War, Peace and a Civilization of Love

Air Force Senior Airman Jesse Hanson's photo: Florida National Guardsmen loading water into an Army Chinook helicopter. Fort Myers, Florida, responding to Hurricane Ian. (October 3, 2022) From DOD, used w/o permission.
(Florida National Guard sending water to Hurricane Ian survivors. (October 3, 2022))

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. In my country, it’s a time to remember folks who have served in America’s military.

Today I’ll talk about why countries have military forces, and why I think it’s a good idea. Even though I don’t like war.

Movie poster: 'The Fearless Vampire Killers' (ca. 1967) via allmovie.com, used w/o permission.In a nearly-ideal world, the ninth-most populous nation’s leader would not have his troops invade one of that country’s neighbors, saying that he’s hunting Nazis.

After which the troops kill random civilians, while having mixed success against locals who could shoot back.

It sounds like the plot for an edgy comedy.

Maybe someone’s already writing a screenplay for “The Fearless Nazi Killers.”

Depending on the producers, it might be an over-the-top comedy. Or a dead-serious propaganda film for Mother Russia.

But, as I keep saying, we don’t live in an ideal world. Or even a nearly-ideal one.

Wars have been going on for decades in places like Afghanistan, Colombia, Jammu and Kashmir, Myanmar, and Papua.

Then there’s the “Mexican drug war.”1 Whether it’s technically a “war,” that I don’t know.

Again, I don’t like war. It breaks things and kills people.

But I’d make a terrible pacifist, since I realize that sometimes war is not the worst option.

This may take a little explaining.

Societal Mores and a Tin Soldier

Excerpt from 'Mama's Girls,' Chick Publications. ((2012)Currently out of print, retrieved September 9, 2021)
Excerpt from ‘Mamma’s Girls:’ Islam, Catholicism and other Satanic plots. (2012)

Brian H. Gill's 'Drop It' poster. (1960s, low-rez image 2011)My teen years and the 1960s overlap.

I wasn’t the craziest of ‘those crazy kids,’ but I wasn’t a great fan of that era’s establishment, either. On the other hand, I wasn’t conventionally unconventional.

Despite ample opportunities for jumping on assorted pacifist bandwagons, and a growing contempt for those who apparently believed that God agreed with them about rock music, Catholicism, communism and other Satanic plots — I somehow realized that the Indochina involvement was not the only armed conflict in humanity’s long story.2

I also became thoroughly fed up with what looked like societal mores:

“…Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven,
You can justify it in the end….”
(“One Tin Soldier,” Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter. (first recorded 1969 by The Original Caste))

Happily, I realized that there was more to religion than my area’s frothing radio preachers, kept trying to make sense of faith and life: and eventually became a Catholic. And that’s another topic.

Now, about doing something “in the name of heaven” and justifying it “in the end.”

Even if I really believe that doing something bad will produce good results, ‘I meant well’ doesn’t make intrinsically disordered behavior okay: “…The end does not justify the means….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1753)

Conscience and Conflict
Navy Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jim Watson's photo: World Trade Center rubble and fires. (September 14, 2001)
New York City’s Word Trade Center rubble and fires after the 9/11 attack. (September 14, 2001)

Another point or two, before I wade into the whys and wherefores of valuing human life, but not thinking that we should beat our swords into plowshares. Not all of them, at any rate, and certainly not now.

First, what I mean by “pacifist” in today’s context:

  • “A pacifist is someone who believes that violence is wrong and refuses to take part in wars.” (Collins English Dictionary)
  • “A person who believes in pacifism or is opposed to war or to violence of any kind.” (Dictionary.com)

That’s a narrow definition. But I figure some folks are “pacifists” in that sense.

Finally, before talking about plowshares and principles, how I see conscience and conflict.

Some folks sincerely believe that they must not bear arms. For this reason, authorities should respect their conscience and not force them into fights. But conscientious objectors should still serve the human community. (Catechism, 2311)

Again, I’d make a terrible pacifist, since I don’t think that military force is always wrong.

But I appreciate sincerely dedicated pacifists. And I think they will prosper: as long as there are non-pacifists protecting them.

Living in a Less-Than-Ideal World

U. S. Department of Defense photo: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, Washington, D.C., near Constitution Gardens on the National Mall; dedicated November 11, 1982, Veterans Day.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington Monument.

“He shall judge between the nations,
and set terms for many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.”
(Isaiah 2:4)

I think Isaiah had the right idea. And that he was talking about conditions “in days to come,” when the mess we’re in has been sorted out. Beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, metaphorically, is a good idea. But we’re not there yet.

And meanwhile, we’re living in a less-than-ideal world.

On the ‘up’ side, the rules I should live by are simple.

I should love God, love my neighbor, and see everybody as my neighbor. “Everybody” means everybody: no exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism, 1789)

That’s it: love God, love my neighbor. Those two rules are “…the whole law and the prophets….” (Matthew 22:40)

It’s simple, and very hard to do. But it’s still a good idea.

