A Word on Just War

A Word on Just War February 28, 2022


Just a momentary time-out to explain something that ought to be obvious.

I am anti-war.

For as long as I’ve been blogging I’ve been anti-war.

War is always wrong. War is hell and it’s from hell. It’s always a tragedy and a sin. I am anti ALL war, including and especially the ruthless imperialist wars my own country has waged against other people.

The people of Ukraine did not choose a war.

They were minding their own business when a murderous oligarch made up a ludicrous story about Nazis in order to invade them and then started bombing, so they fought back. Putin did this against the will of his own people, who have been in the streets protesting him at great risk from the beginning; it’s been estimated that 4000 Russian citizens have been arrested for speaking out in the past roughly seventy-two hours.  During this time Putin’s forces have shelled civilian apartment buildings. They have run a tank over a civilian driving a sedan. They have shot at a children’s hospital. They have bombed oil and gas facilities creating an ecological disaster. And the Ukrainians are fighting back.

That’s not the Ukrainians waging war, that’s plain old defense.

The Catholic Church has a strict list of three criteria by which you can call an act of combat “just.” This is what’s known as “just war doctrine.” There is no “good war doctrine” because war is never a good thing even if you find yourself trapped in the middle of one and have to fight, but we have four criteria for combat being justified at all. It is only just to engage in combat if the damage inflicted by the aggressor is going to be “lasting, grave, and certain.” Every other means of preventing the damage must be ineffective or impractical. There has to be serious prospects of success. And the use of arms has to inflict less serious damage than what would have happened if you hadn’t used them. And in order to be a just war, you can’t only meet two or three of these criteria. You need all four. These hurdles are deliberately set so high that it’s almost impossible to initiate a war while meeting them. They mostly just cover ways in which it’s ethical to defend yourself.

Ukraine fighting back against Russia clearly meet the criteria of a just war. The Russians were shelling Kyiv, a city of nearly three million people, and they were running their tanks over civilian cars. Obviously they were going to murder an enormous number of people if that was allowed to go on. That’s lasting, grave and certain damage. There wasn’t anything they could do to convince the Russians to go home except start fighting back. They are so far holding their ground, which means they have a prospect of success. And they’re only fighting to prevent themselves from being murdered. They’re not bombing Russia in retaliation. That’s all four criteria easily met.

Not to mention, this isn’t only about Ukraine (as if Ukraine weren’t enough). Putin is a ruthless, murderous gangster, and he has nukes. Now that he’s trying to swallow neighboring countries, if he takes Ukraine he will not stop. It won’t be World War Three, it will be worse. The whole world will suffer if it doesn’t end here.

The anti-war response to the war in Ukraine is to support Ukraine. To do anything else is pro-war.

I’ve seen a lot of bizarre, binary thinking across my social media this weekend. So I want to remind everyone again that it’s possible, and correct, to remember that America is guilty of atrocities in our dealings with other nations and with America’s own people as well, while still recognizing that Putin is a monster. It’s possible and it’s right to realize that the kind of carnage happening in Ukraine often happens in Asian and African countries with far less attention from the media, but that doesn’t make it wrong or hypocritical to be horrified by the situation in Ukraine. It’s possible and important to recognize that the Russian aggression has to be stopped, while still remembering that the Russian people who did not ask for this war, and who have protested against it by the thousands, are going to suffer horribly from the sanctions against Russia and that is wrong.

There is nothing good and certainly nothing simple about war, even if it’s easy to recognize who’s in the wrong.

I echo Pope Francis’s plea that the world join him in prayer and penance for an end to to the conflict and the protection of the Ukrainian people. I encourage my readers to support humanitarian aid going to Ukraine.

May Holy Archangel Michael and the Theotokos protect the Ukrainian people. And may we all do what we can to help bring an end to the war.



Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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