Just War, Terror, and Preemption

During my days working in the White House, I often came home feeling nauseated after meetings about national security. You'd feel that way, too, if you'd spent the afternoon hearing about possible nuclear attacks, first-strike survivability, and the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which shaped every decision we made. I used to come home and tell Patty, "I don't know if I can take this, because we are making decisions that could, by one miscalculation, obliterate this country!" Now consider: The entire MAD policy assumed that leaders on both sides of the Cold War -- the Americans and the Soviets -- were reasonable, rational people. Today it's a totally different ballgame. With Islamic fanatics, you don't assume that they are rational. You assume, based on their behavior, that they're irrational -- that if they get their hands on nuclear weapons, they're willing to use them. I have come to the sobering conclusion that we are in greater danger of a nuclear strike today than we were during the Cold War. That being the case, can we really wait until an attack to go after the terrorists who perpetrate it? Or do we have to, instead, rethink the whole spirit of Just War arguments, accepting that preemption is the only humane and just solution in an age of terror to accomplish what the Just War doctrine proposes? Today we are dealing with an irrational enemy who knows it cannot conquer us, but will do everything in its power to destabilize us. Can we wait until the attacks -- perhaps killing tens of thousands -- or should we seek them out and destroy them before they have a chance to destroy us? This is a huge debate which defies easy answers. The candidates this year are expressing radically different views. Some candidates believe in seeking out the terrorists wherever they hide, and others prefer treating terrorist acts like criminal acts that ought to be dealt with in a "law and order" kind of way. Christians have to decide which view makes more sense. We need to ask ourselves if we should accept the thesis of Samuel Huntington of Harvard, who has said that we are in a new kind of conflict. From the time of the Russian Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall, most conflicts centered on ideology -- communism versus democracy -- but today the great divisions are cultural. The world is divided not so much by geographical boundaries as by differences in ultimate beliefs -- that is, divided by worldviews. The radical Islamic worldview is buttressed by thousands of terrorist cells spread throughout the Islamic world, agitating for violence and training for terror attacks. And as World magazine reported last week, U.S. forces in Iraq have seized intelligence documents revealing that Saddam Hussein collaborated with and supported Islamic terror leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We need to think seriously about these issues before we go to the polls on Tuesday. Yes, fighting in places like Iraq and Afghanistan is messy, and getting to the source of terror is long and even messier. But with weapons of mass destruction at large and our national security at stake, we may not have any other options. Take a look at where all the candidates who are running for every federal office stand, and soberly ask who has the right strategy and record to protect our country. For further reading and information: Mindy Belz, "Unmasked men," World, 16 October 2004. Priya Abraham, "Mideast meets Midwest," World, 23 October 2004. Christopher Hitchens, "In Front of Your Nose: Yes, Saddam did have terrorist connections.Slate, 25 October 2004. Victor Davis Hanson, "Country at a Crossroads," National Review Online, 27 October 2004. "Iraq Amnesia," Wall Street Journal, 8 October 2004. William Kristol, "The Mother of All Flip-Flops," Weekly Standard, 26 October 2004. Charles W. Colson, "Finishing the Job," BreakPoint WorldView, November 2003. See Chuck Colson's "Top Ten Moral Issues Facing America." Call 1-877-322-5527 to request the BreakPoint CD "Setting Your Moral Compass," in which BreakPoint addresses the key moral issues of our day. Learn more about just war doctrine. Robert P. George, "Can Preemptive Military Action in Iraq Be Justified?BreakPoint WorldView, November 2002.
  1. Budziszewski, "Just War Revisited," BreakPoint Online, 17 December 2002.
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon and Schuster, 1998).


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary