Like many, I'm very uncomfortable with the current US-led military action in
Afghanistan, even though I'm now getting first-hand accounts (by e-mail)
from somebody who is involved in the cleanup in NYC. It's not a pleasant
read. In fact, even now, some six weeks after the terrorist attack, and
having seen the replay of the attack numerous times on TV, I still can't
comprehend the carnage.
Still, I can't help but having some grudging admiration for the way the
terrorists pulled this thing off, no matter how despicable their act was.
It was innovative, well-planned, and sufficiently well executed to be
considered a success. In fact, if the goal of the terrorists was to
destabilize the US and to instil fear in the hearts of the average American
and, in general, the average Western, one could argue that the terrorists
have won the battle: airlines are experiencing financial problems because
people are afraid to fly, and many US citizens are afraid to open their
mail. (even "up in Canada," fear - some would call it common sense - is
becoming apparent: I received a textbook the other day, shipped via
Greyhound, and my wife noticed that the parcel had been opened for
One may wonder what the military action in Afghanistan can accomplish.
Let's assume that bin Laden is captured, brought to the US (or the UN),
tried, convicted, and sentenced. What will this accomplish? Will this send a
message to terrorists and terrorists-wannabees that there's no future in
their line of work? I doubt it. There are apparently enough candidates to
supply a nearly endless stream of terrorists who feel that they will be
rewarded by sacrificing themselves in the "line of duty" as they see it.
Let's assume, instead, that bin Laden is killed by a guided or misguided
bomb. What will have been accomplished? He will have been turned into a
martyr and be a shining example to misguided terrorists.
Let's assume that the Taliban are defeated (whatever that means). What type
of government will fill the vacuum? The "Northern Alliance" hardly appears
to be an improvement over the current lot. (as some commentator has
mentioned, their beards are a bit shorter and (Dr) Mohammed Mohammed's
English is pretty good).
But let's assume that a benevolent government takes over in Afghanistan
(whatever is left of it). Will this solve the problem with the terrorists
or will they simply move to a new location? Keep in mind that many
suspected terrorists lived quite openly in Hamburg and that many of them
apparently entered the US legally.
Although I would probably not go as far as our friend Jonathan, a lot of the
US action has very much been a matter of "might over right" and not so much
a matter of justice. The US had apparently no problems with invading
Grenada some years ago. Grenada did not really present a danger to the US
and I don't think that the Marxist government of the day had visions of
invading the US or to carpet bomb Florida.
Why is there so much hate expressed towards the US? I don't know. There is
probably no other country as ready to help in case of national disasters as
the US. The Marshall Plan was not a Soviet idea, it originated in the US.
One can argue that the Marshall Plan was just another self-serving US idea
to prevent WWIII, but the point is that the US funded much of the early
reconstruction in Europe. After the disastrous flooding in the Netherlands
in the early 1905s, the US was willing and able to lend support where they
I suppose much of the animosity towards the US stems from a feeling of
powerlessness, especially among the Palestinians who, rightly or wrongly,
see the US supporting Israel, a nation that was established at the expense
of the Palestinians. Did the Palestinians receive justice in this process?
The evidence is clear that they did not. But not only the Palestinians.
What about the sweatshops in Thailand, Indonesia, Guam, Honduras, etc.,
where people toil long hours to make designer clothing for US manufacturers?
Even in countries that have been on friendly terms with the US for
generations, there are occasions where the US flexes its muscles: the recent
import duties imposed by the US on softwood lumber from Canada is but one
One could make a case for a "just war" if it involved justice, but many
don't see the justice in a selective application of US might: yes, Iraq
invaded Kuwait and invading somebody else's country is illegal. But didn't
the PRC invade Tibet? Didn't Indonesia invade East Timor many years ago?
One also wonders where justice was shown in Angola, in Rwanda, in Burundi,
and where it is being shown in Sierra Leone and Sudan. Not that the US
should be the world's policeman, but by picking which cause to pursue makes
one wonder what the underlying philosophy is.
My guess is that the underlying philosophy of US foreign policy is to
optimize the economic conditions for, and the security of its citizens. If
that happens to coincide with justice, so much the better, but I don't think
that justice is the prime moving force behind US foreign and domestic
policy. That probably puts the US in the same league as most countries.
Is the current US military campaign in Afghanistan justified? Probably not.
