidence exists that Saddam Hussein's regime in any way aided the terrorists' atrocities against our country on Sept. 11, 2001. The United States devastated Saddam's armed forces in the Persian Gulf War. If he has weapons or materials that can be transported to America to do us harm, so do many other countries around the globe -- many of which do not like us.
If the Communists, the Nazis or any of our other familiar villains attacked a weak country a fraction their size and half a world away when it had done nothing to threaten them, would we call it a justified pre-emptive strike or naked, brutal aggression?
Just war also must be pursued only as a last resort, after all other options are exhausted. Suffice it to say that this has not happened. Just ask -- shame on us -- France, Russia, and Germany. (That is assuming -- which I do not -- that we have the right to go disarm, depose the leadership of and, by force, occupy a small country that has not threatened us.)
Let us suppose that Bush, with whom the decision to attack Iraq rested, does constitute the proper, God-ordained civil authority prescribed in the just war philosophy, despite the Constitution's demand that only Congress can declare war. Our Founding Fathers, including George Washington in his farewell address, declared with resounding clarity their opposition to noncommercial overseas entanglements, favored (or unfavored) commercial trading partners, and permanent treaties and alliances. They knew that the history of humanity is replete with the rotting carcasses of world empires.
Yet America now has military forces stationed in more than 100 countries. Our military budget is more than those of the next 27 countries combined, and tens of thousands of service families are deprived of their fathers -- and sometimes their mothers -- for long periods. All of this is courtesy of your and my hard-earned tax dollars, but not our permission.
The evil of a just war must be less than the evil to be righted. Saddam is a tyrant and a murderer, but what of the potential body count of American and Iraqi soldiers, and Iraqi civilians, not to mention unknown future reprisals by Muslims and others whose hate for America will only grow? Especially when Saddam's eventual successors might well be, unlike Saddam, militantly Islamic and virulently anti-American?
Finally, a just war allows no military action to be undertaken that seriously threatens civilians or their property, much less deliberately targets them. Just war adherents mince no words: Attacking or otherwise harming defenseless cities, towns and civilians is a war crime, performed by war criminals.
I am reminded that the real problem is not America's actions toward Iraq. It is habits we have developed going back to the 19th century. We go where we are not invited, or we go where one side invites us to join their civil war against another. And when we fight, we descend as far down the ladder of human decency as necessary to win.
Indeed, this is not just about Iraq -- it is about Sand Creek, the Philippines of 1900, Dresden, Nagasaki, unnumbered villages in Vietnam, and buses and hospitals and apartment buildings in Serbia.
It is about our intentional destruction of Iraq's water and water purification facilities during the Persian Gulf War -- this despite Article 54 of the Geneva Convention, which states: "It is prohibited to attack, destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population," including "drinking water supplies and irrigation works."
And it is about the subsequent American-led U.N. embargo of Iraqi water purification supplies and equipment. In 1998, on-site U.N. officials reported that this embargo was killing 4,000 to 5,000 children a month. In 2000, UNICEF's director for Iraq announced that a half million children under age 5 had died during the 10 years of sanctions.
Last I heard, the sanctions remained in place, enforced by the American taxpayer-funded U.S. military.
Yes, the reasons are always good, especially when explained by a handsome, earnest Christian president from Texas looking you in the eye through your television screen. They were good, too, for all of history's expanding empires as they dragged their trusting subjects into central government domination, confiscatory taxation, moral breakdown, multiplied foreign enemies and, finally, slaughter and sorrow and widowhood and orphanhood.
May Christians remember that a crucified Jesus Christ was God's remedy for the evil powers that animate wicked men and nations. Let us purpose to fast, pray for and serve lands like Iraq caught in the grip of such forces. Let us commit to go to those lands and, if necessary, lay down our lives while armed not with an M-16 but with John 3:16.
John J. Dwyer is chairman of history at Coram Deo Academy in Flower Mound. Author of the historical novels Stonewall and Robert E. Lee and the historical narrative The War Between the States: America's Uncivil War, he also is the former editor and publisher of The Dallas/Fort Worth Heritage newspaper.