Can Assisting A Just Action Be Unjust?

One of the things which has always confused me a bit in regards to discussions of just war is when people seem to imply that while it might be just for Country A to resist the attack of Country B, it is unjust for Country C to assist Country A against Country B. It seems to me that thi effectly amounts to arguing that assisting someone in performing a just action is itself unjust, which seems hard to credit at a principled level, though there certainly might be ways you could attempt to assist which would be unjust.

So, for instance, I’ve heard it argued at times that while it might have been just for the South Vietnamese to resist the invasion of the North Vietnamese, it was clearly unjust for the US to get involved in the Vietnam War.

Now, I could see it as being arguable that it was highly unwise for the US to get involved in the war, but it seems hard to understand how it would be unjust, in principle, to assist South Vietnam in defending itself against North Vietnam’s attack.

Is there a principled fashion in which one can argue that it is unjust to assist a country engaged in a just war? If so, what is the argument?

If so, is this a principle which only applies to countries, or are there also examples of personal interactions in which it is just for someone to perform an action, but unjust for another person to assist in that action?

48 Responses to Can Assisting A Just Action Be Unjust?

  • It is not unjust for individual citizens of Country C to voluntarily assist Country A in its defense against Country B.

    But whether it is just for Country C as a whole to assist Country A against Country B is another matter.

    There are many things which an individual may justly do (or opt not to do), which his employees or servants may not justly take it upon themselves to do on his behalf, with his money.

    The military power is delegated to the government by the people, who in themselves initially held the just authority to defend innocent persons by force and to organize with others in doing so. But the military power was delegated to the government for particular purposes; namely, for the defense of the people and the nation and its territories and its vital national interests.

    To the degree that a particular exercise of military power is not connected to these, the people rightly sense that their servants are going beyond their warrant, like a bunch of employees using company computers for “Non-Approved Purposes.”

    Thus the reason for the disconnect.

    Of course it’s difficult to see these issues clearly because they’re so easily mixed up with others. For example: The U.S. repulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the 90’s: Was it just? (Certainly private American citizens could have justly gone to Kuwait to assist in the defense, but was it just for the U.S. military to do it in an official capacity?) And, was it wise?

    Well, the justice of the U.S. military doing it depends partly on whether they had warrant to exercise power on behalf of the people of the U.S. for the purpose of defending Kuwait. Did they? It wasn’t a defense of U.S. territory.

    Was it in the national interest? Well, that’s an arguable point, and the arguments in favor of it, or against it, are exactly the same arguments as those used to determine whether it was wise, or not. So we see that the discussion of whether it is “wise” can overlap with whether it was “just.”

    That doesn’t mean there’s no difference between “just” and “wise” as categories.

    It takes a certain amount of wisdom to know whether a given military adventure will turn out in the end to have been in the national interest. If it is, then (assuming all other criteria for Just War were met) it becomes a just use of official U.S. military power. If not, then, as it didn’t involve defending the homeland and her people, it is an unauthorized use.

    But people can, through lack of wisdom, guess wrongly about what is in the national interest. So you can have a military action which, in the end, turns out to be unwise. Does it follow that it was unjust? Not necessarily.

    I think the concept of “just” deals with moral culpability for an error. An Unjust War is morally culpable. But moral culpability means you had to know you were doing something wrong; in this case, it means you had to know the war was unwise before you “pressed go.” Or, at the very least, that “you should have known.”

    So: Let us say that we, as Country C, are faced with the decision whether to defend our trading-partner Country B, with whom we are on a friendly basis but with whom we have no formal alliance, against an invasion by Country A. Should we do it?

    Well, assuming all other criteria for Just War are met, we have to ask, “Is this a use of military power authorized for us by the people, under our Constitution?”

    If the answer is, “Well, it doesn’t deal with defending ourselves existentially, but it does involve our vital national interests” then we must ask, “Fine, but going to war is a tricky thing. How sure are we in the end that once the costs and deaths and everything are taken together, the entire exercise will have been beneficial to our vital national interests?”

    At that point, the wisdom of the “deciders” comes into play.

    But let us say that the “deciders,” exercising their limited human wisdom to the best of their ability and without any culpable negligence, answer, “Yes, the entire exercise, taken together, will be beneficial.”

    In that case I would hold that the exercise of military power in this instance was Just. And I would hold that even if it turned out, a few years later, that the “deciders” had guessed wrongly, and that the whole exercise had been Unwise, because detrimental to the national interest.

    In that case, the proper formulation would be: “Had we known then what we know now, then we’d have known the whole thing to be against our national interest, and it would have been not only unwise, but unjust because our people did not authorize us to use their military in such a fashion. But because we did not know that then, our decision was not morally culpable. Consequently, the war was a Just War — assuming it fit all the other criteria for that designation — but remains, in the end, an Unwise War.”

  • I imagine it comes down to intent. Looking at Vietnam, if the US’s intent was to assist with the defense of a country against an invasion, then it would be just. If the US’s intent however was to have an arena in which to battle the Soviet Union (i.e. and intent not related to a just defense), then it would be unjust. I don’t know enough about vietnam to say which was which but I think if a country uses an unjust invasion as an excuse to justify what would be otherwise unjust motives, the presence of the just reason will not excuse the unjust reason.

  • Depends on the nature of the assistance, but sure. All that’s necessary are the conditions for “just war” not to apply to the specific assistance given by the assisting country, right?

    (working off the top of my head here) For it to be just, the assistance has to be proportionate, and likely to succeed (or to be really helpful). If the acts which constitute assistance are out of proportion to the harm that the war was supposed to stop or prevent, that wouldn’t be just. If the assistance is harmful rather than helpful, that wouldn’t be just. And maybe there is also a requirement that other means (e.g. negotiations) should be exhausted before material assistance with warfare.

  • Consider assisting in this context.
    It’s a little puzzling to note that most PRO-abortionists are also ANTI-war people. So it comes down to what is justifiable and who or what do we rely on for the justification. These judgments have to fit a template which society sets for itself in advance of an emergency or moral dilemma and it minimizes individual judgments having to be made under duress or on the spur of the moment.
    You must admit that those who would staunchly go along with the justification of terminating a pregnancy to “save” the mother must also and always support justifiable warfare. They are one in the same in that civilian casualties of justifiable warfare must be assumed to be simply collateral damage. You can’t have it both ways. Is the choice of ending one life at a time any more rational or justifiable than several at once?

