Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

When War Must Be the Answer

James V. Schall

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It has been the fault of both pacifism and liberalism in the past that they have ignored the immense burden of inherited evil under which society and civilization labour and have planned an imaginary world for an impossible humanity. We must recognize that we are living in an imperfect world in which human and superhuman forces of evil are at work and so long as those forces affect the political behaviour of mankind there can be no hope of abiding peace. Christopher Dawson, "The Catholic Attitude to War,"

While the effects of sin abound -- greed, dishonesty and corruption, broken relationships and exploitation of persons, pornography and violence -- the recognition of individual sinfulness has waned. In its place a disturbing culture of blame and litigiousness has arisen which speaks more of revenge than justice and fails to acknowledge that in every man and woman there is a wound which, in the light of faith, we call original sin. John Paul II, Address to American Bishops, May 14, 2004

A calm and reasonable case can and should be made for the possession and effective use of force in today's world. It is irresponsible not to plan for the necessity of force in the face of real turmoils and enemies actually present in the world. No talk of peace, justice, truth, or virtue is complete without a clear understanding that certain individuals, movements, and nations must be met with measured force, however much we might prefer to deal with them peacefully or pleasantly. Without force, many will not talk seriously at all, and some not even then. Human, moral, and economic problems are greater today for the lack of adequate military force or, more often, for the failure to use it when necessary.

This view goes against a certain rhetorical grain, but it is a fact that needs attention and comprehension. We are not in some new world-historic age in which we can bypass these "outmoded" instruments of power, however rhetorically fine it may be to talk that way. Human nature has not changed, neither for better nor for worse. Human institutions, whether national or international, have not so improved that they themselves cannot be threats to the human good. Who watches the watchdogs remains a fundamental, if not the fundamental, question of the human condition. It is an issue with philosophical, theological, and political dimensions.

This is a counter-cultural position. It goes against much articulate liberal and religious sentiment. Yet I consider these often ungrounded sentiments about abolishing war to be themselves part of the problem of war's dangers. General Douglas MacArthur's tomb is in the old city hall in Norfolk, Virginia. I recently visited it. On the wall above his grave is a plaque with the memorable and eloquent words that this military commander spoke on the occasion of the Japanese surrender in 1945:

It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope of all mankind that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past -- a world founded upon faith and understanding - a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish, for freedom, tolerance, and justice ... We have had our last chance. If we do not now devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem is basically theological, and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, and literature, and all material and cultural developments in the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.

On reading these words, I was struck by how much they now appear to me to be part of the problem, not the solution, as I once thought.

Read the entire article on the Policy Review website (new window will open).

Posted: 20-Sep-06

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