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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Just War

I've been nothing short of obsessed these past few years.

How could it be that so many Mormons, folks that I should otherwise respect and hold in high regard, seem to be convinced that war can be just and that Iraq is a case in point? Where does this idea of "just war" come from and why do folks, many who profess the purest Christian faith, so passionately ascribe the "Just War" idea to the Iraq war...or, dare I say, any action taken by the Bush Administration in the name of the "War on Terror"?

Editor's note: I prefer the pejorative "War on Terra" for its brutal truth. But to avoid being accused of instigating self-inflicted pain in others, I'll just stick with the state-approved...er, non-controversial terms for now.

The following are arguments that I've often heard...but I have to be honest, these arguments should be under what John Dehlin calls "bad apologetics" simply based upon how they repulse rather than convince:

JEHOVAH - JESUS (aka "New wine in old wineskins")
Essentially that the hawkish god of the Old Testament/pre-3rd Nephi era and the peace-loving god of the New Testament are the same guy, so therefore you can't just take Jesus at his word but also have to take into account his past personality to get the whole truth.

Also expressed as the New Testament/covenant encompassing the Old rather than replacing it.

Ummm...aren't we ignoring the possibility that Jesus was serious about his reasons for taking-on a body and coming down here to straighten a few things out? I think he was a revolutionary, not a reformer. And isn't it possible that one of the reasons he did this was because we had him all wrong? Just asking...

(aka "Truly peace-loving people hate war but do it anyway when forced to...")
This encompasses the "Book of Mormon teaches the necessity and inevitability of war" argument and places Capt. Moroni as the exemplar...man of god, patriot, reluctant warrior. There are other examples in the Book of Mormon but this one is most often cited as superior. I think this is the closest you'll get to a reasonable argument for "Just War". However, it is most often cited without regard (or a very loose definition) for the great pains the Book of Mormon takes in strictly defining such a war. Not to mention the unanswered questions raised by the People of Ammon in the face of assumptions about "Just War", and the teachings of Jesus about loving your enemy, and the possibility that all war can be traced to avoidable circumstances, and the promise that God made that as long as the Nephites were rightous he would protect them, but that as soon as they lost thier way he would send their enemies to remind them...but that's for another post.

TENTH ARTICLE OF FAITH (aka "God will not hold the obedient citizen accountable")
See, when Joseph Smith wrote these things he hadn't yet considered the possibility that a government might cease providing the right to life, liberty, and property for Mormons. Clearly this is a best case scenario article of faith, that applies principally when you have no real grievances or moral qualms.

But if a government asked you, possibly at threat of force, that you renounce God, or leave your children to others, or abandon your parents, etc...wouldn't you resist? Wouldn't you do all in your power to avoid such a duty? Wouldn't you in fact be justified in disobeying? Then why would you kill for your government or go along as a "good" citizen while others do this for you?

MYSTERIOUS GOD (aka "By proving contraries truth is manifest")
Closely related to the Jehovah-Jesus argument and a conscience stifler that's a handy helper for the quandaries created by a strictly obedience-based interpretation of the Tenth Article of Faith. This is the preferred argument of last resort for all faith-based claims of knowledge, simply because it cannot be refuted: Peace, be still. It's simply not for us to understand at this time but the day will come and all mysteries will be revealed. Wait for Jesus.

REQUIREMENT FOR SPREADING THE GOSPEL (aka "But the sword really is mightier than the word...those Sons of Mosiah were just hopeless dreamers...and LIBERALS!")
I just can't get over how sick this one makes me feel. We're talking turning and running with hands cupped over mouth and vomit spraying everywhere. I've actually had members of my own family sling this one out there year after year, with no sense of shame or gospel incongruence. "Yep, the up-side of this war is that we'll be able to send in the missionaries once it's done. Thank god and his mysterious ways!"

Let me know if you're aware of any others.

If you disagree with my take on the subject, never fear...that's what the comments are for, and I'm looking forward to the discussion.


Blogger NFlanders said...

In response to your questions, let me ask a question of my own. Are there circumstances in which you think war is justifiable (e.g. World War II)?

12/04/2005 10:57 PM  
Blogger Mahoun said...

I'd say I don't know. I'm inclined to believe the answer is yes, and my heart wants the answer to be no, but I really don't know. If there is a case for Just War, it's probably nothing we've ever experienced...that's what I'm thinking.

I've often heard that if ever there was a case for just war, it's WWII...and in the past I've assumed this to be a good example of a just case. Now, due to having lived though the circumstances surrounding the Iraq War, I'm not so sure and defitely not willing to assume. I'm more inclined to say that the case was made _and_ history favors the victor.

I came of age too late to experience the case made for the Viet Nam War...but my parents swear it was a good and believable case for just war, though they, like most of us, are no longer so sure. The case has been significantly muddied by the lack of victory.

One thing I do know: your average person finds war reprehensible and requires at least a thread of hope that it is a just war before jumping on...so, in a modern democracy that means that a case must be made to get the support of the people.

Making the case has become a requirement for war. Considering the number of wars that keep cropping up, I'd say we must consider the possibility of fraud.

12/04/2005 11:38 PM  
Blogger NFlanders said...

Sometimes I fear I am falling into an easy rhetorical trap by saying, "War is hell, but Nazis are evil..."

Having never been a combatant (and I probably never will be) I don't think I can accurately estimate the huge costs of war. However, that is true of the majority of our society. The only thing we can do is try to understand these costs before plunging into war.

I picked WWII because it is the easiest "good war" example, especially with what we know in hindsight. The fact that you still have reservations suggests that you find it hard to justify any war. I respect your opinion, though I don't share it.

I would suggest that everyday life is hell for some people, nearly as much as war. However, as we are not the civilians suffering or the combatants (you're not in the Armed Forces, are you?) we have to estimate the costs and do a cost/benefit analysis.

12/05/2005 10:01 AM  
Blogger Mahoun said...

Good point, and I would suggest that the cost/benefit approach is a primary problem...for at least one reason: it allows us to rationalize (or have rationalized for us) an option that would otherwise be unthinkable. How can you measure the cost of something as chaotic as war? The cost is in lives for which we really don't know the value except that we desperately would save our own and those we love. The cost is in consequences which have proven to be totally unpredictable and rarely if ever desirable. The cost is in opportunity...the paths we forego and the treasure diverted.

I was in the military for a time, but not as a combatant...it was enough for me to experience the dehumanizing bayonet training drills; stabbing furiously at a human-shaped target while screaming "Blood and guts! Blood and guts! Make the green grass grow!". War has never struck me as something I had to personally experience to realize and abhor. In fact, I think when people are told the truth about war, they have an innate sense of its counter-productiveness and utter horror without having to experience it first hand. The sheer amount of propaganda and threat of force required to turn people from this innate sense is an indicator.

I agree that life can be hell. I agree that there is evil in the world. I believe these things can and must be changed. I know that war is sometimes the solution we accept. But I don't believe that it's the one that will make the difference any more than I believe that beating a child will teach him to love.

Above all, I'm increasingly incredulous of the calls to patriotism, fear-mongering, and scape-goating that lead a nation to war. I don't think you have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that a call to war is a means to an end that could never stand on its own.

You only have to know that war itself is counter-productive and then all the illusions about it appear for what they are...lies.

You're right, I find any war hard to justify and I believe that increased skepticism around the justification for war is the world's greatest hope for lasting peace and cooperation.

12/05/2005 11:11 AM  

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