America and the Christian Theory of Just War
John J. Dwyer
by John J. Dwyer
what follows in no small part out of love for our country, for what
it is, has been, and might be. For the ordinary people who became
extraordinary in founding it. And I include in that company both
our political forbears, the Founding Fathers, and our spiritual
ones, the Pilgrims and Puritans and Cavaliers, among others. Only
God knows the many blessings we have received as Americans, and
the many alarms and calamities we have avoided, by virtue of the
godly heritage that was bequeathed to us, and the prayers that were
uttered for us by long-departed saints who came before us in generations
Like most of
you, my family’s heritage is woven through much of the tapestry
of our national history. As recounted in one of our family genealogical
books, my Scots-Irish forbear William Gault came to these shores
from Northern Ireland in the early 1700s. His son William, while
in his mid-40s, was a soldier of the Revolutionary War. Now I quote
directly from our old family history:
his term of enlistment as a soldier in the army, he (William) came
home on a furlough and having a field of corn ready to harvest,
sent his oldest son, Robert, to take his place in the ranks until
he gathered the corn. Unlucky for Robert, during this time there
was a skirmish and he was taken prisoner by the British soldiery
and held by them until the end of the War; much of that time, which
was several years lying in filthy prisons polluted with vermin and
sick almost to death; and when finally released, without a dollar
in his pocket, and several hundred miles from that home from which
he had been so long separated, must now although sick and prison-worn
to a mere skeleton, start alone and on foot through a wilderness
country, filled with savages and wild beasts, compelled to dig his
way amid dangers and privations which must be endured before they
can be properly understood. Upon his release, after many weeks of
patient travel, footsore and almost helpless, he arrived home. So
changed was he that even his mother did not recognize in him her
long lost boy."
That saga was
recounted in the book by the grandson of Robert’s sister Susanna.
The book also includes what it calls the "Honor Roll,"
which lists the men of the family who took up arms in America’s
wars, up through World War II. Seventeen men served in the Revolutionary
War, three in the War of 1812, one in the Black Hawk Indian War,
seventeen in the War Between the States, some on both sides. Ten
served in World War I, thirty-four in World War II. Two served in
both World War I and World War II. And that only counts the maternal
grandmother portion of my family.
sides of my family, my Uncle Bob was a staff officer for General
Patton, my Uncle George an artillery commander at the Battle of
the Bulge. Uncle George was the one that was in the hospital all
that time after the war for shell shock and who you always had to
speak up to because he could not hear very well. It was his son,
my cousin Chuck, who threw the shot put for the OU track team, and
whose ROTC formations the hippies rode bicycles through and made
fun of during our undeclared war in Vietnam.
was my father, John Adams Dwyer, legally blind in one eye and legally
deaf in one ear. He kept volunteering to go fight in World War II
and getting rejected because of that bad eye, though he always tried
to switch to the good eye during the eye exam, until one day the
doctor evidently felt sorry for him and just let him on through.
So my dad left the States at age nineteen with a barrel chest and
a thick full head of curly blonde hair and an Irish temper. Three
years later, after Leyte and New Guinea and what all, U. S. Army
Sergeant John Dwyer came back with hardly a hair left on his head.
And he never said a word to my mother about The Good War, even to
the morning his two-year-old son watched him die after he fell in
the bathroom from what the doctors said was a heart attack and delayed
stress something or other. Lot of that going around back in those
days, they said.
people, those who came before me, wrote poems, competed on the athletic
field, played in the band and even the symphony, built businesses,
bore, raised – and sometimes buried – children, spoiled grandchildren,
and worshiped and served in their churches. Perhaps I did not need
to say all that, but I fear that I bear a hard message for us today.
It is important for me to emphasize for any of you who do not already
know that I am no leftist, no blame-America-firster.
Were my students
here today, they would be quick to tell you, perhaps some of them
with knowing, rolling eyes, how arch a proponent and defender of
Constitutional limited government, personal liberty and freedom,
and free market economics I am, and how I detest anything with a
whiff of socialism or fascism, whether it be the welfare state or
the warfare state, big-government Democrats or Republicans or Libertarians.
So I do not give a hooting heck what Bill Kristol or Ann Coulter
or Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney or their vicious
imitators would call me or any of my opinions.
