RE: Theological reflection on Just War

From: Vandergraaf, Chuck (
Date: Thu Oct 25 2001 - 13:31:56 EDT

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    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.

    Chuck Vandergraaf

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Joel Z Bandstra []
    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.


    -----Original Message-----
    From: Jonathan Clarke []
    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
    it has
    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
    terrorism and
    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.


    Jon wrote:

    > 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,
    Mother of
    > 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
    > *******************************
    > Karl V. Evans

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