  • The Rabbits Who Caused All The Trouble

    Within the memory of the youngest child there was a family of rabbits who lived near a pack of wolves. The wolves announced that they did not like the way the rabbits were living. (The wolves were crazy about the way they themselves were living, because it was the only way to live.) One night several wolves were killed in an earthquake and this was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that rabbits pound on the ground with their hind legs and cause earthquakes. On another night one of the other wolves was killed by a bolt of lightning and this was also blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that lettuce-eaters cause lightning. The wolves threatened to civilize the rabbits if they didn’t behave, and the rabbits decided to run away to a desert island. But the other animals, who lived at a great distance, shamed them saying, “You must stay where you are and be brave. This is no world for escapists. If the wolves attack you, we will come to your aid in all probability.” So the rabbits continued to live near the wolves and one day there was a terrible flood which drowned a great many wolves. This was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that carrot-nibblers with long ears cause floods. The wolves descended on the rabbits, for their own good, and imprisoned them in a dark cave, for their own protection.

    When nothing was heard about the rabbits for some weeks, the other animals demanded to know what happened to them. The wolves replied that the rabbits had been eaten and since they had been eaten the affair was a purely internal matter. But the other animals warned that they might possibly unite against the wolves unless some reason was given for the destruction of the rabbits. So the wolves gave them one. “They were trying to escape,” said the wolves, “and, as you know this is no world for escapists.”

    Moral: Run, don’t walk, to the nearest desert island.

    James Thurber

  • For you, Donald:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RK0Bfc2yjE]

  • I love both of those Thurber stories, yet watching Olbermann read them I kept expecting, from his tone and verbal intonation, him to suddenly fall upon the book with his teeth and tear it to pieces.

    I guess that’s just how his voice always sounds…

  • If a nation is unjustly attacked by another, anyone – and any nation – which does not rush to the defense of the injured party is morally wrong. This is the same as if we were to see a person being attacked on our local streets and decided not to do anything. Wickedness must be opposed at every possible point – understanding that we can’t get at it all, but that we must get at it when we can.

  • While there may be some positions that it might be unjust as some previous posters comment upon, I don’t see why it would as a general rule.
    If I see Person A mugging Person B, I am just in defending Person B from Person A; but I am not just in just attacking Person A without provocation. Your proposal just extends it to the Nth degree, but I think the same principles will hold.

  • While not immediately apparent, there are definitely situations where status is king and acting under the guise of solidarity doesn’t make all things right.

    For example, a dear friend’s wife is having difficulty achieving pregnancy due to a difficulty your friend is having. Not having this difficulty, understanding that you would help her achieve pregnancy were she your wife, and having your friend’s blessing, you take your friend’s stead. This is in a nutshell the basis for the illegitimacy of surrogacy.

    Now I’m hesitant to say this applies to war in part due to the historical record. By the same token, I’m not convinced there is a transitive property to just war.

  • To answer the question in the post title: of course it can be, in general, immoral to assist someone who is himself doing something morally just.

    The act of assisting involves a separate, distinct act of its own. If that act is evil in its object (means), intent (end), or circumstances, then the act of assisting is evil. Furthermore, if the act of assisting involves remote material cooperation with evil, then the assister must have a proportionate reason.

    That raises the following problem in the specific case of war, where the just war doctrine defines what is meant by proportionate reason in detail.

    Lets assume right intention on the part of Country C: country C’s objective just is to help country A defend itself against the very same unjust aggression that country A is defending against.

    If Country A is fighting a just war, that means – by the definition of a just war – that (among other things) Country A must fight the war as a last resort in defense against the aggressor, and at the same time country A must have a reasonable chance of success. If A is justified in fighting on its own, it follows that C’s choice to go to war – a separate choice from A’s – is not itself a last resort. So it seems to follow that either A’s war is not just without C’s help, if A is unlikely to succeed without C, or C’s entry into the war is unjust if A is likely to succeed without C, since C’s decision to go to war is not a last resort.

    Since A’s choice to go to war is defined as a just choice in the problem definition, C’s choice to go to war is therefore unjust – because unlike A’s choice, C’s distinct choice is not a last resort. (If it were a last resort then A’s choice to go on its own would be unjust, since A would not have a reasonable chance of success on its own).

    Of course these are all about likelihoods, etc, and the prudential judgments which go with them. That leaves plenty of middle ground where the particular situation is ambiguous. It also sets aside cases where (e.g.) A’s war is just, but things go badly – that is, circumstances have changed – and C’s help is required at some point during that war-underway to retrieve the reasonable likelihood of success. This analysis assumes an “all at once” choice where C’s choice to assist is made at the same time and in the same basic circumstances as A’s choice.

    But handwaving aside the middle ground and altered circumstances for the sake of discussion clarity, it seems that if A’s war would be just going it alone – which is in the problem definition – then C’s choice to assist is probably unjust, because by definition C’s choice, unlike A’s, is not a last resort.

    (I’m not sure I buy the argument myself, mind you, but I don’t see any holes in it at the moment).

  • MZ,

    FWIW, the example of “helping” a friend get his wife pregnant was the main thing that occurred to me where “helping” a just action would be clearly wrong. I thought of including it, but dropped it out a need for brevity, but also on the theory that if I get my friend’s wife pregnant, I’m not actually helping him get his wife pregnant (a moral action) but rather getting her pregnant myself (an immoral action.)

    More generally, it’s hard for me to see that there’s an inviolable relationship between one country and the other country attacking it which is sullied by the intervention of another party. Still, it is an example case.

  • More succinctly:

    It appears that it is not just for Country C to go to war unless C is needed in order achieve success; and if C is needed in order to achieve success, then going to war without C is not reasonably likely to succeed, and therefore unjust.

  • Bob,

    It’s an interestingly self consistent argument, though like you I don’t really think I buy it. Let me see if I can make a few attempts at poking at it.

