Everybody's Got One
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Monday, March 24, 2003


Included in the church bulletin yesterday was a heartfelt screed containing this remarkable claim: Other than for humanitarian intervention, it is hard to find a war the Church considers just. Thus are fourteen centuries of just war theory dismissed out of hand – or rather, placed firmly out of mind. In 1993, after the first Gulf War, Pope John Paul II stated in Centesimus Annus: Never again War! No, never again war ...

The Holy Father doesn't subscribe to Just War Theory – as is his right. This isn't a matter of faith or doctrine, after all, only a time-tested mechanism for trying to reconcile Christianity with the real world. And the fact that it's so difficult to interpret and apply, so subject to disagreement even among those who accept its premises, shows that it's not without its flaws. Sincere pacifism is an admirable moral position – although I'm aware of the free rider issues.

But the profoundly ahistorical late-twentieth century standard of humanitarian intervention strikes me as problematic, at best. There may be the germ of an idea here, a new way of thinking about war in a new interconnected globe – with time, and effort, and intellectual honesty, a usable doctrine may be able to be teased out of it. (I would caution, though, that Hitler's incursion into the Sudetenland was justified at the time as a humanitarian intervention to protect the oppressed ethnic Germans, if memory serves ...) But it seems to me most unwise to jettison something that has stood the test of time more or less adequately without a replacement at hand. Which temperment is why I'm a conservative, of course.

posted by Kelly | 9:26 PM link