Just War Doctrine

Henry V, Shakespeare and Just War

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In the comments to  my post last week, Henry V Times Four, which may be viewed here, and which had four versions of the immortal “band of brothers” speech, commenter Centinel posed a very interesting question to me:

Mr. McClarey,

I’ve come to respect your knowledge of history and your insights. I just wanted to get your honest opinion on oneissue. As I understand it, Catholic doctrine would say that wars of aggression are not justified (most of the time). Though I enjoy Shakespeare’s plays, it bothers me that Henry V was fighting a war of aggression – hence, an unjust war.

From Henry V’s point of view, the war was about his (legitimate?) claim to the French throne. But from the point of view of the French peasantry, whichever dynasty sat on the French thronedid not really make any difference in their lives. They were merely caught in the middle; the longer the war lasted, the greater the collateral damage to French civilians. Besides, Henry V already had the Kingdom of England. Hence, it was just pure greed driving Henry V to claim the French throne.

I would appreciate your opinion on this.

My response:

Centinel thank you for very kind words and for inspiring a forthcoming post! The more I thought about your question the more complicated my answer became and only a post length reply, which I will attempt to do in the next week, will do it justice. The short answer is that Henry V, by the just war analysis of his day, had a defensible claim to be fighting a just war, while under the just war analysis of our day his war would be unjust. However, there is much more to say than that, and I will attempt to do this intriguing question justice in my forthcoming post.

In answering the question we must first examine how the formulation of the Just War doctrine has changed from the time of Henry V to our time. Continue reading

Failure: Vox Nova Takes on Conservatism

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I wasn’t going to do this, but now I am. A contributor (Morning’s Minion) to a certain blog (Vox Nova),  whose views on gun control I previously challenged, took it upon himself to let it all out about “conservatism” – partially, I believe, in response to our exchange.  The same themes are there at least, though he does go on (and on) about slavish right-wing support for Israel, an issue on which I am not so enthusiastic. I’ve also made my opposition to America’s interventionist foreign policy known.  In doing so I respectfully digress from many of my co-bloggers at The American Catholic.

But there are a number of very broad points made by Morning Minions that are more or less directed at me, and my co-bloggers, and of course conservatives and libertarians in general, and I will answer them here.

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Fighting the Evil Empire

Whether as a sign of intellectual curiosity or general aimlessness, I often find myself reading about random subjects late at night. The other night, I found myself reading about Finland in World War II.

It’s an interesting subject. Finland was invaded by the USSR in 1939, at pretty much the same time they occupied the Baltic states and split Poland with Germany.

In the Winter War of 1939-1940, the Finns successfully slowed the Soviet advance, and eventually the USSR agreed to a peace treaty. Finland was forced to cede the parts of her territory she had not yet won back from the Soviets, but 90% of the country’s territory remained intact. This itself was an amazing military feat for such a small country. It’s also interesting in that they essentially out-Russianed the Russians. Just as Napoleon’s and Hitler’s armies bogged down and froze while trying to invade Russia, the Soviets bogged down and froze while trying to attack Finland, which was even better versed in winter warfare than Russia.
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Warrior Jesus

We here at TAC are sometimes accused of the sins of being Calvinists, militarists, and even Americans. Someone already dealt with the Calvinist charge, but what about militarism? Is it right for us to be castigated for using the word “citadel” to describe a monastery?

What I want to know is this: why should we listen to people who, to make a grand public showing of their deeply-felt moral opposition to militarism and war, constantly nitpick others, question their faith, and inevitably conclude that they worship a different (and presumably better) God while apologizing for a tradition that has never been shy of using militaristic symbols and rhetoric in pursuit of its own goals? I am of course talking about people who apologize for Liberation Theology, which made images such as these popular in Latin America:

Undoubtedly this too would be a “tendency” that one ought to condemn – if one wants to be consistent with the pacifism one tries to push on everyone else. But wait, there’s more!

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Abortion, Capital Punishment and War, One of these things is not like the other

Ed Stoddard of Reuters’ religion blog Faithworld carries a roundup of the skirmish between Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin.

In conclusion, Stoddard asks:

This leads to a question about the consistency of views in the U.S. Catholic Church leadership. The Church opposes abortion and therefore liberal politicians who support abortion rights risk being refused communion. The Church supports a healthcare overhaul that would make the system more equitable. So does a conservative Catholic politician who opposes this reform risk being denied communion for ignoring the Catholic social teaching that justifies it?