    – It might be that A is capable of fending off the attack of B, and that the devastation resulting from that defensive war on A’s part would be less than that likely to be caused by B’s annihilation of A, however that C is significantly more powerful and rich in resources than A or B, and so if C fulfills a treatied obligation by coming to A’s aid, C would end the war more quickly, resulting in less destruction. The argument would thus be that while A could possibly win, and thus can engage justly in the war, C’s entry makes victory certain, quicker and less destructive. The claim would thus be that the destruction resulting from C not entering the war would be grave, that if C does not enter the war that the war between A and B (the injustice) would certainly continue for some time, and that the destruction resulting from leaving A and B to fight it out would be much greater than that resulting from C stepping in. It’s not as neat, but I think it basically works.

    – My next attempt is, I think, less rigorous, but rather more common sensical: If C coming to the aid of A when A is invaded by B is immoral, then necessarily any treaty of mutual defense is immoral and unjust. And yet, if treaties of mutual defense are immoral, then wars are doubtless far more likely, as there are fewer consequences for unjust aggressors and greater ease of success. Indeed, throughout history (up to and including the modern day UN) the popes have frequently endorsed treaties of mutual defense as a just way or ensuring greater peace. As such, it seems hard to come to the idea fulfilling the obligations of such treaties is immoral.

    – Finally, by analogy to personal interactions, we know (or at least, I take it that we know) that it is moral for one person to assist in the defense of another person against unjust violence. If this is moral among individuals, it seems hard to see how it is immoral among countries.

    That said, I think the general point that “this country is engaged in a just war, therefore we can get in on it as a freebie and be just as well” is clearly wrong. Countries should be reluctant to go war even when assisting someone involved in a just war for the reasons you and R.C. outline.

  • I agree with DarwinCatholic.
    The notion that a nation is morally *required* to stand by and watch another nation be raped, pillaged, and plundered because it is safe and secure (i.e., not a last resort) is truly standing morality on its head.

  • That’s good, Darwin. I think we can expand on it in a way that better comports with intuition without going all waffly on the just war doctrine.

    To formalize it a bit more, we can observe that the lasting, grave, and certain damage inflicted by the aggressor nation is not a single hermetic unit. So we have damage X, Y, and Z. Country A is justified in going to war to block damage X, but on it’s own cannot block damage Y or Z. Country C’s decision to assist can be just if its entry into the war is a last resort to block damage Y. Presumably in war there is virtually always a lasting, grave, and certain damage Z which cannot be prevented.

    I think that makes explicit the “overlap” which our intuition insists upon. At the same time, as you say, each country clearly must independently go through te just war criteria; and just because A gets a green light that doesn’t mean that C gets a green light.

  • Darwin’s title asks:

    Can Assisting A Just Action Be Unjust?

    The answer is, absolutely, yes. Here are two cases (we can multiply them):

    1) Seth is married to Beth. Seth seeks to render to Beth her conjugal rights, which would be a just act (i.e., fulfilling her marital right). Seth’s neighbor, Jeff, seeks to assist Seth in Seth’s just act. Would Jeff’s assistance be just simply because Jeff is assisting a just act? Of course not.

    2) Seth and Beth have a child, Harry. Harry has a right to education and nourishment, and Seth and Beth have the obligation to fulfill that right. The national government of the nation in which Seth and Beth live assists Seth and Beth in nourishing and educating Harry, bypassing all lower associations and governments, which are more than capable of assisting Seth and Beth. Would the national government be acting justly in assisting Seth and Beth? Probably not, since it would be violating the principle of subsidiarity.

    What do these two cases show? That the question “Can Assisting a Just Action be Unjust?” doesn’t really get us anywhere. It’s far too general to be of any real philosophical interest.

    Darwin seems to notice as much, since he asks a different question toward the end of his post:

    “Is there a principled fashion in which one can argue that it is unjust to assist a country engaged in a just war? If so, what is the argument?”

    This question is much more nuanced and apropos of the topic he wishes to discuss (i.e., U.S. engagement with Vietnam). But I am afraid that once more Darwin has over-simplified the matter and dwelt at too high a level of generality to answer the specific question about U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

    The moral value of an action (i.e., whether it’s just or unjust, right or wrong, good or evil) depends both on the intention (i.e., the end) and the means (i.e., the specific action to bring about the end). Asking for a purely “principled fashion” of argument that can apply universal and unequivocally to every case of a nation assisting another nation in a just war obviously is too simplistic and general to be of use here.

    What Darwin needs to consider in order to give any approximation of an answer to the question of whether U.S. involvement in Vietnam was just is:

    1) Since the mode of assistance is war (as opposed to just an “act” in general, as the title of his post ambiguously suggests), there are more criteria involved then what we use to determine the moral value of particular actions of individuals (which is why Mark Noonan’s analogy fails). These criteria would be the just war criteria. So Darwin needs to ask: Does the U.S. war (not just an “act”) in Vietnam satisfy just war criteria?

    2) The moral criteria would also need to be addressed (which Michael Denton rightly notes above): What was the U.S. intention (i.e., end) in this war? Was this end moral or, at least, non-moral (as opposed to immoral or unjust)? What was the means used to bring about that end moral or just?

    3) With respect to the actual U.S. war in Vietnam, what was the pretext of going to war?

    So, really, Darwin’s not asking the right questions if he is interested in discovering the moral value of the U.S. war in Vietnam. To appeal simply to “assisting” in a just act, we see from the example of Seth and Beth, won’t do the work. Requesting a general, universal principle with respect to assisting in just wars, likewise, advances us very little. Finally, not asking what the pretext, means, and end of the U.S. war in Vietnam leaves us unable to render any answer to the question that really matters.

    The problem with most just war discussions is that they take place at a very simplistic, general level. These discussions require a great deal of precision in ethical thinking. Such precision, I suggest, will lead to a much greater consensus among Catholics when it comes to evaluating the moral value of particular wars. The problem, of course, is that many want to pronounce a particular war “just” or “morally good” without doing the tough work of thinking through just war criteria AND moral evaluative criteria. I am not accusing Darwin of failing to do this work, as he merely raises questions in his post. But I am accusing Darwin of doing is asking the wrong kind of questions.

  • MJ,

    This question is much more nuanced and apropos of the topic he wishes to discuss (i.e., U.S. engagement with Vietnam).