Is it understandable? Yes. Are there alternatives? Maybe it would have
been better for the US navy to just sit in the Arabian Sea and the Persian
Gulf and keep the Taliban guessing as to what would come next, but I doubt
if this would have made the Taliban change their tune. As to punishing the
Taliban, one would need to find something that in fact would be seen by them
as punishment. A bullet or a bomb may be seen by many as an express ticket
to heaven. That's the trouble with wars: we tend to think that our
adversary has the same value sets as we have, that there are rules to follow
and the adversaries will play by the book. In reality, the underdog is
tempted to break the rules and use such things as mustard gas, chlorine, and
now, loaded airplanes and anthrax.
Yet, a rapid change in US foreign policy would be interpreted as a(nother)
victory by the terrorists. So, maybe the US is left with two equally
unpleasant options: do nothing, or lash out in a rage. The latter is not so
much justice as retribution and vengeance.
From: Joel Z Bandstra [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday October 25, 2001 10:55 AM
To: 'Jonathan Clarke'
Subject: RE: Theological reflection on Just War
It seems to me that you did not exercise quite enough trepidation in
writing your recent post (copied below), or perhaps your purported sense of
such was at a peculiarly low level by the time you typed your last
sentence: "They have to do with a hypocritical and self-serving foreign
policy and bully-boy military actions." This "blame the evil empire"
attitude is not something that springs to my mind naturally and beyond
that, such statements seem inappropriate to me. I am, of course, not
implying that U.S. foreign policy is without error but I submit that you
ought to, at the very least, provide some supporting evidence or clue as to
what you mean by "bully-boy military actions" and such.
From: Jonathan Clarke [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, October 24, 2001 2:49 PM
Subject: Re: Theological reflection on Just War
Thanks for this most interesting piece which eloquently defends just war
terrorism. I certainly agree that war can be waged justly, with the Gulf
Falklands wars as two relatively recent examples. Given current events, I
that some discussion is necessary, although I do so with some trepidation,
the depth of feeling in the US towards the outrages of September 11 and the
current anthrax insanity.
Action against terrorists and terrorists organisations is certainly just.
Whether bombing third countries who harbour or even give official shelter
support to such terrorism falls under the cloak of waging war justly is
matter. Groups that many would consider terrorist have sheltered and found
support in the US, sometimes with official sanction. Does this give the
countries who have suffered from the depredations of these organisations
(Britain, Cuba, Nicaragua, Russia, Cambodia, to name some) the right to
military action against the US? The present US military based approach
terrorism seems very similar to that taken by Israel against the terrorism
suffered in the last 20 years. It has seen the once famous Israeli
machine humiliated and tainted by atrocities and not solved the problem.
is a more dangerous place to live than it was 20 years ago.
If there is any lesson that can be drawn from the past 50 years of
guerilla warfare is that containing with terrorism is a matter for police
intelligence forces, backed up by judicious use of the military, when
Dealing with terrorism requires dealing with the underlying causes for it.
US should ask itself why is it hated to such an extent that people are
to sacrifice themselves to kill thousands of its citizens. The reasons
nothing to do with Brush's delusional nonsense about the US being hated for
freedoms, wealth and power. There are other free, wealthy, and powerful
countries out there who do not suffer terrorist outrages to anything like
same degree. They have to do with a hypocritical and self-serving foreign
and bully-boy military actions.
> Besides the ranting of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, I've seen very
> in the way of theological comments on the events following Sept. 11.
> However, Lutheran theologian David Yeago has a nice thoughtful article in
> Ecclesia, the journal of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Thology
> (CCET). It's entitled "Just War: Reflections from the Lutheran Tradition
> a Time of Crisis:, 2001, v.10, no. 4, and is currently online at
> Although written from a Lutheran perspective, it should be of interest to
> broader theological audience as well.
> And while you're visiting the CCET website, take note of the upcoming
> conference. A while ago on this list (last summer?), there was
> regarding Mary. CCET is sponsoring a theological conference "Mary,
> God -- On the unique relationship of Mary to Christ and the Church and
> place in the tradition of Christian worship, music, and the arts", to be
> June 9-11, 2002, at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Previous
> conferences by CCET have resulted in multi-authored books published by
> Eerdmans, so I presume this one will also.
> Karl V. Evans
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