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The Necessity of War: Is there such a thing? Do we ever need war?
June 09, 2007
On The Necessity Of War
In any discussion on the necessity of war, we must begin with a basic, fundamental question:
Is there ever any practical and moral reason for war?
That is a simple yes or no question, but it is vital to the subject, and it must be answered as a beginning point to further discussion regarding the necessity of war. And if the answer is no, then, there is no point in any further discussion.
For if the answer to that question is no, then we never should have fought any war in our past, and if we had never fought any war in our past, then we would not exist, as a nation or as a people, in anything like the condition in which we find ourselves today.
I submit that the answer to the question is yes, because there are wars in our past that would have been unthinkable to have lost. Unacceptable is not a strong enough word. Absolutely unacceptable is not a strong enough term.
Our willful actions and our free-will decisions are ideally guided by our individual consciences and our collective common ethos. Each of which, when properly formed, stem from our deeply held religious sense of right and wrong, our sense of good justice, and our sense of love of (and responsibility for) our neighbor. And they sometimes reinforce our natural tendency to want to come to the aid of someone relatively small and weak who is being picked on by someone bigger and stronger.
The Necessity of War at the Individual Level
This applies at the individual level as well as at the national and international levels. We all tend to want to defend a woman against a man, a small child against older children, a little guy against a big guy, an individual against a gang, almost anyone against a recognized bully. It gets increasingly serious as the identity of the person being shoved around moves farther into our personal circle of acquaintances, friends and actual family members.
The very minute you become the victim of the bully, the principle of the necessity of war immediately makes itself known to you. We can all walk away from an insult, even accompanied by a shove or jostle. But when you are assaulted, or your home is invaded, or your family members are imperiled, it’s pretty unlikely you will take time to get out the Catechism to read up on the Just War doctrine. You will act, or you will suffer the consequences of not acting.
Once the fury is unleashed, rational thinking tends to take a back seat. We are called to moderate our response to the minimum necessary; in other words, we are not free to just whale the tar out of someone, perhaps even maiming or killing him, once we are morally justified to fight. Once the blood is up and the adrenalin is pumping, it can be very hard to remember that, or even think of it. And that is all the more reason to try, in the first place, to avoid physical conflict almost at all costs. Once you start down the trail of violence, it is almost unpredictable where it will end. That’s why reason is supposed to rule among reasonable men.
Still, it is good to keep in mind that we are not all reasonable men. The reason for the very existence of the term Law Enforcement rests in the fact that there are always those among us who must be forced to live within the constraints of the civil law, or be removed from among us. Major and minor criminals – who, by definition, disobey laws – are everywhere in society.
The Necessity of War at the Political Level
War is a purely political thing, usually fought between different peoples, sometimes fought by forces within the same people over who is to be ruler. Nevertheless, the necessity of war is always a political decision, usually made by the aggressor party first. Someone convinced the others of the necessity of war, and the war commenced. Whoever was attacked usually had no choice in the matter, but sometimes they were given a choice, and it usually became a political decision in that camp, too.
Nations with borders are a relatively new thing, historically speaking. In general, nations with borders have had a civilizing influence on man. The first feudal properties, be they kingdoms or some sort of noble domains, were disputed, settled and re-settled between nobility, with a decreasing necessity of war over time. That’s not to say they didn’t go to war with each other, but that the necessity of war decreased.
The main people they fought wars against were the non-nation nomads and various roving barbarian gangs. This forced the kingdom-nations into military alliances and firmed up the general sense of borders and sovereign property.
Attila the Hun had no nation or national affinity; neither did the Vandals, the Goths, the Visigoths, the Turks, or many others among the marauding hordes who swept across Europe making war for the sole purpose of conquest, pillage, riches and power. The absolute necessity of war was crystal clear to the inhabitants of any castle or fortified city that found itself in the path of any one of the many marauding bands.
We should not be terribly surprised that our current enemies in our Global War On Terror do not represent any particular nation. Indeed, in their ultimate ideology, they oppose the existence of all nations, and seek to create a one-world state in submission to Islam, by violence if necessary. Islam has no real nationality. Nevertheless, Islam is a very real major political force in the world. Even competing and warring groups within Islam – the Sunni and the Shia, for example – share the same ultimate ideological goal, that being the Ummah, the end of all competing religions and the end of all competing nations, and the formation of the idealized one Islamic world state. This is no secret; it is what orthodox, main-stream Islam teaches its disciples.
