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Just War, Lasting Peace: What Christian Traditions Can Teach Us

A Woodstock Forum featuring Dolores Leckey, Maryann Cusimano Love, Marie Dennis, John Kleiderer, Mark Mossa, S.J., and Robert Royal

October 4, 2006


On October 4, 2006, nearly 250 people turned out for a Woodstock Forum marking the publication of the book, Just War, Lasting Peace: What Christian Traditions Can Teach Us (Orbis Books), which stemmed from a November 2003 symposium cosponsored by the Woodstock Theological Center and the U.S. Jesuit Conference. The central theme of the book is that Catholic perspectives on war and peace “fall along a continuum, where total pacifism forms one end of the continuum and a belief in the acceptability of war under certain conditions forms the other,” according to the authors: the Jesuit Conference’s John Kleiderer, freelance writer Paula Minaert, and Weston School of Theology student Mark Mossa, S.J. “This whole range of positions is acceptable within the Church.” Nevertheless, according to the book — whose general editor was Woodstock senior fellow Dolores Leckey — the Catholic Church officially holds only one position, the “contemporary justwar position.” The other two perspectives are that of strict nonviolence, often referred to (not without possible confusion) as pacifism, and the “classical” just war outlook, which permits a wider range of circumstances under which to wage a morally legitimate war than does the contemporary view, and would be considered the “harder line” position in political parlance. At the October forum held at Georgetown University, the speakers broached, among other questions, the morality of preventive war, a doctrine enunciated by the Bush administration as part of its effort to justify the invasion of Iraq. In her introduction that evening, Leckey related that the book defines preventive war as “going to war to prevent an attack that is foreseeable or conceivable at some time in the future,” which she distinguished from preemptive war, which is “going to war to counter an attack that is imminent” (and is less problematic from the standpoint of Catholic just war ethics). Featured at the forum were brief presentations by writer and scholar Robert Royal, political scientist Maryann Cusimano Love, and peace activist Marie Dennis (each of whom will be identified further in the edited excerpts from their talks that follow). Here, respectively, they articulate what the book categorizes as the classical, contemporary, and pacifist views, without necessarily accepting the nomenclature, and they educe positions on current questions from these general perspectives. Their comments are followed by further conversation involving coauthors Kleiderer and Mossa, along with Royal.

1. The “Classical” Perspective

Robert Royal subscribes to what Just War, Lasting Peace designates as the “classical” just war position, which takes a less restrictive view of the recourse to war than does the “contemporary” view illustrated later in this paper. According to Royal, the Catholic just war tradition sanctions the use of force to prevent an attack, even when the attack is not imminent, and here he applies that theory to Iran, which, he believes, has decided to build a nuclear arsenal. Royal is president of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, and is the author of a number of books including Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century, as well as a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter.

The position I’m going to describe to you is normally thought of as a hard line position. And I suppose in a way it is. But I’d like to encourage you from the outset not to entirely think of it in that way. At the symposium in November 2003, I said that I was sympathetic with all three positions, [1] that a Catholic can be safely schizophrenic. You know we all have this attraction to the nonviolent position. Especially on this Feast of St. Francis, we all feel that very much. There are ways in which I am sympathetic to what you might call a contemporary just war position. But I think the position I will describe is most catholic in the sense of most universal, and it’s entirely compatible with seeking to build structures of peace. This position very much regrets any necessity to go to war, and it provides some other tools that the other positions do not.

I have to say, prudence — or [practical] wisdom — is very strongly a part of our tradition and must be applied with whatever conceptual framework you use. It’s quite possible for people who agree on the conceptual side or disagree on the conceptual side to either agree or disagree on certain policy prescriptions. And that, it seems to me, is important for Catholics to keep in mind because otherwise, our conceptualizations may prevent the kind of dialogue that we need to engage in.

