Full Text for The Moral Aspects of War (Text)

The Moral Aspects of War M.~!z?.r% 13. SCHAKLEMANN Concordia Seminary St. I.,ouis, R4issouri IAz.~tJror's Note: The present manuscript is n revisio~z of a talk taken do~vn on tape. Its contelzt, therefore, is not so tightly orga~z- ized as it 117oz.tld be if the matter had bees prepared in the form of nu essay.) M Y JOB 1s to talk 09 the lnoral aspects of warfare. Some might say, ~vell that ought to be a very short speech. You cannot talk a boh t ethics or moral principles in connection with warfare. Therc are such people. They will tell you, "You can talk about ethics all you wish; you can talk about: warfare for hours, but you can't combine the two into onc discussion." I shoilld like to say at once that such a reaction stcms from an over simplification of reality. The basic presupposition is falsc. The Inan who begins at this base starts with the general assunlption that all war is evil. I-Ie says it in terms of syllogisnl. It goes like this, "A11 war is evil; nobody ought to engage in cvil; therefore one ought not tu take up arms." Permit me to suggest that thc major premise is false, especially for us Christians who are expected to know reality. There are very few human actions of ally kind' especially when it comes to the affairs of nations, which are good. The proper choice we have in most cases is between what is less eviI than some othcr course of action. l'right at the beginning I shoulcl like to put down the l>rol~osition that son~ctimes engaging 111 war is less evil than some othcr course of action. There come moments in history wllen it is not only possible but imperative to support war as an act of consciencc. The peopIe \vho trouble ine very much are conscientious objectors, not because I disrespect their position, but because they often operate with the notion that they are the only people who have a conscience. So when they come to me, one of the first things we've got to elear away is this particular point. I insist that I, too, have a conscience. It is very sensitive to what would happen if we should withdraw from Viet Naln too cjuiclulles threatened the enemy with talk about reducing that country to a howling .tvilderncss. You will recall the reaction. Those of us who are older v:ill remelnber. The American people rejected this kind of boasting about indiscriminate destruction. Into our culture there has been built a concern for right. This brings about the fact that the problem of killing in battle is a matter of conscience. As Americans we are not about to approve the in- rliscriminate ~lse of force. That's why, for instance, we engage in n linliteci ivar in Viet Nam, much to the handicap of the troops. Out of this very tradition of ours there has devclopcd the tloctrine of the just war. As Lutherans we have a particular responsibility in this area, because our Confessions operate with the notion of the just war. They do not state this matter as a doctrine but as a Biblical concept- For that reason, we must list the seven criteria which are used to de- termine what a just war is. I'll just read then1 real fast. Is a particu- lar conflict being waged under legitimate authority? Is there a moral purpose involved? Is there excessive violence? What will be the conditions after the war? \Vill such conditions be better than if no war hat1 been waged'; Have all other means of solving a particular p-obIeln been exhausted? Is there selective immunity? Have ar- rangen~cnts been made, for instance, to avoid rvholesale slaughter? /'lncl finally, when it is all over, will there be a restoration of the % moral ordcr : 'l'hc :LJorciE Aspects Of IVnr 45 Against this kind of background, where right is still an iten1 when it comes to using force, our previous Secretary of Ilefense, Mr. h/IcNamara, developed two doctrines on which we still operate. These are, first, the doctrine of controlled response. This teaches that we are going to ride o~~t a nuclear attack and not be the first to attack. \Ve will respond in counterforce and not in terms of destroying enemy cities. \Ve propose to avoid a hair-trigger response. The second doctrine is that of conve~ltional option. This means that the decision to use tactical nuclear weapons will not bc forcecl ~~pon US. We hope never to have to use them. We are never going to act fro111 panic, hnt only as a matter of deliberate choice. You see, in our culture we have retailled an awareness that ~vholesale destruction is immoral. That fact, in turn, testifies to the importance of the right, in the affairs of rnen. You may be sure that this was not a problem for Genghis Khan. Joseph Stalin never worried about the question, "Is it ever right to kill n human being in hattle?" These men did not iricw life as a gift the way you and I do. So much for the source of our q~aestion. We movc;l on to tl-ie question of context. The question doesn't come to us out of the blue. We live in a particular historical context, which has its own pe- culiarities and characteri.stics. In our present context, nothing less is at stake in the present conflict than the future of mankind. The concept of freed on^ lies at the heart of the whole problem. This is no fake issue, as people on the other sick of the iron curtain k11o.i~ very kvell. Let me give you two exampIes. The Russian poet, Evtuschenko, was here three years ago. He got to see many things, including the Blue Fox Farms in Alaska. When he got back he wrote what is called "The Monologue of the Blue Fox on an Alaskan Farin." It is a devastating piece of