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.
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.
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)
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“…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)
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.
Or, for that matter, utopian cities that either didn’t work or never got started.4
“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:
- “Veterans Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Day“
(November 11, 2022)
- “Killing Prisoners, Valuing Human Life“
(August 27, 2022)
- “Independence Day: America and Acting Like Love Matters“
(July 4, 2022)
- “Ukraine: Invasion, Annexation, Labels, and a Good Idea“
(March 19, 2022)
- “Alabaster Cities, Fireworks, a Condo Disaster and Tears“
(July 3, 2021)
- 2021-2022 Myanmar civil war
- 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
- Afghanistan conflict (1978-present)
- Bucha massacre
- Claims of genocide of Ukrainians in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
- Colombian conflict
- Drug cartel
- Insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir
- Internal conflict in Myanmar
- List of countries and dependencies by population
- Mexican drug war
- Non-government reactions to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
- Papua conflict
- Personification of Russia
- The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Arlington National Cemetery
- “Bucha killings: Satellite image of bodies site contradicts Russian claims“
BBC News(April 11, 2022)
- “The Fearless Vampire Killers“
Synopsis by Brian J. Dillard, AllMovie.com
- tomayto, tomahto
- “My Church in Sauk Centre, Minnesota: Vandalized” (September 24, 2022)
- “The Immaculate Conception and a Legacy of Valor” (December 11, 2021)
- Sin, original sin, and the human tendency to make bad decisions; from a Catholic viewpoint —
“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)
- “The Human Drift,” Metropolis
King Champ Gillette (1894) via Cornell University Archives Web Archive and wayback.archive-it.org
- “Creating a Civilization of Love,” Christ the Servant Parish, Canton, Ohio; including remarks by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Paul VI (1970) via Christ the Servant Parish, Canton, Ohio
And see Crossing the Divide: Foundations of a Theology of Migration and Refugees,” Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., Theological Studies, Notre Dame University (2009)