Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11, Just War, and 'Death to Mickey Mouse'

I've said this before: I think war is not nice. Things get broken, and people get killed. I also think that sometimes war is preferable to the alternative.

The first belief doesn't make me a pacifist, the second doesn't make me a warmonger. As if that's not confusing enough, I'm not a conservative or a liberal either. And I'm certainly not "moderate." I'm a Catholic.1

Oh, for the Will-Be that Was

I also think it would be nice if someone could have called 911 back in 2001: after which Osama bin Laden would have been arrested, tried, and kept from causing more trouble.

Or, better yet, that a sorehead with religious quirks would have learned to be an annoyance at the local bar or its equivalent - not the mastermind of the largest mass murder America has seen.

I remember the trailing edge of an era when Progress and Science were expected to solve all our problems. I think that's about as reasonable as the currently-fashionable notion that Progress and Science will kill us all - plus all the cute animals.

The Parliament of Man - - -

One of the overly-optimistic predictions I remember is that the United Nations was that socio-political El Dorado we'd read about in speculative fiction: a wise, benevolent, powerful world government on a par with the Science Council of Krypton. The reality is - much more realistic.

I've quoted Tennyson before:
"...We're a very long way from having an 'international authority with the necessary competence and power' to simply arrest someone like Saddam Hussein. (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 go back to the 'good old days' that led to the 'war to end all wars' - and the war after that one...."
(June 16, 2011)
This doesn't mean that I "trust" the United Nations. I don't assume that whatever comes out of the U.N. is right. I do think that, along with outfits like the United States Congress and the alleged national government of Somalia, it's what we have to work with.

Moving on.

'What if They Had a War, and Nobody Came?'

I was one of those 'crazy college kids' in the '70s, and had already created a sort of 'peace poster' in high school. It was no more conventional than my attitudes at the time: and that's another topic.

Then, as now, I thought that war is not nice; and that peace is nice. I also thought that we live in a world where not everybody is nice.

Which is why why I have a great deal of respect for serious, dedicated, pacifists: and think that they will prosper as long as there are non-pacifists to protect them.

Living in the Real World

Like it or not, there are times when folks whose chief offense is existing get killed by the world's not-nice people.

When that happens, a decision has to be made by the secular authority responsible for protecting the victims. Over-simplifying the matter, the choices are often:
  • Hope that the not-nice people will decide to start being nice
  • Take measures to prevent them from being not-nice again
Maybe it sounds silly, put that way: but that's the gist of the decision facing an American president 10 years ago today.

Just War: It's Not an Oxymoron

The Catholic Church has been dealing with the real world for almost two millennia. Our basic instructions are pretty simple, like:
When our neighbor is convinced we work for Satan, and has killed some of our other neighbors? That's when those simple instructions get anything but simple.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that the Catholic Church has been collecting and analyzing what some of the world's top minds thought about applying Christian teaching to the real world: for about two thousand years now.

We've got a method for sorting out what to do when a maniac comes roaring over the horizon. Or, as in the case of the 9/11 attack, has already arrived.

When the targets form a large group of people, like a nation, the principles of 'just war' apply. I've been over this before:
"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)
That's a fairly straightforward list of criteria. The trick is applying them in a specific situation. I'm profoundly glad that I'm not one of "those who have responsibility for the common good." I have about as much responsibility as I can handle, being a husband, father, citizen, and some guy with a blog.

Is Defending Ourselves Okay?

I'm a citizen in a country where folks at my level can have a measure of influence in national affairs. And my faith won't let me be 'too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good.' (Catechism, 2246) Which is why I try to figure out what a responsible position would be on issues, and hope I find a candidate with more than a snowball's chance in Hell of supporting those positions, if elected.

I've gone over the idea of 'just war' before, in connection with supporting folks in Libya who'd gotten fed up with the Colonel. (March 22, 2011)

Today, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, I'm doing the same for the war on terror as a whole.