How about support for capital punishment, which the Vatican says is unjustified in almost all possible cases, or for war? In the build-up to the Iraq war, Pope John Paul was so opposed to the plan that he sent a personal envoy to Washington to argue against it. Did bishops threaten any measures against Catholic politicians who energetically supported that war despite Vatican opposition?

The author’s questions reveal an elementary ignorance concerning the moral issues in question and their relationship to varying levels of Church teaching. While I am disappointed by his answer (Faithworld is generally one of the better and more educational “religion blogs” in the secular media), it is understandable — as even many Catholics find themselves confused on this matter. Continue reading

Support the Troops- Here's One Way

The idea of supporting the troops is not one where you find a whole lot of argument. Of course in the Vietnam era there are the stories of how hippies used to spit on servicemen, calling them “baby killers”. I’ve heard that scenario repeated so many times, I’m starting to wonder if this reaction was really so widespread, or if it got an urban legend boost at some point. I’m sure this type of thing happened, I was too young to take in the riots, the protests against the Vietnam War to fully appreciate the dynamic of the times. But in any case, we are now pretty much united in the notion that while a given war may be unjust, we don’t blame the average man or woman in uniform. In fact, we seek ways to honor or show respect for them, even if we are seeking to end the conflict in which they are engaged. This is a good thing on the whole. Continue reading

A Suggestion for Israel

Over at Human Events, Ben Shapiro has an article about how Israel will lose the conflict in Gaza again.  His initial premise states that we keep seeing an essentially endless cycle repeated: Hamas strikes Israel, Israel retaliates, the world comes down hard on Israel, Israel retreats and gives Hamas another chance to strike Israel. Elsewhere, the debate about how justified Israel is in its current cycle of retaliations continues heatedly and almost unanimously denounces Israel’s actions.

As a personal opinion, I believe that Hamas, despite claims to the contrary, is directly responsible for its strikes into Israel.  I believe that Hamas deliberately hides behind civilian shields in order to protect themselves from retaliation and to milk the public for sympathy when Israeli attacks kill those civilian shields.  I believe that Hamas is single-mindedly dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and that Israel is justified in trying to defend herself against Hamas’ attacks.

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Thoughts on Israel's war with Hamas

On December 27th, 2008, Israel launched a series of air strikes on Hamas training camps, headquarters, weapons storehouses, underground missile silos and command-and-control centers in Gaza — the start of an open-ended offensive to stem the increasing barrage of rocket-attacks that have plagued Southern Israel in the past months.

Israeli ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shaleb defended the operation:

“Israel is taking the necessary military action in order to protect its citizens from ongoing terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip and carried out by Hamas and other terrorist organizations,” Shalev said, adding that Hamas “holds the sole responsibility for the latest events.”

Israel, she continued, “has exhausted all means and efforts to reach and maintain quiet and to respect the state of calm… Israel’s response is aimed solely against the terrorists and their infrastructures in the Gaza Strip. It is not intended against the civilian population. Israel is committed to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”

Shalev asserted that “No country would allow continuous rocketing of its civilian population without taking the necessary actions to stop it.”

Commenting on the three-day air assault by Israel on Hamas, Deal Hudson states “Bombing Gaza Won’t Make Israel Safer”. It’s a good post and, if anything, certainly jeopardizes Hudson’s standing as a member of the cabal of “Catholic neocons” beholden to Israel and the Republican Party (see Robert Sungenis and other tirades from the fringe-right). That said, I wish to register some thoughts in reaction, both to Hudson and our fellow critics at Vox Nova:

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Which "unjust war"?

There was considerable debate among Catholics leading up to the war in Iraq in 2002-2003.

With respect to the election, however, I find myself continually puzzled by references to this or that candidate’s “support for an unjust war” or the existence of U.S. forces in Iraq in terms of an illegal occupation.

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Did the U.S. Commit "Terrorism" in Syria?

Michael Iafrate of Vox Nova condemns the United States for a brutal act of “terrorism” in conducting a strike into Syria against an al Qaeda facilitator.

In typical fashion, Michael likewise insinuates that Sarah Palin approves abortion bombings and alleges that, by virtue of the fact that nobody at American Catholic has yet commented on the story, we are quite obviously racist:

Of course the “pro-life” Cathollic barfosphere, so vocal in the “defense of human life,” remains utterly silent in the face of the Bush administration’s ongoing acts of terrorism. Of course, these weren’t cute white babies who were slaughtered, were they? That explains it.

Michael’s penchant for profanity, libel and general elementary school antics does nothing to enamor readers of his position or the Catholic blog he represents. Yet I think he deserves a response (however meager) …

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