    Um, no. I don’t want to discuss whether US involvement in Vietnam was just. If I was wanting to discuss that, I would have titled my post something along the lines of, “Was The US War In Vietnam Just?” As it happens, I did not title it in such fashion. Vietnam was an intensely messy situation with a lot of different things going on, and what I am trying to look at here is the more abstract question. Should I ever get the itch to write a post about the question of the justice of the Vietnam war, be assured that you shall be the first to know.

    —-

    Your two numbered examples are somewhat interesting (though one MZ and I had already discussed, as you can see above) but I think they rather miss the point in that they involve someone taking over the act appropriate to someone else rather than assisting in it. One may argue that is what happened with the war in Vietnam, but I don’t think it addresses the more abstract question which is whether, if A has been invaded by B and seeks assistance in defense from C it would necessarily be unjust for C to get involved despite the justice of A’s cause. Your two examples would apply if there is an intimate relationship between Invader and Invaded as there is between husband and wife or parent and child, and it is wrong for others to interpose themselves into the mutual obligations which Invader and Invaded have towards each other (things, I suppose, like the consummation of the machine gunning act, the mutual obligation to shoot to kills, all those other treasured interactions.) However, I don’t think that either one of us imagines that the relationship between invaded and invader is an intimate and sacred one in that sense, so we seem to find little help here.

    1) Since the mode of assistance is war (as opposed to just an “act” in general, as the title of his post ambiguously suggests), there are more criteria involved then what we use to determine the moral value of particular actions of individuals (which is why Mark Noonan’s analogy fails). These criteria would be the just war criteria.

    Yes. I think that Bob does a pretty good job of examining the relevant issues above.

    Though as I think about it, one of the things that has me wondering about this is that by the time C is trying to decide whether to come to A’s aid, a war has already broken out. So it’s no longer a question of, “Gee, does this situation merit a war,” but rather, “Do we leave A alone in this situation, or do we go help them.”

    If we take it, as I did in my example, that A is engaged in a just war of defense, then we know that it is at least moral for some citizens in A to fight in A’s army against B. The remaining questions would be:

    – Is it okay for John Smith, being a man who lives near A but right across the border in another country, to go volunteer to fight for A because he believes that A’s cause is just, even though he is not a citizen of that country.

    – Is it moral for country C, being A’s neighbor, to send it’s army as a group over to support A against B and A’s request.

    2) The moral criteria would also need to be addressed (which Michael Denton rightly notes above): What was the U.S. intention (i.e., end) in this war? Was this end moral or, at least, non-moral (as opposed to immoral or unjust)? What was the means used to bring about that end moral or just?

    Again, I’m not interested in arguing Vietnam in particular here, but yes, that’s clearly a reasonable question. A historical example which springs to mind is Italy’s late entry into the Great War, mainly with an eye to snapping up Austrian territory once it became clear that Austria was having a bad time of it. Even if we take it that the Allied cause in the Great War was just, this was not necessarily a moral reason for entering into a war.

    The problem with most just war discussions is that they take place at a very simplistic, general level. These discussions require a great deal of precision in ethical thinking. Such precision, I suggest, will lead to a much greater consensus among Catholics when it comes to evaluating the moral value of particular wars. The problem, of course, is that many want to pronounce a particular war “just” or “morally good” without doing the tough work of thinking through just war criteria AND moral evaluative criteria.

    Actually, I highly doubt this would lead to greater consensus, unless we also posit a world in which everyone has transparent and easy agreement as to what the pretext, means and end of a war are. Very often this is precisely one of the main points of dispute between those who consider a war just and those who don’t.

    Usually the only way people manage to convince themselves that such a consensus of right thinking Catholics is likely or even possible is by assuming that all Catholics who disagree with their conclusions are not right thinking and working backwards from there.

  • Though as I think about it, one of the things that has me wondering about this is that by the time C is trying to decide whether to come to A’s aid, a war has already broken out. So it’s no longer a question of, “Gee, does this situation merit a war,” but rather, “Do we leave A alone in this situation, or do we go help them.”

    I alluded to that above when I handwaved over the question of altered circumstances: I’m not a historian, but I would guess that alliances in the real world aren’t going to all decide at once to go to war, nor all for precisely the same reasons.

    In some ways though that makes MJ Andrew’s point for him: in each case what we really have is a de novo application of the just war doctrine to current circumstances for the specific country considering the question. To push the matter further, one might even ask the question “is it ever just for country C to go to war to assist country A when A’s own past decision to wage war was unjust?” Although one initially greets the question with skepticism, I am virtually certain that we could develop particular scenarios where the answer is that yes, it can in fact be just for C to do so. (An obvious case I already brought up in the previous discussion is where A’s decision was unjust because A had no reasonable chance of success; but with C’s help, A can prevail — but these cases can be multiplied by looking at the JW criteria and creating scenarios where A fails but C passes, and stipulating that A went to war already anyway).

    My own impression about particular decisions to wage war (FWIW) (and really, any precise discussion of just war needs to separately consider jus ad bellum and jus in bello, where in the present discussion I’ve focused on the former) is that most people really don’t care about the just war criteria and simply look for something to justify foregone conclusions.

    Among the small subset of people who actually do care about the just war doctrine, though, the dispute seems as often to be over the facts, at least in addition to and perhaps even to the exclusion of the principles applied to those facts. (Not to mention other strange “mixed” or epistemic gambits, such as the bizarre notion introduced by George Weigel that because the competent authority must make the “go” decision in order for it to be a just decision, only the competent authority is capable of knowing the facts which obtain and therefore nobody other than the competent authority is capable of determining, as a matter of public knowledge, that the decision was unjust).

  • Though, to be fair, I think a lot of the reason why just war analysis looks like foregone conclusions is that many of the inputs to the decision are the stuff of foregone conclusions.

    As in, it will generally be those for the war who think that all other options short of war have been exhausted, that the matter is sufficiently grave to merit war as a solution, that the chances of success are good, etc. Those who are against the war, on the other hand, are likely to already think that there remain other avenues to resolution, or that the matter is not sufficiently grave to merit a war to resolve the issue, or that there is little chance of success, or that the evils resulting from the decision to wage war will be disproportionate to the good to be achieved by it, etc.

