When Warfare Doesn’t Work

When Warfare Doesn’t Work April 18, 2017

The excellent guest post at Simcha Fisher’s blog about the experience of being a Catholic woman in an abusive marriage provoked a heated discussion among several of my online friends.  What is the good solution to this problem?

Sometimes there is not a good solution.

I’m as prone to, “If we just did ___” thinking as anyone else.  Because I’m from Gunlandia, when I read about a domestic abuse victim shot at a school, my instant reaction is: What an injustice that women who work in education are denied the right to defend themselves against known abusers, but no one else will step up and defend them either!

You’re a hunted person, and the law forbids you to defend yourself.

But of course that solution is no guarantee.  The reality is that if someone is determined to kill you, sometimes armed self-defense works, sometimes it does not.

People who are not from Gunlandia tend to have the opposite “if only” thinking, imagining they can somehow sufficiently disarm criminals and thus keep us safe.  But that, too, is wishful thinking, as the long list of people murdered before ever guns were invented attests.

Evil will always be with us.  We draw on a combination of options to do our best to prevent and alleviate what suffering we can.


What has me thinking about all this is President Trump’s decision to bomb Syria.  He’s the latest in a long line of American presidents who’ve decided we “have to do something” about the atrocities committed in the Middle East.

Set aside for a moment all question of American imperialism.  It’s obviously a factor, because there are plenty of injustices in the world that don’t inspire the Commander-in-Chief quite the way trouble in Oil Country seems to do.  So we know that plays into the decision.  And trust me: I’ve studied enough of the history of US foreign policy, overt and otherwise, to know we aren’t shining pillars of virtue.

But the question of injustice-to-be-reckoned still looms.  If nothing else, American voters and would-be-recruits all take into account that factor when deciding whether to support a given military engagement.  We look at ISIS, or the Taliban, or the chemical bombing of civilians, and we want to do something.  We see an injustice and we want to solve it.  Thus we talk ourselves into warfare as a solution.

It seems logical.  Warfare is the underlying problem, so better, stronger, bigger warfare would quash the vermin.  It has worked in other times and places.  What price can you put on freedom?  If we don’t act, the Nazis win every time, right?

I would say this is a conservative brand of thinking, but the Obama administration put that to rest.  It’s American thinking, or perhaps just fallen-human thinking.   Still, I do know that many conservative Christians are prone to this line of thought.


Here is the difficulty: Warfare in the Middle East isn’t working.

The Catholic faith allows for just warfare and legitimate self-defense.  It isn’t that we are forbidden recourse to those options when the situation warrants.

But what we are finding, over and again, is that these are not successful solutions.

One of the requirements of just war doctrine is that “there must be serious prospects of success.” (CCC 2309).

We are not meeting that requirement.


This is difficult for Americans.  We are people who believe in success.  We believe that problems can be solved.  If we just find the right formula, the right method, the right program, we can beat this thing.

We tend to explain away the counter-examples by pointing out this or that reason the formula wasn’t followed, or why some additional solution-producing ingredient would have made all the difference in that scenario.  This isn’t a bad instinct.  Humans can solve problems.  We should solve problems.

But we cannot solve all the problems.

There comes a time when we have to concede a problem is too large for our powers, and move on to solidarity, trust, and hope.

File:Caravaggio Judith Beheading Holofernes.jpg

This artwork is not an editorial.  I wanted a nice Caravaggio to fit the mood, and this fits it.  Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].


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