Ratzinger: "No Such Thing as Just War"?

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s discussion Just War, Pacifism and the Catholic Tradition May 31, 2007; beginning with Proud to be Catholic And American? May 28, 2007

Responding to a comment in yesterday’s post:

[Morning’s Minion]: First, I’m sorry you are forced into this tedious battle yet again, but am a bit surprised that a Catholic would take such a cavalier approach to the gospel of life. What if somebody told you they were sick of prattling on about abortion, as it’s so yesterday?

Second, you are over-simplifying my post on Vox Nova. I believe firmly in the just war principles. But I believe that today, the bar is very high indeed for those principles to justify war. And it’s not just the destructive power of the weapons, it’s also the tendency for “disproportionate evils” in the form of destabilization, terrorism, and hatred to emerge– ever more potent in a globalized world.

I was referring to the presentation of the ‘gospel of life’ as a wholesale condemnation of the use of force, in such manner as to equate force with “violence”, and thereby a failure to reflect the whole of Church teaching on the matter.

I also confess to also writing in exasperation at the time as a certain somebody in a combox decided to play the ‘Ratzinger card’ in conversation with me earlier that afternoon 😉

[Morning’s Minion]: As someone who calls his website the “Ratzinger fan club”, I wonder why you don’t give due regard to his views on the Iraq war (and modern war in general)? Let me refresh your memory . . .

As I mentioned, I have blogged on this topic off and on for the past five years, indeed, even setting up an entire website devoted to the just war debatein the interest of offering a fair presentation of all sides and resources (including that of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger). In light of which, your snide remark (what I took to be a patronizing jab) did set me off a bit.

The bulk of yesterday’s post was blogged in response to Nate Wildermuth (who seems to commit the fallacy of reducing all force to “violence” and condemning it as such — to which Michael Denton has offered a respectful critique). However, as I sniped at Katerina and Morning Minion in Vox Nova‘s combox, and confined my mention of the latter’s post to a particular speculation from Ratzinger, apologies are certainly in order if I led readers to believe MM disregards the just war tradition altogether. I will try to let my temper cool before commenting and strive toward an accurate presentation of your position in the future..

[Morning’s Minion]: I take issue with the analysis of Novak and Weigel, because I think they are only giving lip service to the just war principles. For God’s sake, they both still defend the war. Remember when Weigel talked about the “charism of political discernment”. Please. These voices are simply not credible.

As for Weigel’s “charism of political discernment” remark, given its ambiguity I think Rowan William’s dressing down in the subsequent exchange in First Things was merited (War & Statecraft: An Exchange First Things March 2004). Weigel later clarified himself:

I gladly accept Dr. Williams’ proposal that “virtue” (with specific reference to the virtue of prudence) is the apt word for getting at the distinctive habitus to be desired in public authorities, while assuring him that, in using “charism,” I was not suggesting that the presidential oath of office (or its British parliamentary equivalent) involves an infusion of any particular gift of the Holy Spirit. And we are quite agreed that public authorities ought to consult widely in developing their own moral clarity in this time of war. It is certainly true that those outside the halls of power can sometimes see things that those inside have difficulty discerning.

You’re free to refute Weigel, Novak or Neuhaus’ arguments for the war — but asserting your doubts as to their credibility isn’t sufficient.

Also, in your long list, why don’t you refer to the work of Grisez, Finnis, and Boyle on the illegitimacy of the nuclear deterrant? These are top class moralists unlike (ahem!) some of the others on the list…

I think the question of nuclear war is a separate discussion altogether; one that I am not proficient or well-read on although a few sources have been cited in the combox (I was suprised that Ignatius Press had published a book on this subject entitled A Fighting Chance: The Moral Use of Nuclear Weapons — sounds like an invigorating and intellectually-provocative read, yes?).

As I’ve said, the focus of yesterday’s post was chiefly on the legitimate use of force in general and whether force is irreducable to violence (which is to say morally-reprehensible) in Catholic tradition. I do not think that is the case, and I’m pleased to know that neither do you.

The Destructiveness of “Modern Warfare”

Inasmuch as Ratzinger makes the judgement that “we must begin asking ourselves whether as things stand, with new weapons that cause destruction that goes well beyond the groups involved in the fight, it is still licit to allow that a ‘just war’ might exist” — not a few on the left have cited this particular phrase as if it were gospel truth and a conclusive judgement on the matter, declaring that John Paul II’s “No to War!” can only be interpreted as an absolute prohibition on the use of force by the Church). I would remind them that this remains in itself a prudential judgement and open to critique.