For my good
friends, I must tell you that there is an impostor among us in this
day. It presents itself as a lovely and inspiring and even holy
thing, but it is actually a pretender, an idol, a damnable heresy.
It seeks to swell our hearts with pride and sentiment and certitude,
but in the end it demands the right to anything of meaning we possess
in this world – our property, our lives, the lives of our children,
our faithfulness to the teachings of the gentle and humble Savior
who is the Redeemer of our souls and the Captain of our salvation.
has distorted our perspectives on world affairs, our own country,
and our history. It has twisted American Christians’ understanding
of our God and the Holy Scriptures He gave us. It has silenced our
pulpits regarding that about which they should be aflame with righteous
outrage and prophetic utterances, and it has made a lie before the
nations of the world of the professions of our sacred rules of law
and what George Washington, the Father of our country, called, "our
this new god of Moloch, has demanded the deaths, mutilations, and
moral corruptions, the mental and emotional devastation, of legions
of our young, through multiple generations. Even as we meet here
today, it multiplies the enemies of our nation and faith, and crafts
a dark and uncertain future for our children and grandchildren and
this detestable fraud and rapist and murderer, is American nationalism.
It births its crimes in a flag, baptizes them with the anthems of
bands, and seals them with 21-gun salutes and the rantings of wealthy
demagogues who have come no closer to a battlefield than a television
camera or studio microphone.
is not patriotism, though it would pervert that too. The patriot
says, "I love my country," works for its good, and defends
it if necessary – against enemies within and without. He strives
and prays not primarily that God will bless his country, but that
his country will bless God. The nationalist, meanwhile, says, "My
country is better than yours." "My country is the greatest
there has ever been." "The greatest nation on God’s green
earth." "They hate my country because it is so good."
Of all citizens,
the Christian should be the most faithful patriot. He should bloom
where he is planted, and be a blessing to the country where God
has placed him, whether America or New Zealand or Sudan. Yet we
in America, especially we in the Church of Jesus Christ, have become
the most faithful nationalists. If you do not believe me, talk to
Bible-believing Christians from other countries. They wept and prayed
for us after 9/11, then stood dumbstruck, with gathering incredulity,
as they witnessed what has apparently become our true national character,
unfold bloodily, mercilessly, recklessly, on the world stage in
the years since.
But be not
deceived, my friends, this impostor, and others that claim the place
in our individual and national life that should be filled only by
Almighty God, were working their will through our actions long before
9/11. In fact, they were in no small way helping to craft 9/11,
and other calamities large and small, before and after.
I believe we
must confront our idolatrous reverence for American nationalism
– for United States nationalism – to escape leaving those who follow
us to a multi-generational lot constructed, whether we wish to admit
it or not, largely of our own making. And we must face the consequences
of our assumptions and attitudes and in order to understand first
that they truly exist within us, and second that they actually result
in the actions that are the history we shall create and leave those
who come after us.
Today I shall
discuss some sad and sorrowful events. But these are not my primary
message. They are a firebell in the night that something is wrong
in this country, and has been, perhaps for a very long time. History
– "His Story" as I tell my students, the story of God
calling out a set-apart people for Himself from every tribe and
tongue, through every generation – can teach us much. And there
is no missing the repeated pattern of powerful nations like ours
crumbling from within and without after engaging in the sorts of
actions I shall discuss in the next few minutes.
this portion of the talk may seem to concern bullets and casualties
and crimes of violence, these are only among the many symptoms of
the true problem. "Power tends to corrupt," said the devout
Catholic Christian Englishman whom we know as Lord Acton – and "absolute
power tends to corrupt absolutely." John Adams said that "our
constitution is wholly inadequate for the governing of any but a
moral and religious people." As sinful human beings, we are
all prone to blindness, shortsightedness, arrogance, and greed.
Ceaseless corporate yielding to such pursuits will bring ruin upon
a nation. But humility, patience, and suffering faithfulness can
I believe we
still have a chance as a nation to count for good for the long haul.
Regardless of our national destiny, we have the opportunity as the
Church to shine a beacon of light and hope to every nation. Lest
we come too close to despairing today, we shall remember the wisdom
given to us as precious treasure by faithful, suffering servants
of God in generations past.
