- A religion which requires persecution to sustain it is
of the devil's propagation.
- Hosea Ballou (1796 - 1861)
- So, Tony Blair, in a final desperate bid to woo Britain's
anti-war protesters, has resorted to the last refuge of a scoundrel, religion.
Last weekend, hours before hundreds of thousands of people took to the
streets to protest against a possible attack on Iraq, Mr Blair, a member
of the Church of England who also attends a Roman Catholic Church with
his wife, Cherie, argued what he called "the moral case" for
confronting President Saddam Hussein with force, saying "Ridding the
world of Saddam would be an act of humanity".
- This immediately begs the question "Is there ever
a moral case for war". American Civil War general William Sherman
said "War is cruelty and you cannot refine it." But many have
tried. Philosophers and theologians through the ages have attempted to
constrain the barbarity that conflict unleashes by framing rules of war.
The most famous of these, the principle of the "just war", provides
a theoretical guide for when it is morally right to go to war and how that
war might be fought. We owe this principle to St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th
century theologian, and philosopher. In his treatise "Summa Theologica"
he laid out the moral precepts that still shape our ethical thinking:
- "War has to be a last resort. It can be sanctioned
only by a legitimate authority and can be fought only to redress an injury,
with self- defence the obvious justification. Even then, a war can be fought
only if there is a realistic chance of success. War,s ultimate goal must
be the re-establishment of peace and the peace secured afterwards must
be superior to that which would have prevailed if war had not been fought.
Violence used in the war must be proportionate to injury suffered. Methods
of waging war must try to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.
Civilian deaths are justified only if they are the unavoidable consequences
of destroying an offensive military target, not as a means to an end."
- Aquinas,s theory has since been honoured as much in the
breach as in the observance. Many wars, including those of religion, such
as the Thirty Years, War between Britain and France, have encompassed terrible
brutality towards civilians.
- Other acts, such as the Duke of Cumberland's cry of "no
quarter" after the Battle of Culloden, when the Scots of the Jacobite
Army were already crushed, defy the proportionality principle.
- There have been persistent attempts to regulate the conduct
of war. International accords, notably the Geneva Convention, try to tie
states to the doctrine of restraint. There are philosophical objections
to the "just war" doctrine, and not solely from pacifists. Utilitarians
argue that all means are potentially legitimate to minimise the length
and cost of war. By such doctrines might those responsible for the bombing
of Dresden, the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the obliteration
of Cambodia, seek justification.
- Is this, then, the justification Tony Blair is using
to condone the possible slaughter of perhaps a million innocent women and
children in Iraq. If this is the case Tony Blair could well take note of
the words of two far more illustrious thinkers than himself. As Albert
- "He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file
has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake,
since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization
should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality,
deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable
and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of
so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of
war is nothing but an act of murder."
- And as Tony Blair prepares to meet Pope John Paul II
in the Vatican this week-end it may be worthwhile for him to consider the
words of Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician, philosopher
and theologian, who oppined:
- "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully
as when they do it from religious conviction."
- Copyright: Ian Gurney February 2003.
- Ian Gurney is the author of "The Cassandra Prophecy-Armageddon
Approaches" For more information :- <http://www.caspro.com>www.caspro.com