To Bomb or Not to Bomb

Repeatedly in recent weeks, U.S. warplanes, either responding to Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles or to keep Iraqi planes from flying in what is known as the "no-fly zone," have attacked anti-aircraft sites and other military installations. And there have been troubling reports of civilian casualties. What is our policy in Iraq—just to keep attacking military bases? And to what end? Whenever our country employs military force, Christians have a duty to ask whether the use of that force meets biblical standards. I for one have begun to have serious doubts about a policy that seems to be wandering aimlessly. The suffering of the Iraqi civilians has been brought forcefully to our attention in the lead editorial of the current issue of Christianity Today. The editors describe what is happening as "Iraq's silent holocaust." Five thousand children die each month from malnutrition and disease as a direct result of the sanctions. And it should be noted that Iraq's Christian churches are suffering terribly as well. At the same time, Saddam Hussein is a madman and a menace to world peace. Where do Christians find guidance in judging what appears to be an intractable dilemma? We turn first to St. Augustine, who set forth a theory of what constitutes a just war, which has guided the church for centuries in determining when and how military power should be employed. The just war theory teaches that war must be declared by proper authority, recognizing that government is God's ordained instrument to preserve order. But second, Augustine teaches that the cause must be just, that is, to stop injustice. Clearly, this was the case during the Gulf War eight years ago in resisting aggression against Kuwait. But it's not enough for the cause to be just. The means of fighting the war must be just, as well. We must have a reasonable chance of succeeding, have a clear set of objectives, and the means chosen for waging war must be proportionate—that is, not excessive. And every effort must be taken to avoid civilian casualties. As we examine what is happening in Iraq today in light of these criteria, serious questions arise. Is there a clear set of objectives, or are we simply bombing missile sites haphazardly? Will containment work—that is, end the threat? Or are we simply starving Iraqi civilians? Is there a reasonable chance of success—or are we merely flexing military muscle? And how does our present policy deal with Saddam Hussein? With the U.N. inspectors gone, there's nothing to stop him from building weapons of mass destruction and threatening his neighbors. Occasional bombing, even sanctions, aren't stopping that. Tragically, our current policy lacks both a specific goal and a chance of success. And meanwhile, American lives are being put in peril along with Iraqi civilians. This state of affairs cannot be squared with the just war theory. If we are really convinced Saddam Hussein poses a clear and present danger to his neighbors, we ought to make his removal our clearly stated objective and look for ways to achieve that goal with a minimum loss of human life. There are no easy answers and I recognize good people will disagree over how to deal with Iraq. But the time has come for Christians to probe the moral issues involved—and to bring a moral perspective to a national debate.


Chuck Colson



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