When Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in response to cross-border terrorist rocket-fire, European (see here and here) and US leaders endorsed their claim to have just cause. But were they right to do so? Do the on-going attacks conform to just war criteria? These are separate questions; both are important. We seek to address these issues from the perspectives of international law and Catholic theological ethics.
In his When War Is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking, theologian John Howard Yoder asks, “Can the criteria function in such a way that in a particular case a specified cause, or a specified means, or a specified strategy or tactical move could be excluded? Can the response ever be ‘no’?” (Orbis 1996, p. 3) In my judgment, the present crisis in Syria is indeed a particular case where a just war response is “no.”
With this sort of starting point, we take an altogether different approach: our task, short of the full in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, can never be any partisan agenda. This is because anything short of the full consummation of the Kingdom of God will necessarily still be tainted, or worse, corrupted, by sin. All political activism then—in the sense of being active in talking to the contemporary powers-that-be in western culture—is always and necessarily ad hoc, never utopian, and never idealistic. We deal with each concrete question and issue as it arises, and seek to bear faithful witness as best we are able.
In the immediate wake of the horrific attacks on September 11, 2001, a number of Christian theological ethicists questioned whether a “war on terrorism” was the most effective, let alone ethical, response.
Nevertheless, murder is never moral–regardless of whether it is done in the name of religion, politics, the nation, ideology, etc. Any such killing of civilians–by the left or the right, religious persons or atheists–is to be denounced loudly and clearly as morally wrong.