    There’s a sense in which this falls into the same logical difficulty as Plato’s understanding of the good — no one knowingly wishes to do other than good because if he wants to do something he necessarily thinks it to be a good from a Platonic point of view. Similarly, I’m not sure anyone knowing wishes to wage an unjust war. It’s more that some people have more deluded ideas as to reality than others.

    I could never quite make head or tails of Weigel’s line of thinking you mention, though it does strike me that there’s an extent to which rulers bear the primary moral culpability for whether they make a just decision in regards to war or not.

  • Though, to be fair, I think a lot of the reason why just war analysis looks like foregone conclusions is that many of the inputs to the decision are the stuff of foregone conclusions.

    Well, those inputs are the facts I am referring to which I think are usually the thing in dispute; as opposed to the principles.

    …it does strike me that there’s an extent to which rulers bear the primary moral culpability for whether they make a just decision in regards to war or not.

    Certainly. IIRC Weigel made the odd move of implying that the authority and associated responsibility of the competent authority in some way obscures, from the rest of us, whether or not a particular decision to go to war was just. That is like contending that because Fred is responsible for his decisions about what to do with property, only Fred is capable of concluding that when he stole a car doing so was unjust: the conclusion that it was unjust is utterly hidden from the rest of us.

    Anyway, I think that is something of a sidetrack here. I think we are agreeing that – at least among those who care about just war doctrine at all – the bulk of real disagreement tends to be over the facts which are fed into the principles, rather than over the principles themselves.

  • MJ,

    No, I think my analogy holds true in all circumstances. Remember, we’re talking about what to do with one nation attacks another without just cause. Nation A (the aggressor) has no case against Nation B – there was no mobilization in B as precursor to hostile acts; no holding A’s ships on the high seas; no offense against the lives or property of the citizens of A. This a bolt out of the blue – such as, for instance, Hitler’s attack on Poland in 1939.

    The failures of B in this case play no role, as long as those failures don’t entail provoking the war. That the Polish government had long been purblind in its dealings with Nazi Germany (including playing the part of hyena over Teschen just a few months prior to the German attack) doesn’t matter – the Polish people, which includes a great number of very truly innocent people, was under attack for no just cause.

    Now at that time – and later – the cynics answer was that Poland had a lot of flaws, was indefensible by those willing to offer aid and, at any rate, the elimination of Poland would give Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia a common border and they were sure to come to blows – and why not let those two hideous regimes just have at each other? Serve them right, wouldn’t it?

    Except for the fact that Germans and Russians are people, too. Bamboozled or browbeaten in to supporting hideous regimes, no doubt – but still human beings; still our brothers and sisters. If their disgusting governments are permitted to go to war, then lots of people will die – almost all of whom are not morally culpable for their leader’s sins.

    If, in 1939, the whole world had done its duty – rather than just Britain and France (and them quite feebly, to begin with) – then Hitler’s Germany would have been swiftly crushed. No bloody, devastating Second World War. No Holocaust. No post-WWII Stalinist surge. No 50 year long Cold War. No Korea. No Vietnam. Perhaps no War on Terrorism, given that the initial terrorist groups were Soviet-sponsored.

    There is right and there is wrong – when wrong happens, then if you can do anything about it, you must do so. There is no moral option of thinking it over, or finding flaws in those under attack to excuse you from taking action. I think a great deal of our problem – as Catholics – with war stems from a very flawed understanding about war which has developed since the devastation of the Second World War and the very reasonable desire of the Church to prevent a repeat. But our overwhelming desire to prevent such a thing has deadened us to the concept of honor – meaning, in this sense, the honor of a brave man who will do a man’s part in the world. Our Mother is very central to our lives – but St Michael and St George also have their role to play, and we’ve forgotten it.

  • This is an interesting discussion, from which I’m learning a lot.

    I do have to intrude to disagree with Mark Noonan’s last point, which I read as implying that the chief failure in contemporary American Catholic thinking about Just War is an effeminate hand-wringing brought about by the loss of a concept of “honor”–a dubious motivation if there ever was one (cf: Civitas Dei).

    Given the many number of wars, declared and undeclared, that America has taken upon itself to wage since the conclusion of WWII, I find it implausible in the extreme to think that American Catholics are likely to err in their thinking in the way that Noonan suggests. Just the opposite is the case–we are probably much more likely to view our nation’s military adventures with a favorable eye, and regard them as necessary, for the greater good, etc. just because we are Americans. I do find it strange that a war which the vast majority of Catholics worldwide had no difficulty in determining to be unjust–the 2003 action against Iraq–was thought to be justified (and is *still* thought to be) by many self-described “orthodox” Catholics in America (including my 2003 self, which was blissfully ignorant in its trust of the then administration).

    But perhaps Noonan was making a point about *non*-American Catholics–this makes more sense: Paul VI, JPII, Benedict XVI, etc., these figures are all strongly skeptical of war, and so perhaps they have all become too Marian as Noonan suggests.

  • “I do find it strange that a war which the vast majority of Catholics worldwide had no difficulty in determining to be unjust–the 2003 action against Iraq–was thought to be justified (and is *still* thought to be) by many self-described “orthodox” Catholics in America (including my 2003 self, which was blissfully ignorant in its trust of the then administration).”

    Indeed WJ? Can you cite any evidence for that contention? There was great hostility in most of Europe among great sectors of the population to the Iraq war. I doubt seriously if in the vast majority of cases this had anything to do with their Catholicism since most European Catholics pay no heed to most of the teachings of the Church and are notable by the fact that they rarely go to Mass and tend to elect politicians hostile to most of the public policy positions of the Church. I think their position on the war tended to be motivated by other factors: what political party they belonged to, how recently they went through multi-year low level Leftist brainwashing seminars, that often tend to be called erroneously colleges and universities in our time, belief in cospiracy theories involving sinister Zionists and Neo-Cons, an embrace of fashionable, in Europe, pacifism, anti-Americanism which has never gone out of fashion among intellectual elites in Europe, etc. To be fair I would say the same thing about the positions taken by most American Catholics on the Iraq war in 2003: that their positions were not really motivated by their Catholicism, but rather by other factors. As for the Vatican, well, it is a rare military action that the Vatican has supported since World War II, the last time in which the Vatican was under direct military threat, and Vatican policy in the Arab world has been, at almost any cost, to foster good relations with the Arab states and oppose any action that would be perceived as rocking the boat and causing problems for Arab Catholics in a region where their existence is always precarious due to their muslim “brethren”. Ironically I believe that a great many of the European Catholics that you cite on the question of the justness of the war in Iraq, then opposed the Vatican on the question of US and allied forces remaining in Iraq after the war to stabilize it, which the Vatican supported and most critics of the war, here and abroad, did not, favoring an immediate cut and run strategy. Of course all of this reality is to get away from a truly first rate, and I mean that sincerely, theoretical discussion of the Just War Doctrine.