Explaining how ‘love God, love my neighbor’ applies to living in today’s world gets a tad complicated.

Staying Alive, or Not
Image collage from BBC News, Maxar, Viktoriia: frames from video recorded in Bucha, Ukraine, on April 1, 2022; images taken by Maxar satellite of the same area on March 19, 2022, when Russian forces still held Bucha. (April 11, 2022)
Bodies on a Bucha street: during and after Russian occupation. (BBC News (April 11, 2022))

Human life is precious. Every person’s life. Each person’s life. That’s because human life is sacred. We’re made “in the image of God.” (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 2258, 2261, 2268-2283, 2319)

Each of us has equal dignity. No matter where we live or how we act. Respecting “the transcendent dignity of man” may be hard, but it’s part of my faith. So is doing what’s good while avoiding what’s evil. (Catechism, 360, 1700-1706, 1928-1942)

Here’s where it gets complicated.

Everyone’s life matters. But some of us don’t act as if everyone’s life matters.

Everyone’s life matters, anyway. Including mine. So valuing my own life is a good idea.

But suppose someone is trying to kill me? That person’s life matters, too.

I’m a Catholic, so I must value my own life and value my hypothetical attacker’s life.

Maybe I could defend myself by avoiding the attack or stopping it without killing my hypothetical attacker.

But suppose non-lethal prevention isn’t possible? Do I devalue my own life and let myself be killed?

In this hypothetical situation, defending myself is okay. Even if doing so results in my hypothetical attacker’s death. If my intent was defending myself, using the least force possible, and that my attacker’s death was unavoidable in the circumstances. (Catechism, 2258, 2263-2269; “Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, II-II,64,7)

The same principle applies to groups of people.

Legitimate Defense
A frame from Ukraine's National News Agency's video showing aftermath of Russia's liberation of Bucha. (April 3, 2022) Ukrinform TV, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.
Ukrainians, liberated by Russian troops in Bucha, Ukraine. (April 2022)

War Department, Office of the Chief Signal Officer's photo: Ruins of Richmond, Virginia; detail. (1865) U. S. Archives, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.Avoiding war is a good idea. But sometimes the only other option is letting innocent folks get killed. (Catechism, 1909, 2263-2269, 2307-2317)

This idea of double effect, where preserving my life or the lives of others is an intended result but the death of the attacker is not, is “legitimate defense.” (Catechism, 2263, 2265)

I could slap the “legitimate defense” label on a bad idea.

But that wouldn’t make our idea of double effect a bad idea. Saying ‘I thought he was going to hit me, so I hit him back first’ would be an example of how we’re living with consequences of a really, really bad decision made by the first of us.3

“…Till the War-Drum Throbb’d No Longer….”

Brian H. Gill's image: 'Some of Us Got Off the Planet in Time.' (2016) Poster available on DeviantArt.
My “Some of Us Got Off the Planet in Time” poster. (2016)

I first read this bit of Tennyson during my teens:

“…For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be….

“…Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

“There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law….”
(“Locksley Hall,” Alfred Lord Tennyson (1842) via Cummings Study Guide)

It’s still among my favorite poetic excerpts. Although I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for just how much work is still needed, before we build a close approximation to “the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.”

And I’ve long since realized that even then, it won’t be an ideal solution. Although I suspect my fictional Otha Sisk may be overly pessimistic.

I’ll wrap up this week’s ‘Discursive Detour’ by looking back at what popes and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said about an idea that I think makes sense. Even though implementing it won’t be easy.

But first, a few places that aren’t war zones.

Occasionally Getting Something Right
Danijel Mihajlovic's photo: Parkland, artificial Super Trees and the Marina Bay Sands luxury hotel in Singapore's Gardens by the Bay. (2019) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.
Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. (2019)

“…O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!…”
(“America the Beautiful,” Katharine Lee Bates, 1911 version, via Wikipedia)

Charles Dudley Arnold's photo of Chicago Expo 1893; Court of Honor, Columbia fountain.Cities like Kyoto, Singapore. San Francisco and Toronto get on “world’s most livable” 0r “world’s best” lists because they fit some outfit’s criteria.

Some places, like San Francisco and Singapore, show up on more than one list.

“I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” but I realize that the city has problems.

That won’t keep me from appreciating what folks there and elsewhere have gotten right.

Or, for that matter, utopian cities that either didn’t work or never got started.4

Building the Civilization of Love and Peace
Leonard G.'s photo: 'California Academy of Sciences beyond the Concourse plaza, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California.' Taken from the de Young Museum's tower. (August 28, 2008) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California (2008)

“When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars…
“…Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions…”
(“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In;” Medly from “Hair;” James Rado, Gerome Ragni; Galt MacDermot (1967))

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught…”
(“You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” from “South Pacific” Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II (1958))

Curing humanity’s ills will take more than musicals like “South Pacific” and “Hair.” But I see hope in their popularity.