Let’s go back
now and consider our own history, not as opponents of our country,
but as patriots earnestly seeking for its good. Growing up, I was
taught that we Americans, unlike our enemies, won while fighting
fair. We never attacked the defenseless, and, alone among the great
powers of the world, we left women, children, schools, hospitals,
and churches alone. Why, we amazed even our enemies, I was taught
– in many ways, at many times, by many people – by our curious and
strange refusal to destroy non-military things even though we could
have – and sometimes would have – benefited from doing so.
many years of studying and teaching history, and not from a liberal
or politically correct diet of source, I have come to fear that
for all our affluence and prosperity and power and even Christianity,
we Americans are in a bad way. Our history washes over us like a
sea of blood. We now view our supposed enemies as so many digital
figures on a computer screen. We urge our children to share and
play and don’t hit, and yet our national identity is holding a rifle
in one hand and a Bible in the other. (And by the way, I will always
support – with Bible and rifle if necessary – our Biblical and Constitutional
right to carry both.) We tell our children to find peaceful solutions
even as we continue to bomb cities full of women, children, old
folks, and babies. Old and young, black and white and brown, we
make very good fighters and very good haters.
heritage is largely Christian, but not entirely. The Renaissance,
the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment contributed to
it as well. For all their brilliance and revelations, they bestowed
ever more upon man – and the reason and ability of man – the measure
of things, and framed God as an anachronistic obstacle to human
progress and potentiality. Oh, most of them would never dare say
so, nor did many of them likely realize they were pursuing such
a course. But in their long wake streamed the European-fueled Deism,
Unitarianism, and Transcendentalism, mixed with Marxism, Communism,
Darwinism, imperialism, and nationalism, that so influenced the
United States government and intelligentsia at the time of its 1861
invasion of the imperfect, yet still mostly orthodox South.
At this point,
the government unleashed its practice of Total War against first
the Confederacy then many other opponents across many generations.
I believe it appropriate to point out that not only was the practice
of Total War – which in essence means warring against not only an
opponents’ armed forces, but their civilian property, the civilians
themselves, and defenseless soldiers and sailors through means such
as starvation, other forms of deprivation, murder, and torture –
not only was Total War practiced during the War Between the States,
but it was practiced at various times to varying degrees by American
soldiery all the way back to the Revolutionary War Sons of Liberty,
and certainly against the Cherokees and many other Indian tribes
in the Trail of Tears and other pre-Civil War tragedies.
So we cannot
say that American history prior to the War Between the States presents
a model of faithfulness to Just War practice, whose tenets we shall
cover in a moment. But the Federal prosecution of the armed conflict
of 186165 certainly increased the scope and sweep of Total
War practice, and the accepted sanction of its practice among leaders
in American government, even if they did not publicize such actions
to the general public.
only the briefest sampling of the Union’s rampage against the Constitution,
the rules of Just War, international criminal statutes, and the
laws of God. The Confederacy, by the way, was not free of guilt
in this area, as evidenced by such names as Quantrill, Chambersburg,
Fort Pillow, and the Battle of the Crater. A key distinction, however,
marks these Southern transgressions – none were sanctioned; in fact,
they were condemned, disavowed, and punished by the South’s high
meanwhile, practiced a systematic campaign of Total War that escalated
as the war progressed and as Abraham Lincoln was supposedly undergoing
the soul-searching and late-life Christian conversion many of his
apologists then and now promote. Some 50,000 Southern civilians,
many of them black, died during the war due to war-related causes.
This included the war-long "Anaconda" naval blockade Lincoln
and the Federals practiced that deprived Southern people – including
women, children, and senior folks, black and white – of their food,
medicine, clothing, and every other necessity of life.
government consigned tens of thousands of Northern citizens to jails
and prisons because they were not deemed ardent enough in their
support of the Republican administration and Congress. It purposely
starved, froze, and otherwise consigned to death thousands of defenseless
Confederate prisoners of war. It committed numerous rapes of white
women in the South, and many more of black. It arrested and imprisoned
scores of pastors, from Missouri to Virginia, because they would
not pray the right prayers, and it destroyed flocks of churches,
converted scores of others to stables, gambling dens, and brothels,
and wiped numerous towns permanently off the face of the map. It
burned down large sections of Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina,
Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Virginia. It incinerated Indian
villages, torched all or part of at least four Confederate state
capitols, and wiped out crops and livestock in order to starve the
women and children still living on the land with them.