satire on totalitarianism. It describes a blue fox in his cage, hoivling, shrieking, either for a change of fur or for frecclom. He docsn't like the prospect of growing up to be skinned so that his fur can be sold. One night the fox finds the cage door open. He sneaks out to experieilcc freec'lom. A week later he is tired of freedoni with its burden of having to make up one's own mind. The fox slinks back into the cage and pulls the door shut. Then hc says to himself, "A child of captivity is too weak for freetlom." The next itel11 is a play with the title, 7'h.e Dragon. This is the first stage protluction to be sho~in on this side of the iron curtain but written on the other side. It was just put on in Paris during June of 1966. It was done by all East German, Yugeny Schivartz. It's a very sinlple fairy story and tells of a country that has been under the control of a monster for years and years. A knight-crrant on horse- back coines riding across the stage, like Saint George, to do battle with this beast. He wants to set this oppressed people free. He cliscovers that they don't want liberty. They have been reduced to the ~oint 1~11ere they l-wefer servitude. They have lived so long in an ant-hill type of society that they have become somenrhat lcss than human. Thcy do not want the burden of personal choice. NOW the point of both of these literary items is .c7cry obsious. Given enough time, it is possibIc with instruments de~~elopecl bv modern technoiogy to reduce people to being less than what the& Creator inte~lded then1 to be. And whenever that happens, you havc the dcnlonic at work in the socia1 order. Now, adnlittectly, n7e have many demonic forces at work also in our society here in America; yet, I want to propose that the demonic has become especially incar- nate in the illarxist movement of our day. Why? Consider ivhat is at stake in the concept of freedom. Three notions of freedom are abroad today. One of then1 is the notion that freedonl is my right to-do as I jolly well please. 'That, of course, is not freedom at all. It is license. Freedoill is always limited. It is always channeled, the \Yap n river is harnessecl. ils soon as it breaks out of its banks it becomes destructive. ?'hat is not the understanding of freedom on which our country has been built. Another notion is the totalitarian one; namely, that freedom is my responsibility to do what I must do. How do I know what I must do? The party tells me; that's its job. It has been given the assign- ment under the Marxist system to analyze the historical context where people live and then to prescribe. The only job I havc as a sub- ject in that wav of life is to say, "Yes, 1'11 do it." I have an aunt who lives in East German):. iZ few summers ago shc 21ad a chance to visit her son, my consin, in Bochunl, Gcr- manv, which is in the IVcst. One day she said, "You have no idea wha; it means to live in a totalitarian societ"." She proposed the follon~ing ~.crorkin,o description, "Imagine yourself living in a societ~: where everything not specifically commandetl is prollibited. That's the tvay .ire Jive in East Germany." I hear among our students in St. Louis the nonsense that life in tllc ghetto is like living in Czechoslovakia. Yet to live in Czecho- sjovakia is to be where everything not specifically commanded by the party, is prohibited. Mr. Dubecek can give you a long speech on that subject. He has found out what that means. IVith that we get to the third understanding of freedom. It is the one on .cvhich our country was built. It is the l(inc1 of notion about freeclom that wo~ild develop in a culture heavily indebted to Christian values. In this view, freedom is my opportunity to do what I ought to he doing. When I say that; I an1 implying two things. First, that I've got the job of choosing, which in turn means, that I am a person. That's what a person is; a being with the faculty of choice. Secondly, there is a set of moral princrples which exists independent of that historical contest where an individual happens to be living. That's what we've been saying in our traditions in America. Our understantling of freedom - and here I'm taldng three ideas from Jalnes Truslon~ Aclarns' farno1.1~ essay on Freedom, written back ill 1938 when ti~~ Nazis were tlnrcatening thc world--this llotion of frced0111 is derjve0 from ntan's nature, his need and his (1estiny. Let's tiljnk a'hout these items. Frcedojll is relate(] to man's nature. \471~at is man? IS hc just a thing? 1s he like a bar of which loses its value wllen it sinlts to the bottom of the ocean? Of course not! Tn our culture, and this is highly Cl~ristian in backgrouxlcl, man is of value even ~vhen hc is useless. Think of the billions of dollars we spend each year on old people in nursing honles. l'F711y don't we let then1 die; Be- cause nlan is not a thing. Furthermore, man needs freedom as part of his working climate. The most despicable development behind the iron curtain is the at- tempt to reduce inan to being a thjng. You cannot grow an oak tree in n two-gallon pail. Either the pail will burst or the tree will shrivel. Just so you cannot keep a human being working as a per- son unless he has enough opportunity for choice. That's our quarrel with the ghetto. ~lan): of these people do not have enough room for choice to be persons. The individual who wrote most eloquently on this subject was Feodor Dostoevski. He described life in Siberia, where he didn't have one choice to make. He gut on the only set of clothes he had. He ate what was put before him. IVhen