Is the war on terror a 'just war?' Here's my take, point by point:
  • "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"
      • The 3,000 or so folks killed September 11, 2011 are a tiny fraction of Earth's population
        • Some think they deserved to be killed2
    • But dead is dead
      • It doesn't get much more "lasting, grave and certain" than that
    • Al Qaeda and other like-minded groups give no sign that they're ready to stop killing folks why don't agree with them
      • This makes them a threat to just about everybody
  • "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 tomorrow Al Qaeda will have a leader who says it was all a big mistake
        • And start handing out love beads
        • Possible, yes
          • Likely, no
      • Ignoring terrorists, and 'diplomatic solutions,' have been tried
        • Since the '70s3
          • With at-best-limited success
      • Maybe Al Qaeda would stop killing people if an American president
        • Asked very nicely
        • Apologized for letting Americans
          • Drink beer
          • Wear trousers
          • Drive cars
            • Applies to women
          • Be insufficiently Islamic
  • "there must be serious prospects of success;"
    • On one side we've got religious fanatics
      • Who apparently want to keep thing just the way they were
        • At least several centuries back
        • In a sort of ancient backwater
          • Where things hadn't changed much in about 4,000 years4
    • On the other side we've got just about everybody else
      • Those whose ancestors helped make today's world
      • Those whose homelands didn't quite keep up
        • But who see advantages in getting up to speed5
    • The side with 'everybody else' has
      • Economic resources that are
        • Vast
        • Diversified
      • Generations of experience in settling differences
        • Through negotiation
          • Not beheading
        • Through armed force
          • Which encourages negotiation
    • I think 'everybody else' stands a very good chance of succeeding
      • Not swiftly
      • Not easily
      • But eventually
  • "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 do not possess
        • Which reminds me of the nature of knowledge
          • And other topics
      • Divination, by the way, is not an option for a Catholic (Catechism, 2115)
    • I think Iraq is a success story of sorts
      • The American-led coalition6 did some damage
        • But succeeded at least in part because Iraqis noticed who was
          • Helping them
          • Beheading them7
    • I also think that folks will decide getting beheaded by religious fanatics isn't such a good idea, after all
      • After they learn what the 'Satanic' West is really like
So, is the war on terror a "just war?"

I think it is. So far, anyway. Using armed force - carefully - to delay the next massive terrorist attack will continue to be justified. Provided that American leaders and their counterparts elsewhere remember what the stakes are - and why so many Iraqis decided to turn on their 'protectors.'

Armed Force: Necessary, But Not the Whole Solution

I do not think armed force is what will finally end the situation that produced Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Al Shabaab, and all the rest. But I do think it'll be needed to keep terrorists from 'protecting' their victims from freedom, prosperity, and Mickey Mouse cartoons.8

Vengeance, Forgiveness, Justice

Nobody I know was killed in the 9/11 attacks. Many of those who did lose children, parents, relatives, and friends 10 years ago are still hurting. Which is why forgiveness is important.

This is getting me into a topic for another post - but a sort of bottom line is that forgiveness isn't for the sake of whoever wronged me: it's for my benefit.

Also, "forgiving" isn't "excusing." My faith doesn't require me to be stupid. Or mentally blind.

Finally, justice is a virtue. Vengeance is strictly God's business.9

Related posts:
The 10th anniversary of 9/11, more posts:

1 The Catholic Church has been around for about two thousand years. It didn't conform to the standards of the Roman Empire. We're required to follow what our Lord taught us, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, following to the best of our ability the wisdom of the Father.

It's not our business to cater to the preferences of whatever empire or nation is on top of the heap in the century we're in. I've been over this before:
2 I don't think the folks in New York City's World Trade Center deserved to be killed, but I'm not on the same page as the establishment's lunatic fringe.

I also think it's important to remember that the loudest, craziest, members of a group - may not be typical of the group. Not all 'establishment types' in the '60s were commie-hunting maniacs; not everybody who's with the new establishment are liberal nut jobs. Every largish group seems to have its lunatic fringe, though:
3 The 9/11 attack wasn't the first time that Islamic crazies killed 'the enemy.' What makes it stand out is the scale, and that September 11, 2001, is when an American leader decided that firm action was needed.

