In his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, A.A. Hodge said:
"War is an incalculable evil, because of the lives it destroys, the misery it occasions, and the moral degradation it infallibly works on all sides—upon the vanquished and the victor, the party originally in the right and the party in the wrong. In every war one party at least must be in the wrong, involved in the tremendous guilt of unjustifiable war, and in the vast majority of cases both parties are thus in the wrong. No plea of honour, glory or aggrandizement, policy or profit can excuse, much less justify, war; nothing short of necessity to the end of the preservation of national existence. In order to make a war right in God's sight, it is not only necessary that our enemy should aim to do us a wrong, but also (a) that the wrong he attempts should directly or remotely threaten the national life, and (b) that war be the only means to avert it. Even in this case every other means of securing justice and maintaining national safety should be exhausted before recourse is had to this last resort. A war may be purely defensive in spirit and intent while it is aggressive in the manner in which it is conducted. The question of right depends upon the former, not the latter—upon the purpose for which, and not upon the mere order in which, or theatre upon which, the attack is made."
In my opinion, this is good sound advice. If nations would limit their war efforts to circumstances where dire self defense is involved, the amount of deaths, financial waste, hatred, and hysteria could be greatly reduced. Of course, what constitutes self defense and how that extends to protecting other nations is a tricky issue. But that is just one reason why governing a nation is so difficult! But, as Hodge states, the actual instances where war is truly just are pretty rare, so it is safe to say that unless there is a compelling good reason for a war, the reason is usually bad.
Also, we need to be careful about painting wars as black and white issues, in an bravado "either you are with us or against us" fashion. Not everybody that is against a particular war takes their stand because they are hung up on pacifism, or side with the enemy, or are hung up on partisan side-taking. And questioning a particular war doesn't make one unpatriotic. In fact, being patriotic is, in its truest sense, being concerned enough with your nation to fairly consider whether what is going on is just. There are a host of other reasons why one might be against a particular war. Some examples: 1. Lack of evidence that the war is just, normally because there is not enough evidence to prove a direct threat. 2. Lack of evidence that the war will effectively disengage the threat. 3. Assent to the war in general, but disagreement with tactical direction or timing. 4. Lack of evidence that the nation is capable of carrying out the war effectively. 5. The pragamtic view that, even if a war is fully justified, it rarely leads to the intended consequence.
One of the perhaps most edgy and critical issues to iron out here is the question of what sort of intervention (if any) is legitimate in areas where there is no direct threat to the nation about to carry out war. Prime examples of this would be intervention in Kosovo or in the Persian Gulf in defense of Kuwait. In those cases, there was at least the form of a multi-national effort, although there's no question that one (or at most two) country/countries was/were really spear-heading the effort. Where does a country draw the line in regard to "stepping in" and assisting others?
If I had to draft a theoretical criteria of what I see as needing to be carried about before a war is undertaken, would be:
1. There must be a formal declaration of war, going through the legal procedures given in the country (ie. the constitution). These checks and balances are there for a reasons, namely to stop: unnecessary deaths, war mongers, and unchecked war spending. If these become stumbling blocks to a particular war plan and there is a temptation to "be decisive", then chances are there are either (A) internal problems that will doom the war effort anyways or (B) there aren't enough good reasons to carry out the war. This is historically in line with what the Protestant Church has held, an individual political leader is not to carry out war unillateraly but rather it should be a national effort.
2. The situation must be of the nature where there are obvious immediate consequences that will occur if war is not immediately convened. I mean consequences that don't involve highly speculative threats.
3. The war must not only be towards a just cause, but what good it will accomplish must be of the nature that they will outweigh what transpires during the war.
4. If the war is defending another country, there must be some compelling reason for it: A set-in-stone obligation due to treaty/alliance might make it unavoidable. A clear moral (not strategical) imperative. Etc. Providing "humans rights violations" as a basis for this point is suspect and should be subjected to further scrutiny. Firstly: There are many human rights violations occurring all over, so one must ask why is this one on the forefront? Is it of a different nature?... Which usually leads to a strategical imperative hiding behind the smokescreen of a strategical reasons. Secondly: Has it been conclusively proven that these "human rights violations" are one-sided? Is this possibly just the case of the two equally unethical efforts with one playing kind now because they are losing? Are you sure that the side you help won't take you down with the help you give them?
This is very fuzzy, but I think it may be a good starting point. I think there would be less wars being carried out if these sort of things have been accounted for. And these checks and balances would help the ones that ARE carried out to be more likely to be successful.
What we SHOULD try to avoid is:
1. Partisan-style bickering over war (ie. I like my war but not yours, equating opposition to war as opposition to party, and vice-versa). Also, unthoughtful acceptance of all war by our/your party of choice.
2. Unthoughtful rejection of all war.
4. Labeling thought/discussion/debate of war efforts as disrespectful, unpatriotic, liberal, etc. If a war is worth waging, it is worth exploring the idea a bit.
5. Collectivism of the for/against and either/or type.
6. Letting our dislike of the anti-war movements propel us to overreact and be uncritical and unskeptical towards wars.
Just my two cents, Canadian funds (which is pretty close to American funds right now). Feel free to disagree.
Labels: war, wcf