War, Morality of
WAR, MORALITY OF
The history of Catholic attitudes toward war is varied and complex. Evangelical commitments to nonviolence and love of enemies mingle with recognition of the state's duty to uphold justice and defend the peace. The New Testament commands love of enemies, blesses peacemakers, and repeatedly urges forgiveness, but it also urges respect for authority and regards political authority, with its duty to repress evildoers, as coming from God. Early Christians seemed to have avoided military service because it involved sacrifice to Roman deities and allegiance to the divine figure of the emperor as well as the shedding of blood. As long as military service consisted mostly of police work, many Christians could be found serving in the military, with the numbers growing as the Empire grew more Christian. With the increase of warfare with the barbarians, many Christians, such as the socalled Moorish Legion, were martyred for their unwillingness to draw blood. The first nonmartyr saint, Martin of Tours, was a soldier-convert who was about to be executed, but won release when he successfully spoke with the enemy who then surrendered and asked for baptism.
Late Antiquity. In the Western Roman Empire, Christian attitudes toward war evolved under pressure from the barbarian invasions. On the one hand, the barbarian attacks on the Christian imperial heartland led St. augustine to articulate, in a series of occasional writings, the classic bases for Christian just-war thinking. On the other hand, the "conversion" of the Germanic tribes led to Christianity's inculturation into warrior societies where, except largely for monastic foundations, the nonviolence of the early Church was forgotten. In the Eastern Empire, where there was a close relation between church and state, formalized just-war thinking did not take hold. At the same time, monks and bishops adhered to nonviolence, even at times mounting campaigns of nonviolent resistance to imperial Byzantine policy.
The Middle Ages. In the West, during the Middle Ages, efforts were made to curb the savagery of the warrior culture. Monastic and popular movements of nonviolence, like the peace of god, especially in French territory, and later the Truce of God, and massive grassroots peace movements, such as the Bianchi in Italy, attempted to restrict the opportunities for warfare and pacify the warrior culture. Meanwhile, codes of chivalry, the penitential rules for confessors, and the development of just-war thinking attempted to limit, control, and refine the martial spirit.
The Just-War Tradition. Under the influence of reforming canonists, Christian just-war thinking developed gradually during the Middle Ages. St. Augustine had laid out the foundations for this tradition, arguing that a just war required a just cause, legitimate authority, and a right intention. Later canonists and moral theologians would articulate other norms as well.
thomas aquinas adopted Augustine's three criteria for a just war, but adapted them to fit the circumstances of his own day. In the context of conflict in the Italian city-states, for example, he had to accommodate wider participation in politics than existed in Augustine's day. Accordingly, whereas Augustine would have regarded authority as coming directly from God, Aquinas identified service of the common good as a norm for judging the legitimacy of a ruler or ruling party, forbade government by faction, and allowed rebellion when the people rose as one.
Christians regarded the just-war tradition as essentially a set of rules regulating conflict among Christian nations. With the European discovery of the Americas and East Asia, questions arose about the application of just-war norms to wars with non-Christian peoples. The Spanish conquest had been particularly brutal in its treatment of natives in the Americas. The detailed reports of Bartolomeo de las Casas on the atrocities of the conquistadors inspired the Spanish scholastics, especially Francisco de Vitoria, to argue for the extension of the norms of conflict to native peoples, laying the foundations for modern international law.
By the time of the rise of the modern nation-state, the just-war doctrine had become the prevailing doctrine in western Christendom. Protestant reformers, like luther and calvin, embraced the idea. Except for the anabaptists and free church movements, like the Quakers, Christian nonviolence was in eclipse until the 20th century.
It was in the 16th and 17th centuries that the spirit and thought of Augustine and Thomas were transcribed and expanded into a fully developed theory of the just war, especially by vitoria (1487?–1546) and suÁrez (1548–1617). Hostile actions are divided by Vitoria and Suárez into two kinds: (1) armed attack upon a peaceful people, and (2) injurious actions (those generally involving an infringement of a right). Armed response to the first type of hostile action was regarded as a defensive war. This was conceived as different in type from armed response to injurious action. The collective and intentional effecting of death and destruction in response to "injurious action" of other kinds was "offensive" or "aggressive" war and was seen as a completely different undertaking. In the thinking of Vitoria and Suárez, the defensive war required no special moral justification. It appeared to them rather as "an involuntary act" forced upon a peaceful community, which need not then justify its response. Taking up arms, however, in response to "injurious action" appeared to them to require special moral justification. Since in this case, the injurious action to which war was the response would not involve destruction and death, how could the Christian voluntarily elect war as a means of responding to it? It was in connection with such offensive war that they applied conditions for a just war. The problem for them was the reconciliation of the will's love of peace with the voluntary procurement of death and destruction. The conditions of the just war were intended to depict ranges of response in such a way as to preserve the Christian's adherence to God and peace.
