Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Just War Theory in Sprinkle's Book "Fight"

This is the penultimate post in my series on Preston Sprinkle's book, Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.  I plan to have one more post with links to all the previous ones.

Since I've already expressed my objections to what I take to be the core, Christian pacifist arguments of the book, much of what I've said before will apply to the appendix on Just War Theory--the theory which holds that some wars are just and traditionally lays out seven criteria, all of which should be upheld for a warring party to be on the whole just.  Theorists disagree about the precise criteria, but Sprinkle's list is a fair enough representation: (1) Just Cause, (2) Right Authority, (3) Right Intention, (4) Reasonable Chance of Success, (5) Last Resort, (6) Proportionate Means, and (7) Noncombatant Immunity.  Consistent with the rest of the book, Sprinkle thinks Christians should not fight in wars.  Since I don't think his case in previous chapters for total nonviolence for Christians is convincing, I remain resolved in my belief that there is merit in the traditional Just War Theory (which is really a family of theories). Nonetheless, I will take up a few passages from this section and reply to them for good measure:

[T]he idea that a Christian should fight only in "just wars" is wrongheaded.  There aren't any.  There never will be any....There are no good wars, only evil wars (p. 266).
This is misleading or a little confusing.  On the one hand, it's true that in a perfect world there would be no wars for there would be nothing to fight about.  In the abstract, peace is preferable to war.  To put a medieval spin on it, war is inconsistent with God's antecedent will.  On the other hand, we don't live in a perfect world.  And in medieval terms, some war activities seem to be consonant with God's consequent will--his will, all things considered in light of the consequences of evil.  Though there's little doubt that there's never been a time where every single action in a war was a just action, there have been sides fighting in a war where one side's war actions have been on the whole just--the Allies in WWII is as good of an example as any.  Debate things like the dropping of the atom bomb all you want, on the whole the Allies fought a just war.
[An appeal to a passage like Romans 13] gives the false impression that just war is biblical and therefore Christian.  It's neither (p. 267).
I'm not going to spend much time debating about Romans 13, but I will say this.  Just War Theory has been held by thinking Christians for a long time, God did command acts of war in the Old Testament (and the OT is Biblical), and, though Romans 13 is not explicit about the matter, if God has sanctioned the use of the sword within society to enforce justice (which Sprinkle concedes), it makes no sense to think that its use is forbidden in enforcing justice against outside invaders.  It's unjust for one citizen to mutilate another, and it's unjust for a foreign invader to mutilate a citizen as well.  Why would Paul have thought that Rome was given God's authority to use violent force but only on its own citizens?  Failing to see a reason why he would, I interpret the passage as Paul implying that God has given governments authority to use the sword to promote and enforce justice period.  (Aside: liberal Christians who fasten on to the absence of Paul explicitly mentioning the use of the sword in war should then for the same reason think that there's no God sanctioned government authority to tax for welfare, education, Ponzi schemes like Social Security, etc.)
The only problem is this: Who gets to determine which side is evil?  The Rwandan government thought it was doing quite fine; the revolutionaries were the problem.  No, it was the government that was evil. No, the.... And so on and so forth. Determining whether a government is evil or legitimate is a matter of perspective.  The same goes for [the Just War critera of] just cause and right intention.  Both nations going to war could easily justify their cause.  Take 9/11....Was 9/11, therefore, justified?  Of course not! (p. 269)
I don't get it.  We start off with utter skepticism or relativism when it comes to determining which side is evil (or just or unjust, etc.).  But then we're told that 9/11 wasn't justified.  Moreover we're told that no war is ever justified.  But which is it?  Either we CAN tell if a war is justified or unjustified or we can't.  Perhaps in practice this might typically be hard to determine, but that doesn't entail that in all cases no reasonable evaluative judgment can be made.
My point is not to justify bin Laden, Iraq, or America in their recent wars, but to point out that the criterion of just cause is unhelpfully subjective.  It all depends on perspective.  Without a universal moral code that all can agree upon, war becomes "just" in the eye of the beholder.
Now hold on, hold on, HOLD ON a minute.  Are the only principles that we can know, or reasonably believe, or use for guidance in our actions ones about which EVERYONE agrees ?  Let's hope not!  If that's true, then normative ethical theories are doomed, and this includes theories espousing pacifism: "Without a universal moral code that all can agree upon, Christian pacifism becomes "just" in the eye of the beholder."

No doubt, the Just War Theory is hard to implement in practice.  People do bad things.  States do bad things.  But it is an ideal and we should hold onto those.  Of course another ideal is that there should be no wars--in a perfect world there ain't none. That's an ideal on which Just War Theorists and pacifists agree.  Where they disagree is whether waging war is ever better--all things considered--than refraining. Count me in with the Just War tradition.

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