Sunday at 7.10am, repeated Wednesday at 7.10pm
Sunday 21 December 2003
Since Christians first found themselves in control of an empire in AD 313, they've grappled with the ethics of war and state violence. Christian leaders are obliged to protect their citizens, by military force if need be. But how does this obligation square with the example of Jesus, who chose death over violent resistance? 1500 years of theological pondering on this question have given us the Just War tradition, which sets out the circumstances under which Christians can legitimately take up arms. But the times are changing fast. How useful is Just War theory today, in addressing such conflicts as America/Iraq and the "war against terror"?
This program was first broadcast on 2nd March, 2003
David Rutledge: Hello from David Rutledge, welcome to Encounter – and welcome to the first program in Encounter’s Summer Series; over the next six weeks, we’ll be bringing you some of the most popular and most-requested Encounters of 2003.
First up: Just War. As you probably know by now, we’ve been running a series this year called Ethos, in which the first Encounter of every month is dedicated to a question of ethics – and today, we’re replaying the program that kicked off the Ethos series back at the beginning of March, when the first U.S.-led strikes in the war against Iraq were just two weeks away.
Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.
Stanley Hauerwas: What I think Christianity is about, is always learning how to die early for the right reasons. And Americans just – that’s a thought that is unthinkable.
John Elford: The morals of Jesus aren’t a blueprint for evermore. Jesus’ message is a message about the imminence of the Kingdom of God. But the great thing about Christian religion – as other great religions of the world – it goes on developing.
David Rutledge: British theologian and author John Elford, and before him American pacifist Stanley Hauerwas - and we’ll be hearing more from both of them later in the program.
Much of the theological and political debate in the West, leading up to the Iraq war, invoked the Just War tradition - and specifically, the question of whether or not an attack on Iraq would be in keeping with Just War principles. By now most of us have heard those principles set out: for a war to be morally justified, there has to be just cause, it has to be declared by a proper authority and for the right reasons, it has to be waged as a last resort, and there has to be a reasonable chance of success. A Just War is also one in which harm to civilians is minimised – you can’t just go in and indiscriminately carpet-bomb cities and villages, even if there are enemy soldiers hiding in them.
Just War is one of the great traditions of Christian ethics, with a history stretching back to St Augustine in the 4th century – but it really took root in Western politics as a response to the horrors of religious war. After centuries of butchery in the name of God – culminating in the wars of the early 1600s that turned central Europe into a bloodbath for thirty years – any philosophy that set moral limits on human savagery seemed worth pursuing.
James Johnson: The just war tradition – all the way back into the Middle Ages, from the time it first came together and then began developing on – was never easy with the idea of war for religion. and in fact, as early as the 13th century, the medieval canonists rejected the authorisation of war by any religious leader except the Pope, and even then, only under very very restricted circumstances – so restricted that in fact subsequent Popes really never were allowed to authorise the use of force.
So the uneasiness with the use of force on behalf of religion goes back very very early in the just war tradition. And it’s essentially a way of saying “no, never again, we’re not going to have this kind of carnage, this kind of fratricidal combat ever again, and the reason we had it was because we allowed religion to rule politics – and we’re not going to let that happen again”.
David Rutledge: That’s James Turner Johnson, a religious historian based at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He’s the author of a number of books on Western and Islamic traditions of war. Well when we think of Islamic traditions of war, the word jihad springs immediately to mind, and right at the moment in the popular imagination, jihad is more or less a byword for terrorism. Even a more considered assessment of jihad will still equate it with religious war, and we in the West generally associate religious war with the dark days before the Enlightenment.
But James Johnson points out that jihad has its own just war tradition, it’s a tradition that limits when and how war might be waged, and it throws some interesting light on the legitimacy of the jihad currently being declared against the West by al-Qaeda.
James Johnson: There is an important tradition in Islam, going back to the time of the early Abbassid dynasty in the 9th/10th centuries, when the theorists of this period defined basically two kinds of jihad (meaning jihad of the sword): they defined it as being either a collective duty or an individual duty.