World War II, the Vietnam War, and the nuclear debates of the Cold War gradually saw an increased acceptance of nonviolence on the part of Christians. At the same time there was an appropriation of the just-war tradition to the realities of contemporary warfare. The return to biblical foundations in moral theology urged by vatican council ii, as well as ecumenical dialogue, also contributed to more sympathetic understanding in Catholic circles of the nonviolent tradition as well as to critical use of the just-war doctrine.
The extended public debate over the 1983 United States Bishops' pastoral letter on nuclear war and deterrence, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, led to broad public awareness of just-war norms. The letter had actually called for public engagement in the debate over U.S. nuclear policy, an area heretofore reserved for a small elite. The just-war categories became so well known that in the months leading up to the Persian Gulf War (1990–91), the U.S. public, and even the U.S. Congress, debated the coming conflict in just-war terms.
The Presumption against War. A significant development in late 20th-century Catholic just-war teaching was the presumption against the use of force. The U.S. Catholic bishops in The Challenge of Peace taught that the just-war doctrine shares with Christian nonviolence "a presumption against war and for the peaceful settlement of disputes" which is "binding on all." The function of the ad bellum norms is to determine when that presumption may be overridden.
Some critics charge that this presumption is an innovation in the tradition of just-war thinking. It overlooks, they assert, the inherent duty of the state to defend the peace, it makes avoiding war a greater priority than correcting injustice, and it attributes too great a weight to the destructiveness of modern warfare. Defenders argue that Christian thinkers, including St. Augustine, have articulated such a proviso before, that the critics make war too automatic a response to injustice, and that they underestimate the potentially greater injustice that can be perpetrated by resorting to force before exhausting alternative methods of dispute resolution.
The term "just war" is employed to refer in a shorthand way to the set of norms or criteria for assessing whether a government's recourse to force is morally justified. The just-war tradition is expressed in many forms: in international law, in the codes of conduct of national military forces, in moral philosophy and theology, in church teaching. The just-war norms embrace two sets of criteria. One, the ius ad bellum, identifies criteria for judging whether the resort to force is justified. These are sometimes called the "war-decision" rules. The second set of criteria, ius in bello, regulates and limits the use of force in combat. These are sometimes called the "war-conduct" rules.
Ius ad bellum. The ius ad bellum contains six (or seven) criteria to determine whether resort to force is justified. They are: (1) just cause, (2) competent authority,(3) right intention, (4) last resort, (5) probability of success, and (6) proportionality. To these is sometimes added the criterion of comparative justice, which assesses which of two adversaries is "sufficiently 'right"' to override a presumption against the use of force.
Just Cause. According to The Challenge of Peace, "War is permissible only to confront 'a real and certain danger,' i.e., to protect innocent life, to preserve conditions necessary for decent human existence, and to secure basic human rights."
Defense against Aggression. For much of the 20th century, the sole justification for war was taken to be defense against aggression. That definition, however, proved too narrow to deal with a variety of conflicts that emerged in the late 20th century, especially guerrilla warfare, terrorism and counter-terrorist campaigns, and ethnic cleansing.
During the Persian Gulf War, the Vatican made an attempt to narrow the definition to defense against "an aggression in progress," a formula that would have precluded a Coalition attack against Iraq and would have allowed that country to retain the fruits of its aggression in Kuwait. In the wake of the terror attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, while repeatedly warning against a war of religions and urging forgiveness, Pope John Paul II declared that there is "a right to defend oneself against terrorism, a right which as always must be exercised with respect for moral and legal limits in the choice of means and ends" ("World Day of Peace Message," Jan. 1, 2002).
Humanitarian Intervention. The ethnic cleansing that accompanied the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia (1991–92), Bosnia (1992–96), and Kosovo (1999) led to the emergence of "humanitarian intervention" as a new criterion of just cause. According to this norm, the international community or, as a last resort, any nation with the capacity has "the right and the duty" to intervene militarily where, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "the survival of populations and entire ethnic groups are seriously compromised." Though humanitarian intervention entailed overriding the established international legal principles of national sovereignty and nonintervention, in a short time Pope John Paul II's declaration that "states no longer have a 'right to indifference"' prevailed. Humanitarian intervention became in practice a recognized, though not unquestioned, just cause.