  • wars, declared and undeclared, that America has taken upon itself to wage since the conclusion of WWII,

    Leaving aside some small and brief operations in the Caribbean basin, the United States has gone to war in the following circumstances:

    1. Korea (1950-53)
    2. VietNam (the ‘advisory war’ of 1961-65)
    3. VietNam (1965-73)
    4. The Persian Gulf (1990-91)
    5. Afghanistan (2001- )
    6. Iraq (2003- )

    None of these was a war of national mobilization in the sense that the first or second World War was. The military has been at war. The society has not been.

    The first and the fourth followed on an attempt by a peculiarly repulsive foreign state to conquer a neighboring state. That has not been particularly common in the post-war period and in nearly every other case but these two, armed intervention would have meant a direct confrontation with a great power (e.g. Czechoslovakia in 1968) or the aggressor had comparatively benign objects and those so injured were no accounts (Tanzania’s conquest of Uganda in 1979).

    The fifth war followed upon a bloody attack on American soil for which that state was responsible.

    The second war was in assistance to an ally combatting a manufactured insurgency.

    I do not see what is objectionable about the first, second, fourth, or fifth (in and of themselves) from an ethical standpoint. With regard to the other two, you might have a case, but you and MJ have elected not to make it in this forum, instead simply repeating the term ‘manifestly’.

  • “But our overwhelming desire to prevent such a thing has deadened us to the concept of honor – meaning, in this sense, the honor of a brave man who will do a man’s part in the world.”

    I agree with you on that point Mark. Unfortunately when you speak the language of Honor, as traditionally understood in Western culture, to most people today, you might as well be speaking Attic Greek, since the subject was usually not covered in what they studied, what did they study?, in school. In our pc culture, honor is to be laughed at, until in CS Lewis’ immortal phrase, we are in mortal danger and suddenly realize, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.”

  • Art Deco,

    I wrote “many number of wars, both declared and undeclared”–but I will cede the point and say, instead, “extent of military operations, both declared and undeclared.” I’ll do this because many of America’s military interventions across the globe since WWII have, as you rightly note, not been described by Americans generally and historians specifically as “wars” per se. My larger point, though, was to note that America has been, shall we say, very *active* militarily since the end of WWII, and most American Catholics don’t seem to raise a fuss about it–either because they are unaware of them or don’t think that they merit ethical analysis. I’ll just say that the *actual* extent of U.S. military operations is far greater than the “wars” which you cite, and that in many of these instances of operation, the U.S. was concerned to prop up or dismantle the government of a foreign nation, an action which seems to me to be analyzable under Just War criteria. I won’t provide the long list of such interventions, but you can find it, for example, here: http://www.focusire.com/archives/133.html

    I don’t intend this description of U.S. military action to be moralistic, but a realist portrayal of the fact that we have, in fact, *constantly* intervened militarily across the globe since WWII, and this seemed to fit oddly in, somehow, with Noonan’s point.

    A larger discussion of these and other issues is, of course, beyond the purview of this thread. But thanks for the correction, and the opportunity to clarify my statement.

  • Donald,

    Let’s not forget that “honor” is, strictly speaking, not a virtue. It is rather the social recognition of the virtuous person, and it’s worth is proportionate to the person giving it. For “honor is not in the honored, but rather in him who honors” (Summa I-II 2,2).

  • At its best WJ a code of Honor is a code of conduct to help men along the course of right behavior, and judging from the history of Fallen Man we need all the help we can get! Like anything else of human creation it has its limitations, and there are countless examples throughout history of men who have paid lipservice to such codes and behaved like scoundrels nonetheless. However I do think that such codes have generally civilized life, at least in the West. However, like much human behavior it is a learned behavior and such codes are not generally not taught in our society. The service academies do hold on to the notion. Here is the honor code for West Point: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” The periodic cheating scandals at West Point and the other service academies indicate that such codes do not change the conduct of all who take them, but I think for most people they do have an impact upon conduct. Civilian unversities often have academic honor codes but they don’t seem to take them seriously. I was at the University of Illinois for seven years and I can’t recall the honor code being mentioned at any time.

  • Yes, that seems reasonable enough. You are certainly right that we all need “all the help we can get.” May you have a peaceful Sunday, and may the Bears defeat the Lions. Take care.

  • Bears? Lions? They are fighting each other now? :)

  • … when wrong happens, then if you can do anything about it, you must do so. There is no moral option of thinking it over, or finding flaws in those under attack to excuse you from taking action.

    Honestly, and with all due respect, that is just the worst bit of rhetoric posing as moral reasoning – well, gratuitous assertion at any rate – I’ve seen in a long time. If it were true that wherever there is evil we are compelled to act by the simple fact of our material capacity to act, we’d all be sinning by not each adopting a starving family in Africa.

    What the Church teaches about positive moral precepts is this:

    In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent. But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception.

  • I’ll just say that the *actual* extent of U.S. military operations is far greater than the “wars” which you cite, and that in many of these instances of operation, the U.S. was concerned to prop up or dismantle the government of a foreign nation, an action which seems to me to be analyzable under Just War criteria. I won’t provide the long list of such interventions, but you can find it, for example, here: http://www.focusire.com/archives/133.html
    I don’t intend this description of U.S. military action to be moralistic, but a realist portrayal of the fact that we have, in fact, *constantly* intervened militarily across the globe since WWII, and this seemed to fit oddly in, somehow, with Noonan’s point.

    I forgot the bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 (which does not bother me either).

