Israel has long endured terrorist attacks, along with more conventional wars seeking to end its very existence. The most recent terrorist acts of Hamas, apparently planned with great sophistication, are particularly horrifying and barbaric. Rockets were launched without any distinction between military and civilian targets. Neighborhoods were infiltrated and civilians directly targeted with no regard for innocent life, directly seeking the death of children, the elderly, and young mothers. Kidnappings. Beatings. Street celebrations involving desecrated bodies and humiliated captives.
Such barbarism is without excuse. To attempt to excuse or defend it, let alone to celebrate it, is unjust, wicked.
Like many others, I pray for peace. Like many others, I think prayer is efficacious and contributes to God’s action in the world, however mysteriously. I pray especially for the innocents and most vulnerable in this horror.
At the same time, I resist what I see as a sentimentalism and soft-headed confusion infecting much of the West just now, including Western Christianity. Peace is not merely an absence of conflict but rather, as St. Augustine knew, “the tranquility of order” (tranquillitas ordinis). Peace is not an emotional state, or warm fellow-feeling, or “everyone getting along.” Peace is an accomplishment on the far side of order.
Without order, peace is not established. There is no order without justice, and justice, contra sentimentalism, sometimes requires punishment, and sometimes legitimizes war.
I’ve yet to meet a morally decent person who longs for war, who cheers at the prospect of death and destruction, who ignores its grave harms. Still, war can be just and can legitimately serve that great good of the tranquility of order.
Conflict is underway. Even already, so early in what could be a protracted war, the suffering is profound, the loss grievous and terrible. Things are almost certainly to become worse. It’s only natural, only human, to blanch at such pain, to avert one’s eyes, and wish for it to cease. But such sentiments, so natural and understandable, do not obviate the need to understand, deliberate, and judge according to the rule and demands of justice.
Public Discourse is not a journal of foreign policy. We generally direct our efforts to questions of first principles, of the moral and logical underpinnings of politics. We do not have columnists to give updates on the state of the conflict: many others can do so. But we do have resources to help us think deliberately and rightly about justice, including just war.
Three essays from our archives might be helpful in your own reflection, perhaps helpful even in guiding your prayers:
First, Gregory Brown explains why modern warfare has not rendered just war theory obsolete.
Second, Nathaniel Peters works through an excellent introduction to just war theory by David D. Corey and J. Daryl Charles.
Third, Allen C. Guelzo reminds us of the complexity of war and the challenges of rational determination, without concluding the issue is one free of moral considerations.
R. J. Snell
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