Now, the jihad of the sword as a collective duty was very much a rule-governed activity. The Caliph or the Imam of the Muslim community had to declare it; it had to be announced to the people on the other side, so that they would have a chance to accept the sovereignty of the Islamic state without fighting, and if they did accept it, they couldn’t be fought against; there were very extensive rules having to do with non-combatants – and there’s essentially no important difference between the list of non-combatants you find in Islamic history, and the list of non-combatants you find in the just war idea.
There were not many rules on the means you could use. The one thing that sort of leaps off the lage at you is concern that fire should not be used as a weapon, because that’s God’s weapon that he will use in the Last Days, when he judges between the good and the evil. But the whole notion that war is to be fought by the community meant that there were some who would fight and there were some who would stay home. And you would not fight against everybody among the enemy, you would only fight against those who were fighting against you, or capable of fighting against you.
Now, that’s the jihad of collective duty. There is this other kind of jihad, though, that comes to pass when you have a situation of emergency. Imagine that you and your family and your neighbours are living out on the edge of the Islamic territory, and you get up one morning, and here comes an army from the territory of war, marching across the boundary into the territory of Islam. What do you do? Do you send your youngest off to Baghdad to the Caliph, to raise an army to come out to fight? Well, yes, you do – you send your youngest off on your fastest camel or donkey to do that. But at the same time, you have an obligation as an individual to fight against this aggression – you, and in addition to you, all the people in the area you’re in, even people who would normally not be involved in fighting.
So your wife must fight, your young children must fight, your aged father must get up off his sickbed and fight. And in this kind of emergency jihad, the rules are really pretty much out of the picture, because it’s assumed that everybody who’s engaging in the aggression is in fact somebody that you may lawfully kill.
David Rutledge: And this is essentially the kind of jihad that Osama bin Laden has invoked, then?
James Johnson: Exactly, exactly. That’s what I was going to say – and in fact I have written to that effect.
David Rutledge: That’s something we have to be very clear about, then, isn’t it – that September 11th and the related terrorist attacks are not part of the normative jihad tradition. They’re part of a kind of subsidiary jihad, or emergency jihad?
James Johnson: Yes. And we have to realise, too, I think, that the reason that the classical jurists – the jurists of the 9th and 10th centuries – didn’t spend a lot of time on this, is that thinking this thing through, it turns out that it’s pretty dangerous. Because it means that you’ve really abrogated the rule of law in your own society, in order to fight against this aggression. There’s a rule in collective jihad, jihad of collective duty, that a son must get permission from this father, and he must ask and get permission from his mother, not once but three times, before he can go to war. You don’t have to do this in the jihad of emergency duty, of individual duty.
So the point that I’m trying to make is that the emergency is not to be understood as the way things ought to always be, because there are real problems for the structure, the order of the Islamic community itself.
David Rutledge: And is the main problem there, perhaps, the problem of legitimate authority, it seems that essentially anybody can declare an emergency jihad?
James Johnson: That’s exactly right. And in fact, that’s effectively what bin Laden and his lieutenants in that famous fatwa of 1998 did – they arrogated authority to themselves to make this judgement, and in so doing, they simply rode roughshod over all the standard kinds of authoritative appeals that one would make in an Islamic society.
David Rutledge: James Johnson. And on ABC Radio National, you’re listening to Encounter, where we’re exploring the tradition of Just War.
CROWD CHANTING: NO WAR
John Howard: I believe that what we are doing is right. It’s not easy, this is a very difficult issue, but you have to make the judgement you believe to be in the best interests of your nation.
Alexander Downer: There are people, I think, very prominent in some sections of what I would call the pseudo-intellectual bourgeois left, who criticise the Australian government on these issues. But I always say to the pseudo-intellectual bourgeois left “you know, you are pseudo-intellectuals”. I think we get great value from our strong relationship with the United States, and I think one of the differences between the government and the opposition is that the opposition leader has decided, now, to go down the path of trying to weaken the relationship with the United States, for the sake of appeasing the anti-American pseudo-intellectual bourgeois leftist clique in Australia. And I grew out of all that when I left uni.