Now just a couple of words about what we [2] believed the more traditional just war tradition brings to the contemporary discussion: It is not the case, if you go back and look at the classical expositors of just war, that you can only resort to the use of force when you are directly under attack or even in the imminent situation — the preemptive, as Dolores [Leckey] put it, versus the preventive. Of course, preventive in the sense that at some point, some time, somebody might attack you, is an absurd doctrine. No intelligent, sane person could adopt such a view. But the line between preemptive and preventive is not quite as clear in the modern world as it might appear.

And I think there are good historical reasons why it’s not as clear to us as it might have been in the past. It seems to me that historically, over the last 100 years, there has been increasing momentum towards a nonviolent stance, because in the 20th century, two World Wars, the development and actual use by the United States of nuclear weapons, alerted us to precisely how destructive modern warfare can be. That’s something that anyone has to take into account. However, even when Paul VI went to the United Nations and said, “War never again, never again war,” I don’t think he believed it was possible entirely to avoid the use of force in the future. And the reason why I think we’ve lost sight of the fullness of the just war tradition is that the sheer horror of what contemporary weapons can do blinds us, perhaps. But it also inclines us to want to look in other directions which may not be [what is necessary] to confront contemporary situations.

In the just war tradition, it’s quite clear that the great classical expositors [entertained the morality of] in bellum offensivum. I wouldn’t exactly literally translate it as offensive war because it sounds like an aggression or an unjust use of force. But what they mean by that is a very wise, prudent calculation of when threats need to be dealt with. And here is where I think I can make the greatest contribution to this very brief set of presentations tonight.

I will take Iran as a contemporary example. We know that if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons, which it has every intention of doing — or perhaps some of you believe that they need this [technology] for electric power generation or medical purposes — prudence and wisdom in the Catholic tradition tell us that in circumstances like that, it may be the wisest, it may be the holiest, it may spare the most lives to resort to force earlier rather than later. Now, I’m quite aware that there are any number of other considerations that have to come into effect. We still have not reached the end of diplomatic possibilities in these circumstances. It’s possible that a combination of carrots and sticks may make some difference in the way that the Iranian regime behaves internationally. I happen not to think that they will. It’s been my observation, during twentyfive years living here in Washington, that sanctions do not work; incentives tend not to work in regimes that are ideologically motivated. In this regime, both its religious leaders and its secular leaders have made it quite clear what their intentions are. They’ve expressed a desire to eliminate the United States, Israel, and it’s clear that in their attempts to develop nuclear weapons, they’re presenting us with a challenge.

This is not a nice prospect to contemplate, particularly because Iran is not Iraq. It cannot be invaded easily the way Iraq was and we know what a great difficulty we’ve had even in dealing with the Iraq situation. But it seems to me that the contemporary situation is something that’s unprecedented. Yes, of course, there have been terrorists in the past. There have been weapons of mass destruction, in a way, in the past. But we now see, because of modern technology, a capability for terrorists, for regimes that might sponsor terrorists or provide weapons to terrorists, a threat not only to ourselves — this is not simply an inward American thing — but a threat to the international order that I believe cannot be dealt with simply by waiting to the point of an imminent attack. Catholic wisdom, Catholic prudence, leads us to think a bit further than that. And, for better or worse, we in the United States bear the burden of having to make these decisions.

I hope that makes it clear for our further discussion that this hardline position is, I hope, a wise position, one that tries to engage every element of truth, of compassion, of intelligence, that we can possibly find as Catholics in dealing with these questions.

2. The Pacifist and Nonviolent Traditions

Marie Dennis argues that in the arena of international conflict, the most authentic Christian aspiration is for nations to develop the tools of absolute nonviolence. She takes exception to the idea, advanced more or less by the U.S. Catholic bishops, that nonviolent resistance to evil and injustice is morally preferable to forms of nonresisting pacifism, although she styles Christian pacifism as a sort of nonresisting resistance to injustice. Dennis is executive director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and vicepresident of Pax Christi International.

I was asked to say a few words this evening about the pacifist and nonviolence tradition. As you know, this tradition has very deep roots in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He called peacemakers blessed, said “Offer no resistance to one who is evil,” “Turn the other cheek,” “Go the extra mile,” “Love your enemies.” Michael Baxter, Joe Fahey, John Deere, Mary Evelyn Jaegen, Jim Douglass, and so many other authors and commentators have laid out the connections clearly over and over again. I am not going to try to do that in the short time I have this evening.