In “Just War, As It Was and Is” (First Things January 2005), James Turner Johnson weighed in on this particular question:

. . . The sort of war envisioned has as its models the carnage of the trenches in World War I, the bombing of cities in World War II, and the expectation of global catastrophe that would result from a superpower nuclear war. This conception of war also has as its villains the states who engage in it, so that states, instead of being potential sources of human good, are recast as the agents of massive evil. The influence of this understanding of war can be easily identified in recent debates over particular uses of force. But as I have noted, the actual face of recent warfare differs markedly from this, as it involves civil wars, uses of force by non-state actors, and massive harm to the innocent not from the use of horrific weapons but because they are made the direct targets of weapons ranging from knives to automatic rifles to suicide bombs. The actual villains here are not states as such but regional warlords, rulers who oppress their people to maintain or expand their power, and individuals and groups who use religious or ethnic difference as a justification for oppression, torture, and genocide. This is, as I suggested earlier, the real “World War III,” not a repeated and more horrible update of the London Blitz or the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima. Those who claim that “modern war” is inherently unjust seem to me to have missed all this.

They also seem to me to have missed something else that is very important. As progressively shown in the Gulf War of 1990-91, the bombing of Serbia over the oppression of the Albanian Kosovars, the campaign in Afghanistan aimed at al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and most recently (and most fully) in the recent use of armed force to remove the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the United States, and to an important degree also the British, have channeled high technology in ways that allow war to be fought according to the actual principles of the just war jus in bello: this includes avoidance of direct, intended harm to noncombatants and avoidance of disproportionate harm in the use of otherwise justified means of war. The results, for those who care to look at them, are simply astonishing, especially by contrast to the level of destruction and the harm to noncombatant lives and property found, say, in carpet-bombing. This, too, is the face of modern war.

Today we see a new kind of confrontation. On the one hand, we see non-state actors, as well as warlords and heads of state who use relatively unsophisticated means to gain their ends by targeting, terrorizing, and killing noncombatants and, as in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers or the bombing of the Madrid trains, intentionally causing lasting property damage, civilian deaths, and widespread fear. On the other hand, we find a state that has used its intellectual and economic capital to develop weapons, tactics, strategies, and training directed toward maximizing discrimination and proportionality in the use of armed force. Both of these developments in the actual face of war need to be taken seriously and integrated into a contemporary moral assessment of war based on a recovery of the classic meaning of the just war tradition.

In short, the jury’s still out on the destructiveness of “modern war” as opposed to those of decades past, and a good case can be made for the contrary. (Another post which dealt with this issue is Just War? June 17, 2005).

Before I move on, you were certainly correct to note “it’s not just the destructive power of the weapons, it’s also the tendency for “disproportionate evils” in the form of destabilization, terrorism, and hatred to emerge– ever more potent in a globalized world” — in fact, Michael R. Gordon & Bernard E. Trainor’s Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq makes a good case that “the Bush team’s misjudgments made the current situation in Iraq far worse than it need have been.” The planners of the Iraq war, while managing to pull off a quick and relatively easy overthrow of Saddam Hussein with minimum casualties, did a poor and incredibly half-assed job of providing sufficient resources and troops to effectively counter the destabilizing effects wrought by said removal.

James Turner Johnson offers a similar criticism of the Bush administration in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future; George Weigel does likewise in Just War and Iraq Wars (April 2007).

Ratzinger: No such thing as “Just War”?

I would likewise maintain that this speculation, like any other statement by the Pope, should be weighed in connection with everything else he has said on the topic. (It was for this reason I criticized Robert Miller of First Things and Mark Shea for blowing the Pope’s exclamation that “war is no good to anyone” out of proportion (War “no good to anyone” – The words of a Pacifist Pope? August 19, 2006).

In a November 2001 interview with Polish radio, Cardinal Ratzinger had the opportunity to elaborate more fully on the question “Is there any such thing as a ‘just war’?”:

Cardinal Ratzinger: This is a major issue of concern. In the preparation of the Catechism, there were two problems: the death penalty and just war theory were the most debated. The debate has taken on new urgency given the response of the Americans. Or, another example: Poland, which defended itself against Hitler.

I’d say that we cannot ignore, in the great Christian tradition and in a world marked by sin, any evil aggression that threatens to destroy not only many values, many people, but the image of humanity itself.

In this case, defending oneself and others is a duty. Let’s say for example that a father who sees his family attacked is duty-bound to defend them in every way possible — even if that means using proportional violence.

Thus, the just war problem is defined according to these parameters:

1) Everything must be conscientiously considered, and every alternative explored if there is even just one possibility to save human life and values;

2) Only the most necessary means of defense should be used and human rights must always be respected; in such a war the enemy must be respected as a human being and all fundamental rights must be respected.

I think that the Christian tradition on this point has provided answers that must be updated on the basis of new methods of destruction and of new dangers. For example, there may be no way for a population to defend itself from an atomic bomb. So, these must be updated.

But I’d say that we cannot totally exclude the need, the moral need, to suitably defend people and values against unjust aggressors.

Suffice to say Cardinal Ratzinger comes across as squarely in the middle — which is to say, neither a pacifist who would prohibit the use of armed force altogether, nor as one who would bless and lend clerical sanction to any effort made by the warring state. And I think that we can safely conclude from this that he would maintain the legitimacy of the just war tradition.


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