“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Can There Ever Be A Just War?

Last Tuesday I attended a debate at Kidderminster New Meeting House, on the question "Can there ever be a just war? It was an interesting evening ...

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Sandy Ellis (Evesham) opened the debate for the motion. His two main arguments were that the leader of any nation has a moral duty to defend its citizens, and that although war is an evil and barbaric thing, it can be justified if it is waged to defeat a greater evil. He went over the standard Just War critieria - that the cause is just, that it has been properly authorised, that there is right intention, that all other means of avoiding conflict have been explored, that it must be winnable, and that the force used is "proportionate". He also mentioned the internationally accepted guidelines about how a war should be conducted, for example, obeying international conventions, not injuring or killing non-combatants, and looking after prisoners of war. The decision to use force when all else has failed is a choice of the lesser of two evils. He concluded that the only way that evil can triumph is when the good man decides to sit by and do nothing.

Then Martin Layton, of Bewdley Quakers, opposed the motion. The main thrust of his argument was that the motives for war are never just; wars are usually started to protect a country's political and economic interests and to get more power. He stated that fear, hatred and revenge have powerful propaganda value, and that atrocities are considered in isolation, apart from root causes, in order to encourage over-simplified responses. He stated that authority is always self-legitimising, and commented on the fact that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council also dominate the international arms trade. War is all atrocity and outrage; it is impossible to contain, and only the victors get to dispense justice. He concluded that war is a business and a crime, and must be stopped.

Ian Kirby of Kidderminster seconded the motion. He argued that the just war principles place limits on warfare. He acknowledged that Christians struggle with warfare, but also that we shouldn't be passive in the face of aggression. Civil disobedience only works when there is a framework of law. We can't just sit by and let genocide happen - we need to intervene. He concluded by reiterating the just war principles mentioned above.

Moira Brown of Bewdley Quakers seconded the opposition to the motion. She mentioned the Quaker Peace Testimony; that it was about deeds, not creeds - a way of living. This is based on integrity, patience and love, not on adopting the ways of an oppressor. Justice is achieved not by war, but by peacemaking. She argued that the refusal to go to war is not surrender, and mentioned the two Quaker offices in Geneva and New York, which exist to facilitate dialogue between potential enemies. She concluded that wars create more problems than they solve.

My own view is this: that to justify war or to take a pacifist line is one of the deepest and starkest choices of personal conscience. Is pacifism a cause worth fighting for? What a paradox! I speak as one who has a fairly volatile temperament at times, and one who is not a naturally pacific person. I admire pacifists enormously. I am deeply impressed by the realisation that we are all human beings, given life by God. What right have others to take that life away? What cause can possibly justify it? Not many I think. I am also convinced by Martin Layton's argument that no war today can ever truly be called just, because economic and political interests and power are at the heart of every conflict.

Our world is riven by conflict, and it is hard not to feel despondent. Yet I also believe that the common humanity of humankind could be an overarching bond that prevents war - there is that of God, the divine spark, in everyone - and that the faith communities could and should do much to promote this. After 9/11, we saw this in action - people all over the world, of whatever political or religious complexion, were united in horror at the toll of death and damage. We just need to be reminded of our common humanity. Often. This is why the work of the Charter for Compassion is so important, so vital - it is trying to transcend boundaries, to break through fear and distrust, to the common humanity of humankind.


1 comment:

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