Stung by criticism
of his policy of extermination against the Plains Indians a decade
after the war, General Philip Sheridan wrote General William Tecumseh
Sherman, who had succeeded Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief
of the U.S. Army: "Did we cease to throw shells into Vicksburg or
Atlanta because women and children were there?" He told shocked,
hard-bitten Prussian generals during the Franco-Prussian War the
key to victory was that, "The people must be left nothing but their
eyes to weep with over the war."
The sins of
the war begat more sins, as sin will do, violence berthed yet more
violence, hatred did not cause war, but war caused hatred, and America
plummeted down an abyss that renders the great majority of its people
in our day – conservative, moderate, liberal, Republican, Democrat,
Independent – unable any more to recognize Just War from unjust,
much less willing to demand its practice when war must come.
government’s decades-long policy of extermination against the Plains
Indians, repeatedly attacking their combatants and non-combatants
alike while breaking treaty after treaty, was well under way even
before the end of the War Between the States. In 1864, Colonel John
Chivington, Federal hero of the Battle of Glorieta Pass, led 700
men thundering into a sleeping Cheyenne village on the banks of
Colorado’s Sandy Creek, Indians promised safety and protection by
the nearby U.S. Fort Lyon. Asked by Fort Lyon troops whether he
would spare women and children, Chivington announced, "Nits
not only killed their quarry, they took Bowie knives and other weapons
and carved off their scalps and every other conceivable body part.
They also tossed "papooses" in the air, then ran them
through. Over one hundred women and children were slaughtered. From
there, the war of extermination between "Christian" civilization
and the Colorado Indians descended into a murderous abyss. "How
reviving to a soul," Chivington, a former circuit-riding Methodist
preacher, told the Denver Inquirer newspaper, " . .
. to know that God has given invincible might to quell the wicked
of the earth and give dominion to the good, the wise, the just –
the true believers! This world is delivered to our hand, sir, delivered
for dominion! Our Savior bids us make His excellence supreme!"
the Cheyenne chief that day at Sand Creek, escaped – only to be
murdered in another dawn slaughter of civilians four years later,
the so-called "Battle of the Washita River" in present-day
Oklahoma, by Sheridan henchman George Armstrong Custer and his pony
of the Indian Wars is not the count of bodies only," the Denver
Inquirer editorialized. "It is invisible. It attacks the
mind and heart. It puts the soul to trial by asking, ‘This nation
under God? How shall it grow from roots so deeply set in wrong?’"
States seized independence-seeking Philippines from Spain following
the Spanish-American War, and the Federal government instigated
a brutal suppression of the subsequent Filipino resistance movement.
President William McKinley justified our actions by declaring that
we were helping the Filipino people by civilizing and Christianizing
them – even though, while surrounded by Buddhist, Hindu, and Moslem
nations, they were already mostly Catholic Christians. The slaughter
and related deprivations engulfed over 200,000 Filipinos between
1899 and 1902, most of them non-combatants.
series of blood-drenched incursions into Caribbean and Latin American
countries, the United States, in World War II, joined with Britain’s
Royal Air Force in a massive, years-long bombing campaign against
not only the military might of Germany, but its cities and civilians.
Over 600,000 German civilians died, including 40,000 in Berlin,
48,000 in Hamburg during a one-night British raid, and between 35,000
and 100,000 in about twelve hours in Dresden.
one of the most beautiful cities in the world, was considered an
open city. Alone among major German cities, the Allies had largely
left it alone, and the Germans stationed no anti-aircraft defenses
within it. A Valentine’s Day-eve heavy explosives attack by the
British in 1945 centered on the non-militarized center of the city.
Three hours later, timed to devastate firefighting, rescue, and
medical efforts, the British bombed again, this time with incendiaries
designed to catapult the existing fires into a tornadic firestorm,
which they did.
