22 July 2014

What are we doing?

Early today, I was asked how the "theory of just war" applied in Gaza. That is, I think, the wrong question. The right one is, "How did we get to the point of thinking there can ever be a, "just war?"

OK, yes I know that the ancient thinkers who posited the concept's parameters included St. Augustine. And yes, I am sure he was smarter than I am or can hope to be. Still,re he was working within the limitations of his day, and a limited available scholarship of the Bible. His work, is not infallible. Nor was St. Thomas's later work on the subject.

Both Augustine and Thomas wrote in a time with war fighting technology in a relatively tight range. So for both, the idea of a just war involving armies of roughly similar capacity to do violence was reasonable, as was the idea of a warrior class that clashed on a battle field from which civilians might withdraw.

Today, Western arms include weapons that do not require a presence on the same continent. American drones, controlled in a building in the Midwest, can bomb targets in Afghanistan. In one sense, we can think of this as a good thing, our people are safe. On the other, both theories of "just war" assume warriors who confront each others and avoid civilian casualties. We simply do not do that.

In our world, then, can their be just war? Let us be clear, the USA will not go to war with someone who can match our technology. We after all know what it can do! So I think they answer has to be no.

Israel and Gaza are another case. Israel has one of the most advanced anti-missile systems ever deployed, while Hamas has among the least sophisticated weapon systems in use today. For all practical purposes, what the media refer to as Hamas missiles are large mortars. The sharp gap between Israeli and Gazan casualties shows the impact.

So do I expect either USA or Israel to give up their significant war technology advantages? No, of course not. I do think we need to understand that war has changed. Now, weapons are deployed at ranges that take the soldier well out of the range of personal weapons. Now, weapons destroy not merely a person, but a significant area. Both sides of the current conflicts have such weapons.

So what then of the Islamic or Jihadist side of the Mid-Eastern conflicts and the global terrorism? First, no theory of just war or of Holy Jihad legitimates terrorism. Flying planes into towers, blowing up suicide bombs, and the like are not Islam. They are heresy. Most certainly, they are not just. In Israel and Palestine, the launching of rockets into Israel without anything close to targeting systems capable of identifying military targets is not just, it is not jihad. The horror being visited on Northern Iraq is not jihad, it is not Islam, it is terror and warlordism.

We have killed off the possibility of the just war. And yet, we want to think of ourselves as just. The world, and history, simply do not work that way.

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