The Unjust War

I am a product of the Vietnam war. It was a demoralizing period of time for most teenagers, many of whom were eligible for the draft and ended up serving – and dying – in Southeast Asia. I had always considered it an unjust war, a war started out of fear of the spread of Soviet and Chinese communism and not out of concern for the citizens over which the U.S. ran roughshod. I never thought it would happen again in my lifetime.

The definition of a just war has been a long and storied study. The major criteria, historically attributed to St. Augustine (also see Wikipedia) and paraphrased below, indicate that

  • War should be waged for peace
  • There must be an underlying cause for war other than for peace (“Right Intention”)
  • There must be an inner attitude of love, even during acts of war
  • War must be waged under a legitimate ruler (“Legitimate Authority”)
  • The actual conduct of war must be just
  • Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil
  • The injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other (“Comparative Justice”)
  • Force may be used only after peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted (“Last Resort”)

In the Catholic teaching, a just war must be a war of defense. A war of aggression is always immoral.

Compare this to the Bush Doctine. This proposal was voiced by President Bush in 2002 and stated that the US maintains the right to attack any country it defines as a threat. In practice, the Bush Doctrine was certainly efficient in its ability to turn what could be a very gray and bureaucratic decision-making process into something that is black and white. “If you are not my friend, you are my enemy.”

I thought I was clearly correct in stating to others that the Iraq war is an unjust war. After researching the subject a bit (and there are entire libraries of material on the subject) I’m not so sure. Like the haze of war, the definitions associated with “just” and “unjust” are murky, often vague and can be broadly interpreted, especially when politics come into play. I do think that the criteria of Last Resort was probably not met, as I find it hard to believe that the Bush Administration did all it could to find viable alternatives to war with Iraq. I also believe that the U.S. intervened in Iraq as an aggressor, as up to that point there was no direct evidence that Iraq was planning or executing anything outside its own boundaries – but even that belief must be tempered with the knowledge that the Pentagon and CIA probably had much more information on the subject than I will ever have.

I turned a corner last night in my thoughts about blaming the Bush Administration for starting an unjust war. This wasn’t about the morality of going after Saddam Hussein, and I’m pretty sure that George Bush was convinced he was doing a right and just thing. Rather, it was about his willingness to define right and wrong in such absolute terms that there was no room for discourse. It was (and still is) the Administration’s refusal to see the world in anything other than black and white. And this is not just the Administration’s problem – it has been a Republican problem for some time and for many years has had me leaning left on national issues, where I get a better sense of fair debate rather than xenophobic rhetoric.

According to President Bush, The U.S. represents freedom. El Queda hates the U.S., therefore they hate freedom. Stem cell research is evil. If you are not a patriot, you’re un-American. Recently: The President will veto any defense spending bill that contains timelines for troop withdrawal. These memorable statements, and many more, are made in absolute terms with no room for debate.

The Bush Doctrine and the war were merely manifestations of the Administration’s refusal to see things in shades of gray…

…making our President a very shallow man.


One Response to The Unjust War

  1. […] contractors who also paid with their lives.  I am certain that these people have died in vain, in an unjust war.  I am certain that they are never coming […]

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