By the time
700 American bombers roared in as a third wave a few hours later,
accompanied by Mustang fighters that were apparently given license
to shoot anything and anyone that moved, tens of thousands of people
had been incinerated, cooked, asphyxiated, popped like firecrackers,
burned to death in the oil-drenched Elbe River as it flamed in the
freezing winter night, and melted into puddles of goo. American
Ranger Kurt Vonnegut, a POW in Dresden at the time, immortalized
the slaughter in his classic novel, Slaughterhouse
The total number
of dead in Dresden will never be known, because untold thousands
of refugees – fleeing the raping, murdering Soviet armies from the
east – filled the town the night it was bombed. The civilian death
total for that twelve hours, during which 650,000 tons of
bombs fell, may have been more than the total of British civilians
killed at the hands of the Nazis during six years of war.
killed at least half a million Japanese civilians during the war,
including close to 100,000 or more each at Hiroshima, Nagasaki,
and firebombed Tokyo. Do you know what was, hopefully unintentionally,
at ground zero of the nuclear attack at Nagasaki? The largest Christian
cathedral in Japan. Of the bombings of Japan, American Air Commander
Curtis LeMay said: "You’ve got to kill people, and when you’ve killed
enough, they stop fighting." He also admitted, "I suppose if I had
lost the war, I would have been tried as a war
In the 1950s,
LeMay pronounced a remarkable epitaph on his and the United States’s
three-year involvement in the undeclared war in Korea: "We burned
down just about every city in North and South Korea both.... We
killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million
more from their homes."
say civilian deaths in Vietnam stemming from the total war methods
of the U.S. during that undeclared war matched or exceeded those
in Korea. And we dished out hard war right up to the end. Our heavy
bombing of irrigation dams in North Vietnam in late 1972 was intended
to destroy the rice crops on which the civilian population depended.
"This was a real Nuremburg War Crimes Trial item," historian
Joseph Stromberg notes, "but no one ever appeared in court."
Of our undeclared
1991 Persian Gulf War, Rick Atkinson’s 1993 book Crusade:
The Untold Story of the Gulf War, applauded our famous "turkey
shoot" of tens of thousands of fleeing Iraqi military conscripts
– ruthlessly shot to pieces by U.S. and coalition forces on the
infamous "Highway of Death" – as part of our modern "strategy
of annihilation" in war.
Clinton’s undeclared "war," so-called, with Serbia in
1999, I am reminded that there is a sort of terrible reciprocity
in the eternal councils of Almighty God. I wonder whether it was
happenstance that even as U.S. bombers laid waste to tiny Serbia,
the most ferocious tornadoes ever recorded in history left entire
American communities in rubble, including one next to the country’s
largest military air base, Tinker in Midwest City, Oklahoma?
Was it coincidence
that a nation which bombed civilian trains, buses, vehicle caravans,
apartment buildings, foreign embassies, and five countries on three
continents in seven months saw its own children gunned down in cold
blood in one school after another? Did you know that on the day
we dropped more bombs than any other on Serbia – did you know that
was the very day, a few hours later, of the Columbine school massacre?
It is painful
to recall our intentional destruction of Iraq's water and water
purification facilities during the Persian 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 the subsequent
American-led U.N. embargo of Iraqi water purification supplies and
equipment. In 1998, on-site U.N. officials reported that this embargo
was killing 4,000 to 5,000 children a month. In 2000, UNICEF's director
for Iraq announced that a half million children under age 5 had
died during the 10 years of sanctions. Other estimates of that death
toll range "as low as" 250,000-300,000 children.
Are these isolated
incidents, flukes, aberrations? Not, evidently, to the five officers
who theorized in the October 1989 Marine Corps Gazette about
a "fourth generation" warfare to deal with changing conditions abroad.
" . . . tactical and strategic levels will blend as the opponent’s
political infrastructure and civilian society become battlefield
targets," they wrote.
I would suggest
that an enormous part of our problem is we have forgotten that our
Founding Fathers, including George Washington in his famed Farewell
Address, declared with resounding clarity their opposition to noncommercial
overseas entanglements, favored (or unfavored) commercial trading
partners, and permanent treaties and alliances. They knew that the
history of humanity is replete with the rotting carcasses of world
now has military forces stationed in more than 100 countries. Our
military budget is more than those 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. All of
this is courtesy of your and my hard-earned tax dollars, but not
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
Where to turn
but for a remedy to Him who is not a respecter of persons – or nations.
