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War can no longer be just

The most contentious criteria in the Just War Theory listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.” But it also begins to question the possibility of its own condition ever being applicable today when it says, “The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”

The Church has never agreed that it can be morally acceptable to target civilians in a military action, but has left the door ajar with the qualifying statement—unless it is accidental.

However, the nature of modern warfare would seem to negate the possibility of this having any relevance, as today, few soldiers die in campaigns, but many civilians do.

Max Born, the 1954 Nobel Laureate in Physics, pointed out that soldiers accounted for 95 per cent of deaths in World War I, but in World War II, only 52 per cent of all deaths were military personnel.

Things then changed quickly and by the Korean War in the early 1950s, the death toll showed 84 per cent civilian deaths, making it difficult to argue that they are not the primary target of hostilities.

The military euphemises civilian deaths as collateral damage, but in modern warfare it may be more accurate to use the term to describe casualties among the military. In addition, in Vietnam, many soldiers died from another euphemism—friendly fire—bullets from their own guns.

Parents naturally worry about their children if they go to a war zone, but if they are soldiers they are probably the safest people in the area.

In responding to a charge of advocating conscientious objection in Italy in 1965, Father Lorenzo Milani quoted Nikita Khrushchev as saying during the Bay of Pigs standoff in 1962 that a defensive war no longer exists.

And Father Milani added that if this is true, then nor does a just war.

He argues strongly in his defence that the Church no longer has the language or the theological concepts to support the Just War Theory and that even prior to World War II it was in grave need of development.

“At this point, I wonder if it is not merely academic for us to be discussing war in terms that were already obsolete in World War II,” the priest told the judges.

The reflections of a man like Father Milani, who died of cancer before his trial ended, are especially relevant today, as a conference held at the Vatican this week set out to show that the principles of the Just War Theory are theologically outdated in the context of war today.

It also argued that apart from being inadequate theologically, it is impossible to settle political, religious and ethnically-based disputes with violence, a thesis which is gaining increasing support.

The gathering is encouraging the Church to change the emphasis of its teaching to develop a theology of nonviolent resistance and move its teaching away from the idea of a just war to promoting a just peace.

 Father Milani’s letters and other writings have been published by the Justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong (in Chinese and English) under the title, When Obedience is no Longer a Virtue… JiM