A Moral Case?
religion which requires persecution to sustain it is of the
Hosea Ballou (1796–1861)
So, Tony Blair, in
a final desperate bid to woo Britain’s anti-war
protesters, has resorted to the last refuge of a scoundrel, religion.
Last weekend, hours before hundreds of thousands of people took
to the streets to protest against a possible attack on Iraq, Mr
Blair, a member of the Church of England who also attends a Roman
Catholic Church with his wife, Cherie, argued what he called "the
moral case" for confronting President Saddam Hussein with
force, saying "Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act
immediately begs the question "Is there ever a moral
case for war". American Civil War general William Sherman
said "War is cruelty and you cannot refine it". But many
have tried. Philosophers and theologians through the ages have
attempted to constrain the barbarity that conflict unleashes by
framing rules of war. The most famous of these, the principle of
the "just war", provides a theoretical guide for when
it is morally right to go to war and how that war might be fought.
We owe this principle to St.
Augustine and especially to St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century
theologian, and philosopher. In his treatise "Summa Theologica" he
laid out the moral precepts that still shape our ethical thinking:
has to be a last resort. It can be sanctioned only by a legitimate
authority and can be fought only to redress an injury,
with self-defence the obvious justification. Even then, a war
can be fought only if there is a realistic chance of success. War’s
ultimate goal must be the re-establishment of peace and the peace
secured afterwards must be superior to that which would have prevailed
if war had not been fought. Violence used in the war must be proportionate
to injury suffered. Methods of waging war must try to distinguish
between combatants and non-combatants. Civilian deaths are justified
only if they are the unavoidable consequences of destroying an
offensive military target, not as a means to an end."
Aquinas’s theory has since been honoured as much in the breach
as in the observance. Many wars, including those of religion, such
as the Thirty Years’ War between Britain and France, have encompassed
terrible brutality towards civilians.
Other acts, such as
the Duke of Cumberland’s cry of "no quarter" after
the Battle of Culloden, when the Scots of the Jacobite Army were
already crushed, defy the proportionality principle.
There have been persistent
attempts to regulate the conduct of war. International accords,
notably the Geneva Convention, try
to tie states to the doctrine of restraint. There are philosophical
objections to the "just war" doctrine, and not solely
from pacifists. Utilitarians argue that all means are potentially
legitimate to minimise the length and cost of war. By such doctrines
might those responsible for the bombing of Dresden, the destruction
of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the obliteration of Cambodia, seek
Is this, then, the justification Tony Blair is using to condone
the possible slaughter of perhaps a million innocent women and
children in Iraq. If this is the case Tony Blair could well take
note of the words of two far more illustrious thinkers than himself.
As Albert Einstein said:
"He who joyfully
marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt.
He has been given a large brain by mistake,
since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace
to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command,
senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently
I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather
be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action! It is my
conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an
act of murder."
as Tony Blair prepares to meet Pope John Paul II in the Vatican
this week-end it may be worthwhile for him to consider the words
of Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician,
philosopher and theologian, who opined:
"Men never do
evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious
Gurney [send him mail] is
the author of The
Cassandra Prophecy-Armageddon Approaches.
© 2003 Ian Gurney