John Howard: I don’t think the mob – to use that vernacular – has quite made up its mind on this issue, and it can’t really make up its mind until we know what all the alternatives are.
CROWD: NO WAR
Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there,
That the boys are coming, the boys are coming,
The drums rum-tumming everywhere……
David Rutledge: For all its religious history, Just War is inseparable from politics and political alliances – indeed it’s a political tradition through and through, it came about when Christians found themselves at the controls of an empire in the 4th century, and had to decide how to conduct the business of state – which includes waging war – while still remaining true to such Christian ideals as loving one’s neighbour. And so Just War principles are closely wedded to the practice of statecraft, and none more so than the question of who has the authority to declare a Just War.
Earlier this year, as we moved closer and closer to a war against Iraq, this question became more and more difficult to answer – as it always is in democratic societies, where the elected leader officially represents the will of a nation of citizens, and their responsibility in the matter of waging war is far from clear. And then there’s the vexed question of the United Nations and its proper role in the decision-making process.
John Elford is Pro-Rector Emeritus at Liverpool Hope University College in the UK, he’s also a writer on Christian ethics and matters of war and peace. John Elford sees this conundrum of legitimate authority, as evidence that the Just War tradition is still very much a work-in-progress.
John Elford: This is central to the debate about Iraq – I mean, historically it illustrates the fact that just war is a developing tradition. It’s changed through the centuries, and the requirement for war only to be waged by lawful authority was a medieval one, basically to stop medieval princes from having private wars with each other.
But of course, the whole question of lawful authority has changed tremendously in the present situation – and central to this is the role of the United Nations. Now, there are many people who think that war would only be morally permissible if there was a second resolution which unequivocally – in addition to Resolution 1441 – which unequivocally made the war immoral. I don’t actually take that view, I don’t think the United Nations is an instrument of world government. It’s a marvellous thing, thank God we’ve got it, long may it last – and better and better may it get – but it’s not an instrument of world government. And I don’t see that a second resolution would add to – or the absence of it detract from – the morality of military engagement in Iraq. We just can’t abdicate our consciences to an institution, marvellous though it is. We’ve got to dig deeper than this, and we’ve got to have the moral courage ourselves to decide what’s right and what’s wrong in this situation.
So the lawful authority has got to be comprised, surely, of people in the free world, of good conscience, working collectively – first of all, principally, for the people of Iraq. I think you have to look across the participant nations, in a situation like this, and think “do they, of good conscience, and in freedom, constitute for this purpose a moral authority?” And I think it’s arguable that they do.
David Rutledge: John Elford. But what happens when the citizens of free nations oppose the war that their leaders wish to declare?
Igor Primoratz: When too large a gap exists between what a nation wants to be done, or not to be done, and what its democratically-elected leaders propose to do, then you may well wonder whether they should still go ahead and do it. And if they do, whether they’ll be doing it with full moral and political authority, so that in such situation, I suppose one of the things to be considered might be some kind of referendum.
David Rutledge: That’s Igor Primoratz, from the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne – he’s also affiliated with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I spoke to Igor Primoratz in February this year, shortly after a million people around Australia had turned out on the streets to express their opposition to a war against Iraq – and I asked him if he thought a referendum would be an effective means of measuring the Australian government’s moral authority to declare war?
Igor Primoratz: I think it would – because anyway, there’s no urgency, we’re not in the midst of war, we’re not being attacked, it’s merely a situation where the government is considering or perhaps preparing to go to war. There’s still time enough. And that would actually be, I think, an excellent way of settling the issue of whether the current government has a true, a substantive moral-cum-political mandate to go to war on behalf of Australia.
David Rutledge: What about the responsibility of citizens in all this? If we accept that in a democracy, sovereignty belongs to the people, and that the government is basically the agent of that people, then what moral responsibility do the Australian and American and British people bear for an unjust war – should such a war be waged?