In a similar manner, Marxism knows no nationality, is merely an ideology, and represents a similar danger to sovereign nations, and to the very idea of sovereignty itself. The whole Marxist, Utopian, absolutely perfect, Worldly Heaven promised to millions by International Communism, fatally flawed and impossible though it may be, still infects so-called intellectual thought everywhere on Earth. The shear stupidity of the notion matters not one whit. You will still find a majority of university professors who quote Marx as a great social thinker, even a genius. Go figure.
The danger here is that the died-in-the-wool Marxists among us will seldom if ever publicly recognize any necessity of war. Any war. If you look at how the international variant of Marxism got its big foothold in Europe, and its big foothold in Asia, you see that Internationalism (Bolshevism; Socialism; Communism; whatever you choose to call it) took advantage of nation-tearing wars to fight, not for the nation, but for Marxism. The Red forces in Russia did not fight for Russia, but for Communism. The Red forces in China did not fight for China, but for Communism.
Communism succeeded only when the nation being revolted against was already under extreme duress fighting a war of survival against a foreign invader. But then, to the International Marxist, there is no such thing as a foreigner. And, if the populace is not ready or willing to revolt against the government, then the Marxist citizens hope for some sort of desperate war. They will not publicly admit to any necessity of war, even when the invader is at the door. They want war; they just won’t say it out loud. War is only an opportunity for them; a means to an end.
In all of history, no so-called Communist Revolution ever succeeded with popular support of the people. If it hadn’t been for World War I, the Russian Revolution would not have succeeded. If it hadn’t been for World War II, the Chinese Revolution would not have succeeded. They were not popular revolutions at all, but armed takeovers. Even in Cuba, Castro never even announced his Communism until after Batista and his gangsters were defeated. The new Communism of Cuba was as much a surprise to the Cuban people as it was to the rest of the world. So Marxism, in truth, recognizes the necessity of war as the means to an end.
However, American Marxists will always oppose any public notion of the necessity of war. Lefties will always be leading the charge to de-militarize us, cut defense spending, emasculate the military and convince the populace of the evil of the military and of anything like national war-readiness. They see it as an important part of their job.
Curiously, these are the same people who take the most extreme public umbrage at any suggestion that they might in any way be unpatriotic. And, they are also the ones who denigrate all real patriotism as jingoism.
The Church on the Necessity of War.
We know from Eccles. 3:3 that there is “a time to kill.” At many, many different places in the Old Testament God Himself sent Israel into battle. But then, Christ came, to be known for all time as the Prince Of Peace. He said “blessed are the peacemakers” in Matt. 5:9. He said “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” in Matt. 5:39. If He epitomized the image of the peaceful man then how are we to understand his warning in Luke 22:36 where He tells His Apostles “let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one” ? Is this not a pretty clear acknowledgement by Jesus Christ of a legitimate use of force?
The short answer is yes, it is.
The just goal of war is peace. When someone challenges or eliminates peace, war must be waged to the degree necessary to restore the peace. At the lowest level, that is the reason for the existence of the term Law Enforcement. The aim of civil law is to provide civil order, which is to say, peace.
Paul told us that the civil government – the state – “does not bear the sword in vain” and “is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer.” In Luke 3:14 we see John the Baptist acknowledging that Roman soldiers entitlement to their wages, and to their jobs, which involved keeping the Pax Romana, or the Peace of Rome, by force when necessary.
Now the necessity of war was not something the early Christians concerned themselves with in any serious way, because they were not only a minority but an oppressed minority, for multiple centuries. They were certainly not capable of waging war on anyone, so it was a moot point.
In St Augustine’s era, around 400 AD, more attention was devoted to the necessity of war; St. Augustine provided one, which has come to be known famously as the Just War doctrine. While it’s been somewhat refined over the centuries, the essence of it remains pretty much as he wrote it.
The Church clearly recognizes the necessity of war, however distasteful that may be. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about Just War:
Paragraph 2309 shows that the necessity of war is subject to strict conditions to be legitimate. The “damage inflicted” by the aggressor must be lasting, grave and certain. Islam met that requirement in spades, multiple times. The “serious prospect of success” cannot and does not translate to anything close to certainty. War is the most de-stabilizing and uncertain activity of social orders. Indeed, social order leaves the arena when war enters. In the practical world, this “serious prospect” can only be interpreted to be “reasonable expectation,” or even “hope for survival.” However, even grave necessity of war does not permit the production of evils graver than the evil to be eliminated.
