War (3)What Paul says in Galatians 5 about the works of the flesh is true but not everyone that thinks there are times when we should take up arms in war thinks that way because he or she is vindictive or cruel or even easily provoked. I know that we must examine more than motivation when discussing issues like this but intent or motivation is the only thing I want to look at right now. (Lurking behind all this will be the question about fulfilling a moral obligation by immoral means.)
An aspect of moral righteousness is providing for the poor and the defenseless what it is that they need. This might mean clothes, food, shelter and other such things. The Old Testament (and New) is saturated with such teaching. James says to see someone naked and hungry and to do nothing about it when you could is to be immoral.
There are those during the Nazi era who felt that it would have been immoral not to take up arms in defense of ravaged nations. At this point I’m not saying that that is a correct view, I’m simply saying that their motivation was not to ease their spleen and gut some German soldier. Tens of thousands supported the war against Hitler without ever going to the front line and they did it not simply because the government said they should or even because their neighbors thought they should. They made bullets and tanks and clothing because they felt they were paying homage to what was right. This wasn’t even a matter of self defense it was a matter of neighbor defense.
I’m not interested at this point in whether war achieves all the good some of us say it does. I’m simply saying that there are kind, gentle and decent people, who never raised their hand in anger all their lives but who freely got involved in the war effort. They did so because in their agony they looked out on nations being raped and butchered and felt they were morally obliged to do something to stop it. They were persuaded that the only way to stop it was to take up arms. It doesn’t matter that that was not good advice and it doesn’t matter if war didn’t achieve what they aimed for; they felt they should try! When they took the decision to engage in warfare they were not looking for some excuse for their malevolence because that was not in them. They wanted to put a stop to the butchering and raping of men, women and children.
It’s clear that war is an evil but is it the only evil? Is it not evil to watch while the oppressor oppresses when you could do something about it? Is it not evil to watch while the oppressor oppresses when you think you could do something about it? It may be true that to do violence to end violence is wrong and it may be true that to do violence to end violence is like getting a prostitute to quit her trade by having sex with her. But that needs to be established. Maybe a better analogy is using violence to stop a mugger assaulting and robbing an innocent citizen. Maybe a better analogy is carrying out capital punishment on a serial murderer that insists that if he ever gets free he’ll come after others. All this needs to be thought through but the point I especially want to make is that violence doesn’t always rise from a heart bent on wickedness. Sometimes it is rises out of a pursuit of what is right. Perhaps the way to what is righteous is not via war but in the hearts and minds of tens of thousands—given extreme conditions—it is. Didn’t God establish a system of judges and authorities to see to it that the defenseless and disadvantaged were not made prey? Wasn’t "punishment" a part of the armory of God against unrighteousness?
And are we not told that it was God who punished evil by sending invading armies? Did God not instruct the army of Joshua to slay everyone in certain cities (infants included)? There are those who deny that these texts tell the truth about God, but I’m not one of them so I have to take the texts into account. Then there is that text in Deuteronomy 32:25-27. The whole section speaks of God’s redemptive judgement against a wicked Israel and he says in 32:26 that he might have utterly obliterated them had he not been afraid of what the enemy might think. He said he didn’t want the enemy to think, "Our hand has triumphed, the Lord has not done all this." We worry that people might think God did it and he worries that people might think he did not do it. In a fallen world and for the greater good the Holy Father makes use of lethal violence.