At a time we’re preoccupied with the Afghan War how appropriate to hear today in our first reading at Mass from the great Jewish general, Joshua. Ending his career, Joshua gathers the tribes of Israel, not to reminisce about past victories or to plan future battles, but to proclaim for himself and his household, “we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24, 1-2,24-27)
Joshua’s days and the days of the Judges that follow were days of war. The Jews had become “a rough people, barbarized by war.” The general now seeks to know God’s will. Good advice to us? What’s God’s will for war today?
Today at the US Maritime Academy at Kings Point I offered to the young men and women at Mass what our Catechism of the Catholic Faith tells us about war:
“The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war. 2307
All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed. 2308
The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. the power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. 2309
- The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict.The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties. 2312
- Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.
- Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide. 2313
- Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons – to commit such crimes. 2314
- The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace amongnations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. the arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation. 2315
- The production and the sale of arms affect the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them. 2316
Fox News, CNN, The New York Times, the New York Post, all the media are busy with the politics of it all. Might be better to ask what’s God’s will.