Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Just War and Killing?

Q - Since the Iraq War is not a "Just War" are soldiers breaking the Commandment "Thou shall not kill" whenever they kill an enemy combatant?

A - Thanks for the question! Before I directly answer your question I should issue a caution. There is no "official" determination by the Church that the Iraq war is just or unjust. It isn't within the Church's duty to determine such things. While individuals may make prudential declarations of their own private judgement (including the Pope and Bishops), it is not an authoratative declaration of the justice in a particular war. The Catechism states (emphasis mine):

2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

- there must be serious prospects of success;

- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

Therefore, the Church itself states that the judgment about moral legitimacy is for the governmental officials, not the Church. Here is more on the teaching on just war.

With this being the case, we cannot say that the war is just or unjust as a Church. But, we as individuals have the freedom to apply the principles of just war as taught by the Church. For a take on the application going in opposite directions, I suggest you read the following articles which approach the subject differently:
Just War, As It Was and Is - James Turner Johnson
Iraq: Then and Now - George Weigel
War & Statecraft: An Exchange - Rowan Williams & George Weigel
Just War: An Exchange - Paul J. Griffiths & George Weigel

Now, as to whether a soldier would be violating the commandment to "not kill" - in most every case the answer is no. The commandment is better translated to "not murder", that is, not to kill innocents.

If a soldier purposefully kills a non-combatant for an unjust reason or murders someone, then they would certainly be violating the commandment. But, if they were defending themselves or others, and accidentally killed someone or had no other choice, it isn't by default a violation of the commandment. Also, the determination of an "unjust war" wouldn't necessarily change this. For it to be considered murder a soldier would have to believe the war to be unjust and then kill. This would be akin to murder.


bullschuck said...

One of the bishops of the Eastern Rite Catholic churches in the US (and that phrase probably opens a nice set of questions and discussion) has issued a pastoral letter detailing why he thinks any war in Iraq would not satisfy the Just War criteria. his pastoral letter is here.

Also, a pastoral letter that speaks in general term about pacifism and just war, from Archbishop Edwin O'Brien from the Archdiocese of the US Military. http://www.milarch.org/archbishop/obrien/PL060413.doc
and some general comments on just war at catholicmil.org.

bullschuck said...

Hmmm... the links aren't coming through properly. Marcel, would it be fruitful to send you the links via email and have you post them? Or maybe they are confusing the issue?

Marcel said...

Are the links complete and just now hyperlinking?

bullschuck said...

The full link isn't showing up. I checked both Firefox and IE. Didn't know that there was a way to embed links here.