Igor Primoratz: Well, in my view they bear an immense responsibility – and actually their situation is quite different to the situation of a citizen in a non-democratic state that is waging war. Because as you said, a democratic state wages war on behalf of its citizens, and therefore the citizens are ultimately responsible for the injustice, if the war being fought is an unjust war.
Now, you might say “well, this sounds plausible if we’re talking about those citizens who have voted for the governing party, but does that apply to those who voted for the opposition, and who now don’t actively support the government?” And I’d say that it does, because participation in the political process in a democracy, commits you to whatever government is elected, even if you voted for the other party, which is now in opposition. The current government is your government, if you’re a citizen of a democracy and have taken part in voting.
Now of course you may distance yourself, you may actually rid yourself of that responsibility – which is a grave responsibility – if you oppose the war to the best of your ability, or even if you’re not in a position to actually affect the course of events in any palpable measure, if you at least publicly dissociate yourself from your government and the war it is prosecuting. And that is why public protests against the war have such moral significance, I think. They may influence the government’s policies, they may not. If they don’t, they still have extreme moral and social and cultural and political significance – for one thing, they weaken the government’s political position. It can n longer present its warlike policies as being in accordance with the political will of the whole nation, because a part – perhaps a significant part – of the nation is saying “not in my name”.
John Howard: The bonds between Americans and Australians are as strong as they are genuine. America has no better friend anywhere in the world than Australia. We like each other, and we don’t mind saying so. The United States, over recent months, has won the admiration of the world. May God bless the peoples of America and Australia.
George W. Bush: This call of history has come to the right country. America is a strong nation, and honourable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers. Americans are a free people, and the liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.
Billy Graham: We’ve always needed God. God is our refuge and strength, therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. “Fear not, for I am with thee. I will strengthen thee, and cause thee to stand upon my righteous omnipotent hand”. And this is going to be a day that we will remember as a day of victory. May God bless you all.
George W. Bush: For the brave Americans who bear the risk, no victory is free from sorrow. This nation fights reluctantly, and we dread the days of mourning that always come. We seek peace, we strive for peace, and if war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause, and by just means. And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military, and we will prevail.
David Rutledge: Today, the full force of a nation’s military is a fearful thing, not just for opposing armies, but for any civilians who happen to get caught in the crossfire. And as military technology becomes more and more powerful, the protection of civilians from harm becomes central to any Just War debate. This has been the case ever since the invention of the crossbow, and it’s certainly the case today, when it’s possible to fight an entire war by raining bombs down on targets which may or may not be exclusively military – it can be hard to tell when you’re 50,000 feet in the air. U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that the American military makes every effort to minimise civilian casualties, but that casualties are inevitable. Statistics are difficult to determine, but in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, civilian deaths are said to have numbered around 4000.
In the weeks leading up to the Iraq war this year, a Pentagon official told America’s CBS News that the U.S. planned to hit Iraq with 800 cruise missiles in 48 hours, with the aim of reducing military capacity, and lowering the morale of the Iraqi population, making them unwilling to support Saddam Hussein.
I asked Igor Primoratz if this kind of strategy was blurring the Just War boundary between regrettable harm to civilians and intentional harm?
Igor Primoratz: Not necessarily. Because actually your intention includes whatever you aim at achieving. But here, we are talking about the harming of civilians, which is neither aimed at for its own sake, nor used as a means of achieving something else. There is foresight, although there is no intention to do it.
Now, whatever can be said by way of criticising the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, I don’t think they can be seriously charged with intentionally killing and maiming and destroying. But the question, of course, is whether this unintentional (but still predicted) killing and maiming and destruction has been reduced to a minimum or not. And as a matter of fact, this collateral damage – as U.S. military jargon calls this – has been extremely high in Afghanistan. And that raises very, very serious moral question marks. Because of course it’s not the same as terrorism, it’s not terrorism, but it’s still very bad, because behind it is the same reckless or indifferent attitude to human life and limb which is behind the terrorists’ intentional harming of non-combatants or civilians.