Rather, I would like to underscore a few points about the pacifist, nonviolent tradition, none of which are new but which are rarely, I think, given adequate attention. First, to repeat what Dolores Leckey and the authors in this wonderful book said so clearly: Pacifism and nonviolence are not synonymous terms. Pacifism is a moral opposition to war, the refusal to bear arms, adopting a posture of nonresistance. According to Joe Fahey, pacifism is “a spiritual and social philosophy that seeks to abolish war and to reconcile enemies through the power of love and the work of social justice.” The word “pacifism” is rooted in the Latin words: pax and facere. It means “to make peace.” Nonviolence, on the other hand, is a tactic or a strategy for the active confrontation of injustice without the use of violence, for principled or pragmatic reasons. It is a direct and assertive way of accomplishing social change through, for example, noncooperation or the mobilization of shame. So pacifism and nonviolence are closely related, but they are not synonymous terms.

Second, I believe very deeply that neither pacifism nor nonviolence is passive. In The Challenge of Peace and in The Harvest of Justice, the U.S. bishops said, “The vision of Christian nonviolence is not passive about injustice and the defense of the rights of others and ought not be confused with popular notions of nonresisting pacifism. For it consists of a commitment to resist manifest injustice and public evil with means other than force.”

I have two observations about this particular statement: one about nonresistance and the other about force. First, if my description of the statement by the bishops [regarding “nonresisting pacifism”] is accurate, then I believe personally that such a stance would actually be in contradiction to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Consider the death of Jesus on the cross. He adopted a powerful stance of nonresistance that we believe overcame sin and evil. His nonresistance on the cross was not passive but a perfect example of nonresistance resisting deep injustice and social evil, as he had been doing throughout his public ministry. Jesus’ nonresistance to torture and to crucifixion did not fit into the belligerent ways of kingdombuilding that many, including many of his followers, expected. But it was a sacrifice powerful enough to challenge injustice over two millennia.

To explore the meaning of nonresistance is a monumental task. I believe it leads us inevitably to the arena of mystery and that is where peace has a possibility of blossoming in these times.

Next — a few words about the difference between force and violence. Gandhi himself was very uncomfortable with the idea of using force or coercion to accomplish the social and political change that his movement was seeking. But in his later years, according to David Cortright, he became “more accepting of the coercive elements within his work.” He simultaneously became more of an absolute pacifist and a more determined nonviolent resister. I think these distinctions are critical if we are to take the pacifist, nonviolent position seriously in the contemporary political arena.

The third point I’d like to make in my short time tonight picks up right there. Despite its effective use in the Philippines, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Colombia, and elsewhere, including El Salvador in recent years, I believe that the pacifist, nonviolence tradition is woefully underdeveloped, both theologically and pragmatically, especially at the international level. We have the beginnings of a theological thought — certainly the basics, from the life and teachings of Jesus — and some development in the arena of solidarity, accompaniment, [3] and so on. And we have the nonviolent option moving more and more towards the center of Catholic social teaching. But strategically we are still taking baby steps. And we need to do something about that. Furthermore, any small steps we do take, in this country at least, are undercut by orchestrated fear and public policy goals that pursue domination and national security rather than global and inclusive human security, multilateral cooperation, international reconciliation, and so on. Any serious embrace of nonviolence as a national posture will require a very, very longterm commitment. Too often we are confronted with humanitarian emergencies that demand an immediate response. Too often nonviolence is painted as passive. And every time military action is contemplated in our country, our failure to develop nonviolent tools useful in the global arena or to commit the financial and human resources necessary to their realization is exposed in living color. What if we had spent hundreds of billions of dollars a year, just half of the military budget, perfecting and implementing nonviolent strategies for the defense of life? What if we had done that for the last 50 years? Would we not be better prepared to respond effectively but nonviolently to the crises in Darfur, the Middle East, and elsewhere?

