Saturday, July 14, 2007

The JBS and the Christian "Just War" Theory

The people running the John Birch Society have rediscovered the Christian Just War Tradition (look here and scroll down for a second reference).

Some might suspect that this represents a sudden and uncharacteristic display of principle on the part of the current JBS management. Allow me to uproot that suspicion before it blossoms into an unfortunate misunderstanding.

In a brief essay critiquing George W. Bush's conservative credentials, JBS Web Editor Dennis Behreandt (a genuinely nice guy and a very capable writer) took note of the fact that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is "an aggressive war that violated the Christian just war principles to which conservatives have traditionally been attached...."

Gary Benoit, editor of The New American, offered a lengthier treatment of the same subject in his review of a YouTube video contrasting Ron Paul with the other GOP presidential contenders. Dr. Paul, who has consistently opposed foreign wars, is the only one in that field who has invoked the Just War teaching, in the specific context of denouncing the administration's plans for a war with Iran. Several other GOP contenders, including Duncan Hunter (who was the subject of a fawning profile in The New American a few months back), have endorsed -- either obliquely or explicitly -- the use of nuclear weapons against Iran in a pre-emptive strike. (Hunter made his support for that abominable idea quite unambiguous.)

After reviewing the basic principles of a Just War (it must be defensive, declared and carried out by the proper authority, waged as a last resort, proportionate to the threat, and discriminate between combatants and non-combatants), Gary wrote:

"These criteria for a just war do not match what we have been doing in Iraq. Nor are they in harmony with the concept of a preemptive nuclear war against Iran. Yet the Republican presidential candidates who support the concept of preemptive nuclear war also claim to be Christians and men of faith. How can that be? Have they studied Christian just-war theory? Are they even familiar with it? Ron Paul made a very astute observation when he commented: `I have been reading from a different Bible.'"

The most important element of that statement is the fact that Dennis and Gary, editors working on behalf of what is supposed to be the cutting-edge freedom organization, both invoked the Just War critique of the Iraq war and the proposed nuking of Iran weeks after Ron Paul had made it safe for the JBS to do so.

Here we see one of the key facets of "leadership," as exemplified by the timid little boys running the JBS (a designation I do not apply to Dennis, who is not in a management position):

"Leadership" consists of hanging back while others clear the minefield -- and then sprinting to the front and laying claim to an unearned share of the credit.

For months now, Ron Paul has been speaking the truth about the foreign policy pursued by the regime that rules us -- how its wars, both overt and secret, have left our nation poorer, less free, and in disrepute with hundreds of millions of people who otherwise would wish us well. People of all ages and from all backgrounds have gravitated toward Dr. Paul, recognizing in him someone who speaks the truth with quiet conviction and no little courage.

I have advised Appleton to emulate Dr. Paul's example, and to embrace the movement that he now leads (in small but significant part because of the timidity and myopia of the current JBS upper management, Alan Scholl -- about whom more anon -- in particular). If the items quoted above represent a small step in that direction, that's encouraging, I suppose, but in a highly qualified sense.

If the JBS is serious about embracing the Christian Just War doctrine and repudiating pre-emptive nuclear war (which is a serious and growing threat), it really should find someone else to define its organizational mission and campaigns. The incumbent bureaucrat in that role, Alan Scholl, publicly, pointedly, and unabashedly endorsed pre-emptive nuclear annihilation of Iran -- until I called him out on the matter and forced him to back down.

As the posting to which I've linked above indicates (scroll down to the entry headlined "UPDATE, November 11"), Alan did qualify -- practically to the point of repudiation -- his initial suggestion that a threat from Iran would justify an assault in which "several hundred nuclear missiles" would be hurled at that country, leaving it a smoldering radioactive ruin.

Here's my original post on this abhorrent proposal:

A Surprising Endorsement of Nuclear Genocide “Americans, through their representatives in Congress, can send an unmistakably clear message to the Iranian government that we will mind our own business from now on," opines a right-wing commentator. "However, if the Iranians so much as threaten to launch one of their weapons at American citizens, anywhere in the world, or harm one of them, then we will consider that an act of war. As a result, we will unload several hundred nuclear missiles on their country, leaving nothing but a vast crater behind in that part of the world.”

Note well that under this standard, nuclear incineration of Iran -- which would involve the annihilation of scores of millions of civilians -- would be "justified" as a pre-emptive measure. The missiles would fly if the Iranian government "so much as threaten[s]" to "harm" any American citizen anywhere.

Note as well that while citizens are urged to pressure their Representatives to issue the threat of pre-emptive nuclear war, no mention is made of requiring Congress to declare war before unleashing thermonuclear hell in the Persian Gulf.
And no effort is made to reconcile this recommendation with the Christian Just War doctrine, which dictates that war can be waged only when 1) it is declared by the proper authority; 2) it is a proportionate response to a legitimate injury or a rationally perceived threat, and 3) would result in less damage than a refusal to resort to arms. The Just War doctrine also contains the principle of "discrimination," under which it is impermissible to kill innocent noncombatants deliberately.

As Dr. Charles Rice, a professor of law at Notre Dame University, explains: “Proportionality relates not only to the war itself (i.e., the whole enterprise must be for a proportionate good), but also to the use of particular tactics or weapons....” Under the principle of “discrimination,” he elaborates, “it can never be justified intentionally to kill innocent noncombatants"; however, "it could be morally justified to attack a military target of sufficient importance and urgency even though the attacker knows, but does not intend, that innocent civilians in the vicinity will be killed.”
Obviously, an attack that would leave "nothing but a vast crater" where a nation of nearly 70 million souls once existed would fall dramatically short of the standard imposed by the Christian principle of proportionality.

