Swords and Plowshares

Quintin Morrow writing on the brink of war

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Micah 4.3).

By the time New Directions readers read this the United States may very well be at war with Iraq. It is still possible as I write that some kind of diplomatic solution to the crisis can be found, but given our President’s resolve and Saddam Hussein’s recalcitrance that seems unlikely.

Many Christians (and non-Christians, for that matter) of good will, pure intentions, and sincerity will oppose or support our nation’s use of military force to disarm Iraq. Both sides of the debate will argue their positions with conviction. Both sides will arrive at their convictions from differing assumptions, via contrary moral frameworks. There is an objective, transcendent moral judgment on America’s use of force: it is either right or it is wrong. Not being omniscient, ubiquitous creatures, however, we, as St Paul says, are forced to see through a glass dimly. Consequently, any moral judgments we make concerning events on a geopolitical scale of necessity will be deficient and transitory. Our limitations of perspective, however, do not obviate that innate human need to morally reflect upon, understand, and arrive at ethical conclusions about the circumstances around us.

Here are mine.

It is not possible to arrive at the conclusion, ipso facto, that all Christians must oppose every armed conflict by a simple appeal to a specific verse in the Bible, or indeed to Holy Scripture in toto. God clearly commands war in the Old Testament, and in fact uses it as an instrument of discipline against his own rebellious people Israel (see Isaiah 7 & 8). Contextual and interpretive integrity requires that we understand Jesus’ exhortations to love our enemies and turn the other cheek as ethical mandates for individuals in the Kingdom of God, not foreign policy principles for nation states. The Lord said that peacemakers will be blest (Matthew 5.:9), but also reveals that he will return as a warrior leading his troops into battle (Revelation 19.11–16). Moreover, all biblical promises of earthly peace are prophetic (including Micah 4.3, above) and describe the inauguration of the messianic kingdom in the yet-future age to come; and that new age will be preceded by ‘wars and rumors of wars’ (Matthew 24.6) and ‘nation (rising) against nation’ (Matthew 24.7). Until the Messiah returns we have to be content with a world in which there will be wars.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) articulated in his Summa Theologicae what has been called the justum bellum, or the Just War Theory. This theory lays out the ethical principles required for a war to be morally justifiable. These principles include: 1) having a just cause for war; 2) war must be declared by a proper authority; 3) the nation initiating war must possess a right intention; 4) the war must have a reasonable chance of success; and, 5) the end, or strategic objective, must be proportional to the means used. American action against Iraq meets all of these criteria.

Much of the anti-war rhetoric employed by opponents to military action against Iraq seems to suffer from a lack of rational reflection. ‘Blood for oil.’ This slogan simply will not withstand factual scrutiny. It would be far less expensive (in terms of fiscal considerations, human lives, and political capital) for President Bush to buy Iraqi petroleum than deploy and supply the military to take it by force. If anything, Hussein is guilty of this charge, as he is using the proceeds from his nation’s oil production to finance terror against his own people and his geographical neighbors. ‘We don’t know enough to support a war with Iraq.’ This blade cuts both ways. We likewise, therefore, do not know enough to oppose a war with Iraq. ‘War must be the last resort, and sanctioned only after all diplomatic means have been exhausted.’ This vague generality cannot be universalized as a principle and applied to every foreign policy difficulty. We do not employ this criterion to a schoolyard sniper; law enforcement officers implore the sniper to cease fire and surrender, and when he refuses he is taken out. It is one thing to say we should begin with peaceful alternatives to force, provided there’s a reasonable chance of diplomatic success. Continually appealing to the ‘last resort’, however, becomes moral and political folly when it means we must go through diplomatic motions every time, exhaust every UN resolution already being disregarded by our opponents, and negotiate with an amoral enemy with clear intentions to future aggression. ‘Iraq poses no immediate threat to the United States.’ This argument is a straw man. The whole point of the Bush Doctrine is to preempt a threat before it reaches critical mass. The real question is twofold: 1) Is preemption a logical and legitimate extension of national security? and 2) Does the current situation in Iraq require preemption?

It is inconsistent that those who oppose war with Iraq are requiring President Bush and Tony Blair to meet some arbitrary and extremely high evidentiary standard, but do not apply that same standard to Hussein. One must ask if there is any war, waged at any time, they would support? And if so, what moral criteria, applied evenly to both combatants, would justify it? It seems to me that the moral concerns must come after the pragmatic concerns. We have a lot more to lose if President Bush’s assessment of the Iraqi threat is correct and we do not go to war than if his assessment is wrong and we do. My own view is that if Iraq is liberated and the Hussein regime is deposed, those currently arguing against American and British use of force on strictly moral grounds will be discredited, so clear and voluminous will be the evidence of this madman’s murderous intentions. The Italians have a saying: Chi pecora si fa, il lupo se la mangia! (‘If you act like a sheep, you’ll be eaten by the wolf!’).

In the end, whether you support the use of military force against Iraq, oppose it, or are undecided, you can support and pray for the President and the Prime Minister. It is a unique and terrible responsibility they shoulder. You can support and pray for British and American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. They are where they are, doing what they are doing, because their nations needed them. You can pray for the people of Iraq. You can pray for peace. Not just any peace, but a just and lasting peace. And you can look with expectation and hope for the return of the Prince of Peace. For only then will men beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. And only then will we study war no more.

Quintin Morrow is Rector of St Andrew’s Church, a FiF/NA parish in Fort Worth, Texas