Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day - Through the Lens of the Doctrine of "Just War"

Today the Church Year and the secular calendar more or less meet. In November, the month during which the Church especially remembers the dead, our country celebrates Veteran's Day  - the day to remember the dead who served their country in the armed forces. Certainly a worthy thing to do from the standpoint of patiotism. However, this is also a call for us, as Catholic Christians, to ponder the necessity of war. After all, Jesus did say "Blessed are the peacemakers."

As our nation continues to send young men and women over to the Middle East to "keep peace" in areas where our government perceives our military presence is needed, it might be good to ask if this is truly necessary and to revisit the notion of a "just war." In section 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says:

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 modern 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.
One has to wonder in the case of the continuing conflicts in the Middle East if all of these have indeed been met. Did we exhaust all other possibilities first? Is there indeed a realistic chance of success? Is not the cost of war both to the civilians in the countries affected and to those who serve in the military and their nation at least as grave an evil as what we are fighting?  I would say these answers are not fully clear. Certainly a matter for prayer and discernment.
Those who have died faithfully serving their country in the Middle East are certainly to be honored. Less clear is whether government decision-makers who sent them or continue to keep them there are likewise worthy of our praise.

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