The recent war in Ukraine is an atrocity that screams to heaven for justice. Vladimir Putin has disregarded all norms of civilized war and like the “Hitlers” before him has become an international war criminal hiding behind a large nation and army. His war in Ukraine not only fails the standards of justification according to civilized nations and secular society but completely fails all standards of Christian conduct.
This is amazing since many right extremist Christians once hailed him as a good Christian man. His own puppet regime church in Moscow quietly ignores his atrocities as he unfolds an unjust war in Ukraine and the true un-Christian mask is removed from the face of this dictator. Putin has no care for just war or anything remotely Christian and his behavior in past wars such as in Syria, Georgia, Chechenia and other regions also show the atrocities towards civilians and un-needed death that follows his immoral orders.
The just man and woman though ask questions how a Christian may take up arms against such monsters. In WW2, millions took up arms against Hitler and were forced into bloody conflict. Hence how does one retain Christian teaching of “Thou Shall not Murder” in response to unjust aggression. It seems almost comical to call upon violence to stop violence within Christian teaching. It seems contradictory but due to the fallen world we live in, we do not have the luxury of living in a white and black world and unfortunately, sometimes, force is needed to stop a greater evil. This blog will review Aquinas’ theory on just war and also look to understand what it means to be a Christian during war.
Self defense is a key concept. One is always entitled to defend oneself within appropriate response as the matter dictates. If one tries to assault another, oneself is entitled to resist and fight back, even if injury is incurred upon the aggressor. The intent was never to hurt another person but to protect oneself. The secondary result in defending oneself is the injury to the aggressor. This falls within a remote and often unheard moral concept known as the Double Effect. An action with good intention produces two ends, one good and one not good. The good result is willed while the not good result is a byproduct. Hence in self defense, one’s primary vocation to life which is self-preservation is undertaken. In this endeavor, one seeks to preserve one’s life through appropriate force against an aggressor which results in one’s preservation but also the byproduct of injury to the other.
One often can become confused since Christianity if improperly interpreted produces a pacifism in all cases. Christ did say to turn the other cheek and warned those who take up the sword will die by the sword. Do these words contradict self defense and defense of the weak? Christ never came as a political savior to the Jews despite the horrific treatment they received from the Romans. Christ was a spiritual redeemer and presented no political doctrine. What he intended to teach was how we deal with people in our daily life. We are to accept wrong doing patiently from our neighbor. We are to turn the other cheek rather than seek revenge. We are not to take up the sword in revenge or fight with others over trivial things.
Christ, never presented self defense of Himself, in His holy passion. He accepted the brunt of sin as the sacrificial victim. It was His vocation.
This does not apply to closing one’s eye to cruelty in this world against the weak or self defense of ourselves. As long as the intent is just and the force appropriate, then it is justified to help others with the use of force. Sometimes helping one’s neighbor requires a rise of force. Is this not true of the great Archangel Michael and his holy war against Lucifer?
Hence, the 5th Commandment rightly states, “Thou shalt not murder”, not kill. The intent to kill is never primary but always secondary. The intent is to defend oneself or others against great evil that causes greater harm if one would not act.
In case of WW2, we clearly see the allies response to Hitler as a just cause but lets review the criteria of just war from the Angelic Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas and apply it to both WW2 and war against Putin.
- Aquinas points out that all violence against evil must be a last resort. Diplomacy must be exhausted. Other venues to avoid bloodshed must be examined before a defense is established.
- Aquinas dictates that the war must be pursued by legitimate authority against the opposing force.
- Aquinas requires the war to be a just cause. Hence defense of oneself or others is a prerequisite for any violence
- Aquinas considers probability of success as also a notion, unless of course the war is for one’s very survival itself such as the case of Ukraine.
- Aquinas lists right intention as a key as well. The intention is to restore peace and repel the aggressor. Revenge is not sought but only justice
- Aquinas elaborates that proportionality be equal to the aggression. Hence justice demands only the required violence to end the conflict and not punish beyond the initial offense of the aggressor. This also mirrors modern laws which outlaw certain weapons. This also includes mercy to surrendering combatants.
- Aquinas finally demands that the war and violence only be directed at military operations and not against civilians. This mirrors modern day war which considers attacks on civilians to war crimes.
Like Hitler, Putin fails on every criteria.
Hence the WW2and today’s war against Putin is justified. Christians must pray for an end of war, forgive their enemies, and promote peace, but if war is needed, good individuals must arise. The quote attributed to Edmond Burke but truly stated from John Stuart Mill proclaims, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. That is the rally cry to end pain and suffering when evil arises with the appropriate force of good Christian men and women to take up arms when history calls.
Please also review AIHCP’s Christian Counseling Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Christian Counseling
Wikiepedia: “Just War Theory”