Moral Principles & Just War

St. Paul providentially wrote,

“[W]hy not say — as we are accused and as some claim we say — that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.” (Romans 3:8)

In this passage, the Holy Spirit led St. Paul to denounce the idea that having a good goal in mind can ever justify using immoral means to achieve it. God’s most basic commandment is heard in every human conscience: “Do good, avoid evil.” We must never do evil in hopes that good may result. If we do, there is no guarantee that our hoped for goal will come to pass, but we will have surely allied ourselves (in some measure) with evil by opposing God’s will.

A second moral principle (which frees us as it binds) is this: we must never intentionally kill the innocent, for this is murder. All human life is sacred and precious, which makes any decision to wage war a most serious one. Catholic Just War doctrine teaches that all of the following conditions must hold for a war to be morally just:

  1. The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.
  2. All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
  3. There must be serious prospects of success.
  4. The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
    (See The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2309)

B-24 BomberEven if all of these conditions are met and a country goes justly off to battle, enemy civilians must not be targeted. It is inevitable that some innocents will die in the chaos of war; sometimes bombs dropped over a military target will accidentally hit homes nearby. But it is something very different to intentionally aim for the civilians in hopes of killing as many as possible. This is a war crime. It is murder. “But what if murdering civilians will end the war faster and save more lives in the end?” (*) This is the tempter’s promise, but God’s commandment remains without exception: ‘You shall not become a murderer.’

I do not share these moral principles to condemn any previous wartime generation. God knows it is hard do what is right in times of stress and fear; and only He can judge hearts. I share these teachings because history shows that even in peacetime we stand between wars. When the next conflict threatens we must judge aright whether it must be fought, and if so, guard that the war does not make casualties our souls.

Three Crosses Line Break

( * – Some may claim that if enemy civilians are working, paying taxes, and not in rebellion against their government, then they are legitimate military targets, since they are aiding the enemy. Such thinking abandons the distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, condoning all sorts of evils. A similar case could be made for summarily-executing enemy prisoners of war, since their captivity aids the enemy by diverting our wartime resources. )

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