But, what about the principle of the preemptive strike when it is known ahead of time what the enemy is about to do? Israel has made use of this principle; is she now to be condemned for it, because the necessity of war had not been properly established by “damage inflicted” by the enemy? No. Recognition of a pending attack through intelligence or third party nations establishes the necessity of war, particularly when national survival is at stake.
Today, with the kinds of massively destructive weapons available to enemies who do not wear uniforms or necessarily even represent nations, necessity of war moves us into a new realm. We need to seek out, infiltrate, spy and do all sorts of normally distasteful things to even identify and find the enemy “soldiers” who hide among us, and among our allies. We should be thankful that they seem to have chosen to gather to fight us in Iraq, where we can deal with lots of them at the same time and in the same place.
In 2310 we see that the necessity of war imposes upon public authorities the duty to impose military obligations on the citizenry, and a recognition of the need for citizen service to country.
2311 says that conscientious objection needs to be allowed; we don’t need to draft the Amish. Necessity of war does not mean that everyone must contribute to the cause militarily. The remaining paragraphs point to the need for us to remain human; to retain the civilizing rules of our ethos, even in the face of savage barbarity. America, I would argue, has done a better job of that than any other nation on Earth. Our typical treatment of POWs, civilian populations and conquered nations is exemplary.
The only stain on our national honor involves the carpet bombing of cities like Dresden, which killed so many thousands of civilian non-combatants. Apparently, Western leadership believed that we could destroy the will of the people to resist, and perhaps we could; but it raises the question of how we came to think that we were waging war against the people instead of the armies and navies and air forces. And perhaps war materials factories and fuel supplies. Actually, I think Hitler and the allied leadership were sort of publicly dueling, seeing how many of each other’s citizens they could kill. Hopefully we will never get sucked into anything like that again. A valid necessity of war does not grant an unlimited license to annihilate populations.
Regarding our use of the atom bomb in WW II, we need to pause and remember what brought about the necessity of war in that instance. It was Japanese military conquest, pure and simple, accompanied by the worst order of atrocity, easily among the most gruesome in recorded history. And, of course, there was the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
I have mixed emotions regarding Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some say those were only civilian populations; others say, while granting that they were civilian population centers, that they were major military war materials and ship-building and port facilities, and thus the only major military targets worthy of such massively destructive weapons. I suppose we could have dropped one on a boat somewhere. I don’t know what other targets might have been available, but I do know that those two brought the war to an end. The estimates of how many American and allied lives would have been “expended” to take the final Japanese Islands were running into the millions.
It is horrible that so many innocents died in those two cities, but in the final analysis, those two bombs ended the war. It may be argued that Japan is better off now, even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, than she would have been if they had not been atom-bombed. Japan would have been even more ravaged and destroyed, with potentially nothing left of their old culture. The rest of the world could not and would not any longer tolerate Japanese imperial military conquest and bestial atrocity, as exemplified by Bata an, Nan King and so many other places. It simply had to be stopped, and the sooner the better.
I’m not going to second-guess the generals on that at this late date. I’ll simply say a prayer for the innocents, and just move on. The war is over, and Japan has become a peaceful nation and a peaceful people.
Today I don’t think anyone could argue that any nation spent more time, money and attention on the development of collateral-damage reduction, in the form of so-called smart weaponry than the USA. Only a fundamentally decent people would have any interest in developing a bomb or missile that could take out a military target right in among a native population, while injuring as few as possible or even none of the non-combatants. Islam isn’t doing that sort of thing. Quite the opposite. Today, they are making suicide-vests in toddler sizes.
Necessity of War and Peace Among Nations.
Earlier we saw some Scriptural support for state police as peace keepers among the populace. What about keeping peace between nations? Looking back through history we see that on occasion an Attila would sally forth, and the world would tremble until someone able to do so took to the field after the guy. It’s no different today. This is where the most vehement arguments arise regarding the necessity of war. The question is:
Should we go to war when someone else is attacked?
So, does a necessity of war exist for us when another nation is in military distress. And the answer is, it depends. Of course if the other nation is an ally, we might have a mutual defense treaty, as among NATO nations. But, the other nation might not be a NATO member, or an ally with a treaty.