To Him who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. To Him
who delights not in the strength of the horse or chariot, but takes
pleasure in those who fear Him. In the fifth of Matthew we read
of the Beatitudes – the "be happy-tudes" – from Jesus’s
Sermon on the Mount.
seeing the multitudes, (Jesus) went up into a mountain: and when
he was set, His disciples came unto Him:
And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying,
'Blessed are the poor in spirit:
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after
righteousness: for they shall be
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:
for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.'"
commentators attempt to dismiss any temporal applications of this
famed passage and suggest Jesus’s intentions regarded strictly spiritual
matters, as if the two are not part and parcel of one another. Many
others just sort of scoot past the issue. Some, however, unpack,
in the case of the "peacemakers" of Matthew 5:9, the implications
for the believer in relations with others that are not limited strictly
Reformed theologian William Hendriksen, for instance, while declaring
that the gospel of peace is the preaching of Christ Crucified, wrote:
are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ A blessing
is here pronounced on all who, having themselves received reconciliation
with God through the cross, now strive by their message and their
conduct to be instrumental in imparting this same gift to others.
By word and example such peace-makers, who love God, one another,
and even their enemies, promote peace also among men. . . . True
peace-makers are all those whose Leader is the God of peace, who
aspire after peace with all men, proclaim the gospel of peace, and
pattern their lives after the Prince of Peace."
"Evangelical Bishop" of 19th century England, J. C. Ryle,
who wrote the classic Five English Reformers
and who declared the saving gospel of Christ against fierce opposition
during a ministry that spanned better than half a century, wrote:
Jesus calls those ‘blessed’ who are peacemakers. He means those
who use all their influence to promote peace and charity on earth,
in private and in public, at home and abroad. He means those who
strive to make all men love one another, by teaching that Gospel
which says, ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Romans 13:10).
Blessed are all such! They are doing the very work which the Son
of God began when he came to earth the first time, and which he
will finish when he returns the second time."
further defines who are the "sons of God" when it says,
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the
sons of God." And who is led by the Spirit of God? Do these
not exhibit the fruits of that Spirit? Galatians 5 tells us those
fruits are love, joy, peace, patience or longsuffering, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or meekness, and self-control
or temperance. In that same chapter, the apostle Paul informs us
that those who are not led by the Spirit of God, but rather by the
works of the flesh – that is, our sinful inclinations, cheered on
by the devil and opposed by God – include hatred, contentions, outbursts
of wrath, and murders.
So just what
is this so-called "Theory of Just War"? Well, it is one
of three prevalent philosophies that have for some time vied for
the allegiance of Americans and American Christians in particular,
even if many of us have not realized it. Another is Pacifism, the
traditional preserve of the Far Left, and I believe an anti-biblical
muddle of confusion.
The other major
school of thought is often referred to as Christian Realism, as
developed by Reinhold Neibuhr. Christian Realists correctly posit
that all human actions are tainted by sin, including so-called Just
War. Therefore, the idea that a war, in particular, can be prosecuted
Christianly is suspect to them. All participants on any side are
sinful and driven to some degree by sinful motives. The Christian
Realist would agree with the Pacifist that all war is inherently
evil – wrong – but would differ with him by positing that war must
sometimes be waged in order to prevent greater evils.
have much good to say, but they are liable to throwing out the baby
with the bath water. Since war is already wicked, the Christian
might need to "suspend his sanctification" – that is,
he might need to break God’s commandments and sin – and fight as
hard – and dirty – as necessary to get it over with as quickly as
possible. Brave soldiers and innocent civilians have likely already
died, and more of both may have to die before the evil war circumvents
the greater evils that lie ahead.
and women hold to both Pacifism and Christian Realism, but it is
the theory of Just War that I believe has most scripturally animated
the Church’s approach in the nearly two millennia since its first
advocacy. So whence the concept of Just War? One of its earliest
known advocates was Ambrose, the noble Fourth Century Bishop of
Milan. Now here was a man. He stood up to the Empress Justina, threatened
to excommunicate Emperor Theodosius I if he did not repent of his
wickedness in massacring a townful of people, and was the mentor
and guiding light of Augustine of Hippo, perhaps the greatest thinker
the Church has ever produced. If you have ever read any portions
of Augustine’s City
of God, you understand.
played the man till the end of his life. As the German tribes closed
in on a Rome governed in its final days by Christian emperors, those
emperors realized they needed to know when they could justly wage
war. And the Christian soldiers who now filled many of the Roman
ranks sought to know if and when they could honorably serve as warriors.
Ambrose and other leading thinkers of the Church put much thought
to the subject. So did Augustine as he witnessed the Empire crumble.
Others did too, including Thomas Aquinas in his Summa
Theologica and elsewhere as he exhorted the feudal lords
of the Middle Ages toward justice and charity in war and admonished
them against waging war for ungodly reasons or in ungodly ways.
