We have reached a critical and increasingly tragic crossroads in the war with Iraq. We know now that there was no real justification for launching the war in the first place. Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, as apparently many people in the government and the military knew before hand. And there was no connection between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks.
The war in Iraq was an ill-advised and poorly planned effort to advance some strange neo-conservative ideology. The only outcome that we have achieved is the death of nearly 3,000 brave American soldiers and thousands upon thousands of Iraqis—many of them women and children.
And just to make matters even more complicated, a National Intelligence Estimate released recently indicates that our presence in Iraq has actually increased the number of radical jihadists.
In short, rather than making the world safer, our unjust war has actually made the world more dangerous.
I use the word “just” and “unjust” in a very specific and deliberate manner. People of faith have for centuries recognized that sometimes war is unavoidable. Occasionally evil emerges, not just in individual persons, but in states, in ideologies. This evil must be confronted and contained. And sometimes violence is the only way.
But people of faith have also argued that violence should be the course of last resort. The use of violence should come only after all other efforts have been exhausted. Through the eyes of faith, violence is seen as the ultimate failure of human beings to live up to their God given potential.
This ideal is embodied in what has come to be known as Just War Theory. Just War Theory has its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, particularly in the teachings of Jesus. It is an effort to take seriously and reasonably what Jesus said about turning the other cheek and loving our enemies. It is an effort to provide restraint, even while seeking to combat evil. It is an effort to keep us from becoming the evil we are fighting.
The idea behind Just War is that we only go to war only when there is no other alternative. The theory also details conditions that should be met before going to war such as a reasonable expectation of success. It is wrong to launch a war that puts thousands of people’s lives at risk if there is not a clear sense of what the outcome of the conflict will be.
Just War Theory also maintains that only the minimum amount of force needed to resolve the conflict should be employed. This has become very difficult with modern mechanized warfare.
Waging a Just War also calls for just conduct in war, which would certainly exclude targeting non-combatants or the use of torture.
Based on what we know now and what has been disclosed along the way, it appears that the war in Iraq has failed to meet many if not all of these requirements. If true, we are engaged in an unjust conflict.
If that is so, what now is the responsibility of the faith community in regard to this conflict? Can we in good conscience continue to support the war, lending our integrity and influence to an activity that we know is not right? Can we remain silent while people are dying—brave soldiers and innocent civilians alike?
Not at all trying to trivialize these concerns, I can’t help but wonder what Jesus would do—would have us do.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.