Tuesday, March 22, 2011

'Just War:' Unpleasant, but Not a Contradiction in Terms

Recapping what I said in the last post, I think war is not nice. Things get broken, and people die. I also think life is precious. Sacred.

And I think that keeping the boss of Libya from killing his subjects is a good idea.

Never Mind Who's in the White House

Remember, this isn't a political blog.

For what it's worth, I didn't vote for the current American president. I emphatically do not, and cannot, support many of his policies.

So much for internal American matters.

Libya, a Colonel, and Lots of Dead People

Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi has been boss of Libya since 1969. ("Libya," World Factbook, CIA (last updated March 16, 2011))

Quite a few Libyan's don't think he's a good leader. Many of them said so.

The Libyan colonel didn't like that, so he had them killed. That was, in a way, a quite natural response: I don't think most folks like being criticized.

Survivors still won't say that the colonel is dandy.

Qadhafi says he's the ruler of Libya, and has enough enforcers to back up his claim: so what business is it of anyone else which of his subjects he kills? Libya is some country off on the other side of the Atlantic anyway, and I don't know anybody there.

Remember: I don't think war is nice; and this isn't a political post.

"Just War:" During THIS Administration?!

I think that the American president may have violated some protocols. Members of Congress have been fussing about not being consulted. They may have a point, but that lot doesn't have a good record for being able to keep secrets. And that's a topic for another blog.

I also think that a serious, sober look should be taken at how this country handles national security. It isn't the 18th century any more: or the 19th; or the 20th. And that, again, is a topic for another blog.

What I'm discussing in this post is whether or not it's right to stop someone from killing people who won't say he's a good leader. Even if he's got enough enforcers to get the job done, and says he is so a good leader.

That, I think, is what we're looking at in Libya. And, for that matter, Bahrain. In my opinion. Bahrain's boss hasn't ticked off enough of his neighbors to make a coalition possible - again in my opinion - and that, yet again, is a topic for another blog.

"Just War" and Libya: Point by Point

It's not particularly hard to find a definition of the "just war" doctrine. What's hard is figuring out whether any particular circumstance fits the criteria:
"The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
  • "the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • "all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • "there must be serious prospects of success;
  • "the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
"These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the 'just war' doctrine.

"The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2309)
Whether or not acting before Qadhafi's enforcers killed the last person who wouldn't applaud the colonel was right or wrong is, I'll admit, a judgment call. Happily, one I don't have to make.

That won't stop me from thinking about it, though. Looking at the "just war" requirements:
  • "the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;"
    • I'm not sure how many dead people it takes to be "lasting, grave, and certain"
    • But dead is dead
      • It doesn't get much more "lasting, grave and certain" than that
  • "all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;"
    • This, I think, is a genuinely uncertain point
      • It's possible to say that the next U. N. resolution will convince Qadhafi to be nice
        • Or the one after that
          • Or the one after that - - -
  • "there must be serious prospects of success;"
    • Before the colonel's enforcers started wiping them out wholesale, Libya's opposition were winning
      • Without
        • A command and control center
        • Outside help
      • Some of the colonel's own forces decided to
        • Join the opposition
        • Leave Libya entirely
    • With an multinational coalition operating under a United Nations mandate?
      • Yes, I think folks who aren't on the colonel's cheering squad can win
  • "the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition."
    • This, I think, is another uncertain point
    • Not acting without certain knowledge of all possible outcomes sounds nice
      • But probably requires abilities that living human beings to not possess
        • Which brings up the nature of knowledge
          • And other topics
      • Divination, by the way, is on the 'don't do' list (Catechism, 2115)
    • My guess is that Libya could be worse off without Qadhafi
      • But not by much
      • And it seems that a fair number of Libyans are determined to oust him
        • Whether they get help or not

Can't We Let the Police Handle This?

I don't think that the death penalty is necessary in the United States. Bear with me: capital punishment connects to "just war."

My position on the death penalty emphatically does not come from feeling that rape and murder are okay. Partly, it's because I think that this country is able to restrain dangerous criminals without killing them. (October 2, 2008)

I think that, someday, maybe, there will be an "international authority with the necessary competence and power" to simply arrest someone like the Libyan colonel. (Catechism, 2308)

Until we have something like Tennyson's "Parliament of man, the Federation of the world," we'll have to make do with the United Nations. Or whatever's cobbled together after that.

I do not think that the United Nations is perfect. At all. But, for now, it's the best we've got for handling out-of-control national leaders.

And that's yet again one more topic.

Somewhat-related posts:Background:
This post is one of a series being written today:

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.