For instance, the Church-approved "Peace of God" codified
the protection of non-combatants in war, and its "Truce of
God" outlawed the waging of war on the Lord’s Sabbath Day of
of Catholic and other jurisprudence on international law further
refined the Christian concept of Just War. So did Protestant Reformers
such as John Calvin in his monumental Institutes
of the Christian Religion, and 17th century Dutch lawyer
and Reformer Hugo Grotius in his landmark book The
Law of War and Peace. Calvin, by the way, half a millennium
ago, directly rebuked the notion of a Christian people engaging
in "pre-emptive" war against a real or supposed enemy.
generations of West Point graduates, including most of those who
led the armies of the North and South, had learned the code of Just
War. For many years leading up to the War Between the States, they
learned from none other than Henry Halleck – who became Lincoln’s
general in chief the first three years of the war – regarding the
wickedness of wanton plunder of private property during war.
I am thankful
for the theory of Just War. Though other thinkers like the Roman
Marcus Tullius Cicero advocated elements of it, it is a peculiarly
Christian notion that aims to preserve the moral distinctives of
Christianity even during and after war. And it intends something
else important – restraining the state from establishing itself
as an all-powerful god unto itself. Though the theory allows for
war as a last resort in self-defense, it reflects the desire to
avoid war as a fundamental idea in the Christian view of politics,
as opposed to the romanticization of war in a pagan worldview that
reflects a disregard for the sanctity of human life.
So what are
the key tenets of the theory of Just War? Well, many have been put
forward in many different forms through the centuries. However,
thanks to the efforts of the aforementioned men and many others,
including some contemporary men such as conservative evangelical
Presbyterian minister and economist Ron McKenzie of Christchurch,
New Zealand, we can arrive at a consensus catalog of guidelines
by which to estimate a war or a proposed war.
First, a Just
War must be waged by a legitimate government authority. That is,
not by private citizens, pirates, or usurpers. Also, its cause must
be justifiable self-defense – as opposed to seeking the territory
or property of others or furthering one’s own economic, social or
political interests – and its intent to restore a just peace, fair
to all. And it must have a reasonable expectation of success in
accomplishing that goal.
A Just War
must only be fought as a last resort, when every conceivable alternative
has been exhausted. Its use of force must be proportionate in response
to the wrongs committed. For example, burning every home within
a five-mile radius of a partisan ranger ambush of uniformed regular
soldiers would not be a proportionate response. Or bombing those
homes from 15,000 feet in the air when they contain no soldiers.
of Just War with solid Biblical basis include not having a large
standing army (Deuteronomy 17:16, 1 Kings 10:26-29, Isaiah 31:1)
and not possessing offensive weapons (Deuteronomy 17:16), Just War
does not allow for the attacking and damaging of the land that is
God’s creation (Deuteronomy 20:19), for "the tree of the field
is man’s life," and "the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness
thereof." This item alone precludes the use of nuclear weapons,
which by nature harm both the land and non-combatants. And, the
defensive military alliances so common in recent generations – and
so loathsome to America’s Founding Fathers – are decried in Isaiah
31:13 and elsewhere.
the New Zealand minister, further illumines the Just War philosophy
when he writes how "God determines the appointed times of the
nations and the timing of their rule. (Acts 17:26). No nation has
the authority to invade another nation to change its government
(even if it is evil). A nation cannot even be invaded to establish
democracy. "Democracy," McKenzie continues, "must
come from the hearts of the people, it cannot be enforced from the
outside." Most attempts by great powers to establish ‘better’
government by force in other nations have failed, because the spiritual
forces that control the nation have not been defeated (Daniel 10:13)."
non-combatants must be preserved from harm. That is, "collateral
damage" is not allowed for, nor acceptable, however "regrettably."
The first Geneva Convention on War in 1863, and others since, have
minced no words: attacking defenseless cities and towns, as well
as plundering and wantonly destroying civilian property, are war
crimes, performed by war criminals.
remember that a crucified Jesus Christ 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 – and Iran –
caught in the grip of such forces. Let us commit to go to those
lands and, if necessary, lay down our lives while armed not with
an M-16 but with John 3:16.
