Just War or Unjust:
Is it Ever Right to Fight?

Young teenager Jessica lived in fear of her dad, Stan. He’d been raping her for years, but whenever someone spoke unkindly about him, she quickly and vehemently defended him. The entire family lived this way. Jessica’s mother never stood up to him, because when she tried, he hit her. The constant threat that he could do worse kept everyone intimidated.

This way of living, they believed, was normal. They didn’t know any other way. When Jessica heard her health teacher, Mrs. Paxine, speak about child abuse and recommend that it be reported to authorities, Jessica thought she didn’t know what she was talking about. Naive was the word that came to mind. Unrealistic. From another planet. She couldn’t send her own father to jail! That would be so unloving, and the family would fall apart. They’d lose everything. Mom could never earn the money or keep the family going like Dad did.

Stan intimidated his employees, too, at the store he owned. Everyone feared for their jobs, so they walked lightly around him. They took his condescending attitude and verbal wrath quietly. The young female clerk he fondled wouldn’t charge him with sexual harassment, even though she hated him, because he treated her better than everyone else, and she knew that if she spoke up, there’d be hell to pay.

In a private room at the rear of the store, Stan had a lucrative side business selling porn movies. Some of his wealth went back into the business, as he supported several small video studios that made the movies. He never shared this wealth with his family. It bought him a custom-made, one-of-a-kind imported sports car that he loved to show off. He lavishly purchased gold jewelry and diamonds for himself and for the girls he hired when he felt bored with his wife, which was often. He filled his secret apartment with furnishings that were designed to make him feel like a king.

When police investigators began to close in on his porn business, he moved it to a new location and left a few old videos in his store’s office to be found as a distraction. He told the detectives that they were his, and that he had shared it with a few friends a long time ago, but he had given up this interest and had forgotten about these videos. The police had evidence to the contrary, but they didn’t have enough proof of his illegal business to convince the District Attorney to issue a warrant for his arrest.

Mrs. Paxine, meanwhile, suspected that something was wrong with Jessica’s home life. She knew the girl was intelligent and had great potential, but her grades and her self esteem were so low, perhaps she was being abused. When she tried to get the girl to confide in her, Jessica made her home life sound like the ideal family in an old television show. Then about a week after her lesson about child abuse, another girl went to Mrs. Paxine and deeply sobbed out the story of a neighbor fondling her.

Obligated by law to report this to the police, Mrs. Paxine first looked up the girl’s address and discovered she lived next to Jessica. Before contacting the police, she wanted to talk to Jessica one more time. When she confronted her with her suspicions that she was being abused and then broke the news that she was going to report her suspicions to the police, Jessica pleaded and begged her not to do it. The rest of the family would suffer greatly if her dad was put in jail!

Mrs. Paxine faced a difficult decision. Should she intervene and cause more suffering? Obviously, Jessica’s family would be ripped apart. They’d become financially destitute, possibly lose their house. They would need lots of therapy — but would they get it? Jessica was barely getting passing grades now; devastating her family would most likely cause her to fail altogether.

But much suffering already existed. And if no one stopped Stan, he represented a strong danger to others in the neighborhood and who knows where else. Should Mrs. Paxine wait until Jessica herself was ready to talk to the police? After all, there was no certainty that Stan was actually going to abuse anyone else ever again. Maybe she should just send him a letter of warning.

Should a perpetrator of violence and abuse be allowed to continue as a potential danger of unknown proportions? Or should he be stopped before someone new gets hurt? Is the risk justifiable? What if the perpetrator is a priest who promises his bishop to never to touch a child again? Should intervention take place before a perpetrator commits a crime that can be proven beyond all reasonable doubt to a jury in court? This dilemma is a microcosm of the questions that existed about Saddam Hussein for more than twelve years, while the world waited and hoped that he cared enough about his own “family” (the Iraqi people) to abide by international law.

Scripture says that God is a just God. He never stops inviting evildoers to repent, but He does eventually stop the evildoers. Consider what the Word says in Isaiah 1:10,16-20, which, by the way, was one of the readings at Mass on the day after U.S. President Bush gave Saddam Hussein the 48-hour ultimatum to step down from power in Iraq.

Hear the word of the Lord,
princes of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Come now, let us set things right,
says the Lord:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.
If you are willing, and obey,
you shall eat the good things of the land;
But if you refuse and resist,
the sword shall consume you:
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken!

When all other efforts to stop evil fails, “let us set things right”….

Not merely a “preventative” war, the problem of Iraq (in 2001) causes a renewed look at the “Just War” criteria taught by the Catholic Church.

“In 1994, the Catholic Catechism limited the legitimate use of military force to defense against aggression. This did not deal with the possibility of military intervention against ethnic cleansing, terrorism and guerrilla warfare. A significant prudential challenge now comes from the necessity of impeding terrorist networks’ access to weapons of mass destruction produced by rogue states.” (Sydney Australia Archbishop George Pell in an interview that appeared in The Australian newspaper on Feb. 4, 2003)

“Asymmetrical Warfare” & Just War

A moral obligation
by Catholic theologian Michael Novak, 2003

“War against Saddam Hussein, unless he fulfills his solemn obligations to international order or leaves power, has nothing to do with any new theory of ‘preventive war.’ On the contrary, such a war comes under traditional just-war doctrine,” (italics mine) explains Michael Novak, a U.S. Catholic theologian. He had been invited by Jim Nicholson, United States Ambassador to the Holy See, to speak to a public audience in Vatican City on the Just War doctrine and Iraq on February 10, 2003. He is respected as a true Catholic theologian.

