America and the Christian Theory of Just War



We discuss 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 past.

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:

"During 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.

From other 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.

Then there 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.

These same 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.

This impostor 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 blessed religion."

This impostor, 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 great-grandchildren.

This impostor, 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.

This impostor 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.

But though 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 bring blessing.

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.

Yet, after 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.

Our national 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 1861–65 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.

Space permits 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 command.

The Federals, 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.

The Federal 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.

The Federal 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 make lice."

The Federals 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!"

Black Kettle, 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 soldiers.

"The toll 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, u2018This nation under God? How shall it grow from roots so deeply set in wrong?'"

The United 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.

Following a 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.

Dresden, then 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 Five.

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.

American aircraft 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 criminal.”

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.”

Suffice to 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.

About Bill 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 empires.

Yet America 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 our permission.

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.


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.

"And 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 filled. 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 of God. 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.’"

Some Bible 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 to evangelism.

The splendid Reformed theologian William Hendriksen, for instance, while declaring that the gospel of peace is the preaching of Christ Crucified, wrote:

"'Blessed 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."

The mighty "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:

"The Lord Jesus calls those u2018blessed' 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, u2018Love 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."

Romans 8:14 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.

Christian Realists 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.

Honorable men 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.

Indeed, Ambrose 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 rest.

The impact 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.

In America, 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.

Other tenets 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 31:1–3 and elsewhere.

Rev. McKenzie, 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 u2018better' government by force in other nations have failed, because the spiritual forces that control the nation have not been defeated (Daniel 10:13)."

And finally, 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.


May Christians 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 so.

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 remain silent.

Perhaps no 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 Prayer."

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.

Sunday morning 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!"

Then came 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 and glory.

An aged 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, waiting.

With shut 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!"

The stranger 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

"I 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.

"God’s 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.

"You 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!

"O 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."

(After a pause)

"Ye 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.

February 20, 2007

John J. Dwyer (send him mail) serves 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 and Robert E. Lee, and the former editor and publisher of The Dallas/Fort Worth Heritage newspaper.