The whole reason for our “Cold War” with the old Soviet Union hinged on this question regarding the necessity of war. Earlier I said that only in Russia and in China did the so-called Communist Revolutions take hold, and there only because the resources and military might of the government was divided. Russia was at war with Germany, and China was at war with Japan, at the same time the Reds were doing their big takeover thing.
Every other nation that was to fall under Communism did so only after having been overrun by Russian military. They drove the Germans out, and then they stayed, and took charge. There were no revolutions in any of those countries; they were simply conquered or militarily annexed, and they had nothing whatsoever to say about it. We left the lands we drove the Germans out of, but the Russians didn’t. And they sought and got more. Communism, as a world-conquest seeking ideology, was on the move, in Africa, in South and Central America and in Asia. Could this sort of imperial expansionism create a sense of the necessity of war in the minds of thinking men?
Well, there seemed to be a necessity of war mentality surrounding the quite obvious International Communist expansion that got us into Korea, and then Vietnam. If you see someone loose in the world whose publicly announced intention is to take over the world and eliminate all other forms of government, steadily gaining ground, does that create a necessity of war? To me, it is little different from another Attila, or another horde of Turks loose in the world. If someone doesn’t stop them somewhere, eventually they’ll kill or conquer everyone.
The only reason the necessity of war against Communism did not resonate in every breast in America was because of the intellectual viral infection of Marxism that was racing like wildfire through the intelligentsia. On the campus, in the studio, in the news room, there was and could be no necessity of war with Communism, ever.
America has been and will be much maligned for taking on the role of international peace keeper. But, if we didn’t do it, who would? The UN? Don’t make me laugh. In plain, simple fact, there is no other nation available that is powerful enough to do it, and honorable enough to not take advantage of the situation by building an empire or something similar. Historically, we leave free nations with their own representative governments in our wake. No one else does that. And our Leftists want us to stop doing that. And so does Islam.
Necessity of War and American Politics.
Nothing is more serious and nothing is more dangerous than going to war. Nothing is more destabilizing among nations, nothing is more confusing and nothing generates so much uncertainty about the future.
Here is where the big difference is:
This means that war, on the representative-government side of the street, becomes a political hot potato. On the other side, of course, the dictator answers to no one. Nobody ever voted for Ho Chi Minh, and no citizen ever opposed him and lived. But everybody rained on President Johnson’s parade, and eventually even broke his heart, and his spirit, and his Presidency. The war was lost politically, of all things.
Necessity of War and Representative Government.
We have established that the decision for war is the most serious decision that can be made. All the more reason we should be very careful in the selection of our leaders. Once they are in office, we the people need to be able to trust them to be able to make that decision, not based on any votes, not based on any popularity, but on whether the decision is right, or wrong. Once the necessity of war has been established, once our forces, however limited, have been committed, everybody other than the generals needs to back up two steps and shut up. That includes Senators and Congressmen, Justices and judges, even Presidents, though to a smaller degree. Because it has become a military matter, and war is not the proper domain of civilians.
No American trooper should ever go into harm’s way only to have the rug pulled out from under him by any act of congress, or any purely politically motivated decision, or any street demonstrations or any public tantrums by any Leftie celebrocrats. When it’s time to take a hill, the marines don’t take a vote on it. They do it. Once they’ve been committed, every single one of the rest of us is honor bound and duty bound to support them in every way we can. Recognizing the Lefties have no honor and no sense of national duty, the rest of us need to do more than required, to take up the slack and to override the anti-American efforts of the Left.
So, once we’re at war, the time for popularity polls is over. It doesn’t matter one iota if a lot of us disagree with the necessity of war. It doesn’t even matter if all of us disagree with the necessity of war. It’s too late. Once we’re in a war, the only goal needs to be to win it. Political battles can be fought later, but American troops always need the guaranteed and completely uninterrupted support of the nation that sent them there. The blood of the American fighting man is the very life-blood of the whole principle of Representative Government.
Which the Lefties hate, as they seek to grow the government, as they migrate power from the people to the government, and even as they pretend to be American patriots. Most of us don’t know it yet, but this is only one very small phase of the war we’ve begun to fight. At stake, believe it or not, is our national existence. And as we go, so will the world go.
Pray for the President, that he might have wisdom.
Pray for our troops, that they might have perseverance.
Pray for our nation, that we might return to our guiding ethos.
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