I also believe that many of us in the Church and in our country simply don’t understand nonviolence. Very few political scientists do what Maryann Cusimano Love does so well in specifically identifying as nonviolent strategies the kind of threat reduction and security measures she describes as essential to minimizing terrorist activities. Or what Gerald Schlabach does in developing the idea of just policing that might use minimal lethal force to stop violence rather than shock and awe to overwhelm the enemy; and to, by doing that, draw the just war theory towards a conclusion that is more consonant with its own criteria and much, much closer to nonviolence. Or what Lisa Schirch and the Mennonites, Quakers, and others are doing to articulate strategic peacebuilding principles and to promote them among policymakers, strategies and security arrangements with a heavy dose of diplomacy and development and an emphasis on defense rather than offense. Very few pay close attention to what the Christian peacemaker teams, Nonviolence Peaceforce, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Project, and so many others like them are doing on the ground in situations of intense conflict; or to those promoting a U.N. commission on peace and crisis prevention.

Mary Evelyn Jaegen says, “Nonviolence in international affairs is analogous to good nutrition and exercise as a way of promoting and maintaining health.” Nonviolence is a way of life that requires courage and sacrifice, both at a personal level and at a national level. It holds promise for displacing war only if sufficient human resources are invested in its study and in training for its practice. Lisa Schirch calls nonviolence “morally superior, more effective, and less expensive than war.” I agree.

3. The “Contemporary” School

The so-called “contemporary” justwar view is held prominently by the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, which upholds the value of nonviolent resistance to evil but allows for a limited use of force “when repeated attempts at nonviolence fail,” Father Drew Christiansen, editor of America magazine, explains in Just War, Lasting Peace. Maryann Cusimano Love shares this perspective in substance if not delineation, and here, among other points, she articulates the “contemporary” argument against preventive warfare, which she sees as outside the limits of Catholic just war teaching. Cusimano Love teaches politics with an emphasis on international law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, and in Just War, Lasting Peace, has a chapter titled “Effective Ways to Fight Terrorism While Retaining our Values.”

I’ve been asked to talk to you tonight about the “contemporary” view or interpretation of just war tradition. I’m going to say two things about it. One is that I do disagree with [the terminology]. I don’t see this position as contemporary. I think it draws from the historical tradition of just war teaching. And I don’t think that chronology is primarily the breaking point between Bob Royal’s position and my own. I do think there are other aspects that we place greater emphasis on or disagree on.

First I’ll say what is contemporary and why the editors [of Just War, Lasting Peace] came down this way. It clearly is true that the 20th century was the most violent, most bloody century in human history, and that gives greater pause to the tool of war, how able you are to look at just war tradition and talk about things like proportionality and discrimination given the destructiveness of modern warfare. So it’s clearly true that the destructiveness of modern warfare and the greater burden of modern warfare on civilians [has influenced Catholic reflections]. It’s mostly civilians dying. We’re not talking about medieval warfare where the technology was largely ineffective. You had to be right on top of each other to shoot anybody. People went home on Sundays and holidays and in bad weather. So it was really a very different form of warfare than what we’re talking about today, which is mass populations and the burden of warfare being felt primarily by civilians, both during the conflict and after. So it is true that these [historical developments] weigh heavily on the Vatican and other Church leaders when they think about the just war tradition.

That has given greater emphasis to nonviolent tools, but also I think the second part of what’s contemporary is that we have incredibly powerful contemporary examples of nonviolent action succeeding in creating vast political change. So whether you look at the fall of the Soviet Union, the Velvet Revolutions in Eastern Europe, whether you look at Gandhi in India, whether you look at the end of apartheid in South Africa — these are some really big historical examples when nonviolence and other tools were effective in bringing about the protection of innocents and the restoration of justice. So it is true that, I think, the minds of Church leaders have been saying that we need to pay attention to these contemporary situations and to these contemporary experiences when we look through our just war lens and when we look at issues of war and peace. To that extent, I do agree with the editors in the decision to label this [official Catholic perspective] “contemporary.”

