January 2, 2008

'Just War' and Dissent

(I wrote this article some time ago and moved it to this blog after some minor changes.)

"To defend oneself when attacked is legitimate because an unjust aggression has taken place. But a preventive war is not the same because it is a war of aggression and there is no doubt whatsoever that it does not belong to the definition of a just war, which consists of legitimate defense."
—Archbishop Renato Martino


WAR against Iraq does not meet the conditions of a just war as required by principles of the traditional Just War doctrine. Cardinal Pio Laghi, Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States made it clear that this is the Church’s position on Iraq. On this point, Laghi said, “I want to emphasize that there is great unity on this grave matter on the part of the Holy See, the Bishops in the United States, and the Church throughout the world.”

I think the almost universal agreement among the Church hierarchy constitutes a moral certainty that the Iraq war is an unjust war. In addition, the critically flawed arguments of the dissenters actually serve to reinforce this position.

Despite Cardinal Laghi’s statement on the "great unity on this grave matter", various Catholic scholars such as George Weigel, Michael Novak, Deal Hudson, and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus chose to dissent from the Church and support White House plans to invade Iraq.

The efforts of Weigel and company to justify their dissenting position are occasions of scandal within and without the Church. I should add that these dissenters appear to believe in their cause, and do not intend to create scandal. (For an understanding of scandal, see the related Catholic Encyclopedia
article). Nonetheless, killing in an unjust war objectively violates the Fifth Commandment. And the dissenters’ efforts to justify a war the Church has correctly judged to be immoral misleads the consciences of Catholics and influences conduct in ways that are contrary to what is morally correct.

Unfortunately, Weigel and company are not wanting for disciples. Their devotees include
Catholics in the Military, which is no surprise. CIM has posted several articles by various dissenters. For example, you will find articles on just war thinking by George Weigel, such as Getting Just War Straight. Yet, CIM will not post articles that support the Church’s position on the Iraq war. No surprise here, either.

Soldiers that begin having doubts about the morality of the Iraq war are sure to have that small voice of conscience squelched by CIM, Weigel and company.

I was surprised to see an article by freelance writer Russell Shaw in which he said that it is not fair to call his friends dissenters. Shaw’s article was on the CIM website for some time. You can now find it here:
Iraq, Weigel and the Pope

Shaw asks,“Is it fair to call my friends Michael Novak, George Weigel, Deal Hudson and others who supported the Bush administration dissenters because they differed on this matter with the pope?"

Shaw’s question mischaracterizes the problem with his friends. Shaw's friends did not differ “with the pope” as if they were differing from the pope alone and his personal opinion. Cardinal Laghi (quoted above) correctly characterized the Church’s thinking about the war against Iraq when he referred to the “great unity on this grave matter”.

Before continuing with a discussion of Russell Shaw’s article, I should say it is to his credit that he opposes the Iraq war. Shaw gives three excellent reasons for opposing the war:

“First, U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq had been resumed and seemed to be getting some results; it was premature, to say the least, to cut that process short by going to war at this time. Second, except in the most extraordinary circumstances, regime change is not an appropriate purpose of war. Third, creating a democratic Iraq by force is a will-o'-the-wisp that the United States has no business pursuing.”

If only George Weigel and company shared Shaw’s common sense view.

Shaw next states that the pope and those who disagree with him “are expressing prudential judgments rather than matters of moral principle and Catholic doctrine.” Unfortunately, Shaw mischaracterizes the issue. Moral principles are in question, just as are prudential judgments about contingent matters. For example, Pope John Paul II clearly rejected the dissenters attempt to revise the traditional doctrine of just war. In addition, Cardinal Ratzinger addressed moral principles and Catholic doctrine when he stated that "preventive war" is not in the Catechism.

Weigel and Novak, to the contrary, promote preventive war as being morally necessary.

This is clearly a disagreement about moral principle: the dissenters attempt to justify "preventive war", while on the other hand, the Church upholds that "preventive war" is aggressive and morally impermissible.

There is no place for preventive war in the Just War doctrine. Archbishop Renato Martino rightly stated:

"To defend oneself when attacked is legitimate because an unjust aggression has taken place. But a preventive war is not the same because it is a war of aggression and there is no doubt whatsoever that it does not belong to the definition of a just war, which consists of legitimate defense."

