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August 29, 2005


Dan Trabue

A fine review of the problems we have in getting along and the hurtles we must clear in order to do so.

I also agree with your thought, "Unfortunately, many people are not especially good at measuring future losses."

And would it be rude of me to bring this back around to the violence-as-solution issue? That this is where I see the endorsers of violence having trouble is that they fail to adequately measure future losses that come even with a military "victory," much less a situation where we wind up with a military quagmire.


One never knows the end of the path not taken. About the best we can do is try to avoid or mitigate more predictable short-term problems while hoping that we don't in the process generate other problems as a result. A classic example is the First World War. In the short term, German / Austro-Hungarian aggression was stopped. In the long term, an even more destructive war resulted.

I agree that force should typically NOT be the first resort, but in my opinion there are cases where it is the ONLY option besides surrender. The unfortunate fact is that most people have values and beliefs that they think are worth killing over. What happens when these beliefs come into conflict?

Let's make sure we're on the same page:

1. Do you believe that violence is appropriate in some circumstances? If so, can you give examples?

2. Other than the application of violence, how should:

a) President Lincoln have preserved the Union?
b) President Roosevelt have responded to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?
c) Saddam Hussein have been made to comply with the various UN resolutions?

3. Please define 'military quagmire' and explain why the following were / were not quagmires:

a) The War for Independence
b) The Civil War
c) World War II
d) Present-day Iraq

Dan Trabue

I don't have enough time to answer all your fine questions, but let me at least tackle the first one: When IS violence appropriate?

If A were attacking B with a knife, it would be appropriate to try to stop A. If it were me and I acted in a noble manner (and we never know for sure what we'd do in such a situation, do we?), I'd hope I'd put myself between A and B and try to talk things out. Most of the time, this will work.

But let's assume A lunged at me or B. I might try to disarm A even if it came to a physical struggle. Violence.

Let's assume further that A had a gun and I had a gun and that A was shooting towards B. In that case, IF THERE WERE NO OTHERS PRESENT WHO MIGHT BE STRUCK IN THE CROSSFIRE, I might fire at A.

In other words, I don't object (although I'm wary of) to violence in the line of what we might call policing (whether by police or by civilians). Even there, though, it should be rare, the exception.

But using defensive/protective violence with the hopes of harming only the violent attacker is not a valid model for war. War - in most modern cases - has failed to meet the standards for Just War Theory, which I think is a reasonable starting place.

As then-cardinal Ratzinger (now pope Benedict) pointed out in his criticism of the Iraq invasion, "given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."

Because I don't believe in imposing religious beliefs by force of law (even though I think I can make a pretty decent logical case for pacifism/non-violent resistence), I don't think Pacifism should be legislated. But I do think that a very solid case can be made for JWT and that should be our starting point. I assume you're familiar with it?


I was only vaguely familiar with 'just war', so I read a bit about it in the Summa Theologica. As I understand St. Thomas Aquinas, for a war to be just, three conditions must obtain:

1. That war is waged by by a competent authority; in St. Thomas' time, this was the sovereign. In our time, it is the nation-state. Private individuals may NOT wage war;

2. That the cause be just: "Wherefore Augustine says (Questions. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): 'A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.'"

3. The belligerent should have a just intention: "Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [*The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine's works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1]): 'True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.'"

It seems to me that our war in Iraq meets all three criteria:

1. The United States is a sovereign nation, making war by the direction of our lawfully elected government;

2. Saddam Hussein was in violation of numerous international agreements AND committing atrocities against his own people. Further, we believed that he also planned to cause tremendous harm to our own country;

3. We have not waged war in Iraq for our own aggrandizement or enrichment. To the contrary, we have spent a great deal of money AND blood to rebuild the country, and we are working with the Iraqi people to establish a democratic government.

I would also note that JWT is the basic principal by which the United States wages war: it is the policy of the United States to observe the laws and customs of warfare as we understand them through our own laws, traditions and military regulations, and as they are codified in treaties to which the United States is a signatory.

Regarding the statement of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, I must disagree with him on three counts:

1. St. Thomas does not make any comment about what weapons may or may not be used in a 'just' war;

2. More importantly, we have not made use of such weapons. Indeed, we are making efforts to develop increasingly small, precision weapons (such as the new Air Force SDB) to further minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage;

3. The enemy we are fighting is not himself obeying the tenents of 'just war' and in fact is routinely committing war crimes by refusing to wear a uniform and bear arms openly, and by deliberately hiding among the civilian population and taking shelter in mosques.

I also disagree with your contention that "using defensive/protective violence with the hopes of harming only the violent attacker is not a valid model for war." Modern war is not waged by individuals. Rather, it is waged by nation-states: their industries, their soldiers, and ultimately their people. It thus becomes necessary to use violence against the aggressive nation-state to stop its aggression.

For example, when the 8th Air Force bombed a ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt or a munitions plant in Essen, it wasn't because all the employees there were 'violent attackers'. However, through their labor and the parts and weapons they built, they were enabling and supporting Nazi aggression and became targets for that reason. It sucks, but until the Biblical concept of opposing champions or the 18th century practice of wars fought strictly between professional armies come back into practice, it's what we're stuck with.

Dan Trabue

You need to look up JWT again. There are at least 6 criteria for a Just War. The one Ratzinger made reference to was that civilians can't be targeted nor considered fair game (I forget the wording, and there are different versions).

Ratzinger was suggesting that we're past a time where soldiers go to a field of war and battle it out, just between them. Any war now is going to have civilian deaths and that is why he thought Just War would be hard to come by these days. Or, that's how I interpret what he said, anyway.

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