My point of disagreement is whether this is truly something different and de nova or whether this interpretation of just war tradition is more in line with the historical tradition. I think the difference between the two variants of just war tradition that are being presented to you tonight are really more about whether there’s a presumption against the use of force in this tradition. Bob and others would argue “no.” They have a more permissive view about the use of force, whereas the [“contemporary”] interpretation of just war tradition says the use of force has always been regarded as something to be turned to only with great reluctance, only as a last resort, only as necessity. And this comes straight from the tradition.

It’s interesting because one of the biggest proponents of the [classical] interpretation of just war tradition, James Turner Johnson, who argues today that there’s not a presumption against the use of force in the tradition, did not always argue this way. In his earlier writings, he said, “There is a strong antiviolent sentiment that has motivated much of the historical development of just war and that directly underlay the original justwar question that shaped Christian doctrine until at least the late Middle Ages.” That this doctrine permits Christians to participate in one particular form of violence under certain specified conditions is clearly true. Yet such permission goes hand in hand with limitation. Human moral decisions inevitably contain something of tragedy. And let us never forget that our enemies are men. So Augustine specifically warns us that “peace should be the object of your desire. War should only be waged as a necessity and waged only that God may deliver” us from this necessity.

I think even when you have a just war, when you have just cause and you meet all the other criteria of the just war tradition, there is still an element of tragedy in it because there is a break in the Body of Christ. Even our enemies are part of the Body of Christ. And so that is the part of the just war tradition that I think is part of the historical tradition, that presumption against the use of force.

The other point of disagreement between the two interpretations of just war tradition are also about what weight you give to the other criteria [4] , what weight you give to legitimate authority, right intention, last resort, reasonable chance of success, proportionality and discrimination. [Some are] trying to open up the discussion to more permissive views of the use of force; just cause is given a point of priority that can, in some ways, negate or lessen the weight given to the other criteria. I think that’s the other point of distinction, that the [contemporary] interpretation of justwar tradition I am describing places great weight on the package. “Just cause” alone is not enough to make a war just and you have to always look at it through the other moral lenses as well.

And I think you see that the Catholic Church, contrary to some criticism, has not really abandoned the classical just war tradition, has not become a cryptopacifist church. The empirical record simply does not support that contention. The Church deemed the use of force in Afghanistan as probably necessary and a just war, and also called for the use of force in humanitarian crises in Bosnia, Kosova, East Timor, Central Africa, and other places. That’s hardly a cryptopacifist position, and I think it does allow for just cause, protection of innocents and doing of justice beyond a very narrow constriction of selfdefense. When you take a different point of view on the presumption against the use of force, and when you take a different view on how to weigh the other criteria and whether the other criteria are the poor stepchildren of “just cause” or should be given a great weight along with just cause, [you come to a] different policy prescription regarding preventive war. And here, again, the two interpretations [classical and contemporary] diverge.

Preventive war doesn’t fit just war tradition in a number of ways. The argument is that the combination of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and rogue states today is such a horrible cocktail and concoction that we have to expand just war tradition to allow for preventive use of force. This makes a number of empirical assumptions and moral assumptions that I think are just practically wrong. For one, it assumes that force is the best way to address these issues, that force is effective to disarm or prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, it assumes that the desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction is equivalent to the use of weapons of mass destruction. These and other assumptions about how preventive war works are empirically inaccurate. The record of preventive war is that it doesn’t work.

What does work to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction? There’s a whole host of tools that have proven to be very successful for stopping the spread of these weapons. If you look at President Kennedy in 1961, he projected that by the midsixties, we would be in a world with at least 30 nuclear states. That prediction proved, thankfully, not true. We are still not up to that number, forty years later. What caused that prediction not to come true? A host of measures [5] — and there are even more measures and more tools at our disposal now, apart from the use of force. So the idea that the only way or the best way to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists and rogue states is the use of force is just empirically inaccurate and I think morally unsound.