Competent Authority. According to Catholic teaching, war must be declared by public authorities charged with maintaining the peace, not by private groups or individuals. Establishing competent authority is a complicated issue in the modern world. The simplest case, that of defense against aggression, places the burden squarely on the shoulders of national governments.
United Nations. The United Nations Charter, however, also makes aggression a matter for U.N. action. When there is aggression, and especially where an outside response to a regional or internal conflict is demanded, the United Nations Security Council stands de jure as the constituted authority. As a matter of practice, the council has devised or acquiesced to a variety of ad hoc arrangements to undertake necessary military action. When the council is immobilized by divisions among its members, the question of competent authority is made more difficult. In general, official Catholic pronouncements tend to emphasize multilateral responses and discourage unilateral actions. In the case of humanitarian intervention, however, failure to act, or delay on the part of the international community to act, has led to pleas for any national political authority or alliance with the capacity to intervene.
Guerrilla/Civil War. Customarily, the criterion of competent authority stood as a barrier to guerrilla and civil war. Following World War II, wars of national liberation and guerrilla wars, particularly in Latin America, opened new questions about the applicability of the norm. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas had provided for the overthrow of predatory regimes by granting that rebellion was permissible if the people rose up "as one." While a unified popular uprising might have been feasible in the city-states of northern Italy, it is much less so in the larger nation-state of today, and it is no remedy for repressed minorities. Contemporary international practice has provided revolutionary movements with a step toward legitimacy by permitting the International Committee of the Red Cross to establish relations with rebel movements when rebels are in control of a defined territory.
Pope Paul VI in his encyclical letter, populorum progressio, admitted, "There are certainly situations whose injustices cry to heaven." He continued, "We know, however, that a revolutionary uprising—save where there is manifest, long-standing tyranny which do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country—produces new injustices, throws more elements out of balance and brings on new disasters." The proviso about "manifest, long-standing tyranny" tends to allow revolution. On the whole, however, the burden of Pope Paul's teaching was reformist and opposed to revolution. His prudential judgement was that "a real evil should not be fought against at the price of greater misery." After the first wave of national wars of independence following World War II, popular revolutionary movements in many countries led either to decades of conflict and failed government, as in Angola, Colombia and Afghanistan, or to meager improvements for the oppressed, as in El Salvador and Guatemala. On the whole, however, as the U.S. bishops observed in The Challenge of Peace, "Insufficient analytical attention has been given to the moral issues of revolutionary warfare."
Right Intention. Right intention is the last of three criteria (along with just cause and proper authority) that St. Augustine stipulated as conditions for a just war. For Augustine, as for later generations, right intention consisted in aiming at the restoration of peace, correcting the injustice that constituted a breach of the peace, and, in some circumstances, punishing the offender. The aim of the war, therefore, must be narrowly construed. Accordingly, right intention excludes the taking of territory and wreaking vengeance as war aims. It likewise requires reestablishing peaceful relations when the armed conflict is ended. Right intention also governs in bello acts, prohibiting "unnecessarily destructive acts" and individually criminal acts such as random killings, massacre, rape, and pillage.
Some contemporary ethicists put special emphasis on these first three criteria (just cause, competent authority, and right intention) on the grounds that they are (1) deontological, that is, exceptionless moral principles, and (2) they are legitimating, that is, they undergird the exercise of the state's war powers. While compared with principles that came into use in later periods, such as last resort, success, and proportionality, these three principles appear to require less calculation; they nonetheless require sophisticated and evolving judgements. In the last century even the understanding of as evident a matter as just cause has shifted markedly, thereby impairing the notion of self-evident morality attached to a deontological ethic. Similarly, if right intention includes avoiding indiscriminately destructive acts, judgments based on calculations of more or less will be necessary obviating the distinction between the allegedly deonotological and the calculative (or proportional) judgments. As to the legitimating function of just-war reasoning, the legitimation is conditional. Even established authority needs a just cause, must resort to force out of necessity, and must refrain from indiscriminate killing and destruction. Distinguishing between the legitimating and limiting functions of the just-war system, therefore, brings only a dubious clarity.