Furthermore, the prescription for pre-emptive nuclear genocide quoted above falls short even of
traditional Islamic standards for Jihad, which -- until quite recently -- called for discriminating between combatants and non-combatants, and forbade the use of indiscriminate weapons that could kill women, children, and invalids. That genocidal prescription, however, is entirely in harmony with the post-Christian doctrine of collective responsibility in warfare that was introduced by the Jacobins during the French Revolution, refined by the murderous assaults on Confederate populations by Sherman and Sheridan, expanded during the first World War, codified by Lenin's Communist regime, and reached its perfection under Germany's National Socialists and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge - and that informs the contemporary neo-"conservatives" in their campaign to "liberate" the world through mass bloodshed.

Given this pedigree, it's astonishing to learn that the author of that prescription for genocide was -- a name that's probably become familiar to readers of this blog -- Alan Scholl, director of mission and campaigns for the John Birch Society, the individual who defines that estimable organization's ideological priorities.

This appears to be another of those
"ride the wave" proposals -- or maybe it's better described as a "joining the torchlight parade" or a "get to the stadium early to snag a good seat at the Nuremberg Rally" deal. That description, I hasten to specify, applies only to Alan, not to the worthy and decent people who constitute the Birch Society's rank and file, who are much more sensible and principled than the man setting the organization's agenda.

Just days ago, the Senate passed -- by a 97-0 margin -- a perfectly demented resolution that offers the inbred little despot in the White House a pretext for war with Iran: It demands that Iran cease "meddling" in Iraq, accusing Iran of being behind the "murder" of US troops occupying Iraq.

Commentator Chris Floyd (whose analysis is good, although his worldview leaves much to be desired) points out that because of that Sovietesque resolution, "
George W. Bush [has] a clear and unmistakable casus belli for attacking Iran whenever Dick Cheney tells him to.... This vote is the clearest signal yet that there will be no real opposition to a Bush Administration attack on Iran. This is yet another blank check from these slavish, ignorant goons; Bush can cash it anytime. This is, in fact, the post-surge `Plan B' that's been mooted lately in the Beltway."

It's not enough that the Regime, which illegally invaded Iraq and maintains an occupation force of hundreds of thousands (both troops and "contractors") in that country, accuses any other nation of "meddling" in that long-suffering land. No, the Regime -- behaving exactly like the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union -- is carrying on a full-scale covert war against Iran, and eagerly seeking a pretext to bring that war out into the open.

Notes Floyd:

"Of course, the United States is already at war with Iran. We are directing covert ops and terrorist attacks inside Iran, with the help of groups that our own government has declared terrorist renegades. We are kidnapping Iranian officials in Iraq and holding them hostage. We have a bristling naval armada on Iran's doorstep, put there for the express purpose of threatening Tehran with military action. The U.S. Congress has overwhelmingly passed measures calling for the overthrow of the Iranian government. And now the U.S. Senate has unanimously declared that Iran is waging war on America, and has given official notice that this will not be tolerated. It is only a very small step to move from this war in all but name to the full monty of an overt military assault."

If and when that war comes, what will the current JBS management do?

On past performance I would expect that the CEO would counsel caution, the organization's President would find some way to blame it on "the Jews," the editor of The New American would contemplate the question, WWM(G)D? (What Would Mel Gibson Do?), and the guy in charge of the organization's campaigns and mission -- that same Alan Scholl -- will once again find an excuse to support the mass murder of innocent people.

One thing is certain: If that war comes, we won't hear anything more out of Appleton about the virtues of the Christian Just War tradition, at least until the public grows weary of the conflict and someone else volunteers to clear the minefield ahead of the heroes running the JBS.


Texas Little El said...

As Rep. Paul would say, "We are individuals. When we come together as groups or associations there may come a time to break those associations and return to being the individual.

No one may condemn us when those associations no longer fulfill those needs which brought us into them.

When we are in the company of Jesus, those needs will always be fulfilled.

But if the groups we find ourselves a part of move in directions contrary to the teachings of Christ, then we must remind those individuals or groups of their Christian obligation.

If they do not listen then it is time to dissolve those bonds.

If the leadership of the JBS doesn't change the course it is taking it's membership, they may find more will break the ties that bind them together, discovering they are now leaders without a following.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Grigg's

Jerri Lynn Ward, J.D. said...

Also, consider this recent White House statement of policy regarding Iran that Bush sent to Senator Levin. Scroll down to the paragraph about Iran.

Kevin Craig said...

I am a pacifist who believes Bush should be impeached. However, I would like to advance an argument that a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear weapons is consistent with "Just War Theory" -- even though I believe "Just War Theory" is an unChristian compromise with militarism.

I agree with the thesis of Fr. Richard McSorley, SJ, who said "It's a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon." Nuclear weapons are inherently indiscriminate, killing non-combatant civilians (whose murder is condemned by "Just War Theory") as well as the conscripted human beings whose murder is justified by "Just War Theory."

God commands us through the prophet Micah to beat our "swords into plowshares."

For these reasons, destruction of weapons of mass-destruction is warranted by "Just War Theory."

But if a surgical strike on Iranian weapons-building is justified, so is a surgical strike on U.S. weapons-building.