Would Iraq Be a Just War?

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Should
America attack Iraq?

American
Christians have not the luxury to ignore this question. Such a colossal
action will sow consequences for ourselves and our children. Human
history and the Scriptures themselves augur that violence would
again beget violence. This compels us, for the sake of future generations
of Americans, to confront the issue.

I
am thankful for the Theory of Just War. It is a peculiarly Christian
notion, which aims to preserve the moral distinctives of Christianity
even during and after war, as well as to restrain the state from
establishing itself as an all-powerful God unto itself. It reflects
the desire to avoid war as a fundamental idea in the Christian view
of politics, as opposed to the romanticization of war as a pagan
one that reflects a disregard for the sanctity of human life.

The
failure of the United States government to abide by the consensus
rules of just war in its dealings (and proposed dealings) with Iraq
is as disturbing as its protestations to the contrary. For Augustine,
Aquinas, and others posited that a just war must have a just cause.
This one does not. Despite the most extreme attempts of President
Bush and warmongering members within his administration and without,
no evidence exists that Saddam Hussein's regime in any way aided
the terrorists' atrocities against our country on September 11,
2001. Indeed, Osama Bin Laden's organization has at least twice
attempted to assassinate Hussein. Hussein has no air force or navy
and the United States devastated his army in the Persian Gulf War.
If he has weapons or materials that can be transported to America
to do us harm, so do many other countries around the globe, many
of whom do not like us.

If
the Communists, the Nazis, or any of our other familiar villains
attacked a weak country a fraction their size and half the world
away, when it had done nothing to threaten them, would we call it
a justified "preemptive strike" or naked brutal aggression?

Just
war must also be pursued only as a last resort, after all other
options are exhausted. Suffice to say this has not happened. Just
ask — shame on us — France, Russia, and Germany. That is assuming,
which I do not, we have the right to go "disarm," depose
the leadership of, and by force occupy a small country who has not
threatened us.

Let
us suppose that President Bush, with whom the decision to attack
Iraq rests, does constitute the proper, God-ordained civil authority
prescribed in the just war philosophy, despite the Constitution's
demand that only Congress can declare war. Our Founding Fathers,
including George Washington in his Farewell Address, declared with
resounding clarity their opposition to non-commercial overseas entanglements,
favored (or unfavored) commercial trading partners, and permanent
treaties and alliances. They knew the history of humanity is replete
with the rotting carcasses of world empires.

Yet,
America now has military forces stationed in over 100 countries,
our military budget is more than that of the next 27 countries'
combined, and tens of thousands of service families are deprived
of their fathers, and sometimes their mothers, for long periods
of time. All courtesy of your and my hard-earned tax dollars, but
not our permission. Such behavior is difficult to reconcile with
the founding document of our nation, the United States Constitution,
which disallowed even having a standing army.

The
evil of a just war must be less than the evil to be righted. Saddam
Hussein is a tyrant and a murderer, but what of the potential body
count of American and Iraqi soldiers, and Iraqi civilians, not to
mention unknown future reprisals by Muslims and others whose hate
for America will only grow? Especially when Hussein's eventual successors
might well be, unlike Hussein, militantly Islamic and virulently
anti-American?

Finally,
a just war allows no military action to be undertaken that seriously
threatens civilians or their property, much less deliberately targets
them. Just war adherents mince no words: attacking or otherwise
harming defenseless cities, towns, and civilians is a war crime,
performed by war criminals.

I
am here reminded that the real problem is not America's actions
toward Iraq. It is habits we have developed going back to the 19th
century. We go where we are not invited, or we go where one side
invites us to join their civil war against another, and when we
fight, we descend as far down the ladder of human decency as necessary
to "win." Indeed, this is not just about Iraq, it is about
Sand Creek and the 1909 Philippines and Dresden and Nagasaki and
unnumbered villages in Vietnam and buses and hospitals and apartment
buildings in Serbia.

It
is about our intentional destruction of Iraq's water and water purification
facilities during the Gulf War. This, despite Article 54 of the
Geneva Convention, which states: "It is prohibited to attack,
destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival
of the civilian population," including "drinking water
supplies and irrigation works."

And
it is about the subsequent American-led United Nations embargo of
Iraqi water purification supplies and equipment. In 1998, on-sight
United Nations officials reported it was killing 4–5,000 children
a month. In 2000, UNICEF's director for Iraq announced that half
a million children under five years of age had died during the 10
years of sanctions.

Last
I heard, the sanctions remained in place, enforced by the American
taxpayer-funded United States military.

Yes,
the reasons are always good, especially when explained by a handsome,
earnest Christian President from Texas looking you in the eye through
your television screen. They were good, too, for all of history's
expanding empires as they dragged their trusting subjects into central
government domination, confiscatory taxation, moral breakdown, multiplied
foreign enemies, and finally, slaughter and sorrow and widowhood
and orphanhood.

Herman
Wouk said it well in his memorable novel War and Remembrance: "…war
is an old habit of thought, an old frame of mind, an old political
technique,
that must now pass…"

May
Christians remember that Jesus Christ and Him crucified was God's
remedy for the evil powers that animate wicked men and nations.
Let us purpose to fast, pray for, and serve lands like Iraq caught
in the grip of such forces. Let us commit to go there and if necessary
lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel, while carrying the
love and Word of God and not an M-16.

March
18, 2003

John
J. Dwyer (send him mail) is
chair of history at Coram Deo Academy in Flower Mound, Texas, and
author of the historical novels Stonewall
and Robert
E. Lee
, and the historical narrative The War Between
the States, America's Uncivil War.

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