Last Resort. Last resort corresponds to the traditional Augustinian idea of "necessity," that is, that the decision to go to war is forced on political authorities when all peaceful alternatives have been tried. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, this criterion fit easily with the diplomatic practice of exchanging memorandums, issuing ultimatums, and making declarations of war. It has been more difficult to apply in the modern period, since the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) and the rise of the United States as the world's single remaining superpower.
Some Vatican criticism over the Persian Gulf War arose out of the sense that negotiation was not seriously attempted and that economic sanctions, rather than being seriously employed as an alternative to war, were utilized instead as a prelude to and later as an extension of war, causing enormous harm to the Iraqi people. Both the Holy See and the U.S. Catholic bishops were critics of economic sanctions as illegitimate forms of coercive diplomacy violating the principle of civilian immunity.
Probability of Success. Political and military leaders must make an assessment of whether a war is winnable or not. Probability of success stands guard both against irrational resort to force, whether risking wreaking havoc on one's own country or employing disproportionate measures to achieve victory over the enemy, and against futile resistance in an unwinnable cause. The Challenge of Peace, however, adds that at times part of the calculation may be that "defense of key values, even against great odds, may be a ’proportionate' witness."
Proportionality. Probability of success and proportionality are closely related. In ad bellum terms, proportionality means that the damage to be inflicted and the costs incurred by armed conflict must be weighed in relation to the good to be gained (or re-established) by resorting to force. The Challenge of Peace set a high standard for proportionality, in the context of nuclear war, that in today's interdependent world, "a nation cannot justly go to war … without considering the effect of its action on the international community."
Proportionality is not static. It may change throughout the conduct of a war, so that a war may be judged in medias res as disproportionate and so unjustifiable. Such was the case with the U.S. bishops' judgment in 1971 that the U.S. involvement in Vietnam could no longer be sustained because of the destruction done to Vietnam and the moral and political divisions that the war had stimulated in the United States.
Ius in bello. The ius in bello or war-conduct criteria are two: noncombatant immunity and proportionality. Both are connected to a third term, "discrimination," which means military action must aim narrowly at attaining specific military objectives, excluding direct attack on civilians and other noncombatants and limiting collateral damage to persons and property.
Noncombatant Immunity. In the Catholic tradition, noncombatant immunity rests on a pervasive overall respect for life, the Decalogue's prohibition against killing, and the New Testament's call to love of enemies. A state of war permits the application of force only against those actively threatening the innocent (literally 'the unarmed' or 'nonthreatening'). While civilians, including enemy civilians, make up the bulk of the innocent, the category also includes others who are unarmed and nonthreatening, e.g., prisoners, the wounded, and medical personnel.
Noncombatant immunity has become, perhaps, the most prominent criterion in the application of just-war analysis in the last 50 years. Historically, concerns were aroused in the 1950s and 1960s by the strategic doctrine of mutually assured destruction in which the Soviet Union and the United States and its allies held one another's populations hostage to reciprocal nuclear terror. Beginning with the Vietnam War, however, concerns were also stirred about the rising number of civilian casualties in conventional conflicts. During World War II, civilian casualties amounted to 45 percent of casualties. By the time of Vietnam, they counted for 65 percent of the total. By the 1990s, they constituted more than 90 percent.
Much of the increase in noncombatant, civilian casualties was due to the rise in guerrilla warfare, civil wars, terrorism and counter-terrorism, and ethnic cleansing. A significant portion, however, was also attributable to shifts in the war-fighting styles of developed countries' militaries, especially that of the United States. The growing lethality of conventional weapons, strategies like air dominance and the use of overwhelming and decisive force, as well as the practice of force protection (giving primacy to guarding the safety of one's own troops), contributed to this trend in civilian vulnerability. For example, during the U.S.'s short incursion into Panama in 1990 (a small and conventional military action), unofficial estimates of the ratio of civilian to military casualties ranged from ten to one to 100 to one. The proposed strategy of using air-power "to break civilian will" is a serious violation of the norm of civilian immunity.
In light of the alarming rise in civilian casualties, the U.S. bishops in their 1993 pastoral statement, The Harvest of Justice, added to the usual injunction that "civilians may not be the object of direct attack" the further requirement that "military personnel must take due care to avoid and minimize indirect harm to civilians."
Such restraints on military action are regarded by some critics as placing excessive limits on military policymaking. It is alleged that the restrictive application and refinement of just-war norms amounts to just-war pacifism. Rather, it must be said that there are more or less stringent schools of just-war thinking, and official Catholic thinking tends to the stringent side. It is committed to the idea that just-war thinking, especially as compatible with Christian premises, is intended not only to 'enable' or permit war in a just cause but also to limit the harm done by the recourse to force.