I think it also is a misnomer in the arguments [to say our war against AlQaeda is an instance of preventive war]. AlQaeda declared war on the United States in 1996, and in 1998, had already attacked the United States numerous times. No action that we would take against AlQaeda falls into the basket of preventive war. This is simply war that we’re unfortunately in with AlQaeda. The question of preventive war comes when you’re talking about other cases, like Iraq or Iran or Syria, not necessarily the case of terrorism, as is often claimed.

4. Other Thoughts: Politics, the Church, and a View from the Campus

John Kleiderer (coauthor, Just War, Lasting Peace): One of the challenges, I think, at least in the United States, is that very few of our decision makers, of our elected officials would get elected if they went into office with a strong presumption against the use of force. And I think that’s a sad reality, but an important reality to keep in mind. Decision makers are burdened with making prudential judgments in the United States with the best national interest in mind. And that can be in conflict sometimes with our Catholic positions.

At the same time, there are pieces of the just war tradition that we’ve seen already incorporated into some military language, into concepts of proportionality and noncombatant immunity. The production and the development of precisionguided missiles can be seen as a direct ethical response to limit civilian casualties. I think part of that comes out of concerns about waging a just war. But when you look at the theory as a whole, I’m not sure it has that much influence today on our policy makers. Others may disagree.

Robert Royal (Faith and Reason Institute): Policymakers talk to people. I’m going to confess now: I got a call from the Bush White House before Gulf War I, and they said: “You want to walk us through that justwar thing again? How does this work?” I’m assuming they talked to a thousand people before they called me.

There are always policy constraints with politicians. Politicians, as Washington once said, are not philosophers. For good and for bad, I would say. In our contemporary situation, we see very complex reactions to the world in which we live. The Vatican has been moving recently towards a call for the right to humanitarian intervention. How many wars this would set off in the world, I can’t even begin to count. Maybe some of you could tell me. But if people have a right to be protected from immediate threats to their lives — we don’t have time to build the nonviolent structures that would exist.

I’d like to just raise one other point, because Maryann brought up this question of limiting the number of nuclear states. There’s one state that doesn’t have nuclear weapons because John Kennedy committed an act of war against it. Cuba did not get nuclear missiles because John F. Kennedy imposed a sea embargo on that country and risked war with the Soviet Union. Now, I’m not saying that every circumstance requires such a hard response. There may be many circumstances in which other measures are far preferable. I think North Korea is one of them right now. So I agree with John, to a certain extent, that politicians are politicians. Some of them think more about being reelected, I’ve heard, than about just war theory. But thought is not entirely absent here in Washington, in spite of how it seems sometimes.

Mark Mossa, S.J. (coauthor, Just War, Lasting Peace): A lot of my work has been with young people. And part of the reason we did the book was because we wanted to provide a resource for young people to see what the Church has to say about war and to have the opportunity to reflect on that, because there are so many voices saying all sorts of different things. Much of my work at Loyola University in New Orleans in recent years was with students who were more on the traditional side. And what often happens with students who are coming from that perspective is what they hear as the right thing to do is politically motivated rather than religiously motivated. So they’re hearing: “If I’m a Catholic, then I have to support the War in Iraq” — which has not been the stance of the last two popes. But I’m not sure that message is getting out there.

So it’s important to give young people an opportunity to reflect in different ways. We provided some cultural resources in the back of the book, using film, using different popular culture resources, as a means of bringing the conversation to the table in a way that may be a little bit more familiar, a little less threatening to young people.

- Edited and introduced by Woodstock research fellow William Bole


[1] The classical just war position, the more restrictive contemporary position, and the stance of strict nonviolence.

[2] Referring to himself and Gregory Reichberg, a senior researcher at the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo. They jointly presented the classical justwar position at the November 2003 symposium, and their remarks are carried in Just War, Lasting Peace.

[3] Referring to activists who inject themselves into areas of conflict, as thirdparty peacemakers. more consonant with its own criteria and much, much closer to nonviolence.

[4] Criteria other than “just cause” (whether a threat or an act of aggression could justify the use of force in response). “Discrimination” refers to indiscriminate attacks that may harm civilian populations.

[5] Including, according to many analysts, the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty, which went into effect in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995.