I tell my students
that we discuss such sorrowful events not because we hate America
or we are nihilists without hope. To the contrary, it is because
we believe in a sovereign, all-powerful, all-good God – Creator
of the universe, Redeemer of us His elect company, and Sustainer
of our weak needy souls – and we want to better know how we may
please Him, and what are the obstacles and temptations to our doing
It is the truest
patriot who loves his country enough to call her to task when she
is in the wrong. Let the brave soldier who wears the uniform descended
from Washington and those who froze at Valley Forge; from those
who charged – and stood – at Cemetery Ridge; from those who scaled
the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc and those who drove their torpedo planes
into the teeth of the Japanese carrier force at Midway – let that
soldier refuse the order which calls him to war on the innocents.
For such an order is an immoral order and should not be obeyed by
any American soldier.
And let the
Christian clothed in the white robes of righteousness and descended
from the Lord of eternity declare that attacks on innocent women
and children are a blot on history and on the nation who commits
such atrocities. Ultimately it is our humanity that is the collateral
damage, we Americans, especially we American Christians – if we
one has described more powerfully the foolishness of much of what
we have discussed today, than Mark Twain, who to my knowledge was
not even a Christian. I close with his famous "War
It was a
time of great and exalting excitement. The
country was up in arms, the war was on, in every
breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums
were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols
popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and
sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding
and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a
fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun;
daily the young volunteers marched down the wide
avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud
fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts
cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion
as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings
listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred
the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they
interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of
applause, the tears running down their cheeks the
while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion
to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles,
beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of
fervid eloquence which moved every listener.
It was indeed
a glad and gracious time, and the half
dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the
war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness
straightway got such a stern and angry warning that
for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank
out of sight and offended no more in that way.
came next day the battalions would
leave for the front; the church was filled; the
volunteers were there, their faces alight with
material dreams-visions of a stern advance, the
gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing
sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the
enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!
then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed,
adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the
volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and
envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons
and brothers to send forth to the field of honor,
there to win for the flag or, failing, die the
noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war
chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first
prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst
that shook the building, and with one impulse the
house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and
poured out that tremendous invocation "God the
all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion
and lightning thy sword!"
the "long" prayer. None could remember the
like of it for passionate pleading and moving and
beautiful language. The burden of its supplication
was that an ever merciful and benignant Father of
us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and
aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic
work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand,
make them strong and confident, invincible in the
bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to
them and to their flag and country imperishable honor
stranger entered and moved with slow and
noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon
the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that
reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair
descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his
seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to
ghastliness. With all eyes following him and
wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing,
he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there,
lids the preacher, unconscious of his
presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last
finished it with the words, uttered in fervent
appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord
our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"
touched his arm, motioned him to step
aside which the startled minister did and took
his place. During some moments he surveyed the
spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned
an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said
come from the Throne bearing a message from
Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a
shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no
attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant
your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your
desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained
to you its import that is to say, its full import.
For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in
that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware
of except he pause and think.
servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has
he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it
is two one uttered, the other not. Both have
reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications,
the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this keep it in
mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself,
beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a
neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the
blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by
that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon
some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can
be injured by it.
have heard your servant's prayer the uttered
part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into
words the other part of it that part which the
pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed
silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant
that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the
victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The
whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those
pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When
you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many
unmentioned results which follow victory must
follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the
listening spirit of God the Father fell also the
unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put
it into words. Listen!
Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our
hearts, go forth to battle be Thou near them! With
them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet
peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O
Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to
bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their
smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot
dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with
the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help
us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane
of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their
unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to
turn them out roofless with their little children to
wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land
in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun
flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken
in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the
refuge of the grave and denied it for our sakes who
adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their
lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy
their steps, water their way with their tears, stain
the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the
Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and
friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid
with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."
have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of
the Most High waits."
It was believed
afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense
in what he said.
J. Dwyer (send him mail)
as Adjunct Professor of History at Southern Nazarene University
and Oklahoma City Community College. He is former chairman of history
at Coram Deo Academy near Dallas, Texas. He is author of the new
historical narrative The
War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War. His
website includes a five-minute preview video about the
book. He is also the author of the historical novels Stonewall
E. Lee, and the former editor and publisher of The Dallas/Fort
Worth Heritage newspaper.
© 2007 LewRockwell.com