Saturday, June 18, 2005

Pope Benedict, Modern Weaponry and Civilian Casualties

With respect to the war in Iraq, it must be recognized that Pope Benedict has offered a somewhat stronger, more explicit opinion on the war in Iraq, as documented by Michael Griffin of the Catholic Peace Fellowshiop ("A New Peace Pope"). In a May 2, 2003 interview, then Cardinal Ratzinger reiterated the Pope's appeal to conscience and Martino's question of the applicability of the Just War criteria:

Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith.

The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."

About this we can note several things. First, as with the American bishops, Ratzinger's predication of the judgement that modern warfare is "inherently unjust" on the destructive capacity of modern weaponry is not immune from criticism. Just war scholar James Turner Johnson addresses this very criticism in "Just War, As It Was and Is First Things 149 (January 2005):

The problem with this conception of gross destructiveness as inherent in modern warfare, though, is that it is a contingent judgment being made to do service as a permanent truth. By contrast to the model of the two World Wars, as well as to imagined models of global nuclear holocaust, the actual face of warfare since 1945 has been that of civil wars and regional armed conflicts. Such armed conflict has indeed been bloody, sometimes genocidal, sometimes terroristic, always characterized by violence directed toward noncombatants; yet there has been no "World War III" -- or rather, given the ubiquity of this kind of conflict, this is in fact the face of "World War III." The destructiveness of these recent wars has everything to do with the choices made by those who fight them and nothing to do with any alleged inherent destructiveness of modern weaponry. In other words, the modern-war pacifists get it wrong: their contingent judgment does not describe a permanent truth about warfare in the modern age. The morality of modern war, as of all war, depends on the moral choices of those who fight it. It is not the choice to fight that is inherently wrong, as the "presumption against war" argument has it; it is the choice to fight for immoral reasons and/or by immoral means.

As Johnson says, the actual villians here "are not states as such but regional warlards, rulers who oppress their people to maintain or expand their power, and individuals and groups who use religious or ethnic difference as a justification for oppression, torture, and genocide." Civilian casualties occur not due to indiscriminate bombing so much as the fact that they are made the direct targets "the direct targets of weapons ranging from knives to automatic rifles to suicide bombs." A case in point would be the current state of Iraq, where Islamic fundamentalists are waging a campaign of terrorism and mass-murder against the civilians of Iraq who are in a process of building their own country and democratic government. On a similar note, says Johnson:

As progressively shown in the Gulf War of 1990-91, the bombing of Serbia over the oppression of the Albanian Kosovars, the campaign in Afghanistan aimed at al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and most recently (and most fully) in the recent use of armed force to remove the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the United States, and to an important degree also the British, have channeled high technology in ways that allow war to be fought according to the actual principles of the just war jus in bello: this includes avoidance of direct, intended harm to noncombatants and avoidance of disproportionate harm in the use of otherwise justified means of war. The results, for those who care to look at them, are simply astonishing, especially by contrast to the level of destruction and the harm to noncombatant lives and property found, say, in carpet-bombing. This, too, is the face of modern war.

Today we see a new kind of confrontation. On the one hand, we see non-state actors, as well as warlords and heads of state who use relatively unsophisticated means to gain their ends by targeting, terrorizing, and killing noncombatants and, as in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers or the bombing of the Madrid trains, intentionally causing lasting property damage, civilian deaths, and widespread fear. On the other hand, we find a state that has used its intellectual and economic capital to develop weapons, tactics, strategies, and training directed toward maximizing discrimination and proportionality in the use of armed force. Both of these developments in the actual face of war need to be taken seriously and integrated into a contemporary moral assessment of war based on a recovery of the classic meaning of the just war tradition.