To support favor preventive war is to dissent from traditional Just War doctrine. This is where Shaw errors by saying,

“But Novak, Weigel, Hudson and co. are, as Catholics, entitled to disagree on Iraq with me and, far more important, with Pope John Paul II.”

The first problem with Shaw's statement is that Weigel and company support their disagreement mainly with false and misleading information about Saddam Hussein and Iraq. They repeat White House war propaganda as if the statements were beyond question. For example, one only needs to read the dissenters’ articles and see how often they refer to Saddam’s WMD program and his alleged intent to use WMD. Surely, these dissenters are intelligent enough to realize there never was any good evidence for Saddam having a WMD program.

The second problem, as explained above, is that Shaw’s friends are disagreeing with traditional moral doctrine.

Shaw continues to say the Washington Times is entitled to its position on the morality of this war, "but it shouldn't talk nonsense to make its case." I agree. Similarly, I think Novak, Weigel, and Hudson are entitled to their personal opinions, but they should not mislead others by publicly expressing their nonsense. Shaw has presented us with his double standard regarding people who disagree with the pope. Friends get special consideration.

Shaw rightly faults the Washington Times for "claiming editorially that they had a better grasp of just war doctrine as taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church than did the pope." Yet, is the claim made by the Washington Times any more arrogant than the claims made by Novak, Weigel, Hudson, and company? Here again, Shaw presents his double standard.

Furthermore, the Washington Times only stated explicitly what it and the dissenters have in common -- the belief in having a better understanding of Catholic Just War doctrine than does the pope and the Church at large.

In summary here, Shaw’s defense of his friends has no merit. On the other hand, Shaw’s three reasons for opposing the war against Iraq are excellent reasons.

Preventive War...
Certain dissenters have tried to dodge any criticism of their support for "preventive war". They have asserted that war on Iraq is not preventive war, preemptive war, or aggression, but rather an effort to contain Saddam's ambitions of hegemony in the region. However, this maneuver is not intellectually honest. The arguments that
Saddam must be contained by use of military reveal undeniable support for preventive war.

In the following excerpt, Cardinal James Francis Stafford discusses preemptive war and preventive war:

"...The Catechism uses three significant phrases in its teaching on a preemptive war: 'lawful self-defense', 'legitimate defense', and 'damages inflicted by an aggressor.' These phrases indicate that legitimate public authority cannot decide for war unless the nation or community of nations has undergone prior damages from an aggressor or is actually under a very imminent threat. In the 'just war' tradition resort to violence can be justified only if there is an aggression in actu.

"Furthermore, the concept of a 'preventive' war is ambiguous. 'Prevention' does not have a limit; it is a relative term and is subject to self-serving interpretations. Objective criteria must be applied with intellectual rigor. The threat must be clear, active and present not future. Nor has the American administration shown that all other options before going to war have proven impractical or ineffective."

A Single Persian Gulf War...
The dissenters construe Bush the Lesser’s invasion of Iraq not as a second war on Iraq, but as the continuation of a 12-year war. The point of this single-war strategy is that now it can be asserted the invasion of Iraq does not need moral justification because it is a continuation of the original Persian Gulf War. And the dissenters assume the initial war on Iraq met all of the conditions of a just war. However, this strategy is disingenuous.

The first problem with their argument is that it falsely assumes moral justification of the initial 12-year war on Iraq, followed by almost
daily bombings and a pitiless embargo. (Why the first Persian Gulf War did not meet all conditions of a just war needs to be discussed in a separate posting.)

The second problem is the argument fails because under its own presumption that there is only a single war against Iraq, the second Iraq war is instead considered a renewed escalation of war, and a renewed escalation must be morally justified in and of itself. However, the reasons given by the Bush Administration in favor of 'renewed escalation' were exaggerated and false.

Likewise, the dissenters' arguments in favor of war are typically dependent on statements of fact about Saddam and Iraq that are exaggerated and false.

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Recommended links:

Just War
Numerous links to articles for and against the Iraq war.

The Errors of Michael Novak
by Robert Waldrop

Bush Administration Lies for War
Americans Against World Empire

Catholic Writers Recruited to Support Bush War on Iraq
Houston Catholic Worker

'Stay the Course!' – Is Not Enough
by Patrick J. Buchanan

Losing the High Road?
by Antonio Baggio (scroll down to second article)

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