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Archive for the ‘Just War’ Category

For part one, click here

Bradley Cooper American SniperIt is important to note that at no point in ‘American Sniper’ do we see our protagonist salivating at the opportunity to gun people down or gleefully exulting in the elimination of his targets.  On the contrary, it appears as if something in him dies with every shot.  Even when he takes out the infamous “Mustafa” (Sammy Sheik), we can see sadness in his eyes…perhaps even a sort of regret; not necessarily regret for having done the deed as such, but rather as if to say: “I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”

the butcherAs far as we can tell, the people against whom Chris and his comrades in uniform fight are quite definitely “wolves” (again, read part one if you haven’t already).  We even see some of them performing outrageous, heartless acts that have the strange effect of both chilling and boiling our blood.  So while part of us might ask how a Christian could bring himself to go to war, another part of us is more apt to ask, “How on earth could anyone feel any kind of sadness over taking the lives of such scum as these?”

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne

“Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne” by Philippe de Champaigne – [2]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne.jpg#/media/File:Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne.jpg

I think we can find something approximating an answer in the words of St. Augustine of Hippo:

Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear “man” – this is what God has made; when you hear “sinner” – this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made

(Quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1458)

Sin is something that separates us not only from God, but also (and for that reason) from our true selves, uniquely conceived and held in existence by our Creator.  Yet somewhere deep beneath the “false self” that every sinner — no matter how foul — manages to forge is this precious creation, this jewel in the muck that God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save.

I think we can safely assume that Chris Kyle has a sense of this, and that in the aforementioned scene, this intuition finds an outlet in his eyes.

americansniperbattleLet us think of this as yet another challenge facing our men and women in uniform — in addition to putting their lives on the line, and likewise for the sake of our freedom.  The former challenge demands no less bravery than the latter, and we must assume that those facing it are anything but “cowards,” contrary to what Michael Moore recently alleged.

And I think that’s a good place to stop.  Thanks for reading.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining image from Wikipedia

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If you are going to accuse me of anything on the basis of this post’s title, let it be lack of originality (a charge I would gladly accept, as I think originality is overrated): I have chosen to construct my title out of those of not one, but two previously existing works — namely, Clint Eastwood’s recent blockbuster film “American Sniper” and popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis’ 1940 essay “Why I am not a Pacifist.”

First, the movie.  I won’t go into great detail, other than to say that it is based on the true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) — hailed as the deadliest shooter in American military history — his experiences in the Iraq War, and his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder upon his return home.

Ben ReedAt the beginning of the film, me meet a young Chris Kyle (Cole Konis), who fights a group of bullies in defense of his younger brother.  Chris’ father, Wayne (Ben Reed), tells his young sons that there are three kinds of people in the world.  Most people, he says, are sheep — that is, people who “prefer to think that evil doesn’t exist in the world.”  And then there are the wolves, who prey on the weak and thrive on violence.  Finally, there are the sheepdogs, the strong who defend the vulnerable against the wolves.

Wayne, a Christian father raising a Christian family, intends for his sons to be the latter.  His goal in this instance is to make sure that Chris was acting as a sheepdog rather than as a wolf.

C.s.lewis3

“C.s.lewis3”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:C.s.lewis3.JPG#/media/File:C.s.lewis3.JPG

It is with that in mind that I cite the following passage from Lewis’ essay (which is published along with a number of others in “The Weight of Glory“):

The relevant intuition [used in support of pacifism] seems to be that (…) helping is good and harming bad.  (…) [T]hat intuition can lead to no action unless it is limited in some way or other.  You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man.  (…) [W]hen B is up to mischief against A, you must either do nothing (which disobeys intuition) or you must help one against the other.

Between these two citations — the scene from “American Sniper” and the snippet from “Why I am not a Pacifist” — we can gain a pretty decent understanding of how a Christian can choose to go to war, or use force in any instance.

americansniperposterIt is not my intention to get into a discussion of whether the Iraq War meets Just War criteria, nor whether sniping, as a practice, constitutes a form of just warfare.  But a lot of people tend to make this automatic, knee-jerk assumption that to fight in a war or use any kind of force is ipso facto incompatible with being a faithful Christian.

But, as Lewis and the elder Kyle suggest, part of one’s Christian duty is to defend the weak.  And sometimes, this requires force — on individual, communal, and sometimes even national and international levels.  To be sure, such force should always be as minimal as possible, restraint must be preferred to killing, and the death of a “wolf” should be avoided whenever reasonably possible.  But if we want to issue a wholesale condemnation of all warfare, it should give us pause that the weight of reason, history, and even Christian tradition itself is against us.

Needless to say, I am only scratching the surface of Lewis’ essay.  But since my main intention is a treatment of Eastwood’s film, I think I’ll just encourage you to read it yourself and leave it at that.

As for the movie, more to come.

Photo of C.S. Lewis from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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Iraq_WarWith everything going on at home and abroad lately — from the turmoil in Iraq to the volatile situation in Ferguson, MO — I think this would be an appropriate time to share a quick summary of the Catholic Church’s just war doctrine.

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013

As Pope Francis recently said, it is perfectly legitimate to exercise force in defense against an unjust aggressor.  But the key word is defense.  Even such force must include respect for the inherent dignity of every human person.

So what about on the larger scale?  Can national and/or international force ever, in any circumstance, be used against another nation or group of nations?

The short answer is yes.  Here are the conditions that, according to Catholic understanding, characterize a truly just war:

– the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
– there must be serious prospects of success;
– the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. (T)he power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

(CCC 2309 – bold added)

A great many wars include one or more of these criteria.  However, in order to have a just war, all of them must be present at the same time.  If, for example, all of the other conditions are present, but the consequences of a war or battle are greater than the good to be achieved, then it is not a just war.

Obviously, the bar is pretty high here.  And these are just the criteria for war in general, to say nothing of what waging a just war requires.

Atom BombWhat happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was a towering example of unjust warfare — in fact, the Catholic Church’s Magisterium came out against the use of the atomic bomb to end World War II (and unfortunately, most of the laity did not lend their support…not in the United States, anyway).

Let me just cite one more rule for just warfare.  Civilian targeting is never permitted — ever.  Let us assume, for example, that a high-ranking official of a terrorist group whose death would topple the entire organization is hiding within a populated municipality, and the only way to get to him is by way of an action that will take the lives of the innocent civilians surrounding his hideout.

Can’t do it.  Respect for innocent human life always takes pride of place.

Anyone who would like to learn more can visit the section of the Catechism on “Safeguarding Peace.”

On a brighter note, stay tuned for my commentary on the recent movie “Boyhood” 🙂

Images from Wikipedia

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