Victims of terrorism haven't just been Americans:
  • 1972, September 5, Munich Olympic Games. Palestinian terrorists kill 11 Israeli athletes.
  • 1979, November 4, Teheran. Ayatollah Khomeini supporters take over U.S. embassy. Fifty-three U.S. diplomats held hostage until 1981.
  • 1983, April 18, Beirut. Islamic Jihad truck bomb hits U.S. Embassy. 63 dead.
  • 1983, October 23, Beirut. Hezbollah truck bomb hits U.S. Marines barracks. 241 dead.
  • 1984, December 4, Kuwait Airlines. Hijackers divert flight 221 to Tehran. 2 dead.
  • 1985, June 14, TWA flight. Hijackers divert flight 847 to Beirut. 1 dead (U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, dumped on the airport tarmac).
  • 1985, October 7, cruise ship Achille Lauro. 69-year-old American Leon Klinghoffer and his wheelchair dumped overboard.
  • 1987, September 5, Pan Am. Abu Nidal hijacks flight 73 in Pakistan. 20 dead.
  • 1988, December 21, Pan Am. Libyan terrorists allegedly blow up flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, 259 dead.
  • 1990, November 5, New York City. A group including Ramzi Yousef kills Jewish Defense League leader Rabbi Meir Kahane
  • 1994, March 1, Brooklyn. Rashid Bas attacks a van transporting yeshiva students. 1 dead.
  • 1996, June 25, Dhahran area, Saudi Arabia. Unknown persons hit Khobar Towers with truck-bomb. 19 dead.
  • 1998, August 7, Kenya, Tanzania. Unknown persons hit U.S. embassies with car bombls. 291 dead.
  • 1993, February 26, New York. An al-Qaeda-financed group including Mohammed Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmud Abouhalima and Ahmad Ajaj, hit the Twin Towers with car bomb. 6 dead. "The blind sheik," Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, masterminded the bombing.
  • 2000, October 12, Yemen. Al-Qaeda may be responsible for attack on USS Cole. 17 dead.
  • 2001, September 11, New York City; Arlington County; Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Al-Qaeda affiliates hijack airliners, destroy Twin Towers, damage Pentagon. Fourth airliner brought down in Somerset County field. 2,974 dead.
    (Source: and BBC.)
    (Previously posted in Another War-on-Terror Blog (August 5, 2007))
4 I'm an American. As I've explained to my kids, we're a twitchy lot. Some of us pine for the 'good old days,' but for the most part we can't seem to stop trying to make things better. And succeeding a remarkable fraction of the time.

Here in America, a building that's more than a few decades old is - really old. We've got pretty much the same political system we had two centuries back, but we started tweaking it practically from the get-go.

Most folks in the Middle East are descendants of Abram's neighbors - and Abram/Abraham. Abram changed his name to Abraham, was a central figure in a domestic dispute we're still dealing with, and the rest of the world changed.

Somewhere between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Viking Era, the Middle East dropped out of the world's cultural mainstream. And stayed there, until maybe a hundred years ago.

My ancestors had a chance to adapt to the last thousand or so years of change gradually. Most folks in the Middle East are going through a steep learning curve just now:
"...From legal action taken against a 'blasphemous' teddy bear, to outlawing the color red: I think there's evidence that many folks living in places like Sudan and Saudi Arabia are dealing, none too calmly, with a world that they simply don't understand.

Or like.

As I've said before: just a few generations back, many folks had been living in a culture which hadn't changed all that much since the days before Abraham moved out of Ur. Then they were dragged across thousands of years of change, from a culture of burqas and honor killings to a world of bikinis, Budweiser and dog food commercials.

No wonder some went a bit nuts....
(Another War-on-Terror Blog (October 21, 2010))
I've posted about this before, mostly in another blog:
5 Bear with me, please. This story really does connect with the idea that folks outside the 'civilized world' can be at least as sensible as urban twits.

Decades back, I watched a documentary about folks who had been living in the stone age until very recently: and still were, for the most part. They'd made contact after it became illegal - and socially unacceptable - to simply kill 'natives' and take whatever they'd had.

As a result, they were making a little money by trading access to - I think it was gold - for negotiable currency. The elders, at least, understood the value of money, and enough about how business worked to know that they were being cheated.

Remember: These folks aren't 19th-century 'primitives,' or 'natives.' They're people who weren't involved in the last few thousand years' developments. Their technology and culture may be out of date: but they can learn.

The elders tried taking their case to court: and found out that since their agreement with the outsider was an oral contract, it was their word against his. So they used some of their money to buy a battery-operated camcorder. And recorded their next meeting with the outsider.

Then, when they were shortchanged - again - they went back to court. With the videotaped evidence. And won.

