Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Iraq: A Just War?

As long-time readers of this blog know, I'm inclined to think that the Iraq War was (and is) just, especially in regard to the reasons for going to war. (To clarify, the question of "just war" touches on both why a war is fought and how it is fought; the focus here will be on the former.)

There are, of course, plenty of people who oppose the war, and for plenty of reasons. Some of those reasons are ridiculous, but some of them are at least plausible and understandable. I'm happy to see that most of those Catholics who view the war as unjust are in the latter camp.

Over the last week or so, I've been involved in a combox discussion with such a Catholic: Dr. J.P. Hubert, Jr., MD FACS at David Jones' blog (at this post). Dr. Hubert identifies himself as a Catholic ethicist, and although it does not appear that his formal education (at least at the graduate level) is in theology, his writing and argumentation indicates a good degree of familiarity and facility with Catholic moral theology.

I've decided to write a post on this discussion primarily for myself, that (hopefully) I might better lay out my position with regard to my discussion with Dr. Hubert.

As I've indicated in the most recent comments, the Schwerpunkt of our disagreement concerns this question: is the initiation of hostilities always immoral? That is, is it ever morally licit to actually attack another country first, before they attack us? Dr. Hubert believes the answers to those two questions are yes and no, respectively, while I take the opposite view.

In his recent comments, Dr. Hubert fleshes out his position in a number of ways. First, he argues that the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which addresses the issue of just war doctrine is entitled "Avoiding War". That is, the very fact that the CCC discusses just war under the section title "Avoiding War" indicates that the attacking first is always illicit.

Here, Dr. Hubert is giving far more weight to a section title than those titles merit. As with Scripture, Magisterial texts must be read with an awareness of the author's intention as well as the literary genre of the text. Section titles in the CCC do not serve as the basis for drawing doctrinal or dogmatic conclusions.

Dr. Hubert also notes that the Magisterium has never advocated initiating hostilities, and with that I agree, because it is true. Nonetheless, the lack of advocation is not the same as condemnation. For the Magisterium to not-assert that x is true is not to assert that x is false.

Dr. Hubert also notes that the CCC does not mention the initiation of hostilities in the section on just war doctrine, and again I agree. But again, I must note that this cannot be taken as an argument to prove that the Magisterium categorically and absolutely condemns the initiation of hostilities. The absence of an approving assertion is the not the same as a condemnation.

In one of my comments, I raised the issue of initiating an attack against a nation which is committing genocide against its own people. My argument was that if initiating hostilities was always wrong, then it would also always be wrong to attack such a nation. Dr. Hubert attempts to answer this argument as follows:
    Genocide is a unique case which represents an "aggressive attack" on an entire race or ethnic group. The entity in question is morally justified in defending against it by the principles of the JWD. If a functional peace-keeping universal entity exists (such as the U.N) whose province it is to help defend against unjust aggression including Genocide, then such a defense is morally licit (by the second law of Christ) if the entity in question is unable to repel the aggressor without it. The Magisterium supports such an action if it is advocated by a properly responsible international body. This is supportable on the basis of mercy (love) if not in justice. Importantly, the defensive action is a response to the unjust aggression of Genocide. Any unilateral such action would be more problematic however but that is a fine-point not in question here.
Here is the problem: CCC 2309 states that a just war requires damage by the aggressor (in this case, the nation committing genocide) against another nation or nations. This does not obtain in this example. If one follows the hermeneutic indicated by Dr. Hubert in his analysis of the CCC, then one is forced to conclude that it would always and everywhere be immoral for one nation or nations to initiate hostilities against a genocidal nation which has never attacked another country. (NB: I think this is a mistaken hermeneutic; I am only demonstrating the consequences it entails.)

Dr. Hubert also argues that the Magisterium in fact has indicated positively that the Iraq War was unjust. He references Pio Cardinal Laghi's mission to President Bush prior to the war, at the direction and behest of Pope John Paul II (Cardinal Laghi then relayed the Holy Father's opposition to the war). He also quotes Cardinal Ratzinger's statement, “There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, 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'.”

A few comments are in order. Primarily and paramount, neither of these examples constitute a direct and public teaching by the Magisterium. This is not deconstruction of language, but rather constitutes a close reading of Magisterial actions. Take the first example: a meeting whose contents are intended to remain private is de facto not a public teaching. The second example indicates the personal opinion of the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF (it's important to note that while the man who made "statement x" would later be elected pope, it is misleading to state that "the pope said 'statement x'"); now, I see Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict as one of the greatest theologians and church leaders of the last century. But on this point, I think he is wrong, and his views on the matter have never been communicated as the definitive teaching of the teaching office of the Catholic Church.

Finally -- and to return to an earlier point -- it is important in this discussion to keep in mind the genre of the CCC. Like every other catechism, it is intended as a basic summary of the essential teachings of the Church. This means many things, but one thing is does not mean is that it treats every issue in a completely thorough manner; that is simply not the raison d'être of a catechism. Take an issue on which I have probably the most familiarity: the theology of grace. The CCC offers the basic summary of the Catholic Church's teaching on grace, but it is in no way an exhaustive presentation of that theology. The same is true with its presentation of just war doctrine: it is a basic summary, not a thorough presentation. James Turner Johnson and others have powerfully argued that there is much, much more which can be said about this issue than is found in the CCC.

As Dr. Hurbert notes, the issue of the initiation of hostilities is not the only source of our disagreement, but as I noted at the opening of this post, I do believe that it is the focal point of that disagreement.

Finally, I want to note that Dr. Hurbert has been the epitome of a curteous interlocutor in our discussions, and I thank him for that.

I look forward to the continuation of this discussion.

Update: Stephen Hand of Traditional Catholic Reflections & Reports offers some thoughts (scroll down a bit) on the above post. Stephen is opposed to the war, and he has long argued his case with those who disagree. You can find his comments at the link provided; here is the response I emailed to him:

Stephen, I'm not sure why you offered the quote you did from my post, b/c the substance of your reply doesn't seem to relate to the particular issue I was discussing there, i.e. the problem of a genocidal regime as it relates to the morality of initiating hostilities against said regime.

In any case, that nations have alluded to alleged defensive motives in order to rationalize illicit first-strikes does not in and of itself invalidate the notion that the initiation of hostilities can be morally licit. Abusus non tollit usum: the abuse of something is not an argument against that thing.

I'll also grant that the CCC does not address preventive war, but as I said in my post, that is not the same thing as a condemnation of such a war. Again, I'll grant that Cardinal Ratzinger saw the war as most likely (and perhaps certainly) unjust. But he never proferred that view in his official capacity as Prefect of the CDF, and hence faithful Catholics can disagree with him.

I fully agree that the notion of disagreement with the CDF Prefect (let alone the Holy Father himself) requires careful thought and discernment. But it can be licit. It's well-known that Ratzinger looked askance at the Assissi meetings, even thought they were a "pet" of JPII's. I am not saying that my wisdom and intellect match Ratzinger's, but I do think that there are problems with the position he articulated.

For instance, in the same statement you are referring to, he doubted that just war was even possible today. In and of itself (i.e. prescinding from context which was perhaps not revealed), that is a difficult statement to make sense of. The Vatican itself publicly agreed that the US's actions against the Taliban were licit. (In fact, come to think of it, one might argue that the same arguments being employed against the justice of the Iraq War also obtain with regard to Afghanistan, in that that nation did not initiate hostilities against the US.) [This strikes me as an important point.] Furthermore, with the development of technologies that greatly reduce the danger to innocents, it seems that it's easier to be in accord with the tenets of that doctrine.

No comments: