Moral Injury and Just War Theory
The principles of just war theory are divided into principles governing the decision of whether or not to go to war, jus ad bellum and those governing the just conduct of war, jus in bello. It is important to note that the development of these principles in the history of Christian thought – a history that includes the advocacy of Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther — had the clear intention of preventing war by making it difficult to justify going to war. The assumption behind just war theory is that war is inherently evil but may be in extreme cases a necessary evil. The principles of just war therefore do not justify “war” but provide criteria for when waging war may be a tragic but unavoidable choice.
The “moral” in moral injury, suffered as a consequence of combat experience, underscores the evil of war as an experience that shatters the core moral values of the morally injured. Death and traumatic and physically debilitating injuries of all sorts that come with war remind us that the jus ad bellum principle of last resort cannot be overemphasized. We honor those who have died in military service, those who have been wounded, those who have permanent physical and mental injuries, and all who have served. Yet even as we rightly express our gratitude for their service and admiration for their bravery, we dare not confuse the nobility of their service and courage with notions of the nobility of war. The morally injured remind us, perhaps more than anyone else, that war is an expression of a fallen humanity in a broken world which forces terrible choices.
Confusing the nobility of those who serve with the nobility of war and the wars in which they serve seems to me a byproduct of the “shaeability gap”I spoke of in our last blog. At big sporting events we see the field covered by a giant American flag often held by a corps of active service members. Maybe there is a flyover of fighter jets. The national anthem reaches its crescendo with the words, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” As the crowd applauds and cheers, I am as stirred with feeling of patriotism as any American, but as I then go on to enjoy the game along with everyone else, I must remind myself that those we honor have had to kill and be killed while we were enjoying many other games and daily pursuits.
My duty then and the nations duty and the church’s duty is to care for those grieving the loss of loved ones in battle and the physically, mentally, and morally injured. This is the obligation of jus post bellum, justice after war. It goes along with efforts at peacemaking in our world, which we as Christians committed to the reconciling love of Christ, should urge upon our political leaders. A strong defense in a conflicted and often evil world is necessary but it is a sad necessity that should serve the paramount goal of just peace-making.
Jim has raised an issue of significance in the discussion of the Just War Tradition. The Shareability gap of which he speaks frequently crosses the lines from jus ad bellum to jus in bello to jus post bellum. We speaking of the Just War Tradition we speak mostly of the individuals who are directly engaged in the kinetic aspect of war, i.e. the warrior directly engaged in combat.
However, I would like to look at the Just War Tradition using the metaphor Jim uses above, the sporting event metaphor. Jim rightly identifies the distance between the owners and fans in their seats and the players on the field. Owners buy, sell, and trade players and coaches, employ officials, and manage the team from a distance. Fans buy tickets, take their seats in the stadium, park, or arena, buy a hotdog and a beer and take in the activities and festivities surrounding the sporting event. They stand, sit, or kneel for the presentation of the National Colors, sing along or chat with their friends during the National Anthem, are amazed, amused, or offended by the military presence. When the ball is kicked, tipped, or the puck is dropped and the game begins they engage in second guessing and criticizing the playing, coaching, and officiating. They cheer their team, jeer their opponents, consume their food and beverages all from the safety of their seats and never receive nor deliver the jarring blows of the players on the field, on the court, or on the ice. They are sparred the ice baths to ease the pain of sprains, bruises, or breaks, and they never suffer the invisible injuries of concussions and the lasting physical, mental, and emtional effects that result from “playing the game”. When the game is over they return to their daily routines and go on about their lives hardly remembering from one week to the next what took place the week before in the game that was played. When the season is over, win, lose, or draw their lives are essentially unaffected and they move on to the next sport, the next season with little more investment than complaining about the over-paid, under-performing players whom they often see as whiners. The sports metaphor is, unfortunately, too close to reality.
In our republican form of democracy, elected officials, Executive and Legislative branches, and citizens of the republic are analogous to the owners and fans of a sporting event. While owners view the event as part of the entertainment industry, politicians see the event as politics of war. Fans see the sporting event as a entertainment in which they can indulge their desires for victory, control, amusement, diversion, etc. Citizens, too, see war from a distance and are little effected personally while being immune to the deep injuries being inflicted upon the sons and daughters of others who, like the players in sports, bear the high and often invisible price of moral and physical injury.
The Just War Tradition demands that we, citizens all, whether in politics, military, or civilian life are all complicit when our efforts to live peacefully fail and we find ourselves engaged in war. Just war requires that we all accept our responsibility to live view all people as worthy of being reconciling love of Christ and the healing love of the Good Semaritan.