David Rutledge: Indeed, you’ve written that killing civilians from a distance in the course of a just war – for example, as the U.S. did in its bombing campaigns in Afghanistan, and also in the Gulf War – you’ve said that this sort of thing is less morally repellent than terrorism, but not much less. You’re implying, I suppose, that it’s possible to fight a just war in such a way that you’re only a few steps up the moral ladder from terrorism?
Igor Primoratz: Well, that’s perhaps putting it a bit harshly. But of course, if you’re going to fight a just war, you not only have to have a just cause, and to satisfy some other moral requirements concerning the decision to go to war in the first place, but you also have to stick to the rules of war, and the central – the fundamental – among those constraints is the constraint of not harming civilians.
Now, if this were an absolute constraint, so that you may never, ever harm civilians in any way, then just war theory would actually no longer be a just war theory; it would to all intents and purposes evolve into some form of pacifism.
David Rutledge: Igor Primoratz, putting his finger there on a crucial point about Just War doctrine: it is a war doctrine – it accepts from the outset that wars are going to be fought, that innocent people are going to be killed, and that great suffering is going to attend the whole business. It simply provides a practical set of guidelines for waging war with as much moral legitimacy as possible under the circumstances. And so as part of the tradition of Christian ethics, Just War reflects the tension that’s always existed in Christianity between the political necessity to kill and the biblical commandment not to.
But as modern warfare becomes more and more horrific – and, in the case of the Iraq crisis, more and more dangerous to the global community at large – is it perhaps time for Christians to re-evaluate the Just War tradition? John Elford.
John Elford: I think the just war tradition helps us to exercise caution. I mean, I don’t know where else to be. You can be pacifist, of course, in response to this, and importantly so. And pacifists come from a great tradition – certainly in the Christian tradition, which I speak and write and pray in, they give marvellous witness to fundamental truths about the nature of God’s peace in this world, and in the kingdom of God.
I am unfortunately not a pacifist. Now, once you say that, you say “well, now what do I do?” Well, you look around, and the tradition of the just war provides an articulation, an understanding, all the right cautions, to enable us to face awesome situations like this. I mean, I am personally horrified by war. My mother an I were bombed in the Second World War, planes still frighten me, and it is an awful and a terrible thing. But there are some states of human affairs that are worse than war, and if war is waged of strict necessity, according to the criteria of the just war, then I believe there can be necessary military action in certain circumstances.
David Rutledge: But have the practical demands of statecraft done something to Christian ethics which may not have been in keeping with what Jesus had in mind? I’m thinking of the fact that these days, absolute pacifism is rather a radical position for Christians to take. So how do you account for that shift in Christian ethics?
John Elford: Well, Jesus probably was a pacifist, I think. But the point about Christian morality, in relation to statecraft, is that Jesus didn’t profess a prescriptive morality. He travelled incredibly light when it came to moral baggage. People came to him time and time again with all sorts of loaded questions about “is it right to do this on the Sabbath, or is it right to do that?” And really, his answers to them all boiled down to one thing: before you do anything, go away and think very carefully about it. He gave us huge moral responsibility under God, and told us to exercise it to the best of our abilities.
And of course the morals of Jesus aren’t a blueprint for evermore. The great thing about the Christian religion – as other great religions of the world – it goes on developing, and it goes on helping us to cope with ever-changing circumstances, helping us to say our prayers and trying to work out how we do the right thing. I mean, that for me is the exciting thing about Christianity, and I see that excitement in other religions, that we can live under God responsibly in the ever-changing circumstances of the present. And that’s what I believe the message of Jesus helps us to do.
David Rutledge: But where’s the significance of the Cross in this? If we accept that the central pillar of Christian theology is the story of a man who – regardless of what he said, what he did was he offered no resistance to those who wanted to kill him. So when Christians are called to take up their cross, doesn’t that mean taking the road to Calvary, if need be?
John Elford: Well it does, of course, and some Christians believe that, and we’ve been discussing them, pacifist Christians, and they’re an inspiration to us all. But if you’re not a pacifist, you have to stand back from that. You see, I think that the ultimate triumph of the Cross, of good over evil, will only be complete in the future kingdom of God. In this world, it is only partially complete. But we do know that by God’s grace, we can further the triumph of good over evil in this fallen world, and that’s where the just war theory – and pacifists, of course, and others – makes a contribution to the debate.