In the Christian understanding, a just war is undertaken in defense of the innocent. On such a premise, the deliberate killing of innocents to defend other innocents is not justifiable. Some secular just-war theorists, proceeding from premises of state interest, may be less anxious about the killing of innocents in war-time than church officials and moral theologians. In any case, arguments defending collateral killing on grounds of "double effect" have grown infrequent and the exhortation to honor noncombatant, especially civilian, immunity has grown in recent years along with public criticism of the military for violations of the norm. Some military authorities argue that the use of so-called "smart weapons" will contribute to a future decline in civilian casualties.
Proportionality. The in bello criteria attempt to restrain the violence of a war in progress. Customarily, proportionality was determined in relation to the military notion of "necessity." The norm dictated that no more force be used than "necessary" to attain a military objective. It also excluded excessive destruction. The most notable controversy concerning proportionality in a recent conflict related to the bombing of the Iraqi infrastructure (electricity and water supply) during the Persian Gulf War. Critics charged that the bombing severely undercut the bases of civilian life. Defenders contended that the infrastructure was "dual use," supplying both military and civilian purposes, and for that reason a legitimate military target. A problematic effect of the destruction of the infrastructure was that the burden of the economic sanctions against Iraq was increased, so that there was increased civilian suffering after hostilities had ended.
Applying Just-War Norms. While some elements of the just-war analysis, especially proportionality and prospect of success, require a greater degree of prudential judgment and even calculation, the just-war norms provide neither a mere checklist nor some sort of moral calculus for assessing the morality of the use of force. The ad bellum norms, in particular, ought to be taken as a whole, but without necessarily giving equal weight to every norm.
While much just-war analysis is done in an academic context or in policy oriented settings, moral judgment based on the just-war tradition requires that the reasoning be informed by a life of virtue. "Moral reflection on the use of force calls for a spirit of moderation rare in contemporary political culture," wrote the U.S. bishops in 1993. "The increasing violence in our society, its growing insensitivity to the sacredness of life, and the glorification of the technology of destruction in popular culture," they concluded, "could inevitably impair our society's ability to apply just-war criteria honestly and effectively in time of crisis."
Vatican II. The Second Vatican Council marked the beginning of a significant shift in official Catholic teaching on issues of war and peace. The council, in its own words, felt compelled to undertake "an evaluation of war with an entirely new attitude." Drawing on the experience of World War II, the Holocaust and the Cold War, the council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes, censured the notion of "total war," understood as counter-population warfare. "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation."
Behind the condemnation lay the Nazi blitz against London, the Allied firebombing of Hamburg and Dresden, the firebombing of Tokyo, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Already in a landmark 1944 article in Theological Studies, John Ford, S.J., had documented the Allied practice of "obliteration bombing" and the numerous condemnations made by church officials of the Allied air strategy. In addition, the council fathers had in mind the strategic nuclear balance between the United States and the Soviet Union built on the threat of "mutually assured destruction." The council noted that the occasion for perpetrating abominable acts is provided by "the possession of modern scientific weapons" and by a kind of technological reasoning which "urge men on to the most atrocious decisions."
The council, likewise, condemned genocide, described as "acts designed for the methodical extermination of an entire people, nation, or ethnic minority." Such actions "must be vehemently condemned as horrendous crimes." To build a barrier against such war-borne atrocities the council appeals to "the permanent binding force of universal natural law and its all-embracing principles." Linking these principles to the call of conscience, the council described as criminal orders that contravene the moral law, denounced the notion of "blind obedience" to immoral orders, and offered "supreme commendation" to those who resisted such orders.
In keeping with this stress on conscience, the council also advised that legal provision be made for conscientious objection. This last recommendation marked a break with the pastoral practice that had existed through the Second World War under which Catholics were denied Church support for conscientious refusal to bear arms.
