Duane K. Friesen is professor of Bible and religion at Bethel College.
James Juhnke, co-editor of Mennonite Life, asked me to reflect upon the dialogue with George Weigel, and identify the lingering issues and agenda. I have read carefully George Weigel's initial article, "Moral Clarity in a Time of War," the five responses to his article, and his concluding response. Without covering all the issues or repeating the arguments in the articles, I offer the following brief analysis of the dialogue by utilizing an ethical decision making model of four critical factors that shape our ethical judgments, whatever the issue may be. These four critical factors are: 1) our basic, underlying theological or philosophical convictions; 2) our ethical principles and how we reason as we weigh these various ethical principles; 3) our fundamental social identities and loyalties (e.g. nation, family, church); and 4) our perceptions about the "facts," how we "see" the world and how it works. (1)
With respect to the underlying theological questions relevant to "moral clarity in a time of war," little theological dialogue between Weigel and his critics occurs in these essays. Ted Koontz asks how uniquely Christian claims can help shape moral clarity about war and peace. Does Jesus Christ have any relevance to Christian political judgments? Gordon Kaufman is struck by the fact that there is no discussion of the theological issues that might be at stake in Weigel's original essay, issues that are crucial in defining various Christian positions on war. Chris Huebner proposes the centrality of the church for defining a positive vision of justice and the good. Russell Meyer appeals to an "evangelical anthropology" that reflects the universality of sin, not just among rogue states, but the sin of "legitimate" political and religious authority. Weigel, in his response, has chosen not to "bite" on any of these questions. A huge theological agenda has simply not been "joined." A dialogue has not begun.
The debate between Weigel and his critics is particularly focused on the second factor in ethical decision making: how to weight and relate the relationship between jus in bello and jus ad bellum. Gerald Schlabach raises the question of what "it would mean to use proportionate and discriminate military force to morally worthy political ends." Even with the shift of the emphasis in Weigel's interpretation of just war theory to ad bellum considerations, it is still necessary for Weigel to clarify what "proportionate" and "discriminate" use of force means, given a military technology that can be particularly lethal to innocent civilians (e. g., use of massive air power that inevitably strikes civilian targets, land mines, cluster bombs, depleted uranium to penetrate hardened targets that has been identified as a likely cause of increased rates of leukemia, or proposals by the Bush administration to make "small" nuclear weapons "useable"). Surely, as Ted Koontz points out, the purpose of just war theory is to prevent indiscriminate violence against all civilians (our "own" as well as those regarded as the "enemy"). Gordon Kaufman points out that Weigel's lack of analysis about the relationship of means and ends in his version of just war theory fails to bring moral clarity on modern conditions of warfare.
Weigel argues that if just war theory is to fulfill its intended purpose, it must be able to establish morally legitimate grounds for the use of force. He attacks the "presumption against violence" as the underlying presupposition of just war theory because he believes this leads to a kind of "just war" pacifism, a position that undermines the morally legitimate use of force. I agree with him that the integrity of just war theory should not be collapsed into a kind of pacifism. However, there are issues that need further clarification with regard to the question of the "presumption against violence." I cannot make sense of Weigel's logic. How are we to explain the just war theory (i.e. the need to justify the use of force), if there is not, to begin with, a presumption that killing other human beings is prima facie wrong? Here is where Weigel could help us if he would link just war theory more adequately to the biblical and theological tradition (the command not to kill in the Decalogue and Jesus' commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves). That tradition is the background, I believe, for the presumption against killing. It is why a theory was developed for the justification of war. It seems to me that Weigel is not consistent in his argument. Why does he argue in his response to his critics that "armed force is one instrument among the many available to prudent statecraft. Other instruments should be tried first" (emphasis mine). Or, why does he say, "their use of armed force, as a last resort, can help sustain the rule of law" (emphasis mine). Or, why should armed force be proportionate and discriminate? It seems to me it is because the underlying presupposition is that killing is forbidden (presumption against violence), unless justified (thus, the just war theory).
If the goal of a just war is ultimately a more stable, just, and peaceful order, then it is also appropriate to move beyond the question of "whether" and "under what conditions" war is justified to a different question: what peacemaking practices can prevent war, and how can conflicts be resolved without resort to violent conflict? Unfortunately, because this dialogue with Weigel focuses on the question of the justification of war, a perhaps more fruitful dialogue has not taken place among the participants about a theology of peacemaking and how making peace, that is linked to empirical evidence, can be effective in achieving results. A new paradigm of "just peacemaking theory" (not to be understood as a replacement of pacifism or just war) has emerged in the last two decades that might be a basis for finding more common ground for dialogue among the participants in this dialogue. (2)
The third factor that shapes our ethical judgments is how we define our social identity. How do we relate our citizenship within a nation to our commitment to Jesus Christ and the church as the Body of Christ, a transnational community among the nations? How do we view our own national identity in relationship to our membership in the community of nations? What is the role of international organizations like the United Nations, and what commitment do we have to the rule of international law in relationship to a definition of "national self-interest?" What happens when international law and national self-interest conflict with each other? Ted Koontz raises this question by asking how "the moral responsibility of a nation's leaders to protect the interests of their nation intersect with . . . the universal requirements of just war thinking" (i.e. a peaceful and just international order that benefits everyone)? Chris Huebner wonders whether Weigel is mostly concerned about an "American we" (and is thus an apologist for the interests of a particular nation state) rather than a tranquillitas ordinis, the peace of a dynamic and rightly ordered political community that is international in scope. Does Weigel advance a just war theory that "has teeth," that he is willing to employ to criticize the global reach and aggressive growth of the American Empire with its massive military power? As Russell Meyer reminds us: "belligerents, desiring to build empires, attempt to lord over their neighbors and therefore need restraint. Thus, notions of just war not only exist to restrain evil but to restrain the aggressive growth of empire building, and perhaps more importantly, recover some sense of balance in size and strength among nations so that the world might approximate the ideal international order" (which St. Augustine viewed as a multitude of small kingdoms at peace with one another). How does the international community respond to the unchecked military power of the United States? What warrant is there for Weigel's trust and loyalty to America and its goodness as a force to counter "evil" in the world? Though he dismisses Gordon Kaufman's labeling of his position as close to the "crusade," in Roland Bainton's threefold typology, is not Weigel closer than he thinks? What do we make of his unquestioned commitment to the "righteousness" and "goodness" of the American cause over against the unmitigated evil of terrorists and rogue states? Is not a good dose of Niebuhrian realism and irony necessary, a reminder that even the most "righteous" plans of nations often turn sour and tragic?
