SOUNDOFF: ‘Just war’ does not include Iraq

It is my belief that in the critical issues of war and peace, every preacher, in being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, has an obligation to spell out the issues for his or her congregation.

That time has come. The United States, under our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush may soon escalate our conflict with Iraq into a war. The president has been authorized by the Congress to use force if necessary to disarm Iraq and rid the world of Saddam Hussein.

In his speech to Congress and the American people last month, the president made the case for a just war, which is based on the so called Just War Theory, which has characterized the church’s thinking about war for the last l,600 years.

What are the requirements of a just war? First, a just war must be defensive, never offensive, never pre-emptive. The president has termed an attack on Iraq as defensive because Saddam is reputedly preparing to attack us at any time with his lethal weapons, and further, he supports and aids the terrorists who attacked our country on Sept. ll, 200l.

The just war theory was composed long before the United Nations was heard of, but the president did argue that the war would be just because of the United Nations resolutions regarding inspections, with which Iraq has failed to comply. (At present more resolutions are forthcoming.)

The just war theory requires that the goals of a war be just, and the president argued that the goal of removing a tyrant and liberating his people was a just goal.

The final requirement of a just war is that the methods be just, meaning that the warfare employed will be proportionate to the mission, and only combatants and military resources will be targeted. Civilians would not be targeted. The conclusion which the president has apparently drawn is that war with Iraq is unavoidable.

I believe that as Christians we are called to be peacemakers. The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth, wrote in his Dogmatics:

“The church…. must see to it that the message of avoidability is voiced and heard.”

Then Barth continues: “It is better that the church should stick to its post too long and become a forlorn hope than that it should leave its post too soon and then have to realize it has become unfaithful by yielding to the general excitement.”

We look back at Vietnam and realize that it was avoidable. The decision for war is often the easy way out and is the result of a failure of diplomacy. It is harder to make peace than to go to war, and that is one of the reasons we must exhaust every effort to make peace.

Fifty years ago we were feverish because the Soviets had discovered the H Bomb. Stalin had murdered millions, far more people than Saddam Hussein has. The Soviets were matching us missile for missile and were a far greater threat to the future of humanity and incidentally, democracy, than Saddam Hussein is today. Together, the two superpowers were capable of destroying civilization as we know it. Just because the stakes were so high, we knew we had to exercise restraint, so we developed the policy of deterrence. It was a balance of terror, but each side knew what the consequences of war could be. Deterrence worked for half a century and war was avoided. Now Russia is our new best friend. If deterrence worked against such a formidable foe as the Soviet Union, it surely is worth a chance against a two bit dictator, who so far has not proven that he is capable of landing one missile on our shores.

Fortunately the United Nations is articulating new disarmament resolutions, and it should be the authority to consider if military action is necessary at this time. Restraint and containment of Hussein are still possible. Violence only begets more violence. Can the complex problems of the middle east be solved by one quick war? And who can be sure it will be quick? We thought World War II was going to be quick but it lasted four years. We thought Vietnam would be quick but it cost us 60,000 American lives over more than a decade. And one further question, if the terrorists could do what they did on 9/ll, what will they do if they become still angrier?

With all due respect to the president, I personally do not believe that the escalation of the war with Iraq can be considered a ‘“just war.” In spite of Congressional approval of first strike authority, we have not yet had an honest debate over the issue. At a moment of maximum tension for the children of Israel, Moses said, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” We need to give the equalizers of history a chance to do their work on Saddam. I remember back in the harsher days of treating the mentally ill, an attendant disclosed that when a patient became violent, the best way of controlling him was to let the other patients do it. Comparsions can be odious, but have we really given the international community a chance to handle the madman Hussein? I do not speak with infallible authority. I am speaking as one Christian pastor who is commissioned to make peace. I do not believe an attack on Iraq will be a just war. I welcome dialogue on this subject, but like Luther, I have to say, “Here I stand, so help me God, I can do no other.”

Coupeville resident Darrel Berg is pastor of the Guemes Island Community Church. He welcomes responses to this column. E-mail deberg@whidbey.net. For ideas on a just war, he is indebted to Rev. Timothy Safford of Christ Church (Episcopal), Philadelphia.

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