Even more remarkable, again in keeping with the council's reliance on personal conscience, was its praise for the practitioners of nonviolence. "We cannot fail to praise those who renounce the use of violence in the vindication of their rights and who resort to methods of defense which are otherwise available to weaker parties too, provided that can be done without injury to the rights and duties of others or of the community itself." This endorsement of "nonviolent direct action" marked another departure in modern Catholic social teaching. The passage established a common norm for both nonviolent action and the state's justified resort to arms, namely, the vindication of rights. The praise of nonviolence begins to disclose an underlying premise of contemporary Catholic teaching about public order, namely, whether by nonviolent means or by the justified and legitimate use of force, Catholics are obligated to resist grave offenses against human rights and other serious public evils. The council's reliance on conscience as a bulwark against the evils of war, therefore, entailed not only notions of opposition to immoral orders and legal allowance for conscientious objection, but also revealed an underlying obligation of resistance to grievous public injustices shared by nonviolent activists and just warriors alike. As the United States bishops wrote in 1983, "The Christian has no choice but to defend peace against aggression. This is an inalienable obligation. It is the how of defending peace which offers moral options."
At the same time as it attempted to mitigate the evils of modern war and provide moral space for objectors and resisters, the council continued to recognize the need for states to provide for the legitimate defense of their people. With a note of realism the council fathers wrote, "As long as the danger of war remains, and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted." Thus, the Church continued to recognize the right and the duty of governments to protect their people under the evolving canons of the just war.
Three observations are in order concerning the conciliar warrant of the state's war powers. First, it is conditioned on the lack of adequate international authority. Modern Catholic teaching (pacem in terris, Gaudium et spes, centesimus annus) has been strong in its support for the establishment of transnational authorities for the avoidance of war and the advancement of the universal common good. Critical of all forms of totalitarianism, the Church has nonetheless regarded the creation of international authority as a key factor in helping reduce the occasions for war.
Second, recourse to force is also conditioned by the exhaustion of all peaceful alternatives. Particularly during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, and most notably during the Persian Gulf War, failure to pursue alternative means or half-hearted employment of them was a repeated theme of papal interventions and commentary on diplomacy.
Third, the council's warrant for a governments' use of force is made in a cautionary mode. After warning against military action for the subjugation of other nations, the council remarks, "Nor does the possession of war potential make every military or political use of it lawful. Neither does the mere fact that war has unhappily begun, mean that all is fair between the warring parties." In the late 20th century, Catholic teaching on war had grown cautious, even skeptical, of the moral use of force as a tool of politics.
Having given renewed, though conditional, sanction for just war, the council went on to offer words of encouragement for the military. "Those who are pledged to the service of their own country as members of its armed forces should regard themselves as agents of security and freedom on the behalf of their people. As long as they fulfill this role properly, they are making a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace." Thus, the council continued to affirm that military personnel possess a legitimate place in the life of the Christian community. That traditional position is informed, however, by renewed appreciation of the moral principles pertaining to warfare, by support for the exercise of conscience, and even encouragement for the right to resist immoral orders.
Rejection of Nuclear War. Gaudium et spes was drafted in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). The threat of a nuclear holocaust had inspired Pope John XXIII to issue his last encyclical letter, Pacem in terris (1963), which laid out a positive vision of peace built on the promotion and defense of human rights. Pope John called for an end to the arms race, cuts in arms stockpiles, the banning of nuclear weapons, and disarmament. "[I]n an age such as ours," the pope wrote, "which prides itself on atomic energy, it is contrary to reason to hold that war is now a suitable way to restore rights which have been violated."
For its part, the council contemplated a scenario in which the strategic doctrine of mutually assured destruction would be played out to its catastrophic end and concluded that "an almost total and altogether reciprocal slaughter of each side by the other would follow." Acts of war, it argued, "inflicting such massive and indiscriminate destruction [would far exceed] the limits of legitimate defense." Accordingly, the council condemned the nuclear arms race and lent its support to efforts for disarmament and the avoidance of war, pending the establishment of some "universal public authority" that would make the banning of war feasible.
In 1983 the U.S. bishops' pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace, condemned nuclear warfare and offered a morally conditioned acceptance of nuclear deterrence. In the years since World War II, especially in the ethical debates over nuclear strategy in the 1960s and 1970s, the in bello just-war norm of noncombatant immunity had become a near-absolute moral principle. Arguments made to allow collateral damage in conventional warfare on grounds of double effect were simply inapplicable in the case of the prevailing policies for nuclear-war fighting. The collateral effects of nuclear blasts were too extensive and too damaging. The prevailing doctrine of deterrence, namely, mutually assured destruction, moreover, took direct aim at the adversary's major population centers in contravention of the Second Vatican Council's condemnation of acts of "total war." The bishops' condemnation extended to "the retaliatory use of weapons striking enemy cities after our own have been struck."