And finally, what is the role of our perception and interpretation of the "facts" in our search for moral clarity? Weigel argues that the emphasis upon jus in bello "places the heaviest burden of moral analysis on what are inevitably contingent judgments." He believes we have "less surety about in bello proportion and discrimination than we can about the ad bellum questions." Is this in fact the case? Ad bellum questions inevitably involve a number of contingent judgments about the facts that are subject to different interpretations. If as Weigel argues, the "regime factor" is crucial in moral analysis (given the threat of the possession of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states), then it is critical that a "factual" case be made that such states possess these weapons, that they are prepared to use them, and that there are no other means to "contain" their behavior except through war. In the judgment of many leaders in the international community, a large majority of citizens of countries other than the United States, and a significant minority of U.S. citizens and their representatives, in the case of the war against Iraq these questions of fact were not satisfactorily answered by the Bush administration to warrant a resort to war. Did the United States have a "just cause?" Did Iraq possess weapons of mass destruction that were a direct threat to the security of the United States? Was there a link of Iraq to al-Qaeda? Many have argued that the link to al-Qaeda was never made (despite the belief by the majority of the American public that there is a link). At the time of this writing (with no weapons of mass destruction having yet been found), the factual claims for the resort to war seem to be questionable.
We can add to this the host of questions about how we measure the success of war, and whether the good that results from war is proportional to the destruction in terms of property, the impact on the natural environment, and the loss of human life. (3) How do we know that the political objectives of war indeed bring about greater security, the preservation of liberty, and a more stable world order? How is "success" defined? The Iraq War that brought about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a quick success, but the rebuilding of Iraq is another story. The inability to find weapons of mass destruction is an indication that U.S. intelligence, upon which the justification of the war was based, was severely flawed. The breakdown of civil order and the inability of an occupying force to provide a minimum of law and order, and the humanitarian crises caused by the breakdown of the infrastructure (e.g. clean water, medical facilities to treat the sick and injured) suggest a serious miscalculation of the immediate consequences of the war. The difficulty of establishing a democracy that meets with the approval of the United States and Great Britain is in sharp tension with the culture of a revived Shiite Islam.
There is a deep divide among the participants in this dialogue about how much one can trust in the efficacy of war. I deliberately use the word "trust" since I believe that both pacifism and just war ultimately are grounded in an eschatology. The commitment to secure justice through violent force is really an eschatology, a faith about how best to "secure" the future. Both those who claim to secure the future through armed force and those who trust ultimately in God's victory over evil through the way of the cross must guard against exaggerated claims. Neither position can guarantee success. Therefore, at a consultation of the Historic Peace Churches in Bienenberg, Switzerland, in 2001, we concluded with the following statement:
Ultimately, a Christian vision of life is based on the conviction that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have a vision of the Kingdom of God. In Christ we have a revelation of the way God's sovereign power works in history, a vision of the nonviolent cross as the way in which God's victory over evil is accomplished. This is the foundation for our work as Christians. Ultimately, our work as peacemakers is not based on our ability to be successful, but is invested in means of action grounded in our trust in the way of Jesus, our calling to be the Body of Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May we truly "embody" that vision, and repent of all arrogant trust in our own schemes to make history come out right. (4)
1. I give credit to Ralph Potter, my doctoral advisor at Harvard University, for identifying these variables as crucial to Christian ethics. Potter was influenced by the social theory of Talcott Parsons and his own inductive study of moral arguments in the nuclear arms debate in the 60s. I used this four factor analysis in my book Christian Peacemaking and International Conflict: A Realist Pacifist Perspective (Herald Press, 1986). Glen Stassen and David Gushee give a helpful summary of this four factor analysis in their recent book, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (InterVarsity Press, 2003), pp. 59-68.
2. See the book edited by Glen Stassen, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War (Pilgrim Press, 1998). For the most recent discussion of this theory among Christian ethicists and an updated bibliography see the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, vol. 23, no. 1, Spring/Summer 2003, pp. 169-284.
3. For a powerful description of the reality of war and a de-mystification of the myth of war, see the book by the former correspondent of the New York Times, Chris Hedges, who has covered war up close in the Balkans, the Middle East and Central America. War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (New York: Public Affairs, 2002).
4. "Just Peacemaking: Towards an Ecumenical Ethical Approach from the Perspective of the Historic Peace Churches," from an international consultation of the Historic Peace Churches at Bienenberg, Switzerland (June 25-29, 2001). This consultation of persons from South America, North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe was specifically gathered to reflect on the World Council of Churches commitment to the "Decade to Overcome Violence."
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