by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor
The Arkansas Catholic

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock wrote this column in observance of the United Nations International Day of Nonviolence Oct. 2.

Since the time of St. Augustine, the Catholic Church has used the Just War theory to help discern when and how force might be applied in the defense of the nation in time of conflict.

The teaching of the Church regarding war and peace is spelled out very clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2263-2267 and 2302-2317). According to the Just War theory all of the following must be in place before a military response could be considered legitimate: 

  • It can only be undertaken in defense (CCC 2263-2267) against an aggressor bent on inflicting damage that is lasting, grave and certain
  • All other means of putting an end to the conflict must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective
  • There must be a serious prospect of success against the enemy 
  • The use of arms must not produce evils greater than the evils to be eliminated. 

And then once war has begun, the acts of war: 

  • must not target the civilian population
  • must not target enemy combatants who have surrendered or otherwise no longer present an immediate lethal threat. 

The Just War theory sets high standards for a legitimate entrance into a war and even higher standards for right conduct within a war, standards that no armed conflict in recent memory has ever met — indeed, probably very few in the last 1,600 years since St. Augustine. Therefore, the time has come to recognize that since the Just War criteria are almost never met, conflicts need to be resolved through nonviolent means instead.

There are now many within the Church who recognize that the Just War theory is inadequate. First of all, the thought that a war might be “just” is not only an illusion, it also makes war less unthinkable and thus plays into the hands of those who invent justifications for their aggression, often portraying it falsely as self-defense. 

But secondly, ever since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is no longer possible to assume that the civilian population will necessarily be spared, nor in this nuclear age can we possibly be assured that the anticipated benefit of waging war would remain greater than the expected harm, nor that conventional warfare might not escalate into something far worse. For that reason, the catechism insists that “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons — especially atomic, biological or chemical weapons — to commit such crimes.” (CCC 2314)…

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