The bishops also laid down the same moral strictures, though in somewhat muted language, against the initiation of nuclear conflict. "We do not perceive any situation," they wrote, admitting a small margin of uncertainty, "in which the deliberate initiation of nuclear warfare, on however a restricted scale, can be morally justified. Non-nuclear attacks by another state must be resisted by other than nuclear means." Thus, they ruled out the use of so-called theater nuclear weapons, then contemplated as a response to a massive Soviet conventional invasion, and possible nuclear (preventative or retaliatory) attacks against chemical or biological attacks by socalled rogue states. A principal reason for this opposition to first use was the bishops' "extreme skepticism about the prospects for controlling a nuclear exchange, however limited the first strike might be." Arguing that policy-makers should be wary of "crossing boundary from the conventional to the nuclear arena in any form," they urged political leaders to "resist the notion that nuclear conflict can be limited, contained, or won in any traditional sense."
The bishops also took up the morally perplexing issue of nuclear deterrence. On the one hand, deterrence sustained the danger of nuclear war and contributed enormously to the arms race. On the other hand, the nuclear shield guarded "the independence and freedom of nations and entire peoples." It assured "a peace of a sort," but at risk of enormous miscalculation. Accordingly, following a proposal of Pope John Paul II, the bishops argued for a morally conditioned acceptance of deterrence "as a step on the way to progressive disarmament."
Holding to this baseline, the bishops offered three criteria for evaluation of deterrence policy: (1) prevention, (2) sufficiency, and (3) disarmament.
Deterrence. A deterrent force exists solely for the purposes of preventing the use of nuclear weapons by others. Accordingly, planning for prolonged periods of repeated nuclear strikes and counterstrikes or ’prevailing' in nuclear war are unacceptable.
Sufficiency. Concerning the size and quality of a deterrent, 'sufficiency' to deter an enemy attack is an adequate policy. Calls for nuclear superiority must be rejected.
Disarmament. Deterrence is permitted only as a step toward further disarmament. For that reason, every change in the nuclear arsenal must be assessed in terms of "whether it will render further steps toward ’progressive disarmament' more or less likely." The bishops summarized their position with a single word: "we must continually say 'no' to the idea of nuclear war."
In 1993, looking at the nuclear issue following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the bishops proposed that abolition of nuclear weapons should be the deliberate aim of public policy.
A New Look at Nonviolence. Vatican II praised nonviolent activists and legitimated conscientious objection. In The Challenge of Peace, the U.S. bishops placed nonviolence in the broad sweep of the Catholic social teaching. The bishops regarded "the just-war teaching and nonviolence as distinct but interrelated methods of evaluating warfare. While the two positions may diverge on specific conclusions, they share a common presumption against the use of force as a means of settling disputes." The Challenge of Peace endorsed the development of nonviolent means of defending against aggression and for promoting conflict resolution. On the whole, however, it treated nonviolence as a religious matter of personal vocation. The bishops recognized that modern weapons made nonviolence (and pacifism) urgently necessary, but at the same time they did not regard nonviolence as adequate to guide public policy in an age when power remained divided among contending states. In the public realm, the state ethic for the moral limitation of conflict remained the just-war tradition.
Events, however, were moving ahead. In 1986, a nonviolent, "people-power" revolution overthrew the longstanding Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. In 1989, one after another, the Communist governments of the eastern European Soviet satellite states fell, mostly nonviolently. The one exception was Rumania, where the Ceaucescu regime fought a short-lived resistance and the victors took vengeance on their former rulers. Above all, in 1991, the Soviet Union itself dissolved. Pope John Paul II had been an active participant in the broader transformation in eastern Europe, first as a mentor to the Polish Solidarity labor movement, later as an international mediator fostering a nonviolent transition throughout the region. In three-way communication with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and Polish president Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Polish-born pontiff argued successfully against the introduction of Soviet troops to suppress the uprisings as they had in 1956 and 1968.
In 1991, John Paul commented on the collapse of the Communist states in his encyclical, Centesimus annus, laying the success of the revolts to nonviolence. Pope John Paul attributed the victory to "the Gospel spirit" and a repudiation of the sort of "political realism" which "'wishes' to banish law and morality from the public arena." The European order established by the Yalta Agreements was, he wrote, "overcome by the nonviolent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth." According to the Holy Father, the nonviolent activists had a moral clarity not possessed by those who trust in force, because "by joining their sufferings for the sake of truth and freedom to the sufferings of Christ on the Cross," they were "in a position to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil and the violence which, under the illusion of fighting evil, only makes it worse." Accordingly, he prayed that others would follow their example "[fighting] for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes, and war in international ones."
