"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Women And Children First - Israel, Civilian Casualties, And A Just, Total War

Americans tend to forget the firebombing incineration of Dresden and the nuclear destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima - devastating attacks to reduce the cities and their entire populations to rubble.  Victory at all costs against the imperial designs of Japan and the evil brutality of Hitler.  Without reservations, a just war. 

Philosophers and theologians have always been concerned about the concept and nature of a just war.  Most believed that there was such a thing, and tried to fit conflict within larger religious and ethical constructs. 

In Ancient Rome, war was always potentially nefas ("wrong, forbidden") and risked religious pollution and divine disfavor.  A just war (bellum iustum) thus required a ritualized declaration by the fetial priests More broadly, conventions of war and treaty-making were part of the ius gentium, the "law of nations", the customary moral obligations regarded as innate and universal to human beings.


Augustine, perhaps Christianity’s most influential theologian was one of the first to assert that a Christian could be a soldier and serve God and country honorably. He claimed that, while individuals should not resort immediately to violence, God has given the sword to government for good reason (based upon Romans 13:4). In Contra Faustum Manichaeum Augustine argues that Christians as part of government should not be ashamed to protect peace and punish wickedness.

Image result for images st augustine

Nine hundred years later, another influential theologian, Thomas Aquinas set forth the conditions under which just wars should be fought:

  • First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. (Proper Authority is first: represents the common good: which is peace for the sake of man's true end—God.)
  • Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain (for example, "in the nation's interest" is not just) or as an exercise of power. (Just Cause: for the sake of restoring some good that has been denied. i.e., lost territory, lost goods, punishment for an evil perpetrated by a government, army, or even the civilian populace.)
  • Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence. (Right Intention: an authority must fight for the just reasons it has expressly claimed for declaring war in the first place. Soldiers must also fight for this intention.) 
Image result for images st thomas aquinas

Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, the then de facto head of the Catholic Church in the United States issued a declaration saying that a war against the Germans in World War I was right and just; and the Episcopal bishop of New York, William Manning said the following:

Our Lord Jesus Christ does not stand for peace at any price...Every true American would rather see this land face war than see her flag lowered in dishonor...I wish to say that, not only from the standpoint of a citizen, but from the standpoint of a minister of religion...I believe there is nothing that would be of such great practical benefit to us as universal military training for the men of our land.
If by Pacifism is meant the teaching that the use of force is never justifiable, then, however well meant, it is mistaken, and it is hurtful to the life of our country. And the Pacifism which takes the position that because war is evil, therefore all who engage in war, whether for offense or defense, are equally blameworthy, and to be condemned, is not only unreasonable, it is inexcusably unjust. 

Of course empires have always claimed their wars just. The Thirty Years War (1618-48), the French Wars of Religion (1562-98), the Eighty Years War between Holland and Spain, and the Crusades were all deemed right and justifiable.  There are enough loopholes, caveats, and codicils in the most reasonable philosophical arguments for world leaders to take exception.  In the modern era, America's wars in Vietnam and Iraq, launched on shaky Augustinian principles were defended to the last soldier. Vladimir Putin has never wavered in his contention that Russia's rather dubious invasion of Ukraine is justified. 

Israel's war against Hamas is clearly justified on the grounds of the Judeo-Christian principles, above, and on the common code of geopolitical advisement.   Israel was brutally attacked by Hamas - an organization which has insistently, publicly, and without hesitation called for the annihilation of the Jews and the Jewish state.  Hamas is but one such organization in the region, bound and determined, and propelled by religious fanaticism, to do the same.  The more 'moderate' states of Jordan and Egypt, partners in early wars against Israel but in defeat signatories to peace treaties with it, have no less anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments. 

Wars against these states, if provoked by them, are just because of they are existential in nature.  Israel has the simple right to defend itself, as any military code of response dictates, and the absolute right to assure its survival. 

Therefore, if Israel's war is just - as was America's and Europe's against the Nazis and the Japanese - then it is under no moral compunction to consider the lives and well-being of civilians if such consideration compromises its eventual victory over the enemy. 

The moral calculus is even more stark - Hamas has used civilians as human shields, playing on the assumption that Israel, supported by the West, will be careful in its retaliation.  The death of civilians which have become tools of war is part of the equation. 

Unwilling victims of their leadership's immoral intentions? Hardly.  Palestinian civilians are as complicit in their support for Hamas as 'ordinary Germans' were of the Nazis.  Civilians have supported Hamas and joined in their anti-Semitic hatred.  The destruction of Hamas necessarily and not inconsequentially involves the destruction of Gaza. 

Israel has learned the lesson of General William Tecumseh Sherman, Union general in the American Civil War.  His brutal, devastating march through Georgia and South Carolina was meant to send an unequivocal message to civilians as well as the military - the South shall never again rise up against the Union. 

Many in the West are calling for peace, negotiations, and ceasefire; but have universally singled out Israel for censure.  The familiar American progressive cant of victimhood - i.e. victims of oppression are ordained, automatically in the right, just, and holy.  For decades the United Nations, majority ruled by a cabal of anti-Jewish Third World nations, perennially votes for censure of Israel, and continues to brand it as a rogue, terrorist state. 

In a remarkable display of historical ignorance, Pope Francis has joined the chorus of Israel censure.  He better than anyone should understand how the rational, moral thinking of his own forbears, Augustine and Aquinas, applies to the current Israeli-Hamas conflict.  Returning to his liberation theological Argentinian roots, and seduced by America's progressive idealism, Francis has committed his own immoral complicity. 

Israel would like nothing more than to live in peace with its neighbors, and has repeatedly asked for only one reassurance - that the Palestinians would once and for all accept the right of Israel to exist, a reassurance that they have refused to give. 

Israel allowed for autonomous Gazan rule in 2005, respecting the election; but has seen Hamas use foreign infusions of development and humanitarian aid for military purposes.  Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak, and Yasser Arafat were inches away from a peace deal which would have been the first step towards reconciliation of bitter enemies; but Arafat walked away.  He was unwilling to be the one who gave into the Jews. 


Israel rightfully will reject all craven Western pleas for peace, and go about its moral purpose.  Hamas can never rule again in Palestine; and any future attacks on Israeli sovereignty by Hezbollah, Iran, or any other Arab state will be met with the same military resolve and unrestrained commitment to complete and total victory. 

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