The Ends Don’t Justify the Means in War

Trump’s Syrian Bombing

The reactions to last nights unilateral bombing of a Syrian airbase by President Trump have largely been predictable.  It has been praised by Senators McCain and Graham, opposed by Senator Rand Paul, and held in a sort of constitutional limbo by Senator Cruz.  Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton, who almost certainly would have taken similar action against Syria had she been elected, came out in favor of such action. (In fact, it appeared to me during the campaign that Trump was the less likely of the two candidates to commit acts of war in Syria.)

Judgment Calls

It is of interest to see how various news outlets report the facts.  Fox News is still guarded in its wording, stating, for instance (emphasis mine):

President Trump’s swift and telegraphed action to punish Syria for a suspected chemical weapons attack earlier this week, by pummeling a key air base with missiles, was roundly praised by leaders around the world.

Red State, on the other hand, appears unmitigatedly certain in its judgment of the situation:

Late Thursday night, president Trump approved missile strikes against Syria at an airbase that was used to carry out the horrendous chemical weapon attacks on civilians this week by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Few of us are privy to information directly proving what chemical weapons were used and by whom, I probably least of all.  Still, I do know something about America, or at least the way things are supposed to be in America.

By What Authority?

Without question, it is Congress that has authority under the Constitution to declare war, not the executive branch.  Congressman Justin Amash recently summarized this fact nicely in two tweets:

Why does the Constitution specifically give Congress the power to declare war?  I posit the following reasons:

  • The executive is entrusted with executing war.  To give it the additional ability to declare war would make the President judge, jury, and executioner.
  • If the executive was entrusted with the power to declare war, so great and awful a decision would be in the hands of one man alone, the entire nation having little if any recourse.
  • Having this power in the hands of Congress better ensures that military action is warranted, just, and in the national interest.
  • Likewise the power rests with Congress because war has profound and often dire consequences for the entire country, both for the citizens and the states.  It is repugnant to suggest that the interests of the people and the states should have not be taken into consideration in so profound a decision.  Thus, it is the representatives of the people and the states who are to make this decision. Consider the following points:
    • American lives are at stake.
    • Even without a draft, the American economy will be affected.
    • As history has shown, unpopular wars rarely end in victory.  They are more likely to fail altogether, and successes are often merely pyrrhic victories.
    • It is easier for the citizens to hold their local, individual representatives responsible (through a bi-yearly vote) than it is to hold the President responsible.

The Ends Don’t Justify the Means

These points notwithstanding, those who laud the President’s actions make a darker, unspoken statement:  the ends justify the means.

Let us suppose that Red State is right, and we know without a doubt that Assad is a brutal, genocidal maniac bent on the destruction of his own people.  Does that justify the action taken by President Trump to commit acts of war against Syria without recourse to the legitimate Constitutional authority?  In the minds of some like McCain and Graham, maybe it does.  But that is certainly not a morally sound position according to the Church.

As our allies and various officials praise President Trump, they are saying in effect that it doesn’t matter how President Trump took the actions he took–only that the results of his actions are to their liking.

Just Wars

I, quite frankly, am fed up with preemptive and undeclared wars hiding behind the wool of military interventions.  As a Catholic, I find preemptive war morally repugnant, whether it is conducted by a Republican (Bush or Trump) or a Democrat (Clinton or Obama).  I am non-partisan in this respect.  As an American, I DON’T WANT SUCH A WAR!  I view war as a court of last resort, not a reckless way for a head of government to “make a statement” or make good on his predecessor’s threat.  The Just War Doctrine strictly governs the decision to go to war [emphasis mine].

2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.105

2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.

However, “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.”106

2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

– the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

– all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

– there must be serious prospects of success;

– the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem (sic) means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

A National Disenfranchisement

Ignoring the other moral considerations for the time being, in America, “those who have responsibility for the common good” in the case of war is the body of Congress.  Yet Congress has abdicated its responsibilities, no longer insists on its own authority, and no longer insists that the President refrain from instigating acts of war without a Congressional war declaration.  I therefore have no voice whatsoever–not even a representative voice–in the decision.  When the President engages in war acts without a Congressional war declaration, my fellow citizens and I are disenfranchised from a decision that will have personal consequences for us and our families.

The logical conclusion from a civil perspective is that we are victims of a tyranny, forced to pay taxes to fund yet another American war without having the benefit of representation.  This is certainly not the gravest evil of a preemptive war, but it is certainly an evil.  Ironically, my thoughts and feelings in this particular matter seem more closely aligned with those of Russia than the US, something I, as a child of the 80s, would not have thought possible.

War is Punishment for Sin

At the Apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, Mary told us that war is a punishment for sin.  As events shape up in this centennial year since the apparition and miracle, I think we should continue to pray for the conversion of Russia.  Perhaps a more Christian Russia will deflect a calamity pagan America is unwilling to avoid.

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