David Rutledge: John Elford. And on ABC Radio National, you’re listening to Encounter, with me David Rutledge.
MUSIC: GOD BLESS AMERICA
One of the most prominent Christian pacifist voices in the US at the moment is Stanley Hauerwas, from Duke University in North Carolina. His prominence – or notoriety, perhaps – was established by Time magazine in its “America’s Best” issue of 2001, which proclaimed Stanley Hauerwas as “America’s Best Theologian” and ran a profile on him, entitled Christian Contrarian. In that article, he called on Christians not to be defined by their political community, and he condemned “any and all forms of patriotism, nationalism and state worship”. Well that issue of Time magazine hit the newsstands on September 10th, just 24 hours before the terrorist attacks that dramatically altered the American psyche – and that suddenly put Stanley Hauerwas out on the radical fringe of American public life. I asked Stanley Hauerwas if there was anything in that article that he would have changed, had he known that history was about to take the turn that it did.
Stanley Hauerwas: No, not a thing. I suppose that the claim that radical pacifism and Christian non-violence means that you’re critical of all forms of patriotism – I don’t know that I’m critical of “all forms of patriotism”, because I don’t know what “all forms of patriotism” would look like. I’m certainly critical of the kind of patriotism that we find in America. That is the worst kind possible, because it’s not just a loyalty to the particularities of history and geography, but because of America’s basis within the fundamental norms of the Enlightenment – freedom, equality, abstractions like that – then that means American patriotism cannot help but be a form of imperialism. And that’s always the way it has been. And I think it’s one of the most dangerous forms – indeed it’s virulent on the world stage.
Americans can’t understand – I mean, we just – Americans assume that if you just had enough education and enough money, you would want to be just like us – because we’re what free people look like. And therefore American patriotism, I think, is one of the worst forms that could possibly be present in the world.
I think that in America now, we’re really being ruled by the Right. And I think that they have a view of the world that is just not going to be open to any evidence. And so they’re determined to do this. I really believe that this war was on the drawing tables of many of the people that came into the Bush administration. And I think that September 11th was their licence to do it. September 11th determinatively changed American politics, there is absolutely no question about that. The mid-term elections that we just had, in which the Republicans gained seats both in the Senate and the Congress, is really – I mean, that has never happened in America. That’s new. And I think it has everything to do with Americans’ desire for security. September 11th brought the world home to America – and they don’t like it, they just don’t like it. And they’re willing to go with anyone that’s going to promise safety. And that’s what Bush is offering them.
But I really believe, since I’m a Christian, that you always live in a world at risk. Indeed, what Christianity is about, is always learning how to die early for the right reasons. And Americans just – that’s a thought that is unthinkable right now. I think the American response to September 11th is exactly the other side of the Americans’ unbelievable support for crisis care medicine. They think that if we just get good enough at curing cancer, or good enough at doing something about people suffering heart attacks, or good enough with genetics today, then they’re going to get out of this life alive. It’s just not going to happen.
David Rutledge: Can we go back to just war for a minute? You made an interesting comment, that the just war tradition raises the right kinds of questions; but then the just war tradition is seemingly being invoked at the moment as a justification for war. The assumption seems to be that we can and do wage war, so how can we do it and still remain faithful to our Christian ideals. Now as a pacifist, do you think that that is legitimate? How do you evaluate the just war tradition?
Stanley Hauerwas: I’m certainly willing always to join serious just war thinkers in trying to think through what the implications of being a just warrior should be. But if you take the war on Iraq: why is America able to even imagine going to war in Iraq? It’s because we can. We’ve got all this unbelievable military power, so we can envision it, because we have the capacity for it. Now, the question is: did you get the capacity to wage that kind of war on just war considerations? Is the United States’ foreign policy a just war foreign policy? Is the United States’ military preparedness based on just war considerations? No way! They’re based on presuppositions, that you’d better have as much military might as you can, in a world of anarchy, because the one with the most weapons at the end, wins.
