It also provided me a unique perspective on how military action and Catholic teachings aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. When I was a major in the Pentagon from 1982-85, I became privy to information on the use and misuse of military establishments by foreign governments. In almost every case, the misuse of military power created wars that tore countries apart. In Iraq, the death and destruction would have continued without countries willing to go to war to create a better peace.
And such is the case now. The terrorism that rocked our country on Sept. 11—as well as the previous terrorist bombings of the U.S.S. Cole, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and others—will certainly continue unless we step up militarily. While the idea of going to war in order to create peace may seem like a contradiction, it’s actually within the principles approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. These principles follow the Just War Theory developed by St. Augustine back in the fourth century, which states that despite the destructive and coercive character of war, it is morally justifiable in certain circumstances and under certain limitations. It gives us a method of contemplating war, and compels us to think about its consequences. And it is appropriate to look at this activity in light of our Catholic beliefs and history, because such action requires intellectual justification. The Just War Theory has seven criteria, and I believe that through each, we have just grounds to move militarily against terrorists and the countries that harbor them.
1) Just Cause. The theory states that war is permissible only to confront real and certain danger; that is, to protect innocent life, to preserve conditions necessary for a decent human existence and to secure basic human rights. We were attacked by an enemy that, in cooperation with a national government, killed innocent civilians. We are confronting real and certain danger. We should fight to preserve our way of life.
2) Competent Authority. The theory states that war must be declared by those responsible for public order, not by private groups or individuals. It’s very important to state that Congress hasn’t officially declared war, but our elected officials have the backing of our citizenry should they decide to declare war.
3) Comparative Justice. The theory questions, in essence, which side is sufficiently “right” in a dispute, and are the values at stake critical enough to override the presumption against war? The values of our free society have been attacked, in response to which the right of self-defense is never denied. Do we not have the right to respond to an attack so heinous as to contradict civilized standards of behavior? Yes.
4) Right Intention. The theory states that war can be legitimately intended only for the reasons set forth above in Just Cause. In this case, war is not so much an act of revenge as it is an attempt to stop further attacks on our country and to preserve our way of life.
5) Last Resort. The theory states that all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted. Ample opportunity was given to the Taliban government to bring the perpetrators to justice; it refused.
6) Probability of Success. This is a difficult criterion, but its purpose is to prevent an irrational behavior—resorting to force, hopeless resistance—when the outcome is clearly disproportionate or futile. Will there be a better peace with human rights restored for Afghanistan? Most likely yes.
7) Proportionality. The theory states that the damage inflicted and cost incurred by war must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms. Will a greater good—financial, humanitarian, as well as military—come from our active responses? Undoubtedly. There is a real possibility that peace will come to Afghanistan after more than 20 years of war.
The decision to initiate hostilities was not ours; the decision to respond, however, is. Such a choice appears to me justifiable in terms of experience, in terms of history and, of equal importance, in terms of the Catholic faith.
Adrian Schiess is director for student retention services and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.