The debate raging in the world today is whether it is wise or unwise to go ahead and invade Iraq, especially if the UN Security Council fails to reach an agreement on the subject. But the problem goes even deeper than that. With or without UN approval, the more fundamental question is whether or not such a war can be morally justified or not?
Most all Church leaders, both here and as well as overseas, see little or no moral justification for the USA to launch an invasion of Iraq -- at least not at this time. This is not just a view held by Christian "pacifists". This includes almost all those who have a conscience formed in even the traditional doctrine regarding a "just war" with its ethical demands which, among others, insist that any such war must be purely defensive, and only begun as a last resort.
But the first problem is what constitutes a purely "defensive" war. When the "just war" doctrine was first being worked out, some sixteen hundred years ago, wars were fought primarily with swords and spears and bows and arrows. So when an enemy threatened it was generally enough to draw a line in the sand and say "One step farther and we're at war." Depending who took that first step, it would be clear who was the aggressor.
Nowadays, with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, the situation is much more muddled, so much so that even the UN Charter (Article 31) allows for a "pre-emptive" action against the threat of an attack which is "instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation." It is in light of this situation this that the USA, in its newly stated national defense policy, insists on the right to pre-emptive strikes and preventive war and is even busy trying to convince the Vatican that the traditional "just war" doctrine needs to be revised to address modern realities.
All this seems to make sense until you put the shoe on the other foot. Imagine you are a small country that has been branded as part of an "Axis of Evil" by a superpower that threatens to destroy you by means of an attack that is "instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice...." What choice have you but either to cave in or else to threaten to use whatever means of self-defense you have, even if means blowing up the whole world in the process? Of course, we Americans like to think that we'd never actually engage in such an first strike. But if that is really true, why are we saying just the opposite?
Perhaps we have actually reached the point where, for all practical purposes, the "just war" doctrine no longer works -- if indeed it ever did. Could it be that Christian pacifists, those who believe in taking the Gospel saying about "turning the other cheek" literally, are right, and that there is no other viable way of avoiding catastrophe except by complete and total disarmament? Could it be that what has been derided as "Christian idealism" and what we like to think of as just plain "common sense" have finally come together?
If so, then it would seem that if the USA truly wants to lead the world, it needs to do so not by declaring a unilateral right to preventive strikes against its enemies, but instead by doing all it can by diplomatic means to see that all weapons of mass destruction, beginning with its own, are banished from the face of the earth forever.
R W Kropf 1/27/03 Pacifism.doc 03-01-27