Now, if just war people were more serious about raising questions about the implications of what just war would commit them to – for example, the war on terrorism could not possibly be a just war. I don’t even think it’s a war, I mean that’s a metaphorical use of the word “war” that comes from Americans’ views of – you know, the “war on drugs”, the “war on crime” – I mean, it’s just crap. Because what they need to think about is: just war is always about a political end, that you need to declare, so your enemy will know how they can resign and surrender. And so if you’re about annihilating your enemy, as we were in World War II – that is, we fought it for unconditional surrender – you can’t fight a just war for unconditional surrender, because you’re not trying to destroy your enemy, you’re only trying to stop your enemy from doing the wrong that you declared the war for. I mean, there can’t be a just war against terrorism, because you don’t even know who the enemy is, and you get to keep changing it, and the presumption that a just war should be in response to aggression: well, in what way is Iraq really threatening America? That hasn’t been shown at all. What Iraq threatens is American imperial hegemony in the world. How is that a criterion for just war?
So I regard most of the people that are trying to give an account of why it is that the war against Iraq could meet just war criteria, as just an ideological cover for American realism. And notice: no one’s talking about the war on terrorism that much in America right now, because we lost it. Or at least, we haven’t won it. So instead, everyone’s talking about the war against Iraq, and so you’ve made the shift from the war on terrorism to the war against Iraq, which you’re going to win, and so Bush is not being held accountable for the mistaken strategy of ever declaring war against terrorism.
David Rutledge: Theologian and pacifist Stanley Hauerwas, talking earlier this year on the eve of the American attack on Iraq.
Stanley Hauerwas: What I find absolutely crucial is reflecting on Christ’s death and resurrection. What that means is that God would rather die, God would rather have God’s own Son die, than to redeem the world through violence. And that central story is what Christians are about.
I go to an Episcopal church, and after we finish the Mass, one of the prayers that I find a deep comfort is – I just have the Book of Common Prayer here – Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son, our saviour Jesus Christ. You have fed us with spiritual food, in the sacrament of His body and blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you, with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord. Amen. Now, how could someone that prays that prayer every week at the Eucharistic sacrifice – and remember, the Eucharistic sacrifice is where we become part of Christ’s sacrifice for the world, so the world will know it’s got an alternative to violence – how can anyone that prays that prayer, week after week, run for the Presidency of the United States? It beats the hell out of me.
You know, I’m not trying to call Christians out of being politically involved; I just want them to be there as Christians. And instead, what they get is they think they have a personal relationship with Jesus, which makes it OK for them to do anything that they damn well please, in the name of what’s important for national defence. Well, Jesus is a political saviour, and that prayer is a political prayer. And that’s the kind of seizing of the imagination I’m trying to help Christians regain in America. Because in America, Christians just cannot distinguish themselves – what it means to be Christian, they assume it goes hand in hand with what it means to be an American. And that’s just a deep mistake. But how to help Christians recover that difference is very difficult indeed.
David Rutledge: How much help are you getting in that from the American Christian leadership?
Stanley Hauerwas: Well, for example: the Methodist bishops have given a kind of statement against going to war pre-emptively. And you know, they want you to work through the UN, and that kind of thing. They don’t just come out and say “you do it, George, and your soul is going to Hell. Or your soul is already in Hell”. Which I wish they would do. But George Bush, on the whole, is just ignoring any of that kind of statement, because he knows it doesn’t represent the American Methodists. Most American Methodists assume “well, something needs to be done”, and they therefore wouldn’t follow the lead of their bishops.
There’s been quite a number of statements by most of the mainstream religious bodies – you know, saying “go through the UN” and that kind of thing, but it’s had no effect. Because I think that Bush is right: most of the laity doesn’t know how to think about war at all. And the reason most Christian laity don’t know how to think about war at all, is because our religious leadership has never helped educate the American people. As a pacifist, when I go and lecture to churches about the ethics of war, and try to introduce them to just war considerations – because I think that just war is certainly a very serious alternative that people, if they do it seriously, it raises the right kinds of questions that ought to be raised – I usually get a hand stuck up, and someone says “no one’s every told me that Christians have a problem with war”. Isn’t that remarkable? I say “I know you’ve been betrayed. Fire your bishops”. The teaching office of the church has just been absent, over the years, about these kinds of matters.