    Beyond that, there is little on your list of ‘interventions’ that merits much discussion by Catholics as Catholics, or anyone not an academic or professional specialist. The author in question jumbles together the residual occupations at the close of the second World War, rescue missions, military exercises, covert operations (including stating as fact a claim about Chilean politics which is dubious from two different directions) and instances of actual military combat into one stew on which you and he slap the label ‘intervention’. I cannot take that seriously. Your objection is not that we engage in ‘unjust wars'; it is that the U.S. Military does something else with its time than sitting in the barracks pitching cards and smoking cigarettes.

    Very few foreign countries have the ready resources to put together military and naval forces that operate in more than a geographically restricted domain and some that do (Germany and Japan) can usually rely on the United States, France, and Britain to deliver the supplies, evacuate foreign nationals, and interpose themselves between combatants. We do it because we have the men and materiel and an institutional history of this sort of work. The Spanish military does not.

    You may be a maven of Just War theory, but I can say that your complaint as stated is thoroughly banal to anyone who has sampled opinion journalism written in the last forty years, very little of which is composed by anyone concerned with the content of Papal encyclicals. I do not see what your problem is a priori with ‘propping up’ a foreign government under siege. Which foreign government do you find proper meat for some violent insurrection? What would be the alternative to the government being ‘propped up’ in these circumstances? Or has Just War theory now degenerated into some sort of international-political Social Darwinism: foreign governments who need the help of friends for survival deserve neither friends nor survival, eh?

    I think during the post-war period you will find no more than two good and undisputed examples of a foreign government being ‘dismantled’ at the instigation of the United States government. You will find a third example of the U.S. Government supplying one side in a dogfight (Iran in 1953). You will find some other examples of American officials as actors in the messy political theatre of ill-consolidated states. For some that is sufficient to attribute every disagreeable thing about political life in those places to the U.S. Embassy, which is nonsense. The instigators and suppliers were not the military but the intelligence services and the diplomatic corps and in only one case was a constitutional regime (that of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala) deposed.

    ‘Way beyond’ my foot.

  • WJ,

    One cannot really become “too Marian”, of course – but I do wonder if we’ve lost an important part of what it means to be Catholic? Unless you want to hold that things like the Crusades were, from start to finish, nothing but an error or that the Battle of Lepanto should never have been fought, then it has to be granted that the sword has its place in Catholicism. How are we to convert the world if we don’t have a bit of fire in ourselves – and a willingness to be firm? Truckling to enemies – as we do regarding our relations between middle east Catholics and the majority Moslems – doesn’t seem, in the long run, the best means of converting Islam (and we must seek their conversion, shouldn’t we?).

    There has crept in, at least in my perception, a belief that death is the worst thing which can happen. It isn’t, of course – not that death is to be courted, but it is also not to be rejected, if that turns out to be what is required for the defense of a greater good.

  • Donald,

    It is hard to defend basic decency these days, isn’t it? We’ve become a world where if a man merely doesn’t hit the road after getting a girl pregnant, he’s a good guy – we’ve fallen very far. In fact, we’ve fallen quite far enough – time to rise, again.

  • Bob,

    I think I was pretty clear about it – if we can do something, we must do it. Can you adopt a person in Africa? If you really can, then you should. I can’t – but I always take chances such as this to plug Missionaries of the Poor. They really go great work for the poorest of the poor and if you can kick them a few dollars, it’ll be a great thing.

    http://www.missionariesofthepoor.org/

    That said…

    The point I’m making is that when an evil deed occurs, if you have the means to stop it or prevent it, you should do so. I am quite confident you will not assert otherwise. Unless, that is, you want to state that nothing is ever worth shedding blood over. If that is the case, then we have nothing really to discuss. I feel otherwise. If, on the other hand, there are things you’d kill or die for, then we have much to speak of.

    Naturally, one can’t do everything – and neither can even the richest and most powerful nation in human history. If during WWII Brazil had suddenly attacked Argentina, there wouldn’t have been anything we could have done to stop it. We are not all powerful. But we are powerful – and I don’t think that God endowed us with a continent so that we could just enrich ourselves; I don’t think God gave us a sublime military tradition so that we could stand aside and watch others suffer; I don’t think we were granted the chance for liberty so that we could just keep it for ourselves.

  • Mark:

    I can only go by what you actually said, I can’t make divinations into your mind to determine if you meant the opposite of what you said.

    What you actually said was “… when wrong happens, then if you can do anything about it, you must do so. There is no moral option of thinking it over, or finding flaws in those under attack to excuse you from taking action.”

    And as I said in reply, that is the worst bit of empty rhetoric posing as moral reasoning I’ve seen in some time. (Which is saying something, when you consider the sheer volume of empty rhetoric posing as moral reasoning on the Internet).

    In reality, it isn’t just that there is a moral option of thinking it over and making a prudent judgment. In fact, thinking it over and making a prudent judgment is morally required: the very opposite of what you stated explicitly. Your reply that everyone who is materially capable of doing so is, without further thought, morally required to adopt a poor family in Africa, simply reinforces the fact that you are engaged in empty chest-thumping rhetoric.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m all in favor of chest-thumping when we are in the right, and I even agree that the West has lost a sense of honor and that this is a terrible loss. But in this case what you proposed explicitly – whatever may or may not have been bouncing around in your head as you proposed it, invisible to the rest of us – is very precisely the opposite of what is right.

  • Art Deco,

    I don’t think I’m arguing what you think I’m arguing. Let me simplify: Mark Noonan made a point about Catholic hesitancy to embrace war and/or military interventions which I believed to be ambiguous: if it applied to American Catholic thought it seemed to me to be not accurate, given the fact that America has been very militarily active since WWII with not much attention or criticism given to these adventures outside of a small set of marginalized Dorothy Dayish non-violent types (a group with which I sympathize but do not identify myself); if Noonan’s claim applied to European Catholics it seemed much more applicable. That is all.

    As I said above, I don’t intend my listing of American military activities to be moralistic; I have no idea, in some instances, whether they were justified or not (and, by the way, I certainly don’t claim to be a Just War maven, as you put it!)–I’m merely pointing to the fact that they occurred. (I do find it odd, as a side note, that you want to explain away or minimize the extent and effects of such actions: why? If they are Just, or at least justifiable, then there is no need to do so. In any case, I get the sense that you think I am attacking these activities when I am merely pointing out the fact that they occurred.) The point of the comment in the first place was merely to suggest that Noonan’s observation, if it applied to American Catholics, didn’t seem to map well onto other facts.