“Authentic Catholic doctrine on the just war, as formulated by St. Augustine and St. Thomas, lays out a clear path of reasoning for public authorities acting in their official capacities in approaching the decision to go to war, or not. Moreover, in evaluating these contingencies, the new Catholic Catechism assigns primary responsibility, not to distant commentators, but to such public authorities themselves. This assignment of responsibility is made for two reasons. First, they are the ones who bear the primary vocational role and constitutional duty to protect the lives and the rights of their people. Second, they are by the principle of subsidiarity the authorities closest to the facts of the case and – given the nature of war by clandestine terror networks today – privy to highly restricted intelligence. Others have a right and duty to voice their own judgments of conscience. But the final judgment belongs to public authorities: ‘The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good’ (Catechism, #2309).”

St. Michael the ArchangelNovak said that a war against Saddam Hussein now is “a lawful conclusion to the just war fought and swiftly won in February, 1991…. Saddam Hussein was ordered to destroy his stocks of mustard gas, sarin, botulin, anthrax, and other chemical and biological agents. He was also to provide proof that he had destroyed all his prior work toward the development of nuclear weapons. During the next twelve years, despite constant warnings, Saddam Hussein brazenly flouted all these obligations.

“…Meanwhile, in a sudden and violent fashion, another war was launched against the United States – and, indeed, against international civilized order – on September 11, 2001. This unsought and sudden war emerged from a new strategic concept, ‘asymmetrical warfare,’ and it threw the behavior of Saddam Hussein into an entirely new light, and enhanced the danger Saddam Hussein poses to the civilized world a hundredfold.”

Explaining asymmetrical warfare, he said, “This concept has been developed by international terrorist groups that, although dependent on clandestine assistance from states willing to help them secretly, are not responsible to any public authority.” In other words, we are not in danger from a government, but from those who use any governments they can to further their own objectives.

“What is uppermost in American national interests is that, at a time we did not choose and in a way we did not will, war was declared upon us in word and deed on 09/11/01. That aggressor had no standing army, whose movements in advance gave notice of an imminent attack. On the contrary, the attack came all unexpected, striking its innocent victims…

“Normal criteria watched for by just-war theorists were not literally present: neither conventional military movements, nor visible signs of imminent attack, nor the authority of a hostile nation state. The horror of the damage was immense, just the same.

“International war had clearly been launched. Its perpetrators called it an international jihad, aimed not only against the U.S. but the entire West, indeed, against the whole non-Islamic world. (The world had already mourned the destruction of ancient and priceless Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan.)

“No major moral authority had any difficulty in recognizing that a war to prevent this new type of terrorism is not only just but morally obligatory.

“…Just-war doctrine has at its root the Catholic understanding of original sin, articulated in this context by St. Augustine in Book XIX of The City of God. In this world, Christians will always have to cope with the evil in the human breast that sows division, destruction, and devastation. Augustine had seen many such evils in his lifetime, including the horrors of the Sack of Rome in 410 A.D. Nonetheless, he held that Christians acting as public authorities are bound by laws of charity and justice even in waging war.

“…The aim of a just war is the blocking of great evil, the restoration of peace, and the defense of minimum conditions of justice and world order. For both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, thinking about war falls under the principles of charity and justice.

“No one today denies that international terrorism is a deliberate assault on the very possibility of international order. That public authorities have a duty to confront this terrorism, and to defeat it, is universally recognized.”

The Pope is not a pacifist

We must always pray for peace and do everything possible to protect all people.

“The Holy See is not pacifist at all cost, as it admits legitimate defense on the part of states…. What should be said, rather, is that the Holy See is always peace-making, as it works intensely to prevent the outbreak of conflicts.”
~ Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state
To read this in context of his complete statement, see it at Zenit.org


“As St. Thomas Aquinas and other teachers of the just war tradition make clear, war may sometimes be a moral duty in order to overturn injustice and protect the innocent. The just cause in this case is the disarmament of Iraq, a cause consistently affirmed by the Holy Father and reinforced by 17 resolutions of the Security Council.”
~ Father Richard Neuhaus on the Iraqi Crisis
To read this in context of his complete statement, see it at Zenit.org


“In Matthew’s gospel we read that when his opponents tried to trick Jesus on matters of tax, he replied ‘render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar — and to God what belongs to God.’ … Decisions about war belong to Caesar [our elected Government], not the church. What might Christian perspectives have to offer Caesar? The teaching in the New Testament has an emphasis on loving, forgiving enemies and a special blessing for peacemakers. But the legitimacy of political authority is also acknowledged and the duty to repress evildoers.”
~ Sydney Archbishop George Pell in an interview that appeared in The Australian newspaper on Feb. 4, 2003

This is not the War. This is a short battle in the War.

Book of RevelationOur battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, the evil spirits in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12).

There is much more at stake than a battlefield called Iraq. There are questions we each have to answer before God: Am I willing to stand up against evil? At what cost? How far will I go before I quit in fear or weariness?

We must see past the face of Saddam Hussein. His time on earth is limited, even if he survives the battle. God the Just Judge will decide what to do with him, based on the true condition of his soul. But evil is ongoing and threats will come from new sources. We must fight the war at its source: We must pray against the evil spirits in the heavens who are wreaking violence and hatred on the earth, and we must defeat them by doing good, imitating Jesus Christ, who is the only true Victor King.

Prayers to use:

© 2001 & 2003 by Terry A. Modica


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