David Rutledge: There was commentator in the journal First Things, who said that when Christian go off to fight a just war, they’re following Christ, but at a distance. And I wonder if, in your pacifism, you’re talking about something much more immediate, you’re talking about pacifism as the road to Calvary, if it has to be that way, as following Christ in such a way as to be led unresisting to a horrible death, if that’s what your Christianity calls you to do? Is that the kind of end that you have in mind?
Stanley Hauerwas: It certainly could be. I mean, what is the deep problem? The deep problem of Christian non-violence is: you must be willing to watch innocent people suffer for your convictions. Of course, that’s true. In the hard cases, it means it’s not just your death, it’s watching other people die, whom you might have been able to defend. Now of course, you want to try to do everything you can that would prevent that alternative. But you may have to envision that.
But look: the just warriors are in exactly the same position. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on just war grounds, were murder. There’s no other description for that. Just warriors need to argue that it would have been better for more people to die on the beaches of Japan, both Americans and Japanese, than to commit one murder. That’s what the position should be committed to holding. So of course, any account of serious attempt to morally control war, would mean that if you’re a just warrior, you’re going to have to watch the innocent suffer for your convictions – just like the pacifist does. But on the whole, most people who argue on just war grounds don’t want to acknowledge that. But they should.
David Rutledge: Do you think that one of the key problems for a message like yours, in America or in the world right now, is that when you talk about watching innocent people suffer in the course of a war, the most outstanding recent example of that is the deaths of thousands of Americans at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. And the most difficult thing in the world at the moment is for Americans to say “well, in the name of justice, we can’t allow those deaths to be the pretext for more deaths” – even though that’s right at the heart of Christian teaching?
Stanley Hauerwas: Well, I think that Americans simply cannot contemplate Americans getting to die as victims. And they want to turn their deaths into some good. And when they do that, you exactly betray – at least, as Christians – what we should have learned through the Cross: that the attempt to make life meaningful, even life that has died, through further violence, is absolutely futile. But we seem determined to want to do that, and I think we in the world will pay a great price for that. I mean, the price that Americans are going to have to pay for the kind of arrogance that we are operating out of right now, is going to be terrible indeed. And I think that when America isn’t able to rule the world, that people will exact some very strong judgements against America – and I think we will well deserve it.
David Rutledge: American theologian Stanley Hauerwas.
VOICE OF OSAMA BIN LADEN
George W. Bush: There’s never a day when I do not learn of another threat, or give an order in this global war against a scattered network of killers. We’ve got the terrorists on the run. We’re keeping them on the run. The war goes on – and we are winning.
David Rutledge: On ABC Radio National, you’ve been listening to Encounter. And today’s guests were James Johnson, Igor Primoratz, John Elford and Stanley Hauerwas. Thanks to them, and to David Bates for studio production.
Guests on this program:
James Turner Johnson
Professor of Religion, Associate Member of the Graduate Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Jersey
Pro-Rector Emeritus, Liverpool Hope University College, UK
Principal Research Fellow, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne
Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke University, North Carolina
The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions
Author: James Turner Johnson
Publisher: Pennsylvania State University Press (Pennsylvania 1997)
The Ethics Of Uncertainty: A New Christian Approach to Moral Decision-Making
Author: John Elford
Publisher: Oneworld Publications (New York 2000)
Dispatches From the Front: Theological Engagements With the Secular
Author: Stanley Hauerwas
Publisher: Duke University Press (Durham 1994)
Using Military Force Against the Saddam Hussein Regime: the Moral Issues
December 2002 article by James Turner Johnson
September 11, 2001: A Pacifist Response
By Stanley Hauerwas
War, peace and military ethics
Useful links page from San Diego University - scroll down for resources on Just War theory.
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