he and his comrades went out to fell trees, they discovered that the trees had been marked by someone else. They didn't even have that choice to make. The title of the book very significantly is The House of the Dead. Of course, these people walked around a while and felled a few trees, but as persons they were dead. The opportunity of choice had been taken away fro111 them. Liberty is also related to the question of inan's destiny. If you and I only live to be 70 or 80 years of age and if that's the end, then, of course, government outlasts us. And so it is more .im- portant. Then it does have the right to decide on the ultimate issues of Iifc. But if you and I have an eternal destiny, then we have cer- tain rights, as Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence, which no state can either give or take away. They are unalienable. Some of them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Then the business of the state can nevcr, dare never, enter into the uIti~nate ~roblems of man's individual existence. It is primarily the second and the 'third notions of freedom which are at issue in the present conflict raging throughout the world, whether we like it or not. And what we are trying to do on our side of this contest is keeling the demonic forces at work in our total ~vorlcl society from acconlplishing their ends; namely, reducing all manlcind to the level of life on George Or~rell's Animal Farnz. That's the context. Now let's lay down a few principles, while we're in this business. These are considerations which need to be weighed before you decide, ethically, what your particular stance is. The first thing, perhaps, that wc need to say is that life is a gift. 7%~ that in itself is a tremendous insight, which conles to 11s espe- cially from the biblical revelation, where we are put into oonfronta- tion with our Creator and Redeemer. That life is a gift, the Greeks did not realize. IYc do. It is a gift and therefore to he used like any other gift from God. It may be given away. 'ihlhen you do that you are engagillg in the most important ethical work of sacrificing, in imitation of our Lord who offered himself; giving His ljfe for ours. The sergeant who throws himself on a bomb to save the lives of the men in his unit is doing something noble. It is eth.ically right for him to [lo so. He is a hero to us because of his sacrificial act. Next: Life being a gift, it should be defended and protected, especially if it is the other man's Iife. This is a good Christian ap- proach. In fact, there come moments when it is inamoral not to de- fend another man's life. And that applies not only on an individual level but also among nations. Let me, at this point, give you just one sentence fro111 Paul Ranlsey's great book, The Just War: "Anyone who is impressed only by the inlmorality and probable ineffectiveness of interventionary action should sensitize his conscience to the im- morality and probable ineffectiveness of non-intervention." Inaction can also be very imnloral. You remember the case of Kitty Genovese of New York, screaming for help when she ivas being bludgeoneci to death in the courtyard of an apartment building? The reaction was that 38 peopIe closed their winclows and pulled tight their shut- ters. There was an outcry in America over such callous indifference,' this unwillingness to get involved in the defense of somebody's life. Thank God for the outcry! It was an exhibit of the fact that deep ciotvn underneath we still feel there is something wrong about not defending somebody else's life. \IJc hear it said that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Of course, that's right. \Vho could quarrel with it since it is ;3 nrord of the Lord? But, therc is another step to this. In Iife we have various types of responsibilities, and so the exercise of love is done on the princil3lu of justice. The exercise of love is undertaken according to the various relatioilships in which we live. Let ille give you a very simple example. If a thug should enter my living room and threaten nly family, I would have a set of responsibilities toward my family in terms of 10vc that is of greater inmportance than my responsibility toward the thug. Now apply this to the field of international rela- tions. RIIy relationship to a North Vietnanlcse soldier is not a one- to-one affair, In between are two sets of lovalities: Mine to my country and his to his. I have a responsibility totvard my country which outranlcs my concern for his; and that's true on his side, too. Noiv, when he is wounded and when he is in need of my help, then oncc nlore he becomes my neighbor in the ethical sense of the New Tcstament. 'I'he one-to-one relationship returns. Then we carrv out thc nlords of the Lord at the end of the story of the Goocl Samaritan, "You go and do likewise." kt--and this is point four-a good many people cite the commandml-nt, "Thou shalt not kill." I am very ~rateful that they '1"lzc Moral Aspects Of War 4 9 --- --- y--. do, because it n,cans they still son~ewhat interested in the biblical revelation. ~~t is very l~lisleadin~ thing to quote this commandment off-hand, 14~it110ut reHe~ti~lg on what it really means. It so happens that there ;ire lvorcis in the Old 'Testament for killing. The one that is in tlIc never occurs when the old Testament is talkillg ;Ibouc iVarfare. NOW that ought to have some significance for anyone seriously concerned about biblical interpretation. AS a matter of fact, if you want this whole thing concentrated ill one pas- s;lge, just look I I