    Myself a realist, I happen to think that States almost *never* act with an eye toward the good or the just, but only with an eye toward maintaining what they perceive to be their own self-interest at the moment (or maintaining what a dominant section of the populace has conceived to be in its own self-interest). I’m sure, or pretty sure, that Just War thinking never plays an *actual* role in a State’s decision about whether to enter or how to prosecute a war.

  • if it applied to American Catholic thought it seemed to me to be not accurate, given the fact that America has been very militarily active since WWII

    And my contention is that your definition of ‘very militarily active’ is hopelessly bloated.

    (I do find it odd, as a side note, that you want to explain away or minimize the extent and effects of such actions: why? If they are Just, or at least justifiable, then there is no need to do so.

    These operations generally do not bother me. My point was to comment on the disincilination of your referent and you yourself to make distinctions between the different sorts of activities in which the U.S. Military engages. I think it trivializes a discussion of Just War to invoke some evacuation effected by American soldiers in the course of complaining about the ‘activity’ of the American military. You referent also made false statements about covert action in Chile that are quite common and should not be left to stand.

    Myself a realist, I happen to think that States almost *never* act with an eye toward the good or the just, but only with an eye toward maintaining what they perceive to be their own self-interest

    Hans Morgenthau was a theoretician. He manufactured an ideal type. There is a difference between ideal types and realities. His conceptions were deterministic, as if the interplay of international politics were a machine. The thing is, politicians make choices all the time, as students of Morgenthau learn when forced to digest dense diplomatic histories. International politics, unlike economic life, cannot be described using statistical aggregates.

    The sociologist Stanley Rothman once had a retort to the purveyors of realist theories: your conception of what is in your self-interest is filtered through culture. One can learn from Morgenthau and others. One must learn from their adversaries as well.

  • Mark,

    I think the difficulty with the suggestion that if one is able to perform some particular good act (say, in your example, adopting a family from Africa) one therefore is morally required to do so is that, if one takes the term “able” seriously, it would require you to do a number of actions which all together might not be at all wise. For instance, perhaps right now I can afford to support a family in Africa, so I sign up to do so. Then, three months from now, I find out that my wife is pregnant, one of our cars breaks down, and I’m laid off from my job. Now I find myself unable to meet even my own obligations, which puts those I’ve adopted in a rather bad place. Most people and organizations tend to minimize long term obligations to those which are necessary in order to avoid finding that they have unknowing shortchanged their essential long term obligations — employing a sort of moral opportunity cost analysis.

    This certainly doesn’t mean that one should never use one’s power and resources to intervene for good, where one can justly do so, but I certainly wouldn’t say that one is always required to simply because one in theory could.

  • There are a number of responses here, so I cannot say that I’ve read each in depth, but the analogy is a bit challenging. In the case of the example, the US helping S. Vietnam resist N. Vietnam agression, there was a pre-existing treaty – SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) which was an agreement the the US would help S.V. against any communist agression. This obviously served several interests: to check the expansion of communisim (the domino theory), the position the US as a regional power in the SE Asia region, and to stabilize business and trade in the tense region.
    So, in this case, where Country C (US) helps Country B (S.V) in fighting Country A (N.V.), Country C was actually living up to a promise, an obligation to support their ally. The question of ‘rightness’, then, is different. The premise that a third party cannot involve themselves without somehow comprimising their morality is confusing and, I believe, oversimplified. An example of the evil which was present in the equation was seen in Cambodia under Pol Pot, where an untold number were slaughtered for the communisty idealism. So, it would appear that Country C was not involving themselves in a conflict in which they had no personal interest, but were instead acting in the interest of the millions of unprotected who could not resist such an evil. Perhaps the moral issue should be ‘in the event Country C involves itself in the resolution of Country B’s conflict, can it ever relieve itself of that obligation?’

  • Bob,

    I think you’re dodging a bit there – I said if you can do something, you should. Are you asserting that it if it is in your power to do a good thing there may still be a reason for not doing it? I’d like to find the passage where Our Lord says, “I was hungry and you didn’t think it over before helping me”.

  • Darwin,

    I didn’t say it’d be easy – but I can’t think of anything in our Catholic faith which instructs me to be greatly concerned about the circumstances of tomorrow when I’ve got a problem to deal with today. In fact, I seem to recall some passage in there where we are specifically instructed not to worry about tomorrow.

    To do the deed at hand is, I think, what is required of us. If it kills us, then so be it. It is up to God to ensure that the long term effect of our trying to do the right thing is, indeed, to the greater good. Now, if we don’t have the means of helping (“gold and silver I have not”, eg) in a particular manner, then we should still help with whatever means we have. We never have no means, as we can always at the very least pray – and, some times, that is all we can do (and a tremendous thing it is, too, as it is calling God immediately to aid).

    Prudence does have its place, of course. But I do worry that we’re placing too much emphasis on it. That we, in the end, worry too much about what might happen rather than concentrating on what must be done, right now. Its not going to do me any good to ignore your need today while I prepare tomorrow, and then I die this night.

  • Really, how can one even have a discussion with a man who is arguing for the principle “don’t think”?

  • Bob,

    A lot easier than arguing with the man who says “don’t do”. Inert things can’t really be used for much.

  • “Down with thinking before acting!”

    Silly man.

  • Alright, guys. I think this is headed off the rails here. Let’s not.

    I’ll grant Mark that Christ’s message is the scriptures does not tend to emphasize forethought in the material world as a virtue. Indeed, material prudence is usually only mentioned in parables in which it serves as an analogy for how we should have forethought towards storing up treasures in heaven rather than being careful with material goods in the here and now.

    That said, prudence (including prudence with material goods and responsibilities) has been seen as a virtue by the Church throughout its history and planning and consideration of these sorts has been seen as a moral necessity by Church thinkers from Augustine through Aquinas and down to the present day. There are figures such as St. Francis who saw prudential planning as being a faily to put one’s faith in God, but that’s certainly not the only trend in Christan thought.

    Also, it’s perhaps noteable in this case that most of those Church thinkers who have most emphasized relying on God rather than planning for the future have also emphasized non-violence, while those who have emphasized self defense and just war have also seen the wisdom of planning in this world.

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