I think many of us are learning that humanity is “us,” not “us and dangerous foreigners.” Granted, some neighbors don’t act neighborly. But I think building the “civilization of love” outlined by popes makes sense anyway.5

Which reminds me. The sort of “love” I’m talking about here isn’t that warm fuzzy feeling I experience when seeing kittens or thinking about my family: sometimes.

Love is an emotion: an attraction to what is good. It can cause desire for that which is good but not here; and encourage hope, seeing a good which is possible but not present. Love is also an act of will: a decision to help another person. (Catechism, 1765-1766)

LOVE: See Charity”

CHARITY: The theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (1822)”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

Like charity, this sort of love is something we do. Not necessarily something we feel. (Catechism, 1766, 1822-1828)

That sort of love doesn’t come easy, at least not to me.

But it’s a good idea. So are values like justice, and acts of charity; along with respecting humanity’s “transcendent dignity.” Working toward a society where justice, charity and respect are the norm starts in me, with an ongoing “inner conversion.” (Catechism, 1886-1889, 1928-1942, 2419-2442)

Like I said, that won’t come easy. But it’s a good idea, anyway.

“…The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”
(“To the United Nations Organization,” Pope St. John Paul II (October 5, 1995))

I think building the civilization of love makes sense, even though I think it will take generations, centuries, of hard work, slow progress and momentary disappointments.

More likely, we’ll still be at it millennia from now. Sifting through humanity’s unresolved issues, accumulated over uncounted ages, is a very long-haul project.

But I think Pope St. Paul VI is right. We can do this.

“…Consequently, love is also the loftiest and most noble form of relationship possible between human beings. Love must thus enliven every sector of human life and extend to the international order. Only a humanity in which there reigns the “civilization of love” will be able to enjoy authentic and lasting peace’….”[quoting from “Message for the 2004 World Day of Peace,” Pope St. John Paul II]
“Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” Conclusion, For a Civilization of Love; Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (2004)

“…As such, dialogue is a privileged means for building the civilization of love and peace that my revered predecessor Pope Paul VI indicated as the ideal to inspire cultural, social, political and economic life in our time. At the beginning of the Third Millennium, it is urgent that the path of dialogue be proposed once again to a world marked by excessive conflict and violence, a world at times discouraged and incapable of seeing signs of hope and peace….”
(“Dialog between Cultures for a Civilization of Love and Peace,” Pope St. John Paul II; World Day of Peace (January 1, 2001)

“…Peace is no dream, no utopia, no illusion. Nor is it a labour of Sisyphus. No, Peace can be prolonged and strengthened. Peace can write the finest pages of history, inscribing them not only with the magnificence of power and glory but also with the greater magnificence of human virtue, people’s goodness, collective prosperity, and true civilization: the civilization of love.
“Is Peace possible? Yes, it is. It must be. But let us be sincere: Peace, as we have already said, is a duty and is possible, but it is so only with the concourse of many and not easy conditions. We are aware that to discuss the conditions for Peace is a very long and very difficult task.…”
(“If You Want Peace, Defend Life,” For the Celebration of the Day of Peace January 1, 1977, Pope St. Paul VI (December 8, 1976) [emphasis mine])

Now, the usual links:

1 ‘The Fearless Nazi Killers,’ genocide; tomayto, tomahto; current armed conflicts:

2 Remembering the 1960s:

3 Living with consequences and related ideas, as I see it:

CONCUPISCENCE: Human appetites or desires which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism, and which produce an inclination to sin (1264, 1426, 2515).”

ORIGINAL SIN: The sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God, choosing to follow their own will rather than God’s will. As a consequence they lost the grace of original holiness, and became subject to the law of death; sin became universally present in the world. Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, original sin describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the ‘new Adam,’ came to redeem us (396-412).”

SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854).”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

4 Pleasant, but not perfect, places; and two would-be utopias:

5 Songs, musicals and a good idea:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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3 Responses to War, Peace and a Civilization of Love

  1. Again, I feel like I’m looking at what I wanted to see more from the university classes I took. But again, we live in a less than ideal world. Yet, God bothers to lovingly clash with how we fools make pieces of His Creation less than ideal, even living with us and dying for us here on earth. We find it hard to believe that that is Love, but no matter what we believe, He is. I guess my belief in that is something that powers my ability to have respect even for my fellow fools I dislike even as I feel the need to go rough and tough about things here and there. And again, I call that a miracle, especially with how much easier it is to believe in pride.

    • Indeed. Love – the act of will, not the fuzzy emotion – is not always easy. Sometimes it is very hard to do.

      But – miracles happen. I am convinced that God loves us – all of us – and I am also convinced that there is a point to what we do. Points, and that’s another topic.

      Thanks for responding. I’m coming at this cluster of topics from another angle this week. That’s the plan, at any rate.

Thanks for taking time to comment!