In 1993, writing on the tenth anniversary of The Challenge of Peace, the United States bishops, taking their cue from Pope John Paul II, asked "in light of recent history, whether nonviolence should be restricted to personal commitments or whether it should have a place in the public order with the tradition of justified and limited force." Their pastoral statement, The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, laid on national leaders the obligation to consider seriously nonviolent alternatives for dealing with conflicts, and urged exploration and improvement of new styles of preventative diplomacy and conflict resolution. While these obligations to nonviolence "do not detract from the state's right and duty to defend against aggression," they wrote, "they do raise the threshold for the recourse to force." In just-war terms, the obligation of the state to develop and employ nonviolent alternatives to the resolution of conflict should move back the point at which a government or nation reaches the condition of "last resort." The Harvest of Justice, like The Challenge of Peace, acknowledged legitimate diversity among Catholics concerning the place of nonviolence and just war in relation to the conduct of war and their place in the Christian life. Each document also distinguished between Church teaching on matters of principle and the prudential applications of those principles by governments, opinion leaders, and the public.
In keeping with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and his predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, Pope John Paul II has called for "a concerted worldwide effort to promote development" as a positive contribution to peace and a remedy for the causes of war. The duty to promote development for the poor is as grave an obligation, in his teaching, as the duty to avoid war. "Another name for peace," he wrote in Centesimus annus, "is development." This is not a plea for 'charity' in the pejorative sense of indiscriminate aid. Rather, development is intended to provide the poor with opportunities "to improve their condition through work or to make a positive contribution to economic prosperity." A second theme of recent papal teaching has been the importance of international law. The international legal order is seen as providing a framework for the prevention of conflict through establishment of more equitable relations between peoples and nations, establishing procedures for nonviolent resolution of conflict, and creating structures and practices capable of promoting the universal common good. A third contribution of Pope John Paul II has been, by teaching and personal witness, to hold up the importance of forgiveness in the resolution of conflict. His numerous statements of apology for offenses committed in the name of the Church culminated during the Great Jubilee with the Day of Pardon, his visits to Yad Vashem and the Wailing Wall (2000), and his embrace of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos (2001). In his "World Day of Peace Message" for 2002 ("No Peace without Justice, No Justice without Forgiveness"), the pontiff applied his teaching on forgiveness to the international order. Writing explicitly in the context of the U.S.led war against terrorism, he wrote, "Families, groups, societies, states and the international community itself need forgiveness in order to renew ties that have been sundered, go beyond sterile situations of mutual condemnation and overcome the temptation to discriminate against others without appeal. The ability to forgive," he concluded, "lies at the very basis of a future society marked by justice and solidarity."
Bibliography: e. abrams, ed., Close Calls: Intervention, Terrorism, Missile Defense, and 'Just War' Today (Washington, DC 1998). d. christiansen, "Afterword: A Roman Catholic Response," in j. h. yoder, When War Is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, NY 1996) 102–117; "Peacemaking and the Use of Force: Behind the Pope's Stringent Just War Teaching," America 180:17 (May 17, 1999) 13–18. r. dougherty, ed., The Just War: The Relevance of Just War Theory in the Modern Age, forthcoming. j. finnis, j. boyle, jr., and g. grisez, Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism (Oxford 1987). j. b. elshtain, et al., But Is It Just?: Reflections on the Morality of the Persian Gulf War, with an appendix from Civilta Catolica, tr. p. heinegg, ed. d. de cosse (New York 1992). d. hollenbach, Nuclear Ethics: A Christian Moral Argument (Maryknoll, NY 1983). p. j. murnion, ed., Catholics and Nuclear War: A Commentary on "The Challenge of Peace," foreword by t. m. hesburgh (New York 1983). r. musto, The Catholic Peace Tradition (Maryknoll, NY 1988). w. v. o'brien and j. langan, eds., The Nuclear Dilemma and the Just War Tradition (Lexington, MA 1986). g. powers, et al., eds., Peacemaking: Moral and Policy Challenges for a New World (Washington, DC 1984). t. a. shannon, ed., War or Peace? The Search for New Answers (Maryknoll, NY 1980).
[r. a. mccormick/
"War, Morality of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/war-morality
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