As the elder explained, 'we like our old ways and customs. We also like camcorders.'

6 It's been quite a while since the "diabolical" Bush was "going it alone" in a "unilateral" action against Saddam Hussein. I suspect that's because it was fairly easy to find out just how many nations were involved in that "unilateral action:"
7 The Anbar Awakening was the (comparatively) high-profile instance in Iraq, of a sort of reality check Iraqis had, when 'foreign aggressors' invaded their country. Iraqis are no more 19th-century 'natives' than the folks who like camcorders. (footnote 5 above) It didn't take folks in Iraq long to notice that the 'Satanic' invaders were fixing an infrastructure that Saddam Hussein had neglected: and trying to stop the 'lions of Islam' from beheading their neighbors.

After that, Al Qaeda didn't have quite so much public support.

The same strategy was used in Afghanistan:
8 Saudi Arabia is, sadly, a sort of blooper reel among the world's wealthier nations. It would be funny, except they occasionally kill people:
9 Justice is something we can - and must - handle. It's one of the cardinal virtues. (Catechism, 1805)

Vengeance is strictly off-limits for us:
"Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' Rather, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.' Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good."
(Romans 12:19-21)

"We know the one who said: 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay,' and again: 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
(Hebrews 10:3031)

"The vengeful will suffer the LORD'S vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Should a man nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the LORD? Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows, yet seek pardon for his own sins? If he who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins?"
(Sirach 28:1-5)


Left-footer said...

•"there must be serious prospects of success;

At the risk of being anathematised as a heretic, I have serious problems with the above quotation from the Cathechism, as it indicates no time scale, and requires superhuman powers of prediction to evaluate the "serious prospects of success".

It puts anti-German resistance in the last war in a very poor light, but if it saved one life, or one woman from a German brothel, it was a noble act.

I would willingly wipe out an entire enemy army to save one innocent life, and confess only any pleasure I had had in so doing. So much for proportionality.

It seems that St Joan of Arc, Jan Soboieski III, and Don John of Austria, would now be considered bad Catholics.

Not for me!

Brigid said...

Stutter: "Which is why why I have"

Plural agreement: "When the targets are a large group"

Wrong consonant: "abilities that living human beings to not possess"

The? "descendants of the Abram's neighbors."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...


Interesting points - but I'd like to point out a few things.

First, I think that - using the 'just war' criteria - the war on terror is a just war. Provided that the coalition continues to behave as we have so far.

Second, because the idea that *any* war can be justified is so radically unlike what America's establishment thinks is real - I put together that point-by-point discussion of why I think the war is justified.

Now, since you brought up some interesting points - I'll ramble for a bit.

The Catechism gives no time scale - which gives folks who would prefer to wait for everything to blow over an opportunity to demand absolute, positive, unequivocal proof that success is assured and failure impossible.

That doesn't happen. Not in this world, not with human beings.

I've gotten the impression that the Church, after more than 19 centuries of continuous operation, understands the abilities and limitations of humanity.

I also have seen no evidence that Church teachings assume any human being to have 'powers and abilities beyond those of mortal man.'

Seriously? I think it's a huge mistake to think that the Catholic Church is on the same page as Code Pink and Professor Ward Churchill (

Apart from historical research, and discovering who'd been running the Church since Peter got the job, a big reason I was comfortable with joining the Catholic Church was that the rules and assumptions behind the rules were reasonable. And took into account what we all deal with in the real world.

One of the distressing points of reality is that - we don't know everything, all the time.

A parallel situation to the 'success' part of the just war doctrine may be 'reasonable doubt' in American law. Some folks here think that means that a jury can't convict, if there's even the vaguest, wildly-improbable, grotesquely unlikely, against-all-reason possibility that the defendant is innocent.

That, I've been told, isn't the way it's supposed to work. 'Reasonable doubt' is supposed to be - reasonable. The same sort of mental stink test you'd use to determine whether or not someone's claim to be on fire was true: if you don't see flames or smoke, if the person isn't any warmer than you'd expect, and you can detect no odor suggestive of combustion - he's not on fire.

Brian H. Gill said...


Sorry about the long delay in responding.

Life has been occurring at an alarming rate, here in my part of central Minnesota.

Brian H. Gill said...


Uff da. This one was rich in glitches. Found, fixed - and thanks!

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

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.