Doing Justice in a Time of War

    As the House passed a resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq, representatives and senators from both sides of the aisle had begun lining up behind the president. In these waning days of the 107th Congress, members are showing real mettle in facing the enemy. Some Christians, however, have expressed grave reservations about the justice of war with Iraq. This includes the U.S. Catholic Bishops, the National Capitol Presbytery, Pope John Paul II, the Archbishop of Canterbury designate Rowan Williams, and the General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches. I think they are all taking too narrow a position on just war. That's why, along with Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and others, I've signed a letter encouraging the president in a just war against Iraq. A preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein is both just and necessary. Some, I suspect, allow their thinking to be unduly influenced by the Cold War. The world was kept in relative peace for four decades by a nuclear checkmate called Mutual Assured Destruction -- both sides holding one another's cities hostage. Neither side dared attack for fear of the hugely destructive retaliatory strike. With civilians deliberately targeted, however, preemption was unthinkable. But before the Cold War, it was different. Proponents of what's called "anticipatory self-defense" frequently cite a famous precedent. During Colonial days, the British attacked across the Niagara to prevent an invasion by what were considered dangerous Irish revolutionaries in Canada. And no less a Christian eminence than Sir Thomas More wrote, "If any foreign prince takes up arms and prepares to invade their land, they immediately attack him in full force outside their own borders." In the run up to World War II, there were those who argued that Hitler was obviously preparing to conquer the continent and should be resisted. European leaders engaged in extraordinary -- many now realize counter-productive -- diplomatic efforts to head off war. Would a preemptive strike have been justified against the Nazis when they ignored treaties and overran the Rhineland? In hindsight, the answer is clearly yes. The question of a preemptive strike on Iraq turns on facts. Saddam has denied all diplomatic approaches, mocking the United Nations and the world. If he is, as intelligence indicates, stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and acting in concert with terrorists, then he waives any claim of sovereign protection. If Saddam were to prepare a missile and get it ready for launch, the U.S. would certainly be warranted in firing in self-defense. Giving a terrorist a dirty bomb in a suitcase is no different than a missile launch. Now all of this presupposes good intelligence and the good will of American and Western leaders. I firmly believe that any American president, aware of the awesome consequences of his decision and aware of the ease with which judgments are second-guessed in a liberal democracy, will act rationally. When Thomas Aquinas wrote of the just war doctrine, he included his writings -- not under the category of justice -- but in the section under love. Remember, we believe a just war is a way to show love of neighbor -- protecting our neighbor. And in protecting innocence against Saddam Hussein, we are doing just that: exhibiting Christian love. For further information: William Bennett, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (Doubleday, 2002). Charles Colson, When Night Fell on a Different World: How Now Shall We Live?, BreakPoint, 2001. "A Fact Sheet on Just War Theory," BreakPoint Online, 3 December 2001. Read more about St. Thomas Aquinas's writings on just war doctrine from his Summa Theologica. BreakPoint commentary no. 020920, "A Matter of National Security?: Just War, Preemption, and Iraq." "Text: House Resolution Authorizing the Use of U.S. Force against Iraq," New York Times, 3 October 2002 (free registration required). "Letter to President Bush from Catholic Bishops," 13 September 2002. Paul Johnson, "Leviathan to the Rescue: The responsibility of the United States of America," National Review, 14 October 2002. Bill Sammon and Dave Boyer, "Bush wins support on Iraq," Washington Times, 3 October 2002.


Chuck Colson



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