Friday, April 29, 2016

The Pope and Just War Theory

Colossal statue of Mars, end of 1st century AD, from the Forum Transitorium in Rome, Capitoline Museums (12879072994) 
I don't think the Pope will, or even really can, get rid of Just War Theory, because there is far too much established teaching about when a nation should go to war and when it should not.  Most likely this will be another case in which a minor tweak will be treated by both his fans and his detractors as though Francis had taken it upon himself to casually toss two thousand years of Tradition and Magisterium.  That said, there is room for a tweak.  Here are a few things I think Pope Francis might actually do.
  • Many of the appeals to Just War Theory have not been virtuous attempts to understand what must or must not be done, they have been attempts to rationalize decisions actually made for the wrong reasons.  These rationalizations are then used to score propaganda points by claiming that the Church, in Her Tradition if not in Her current hierarchy, actually endorses a tainted war.  It would be both easy and appropriate for Pope Francis to condemn this kind of abuse.
  • There is a "sweet-mystery-of-life" clause for Catholics on the political right, just as those on the political left have the infamous one introduced by Justice Kennedy.  In this case, it comes from paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:  "The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good."  Hawks like to interpret this as meaning
    • "those who have responsibility for the common good" means (for the United States) the POTUS and only the POTUS, whereas in a republic of free citizens the responsibility for the common good falls on all citizens;
    • no one may demand that the POTUS start or stop a war, because he has or might have secret information (the "sweet mystery") that changes everything;
    • no one -- not a bishop, not the Pope, and certainly not a mere citizen -- may fault the POTUS for his "evaluation of the conditions of moral legitimacy", because this evaluation between him and God alone.  EDIT:  This last bit is not consistently maintained.  It seems mainly to apply to presidents of the same political party as the person making the claim.
    The line from the Catechism does not mean what the hawks wish it to mean, and this is something the Pope could well clarify. 
  • He could add a statement in parallel to that given in reference to the death penalty:  he could say that the cases in which the decision to initiate a war is just "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."  I have complained of that kind of ambiguity before, and I still do not like it, but it would at least serve to emphasize the point that any claim that it is just to start a war should be met with skepticism, not with toadying chauvinism.
Most of the controversy, please note, comes over the decision to start a war.  The most pacifistic country in the world may be invaded, at which point it is at war, and surrender does not avoid the war but merely loses the war.  Because any country may find itself in a war, that part of Just War Theory which details proper conduct during a war (jus in bello) remains particularly essential.

Finally, it would be good to say something about who can be blamed for the start of a war.  Suppose Country A lands troops on the shores of Country B, but it is Country B that opens fire first.  Which side started the war?  I would say probably Country A, but of course they may have been responding to some earlier provocation by Country B, and Country A's apologists would say that no lives were lost until Country B started shooting.  In many cases, the only rational conclusion is that both sides in an escalating conflict share responsibility for the eventual outbreak of war, but in practice each side will claim the war is entirely the fault of the "bad guys" on the other side and the considerations of jus ad bellum do not apply to their own side.  A careful analysis of this all-too-common situation would be very interesting and quite profitable, but I don't think it is a good match for the talents and interests of Pope Francis.

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