Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pre-emptive vs. “preventive” war — A vital distinction

In his 1956 short story “The Minority Report,” science fiction author Philip K. Dick considered a future where murders are prevented — and their would-be (but not-yet) perpetrators punished — by Precrime, a system which interprets the visions of three mutant, “precognative” humans or “pre-cogs.” (I've not read the story, but highly recommend the 2002 film adaptaion by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Cruise.)

It's astonishing that while we consider the idea of preventive punishment absurd and abhorrent on an interpersonal level, we readily accept it on an international level.

Today, the United States operates a de facto Department of Pre-War. Since 2002, we claim not only the ability to see into the future and discern with certainty the eventual aggressive actions of our enemies, but also the moral authority to act upon those visions, and to punish the would-be (but not-yet) perpetrators.

Just War doctrine does, in fact, allow for pre-emptive war. If a nation has evidence that they are clearly in danger of an imminent attack, they don't have to wait to be hit first and then retaliate. They can pre-empt the attack with a counter-attack of their own:
Having a sufficient cause is the most important condition justifying war. Historically this has involved (a) self-defense (b) against an act of aggression and (c) used as a last resort. Initiating an act of war violates this requirement, since the only sufficient reason for warfare is self-defense against physical aggression.

The right to preempt an anticipated attack can be extrapolated from the self-defense principle if preemptive strikes meet a high standard of justification: the attack being prevented must be imminent, not merely conjectured or vaguely feared in the long run.

But with the advent of the “Bush doctrine,” the US has supplanted the lawful (pre-emption) with the unlawful (prevention). This became crystal clear to me when I read the following [my bold]:
The contributors to Hitting First have criticized the Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSS 2002), because it deliberately confuses “preemptive” war, initiated in the face of an imminent threat and thus considered legal under international law, with “preventive” war, which, under international law, is indistinguishable from naked aggression. As Tom Rockmore notes: “It follows that defensive, or preemptive, war, which is intended to respond to a clear and present danger, including an ongoing or clearly looming attack, is moral, hence licit or justified. But what the Bush administration calls ‘preemptive’ war, which is widely regarded as preventive, or offensive, war, designed for a situation when an attack is not clearly in the offing, when it may not ever take place, is immoral, hence illicit or unjustified.” [Ibid, p. 146]

According to Mr. Rockmore, in NSS 2002, “the term ‘preemptive’ is being used, perhaps deliberately, in a nonstandard way that extends and broadens the justification for the United States to wage war against real or imagined adversaries. The consequence is to turn on its head the very idea that military action should be defensive only.” [Ibid, p. 140] Although many Americans might remain confused by such slight of hand, the rest of the world has seen through the ruse.

~ Walter C. Uhler, “Deceit About Iraq: ‘Things Related and Not’” (a review of Hitting First: Preventive Force in U.S. Security Policy, ed. by William W. Keller and Gordon R. Mitchell)
A preventive war is not a just war for the same reason arrest and punishment to prevent a possible crime is not justice.

While police (or citizens, in fact) may act to pre-empt a crime that appears to be imminent, they may not act to prevent a possible “future” crime. The same principle holds true for nations. They may act in response to an imminent threat; they may not act to “prevent” some possible future act of aggression.

Knowledge of the future is an attribute of God alone. And when the State claims both certain knowledge of the future and the moral authority to act on that knowledge, it is appropriating to itself this divine attribute.

(See also “A Citizen’s Response to the National Security Strategy,” by Wendell Berry, Orion magazine, March/April 2003.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My coins, but not my sons

Note: My regular readers (all four of them!) have probably read the following piece at my other blog, Rabbit Trails. But it occurs to me that it obviously belongs here as well, so I've reposted it.
— • —

A couple of years ago, our pastor preached on Mark 12. While discussing vv. 13-17, he revealed to me a gem — one of those gems that was right there in front of me all along, yet one I’d never noticed before:
Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”

But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it.

And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.
In contrast to the denarius, an ancient Roman coin which bore both the image and inscription of Caesar, Pastor Niell asked us, “Whose image and inscription do you bear?”

Why, the image of Jehovah, and the inscription of the Triune God, I thought. It suddenly occurred to me that, while all men bear the image of God, it is His people alone who bear His inscription: the mark or seal of baptism.

Pretty basic stuff, yes? But something worth considering the next time Caesar claims the authority to conscript citizens to murder for him. (Which claim, I'm sorry to report, I expect to be revived in the very near future.)

And so, a quick note to you who happen to occupy the chair of former Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt:

Jesus says you can have my pennies and dimes. But neither I nor my children belong to you. God gives you no authority to snatch us up, hand us a rifle, and compel us to violate the Sixth Commandment.

For “whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge” (Acts 4:19).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Can't have it both ways

We can’t expect to have an educated enlisted corps who will be held morally and legally accountable for their actions in war without their having a say in whether or not they will perform those actions.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Like a man that taketh a dog by the ears

During the Vietnam War a poster appeared with a picture of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson standing on the lawn of the White House in front of reporters and photographers, picking up his pet dogs (which were beagles) by the ears. Superimposed upon this picture was a quotation from the Book of Proverbs (26:17): “He that meddles in a quarrel not his own is like a man that taketh a dog by the ears.” While the motivation of the producer of that poster was doubtless not a desire to apply biblical truth to the questions of war and peace, he nevertheless put his finger in a memorable way on one of the critical failings in our nation's Vietnam adventure — namely, the folly of any nation playing God by trying to become an international policeman, or a savior of the downtrodden nations of the earth.

~ Roger Wagner, “Vietnam: Biblical Reflections on National Messianism”

Sunday, September 9, 2007

An offer of mercy to the fearful

The officers shall speak further to the people, and say, “What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart.”
~ Deuteronomy 20:8
— • —

So time and the hopeless journey wore away. Upon the fourth day from the Cross Roads and the sixth from Minas Tirith they came at last to the end of the living lands, and began to pass into the desolation that lay before the gates of the Pass of Cirith Gorgor; and they could descry the marshes and the desert that stretched north and west to the Emyn Muil. So desolate were those places and so deep the horror that lay on them that some of the host were unmanned, and they could neither walk nor ride further north.

Aragorn looked at them, and there was pity in his eyes rather than wrath; for these were young men from Rohan, from Westfold far away, or husbandmen from Lossarnach, and to them Mordor from childhood had been a name of evil, and yet unreal, a legend that had no part in their simple life; and now they walked like men in a hideous dream made true, and they understood not this war nor why fate should lead them to such a pass.

“Go!” said Aragorn. “But keep what honour you may, and do not run! And there is a task which you may attempt and so be not wholly shamed. Take your way south-west till you come to Cair Andros, and if that is still held by enemies, as I think, then re-take it, if you can; and hold it to the last defence of Gondor and Rohan!”

Then some being shamed by his mercy overcame their fear and went on, and others took new hope, hearing of a manful deed within their measure that they could turn to, and they departed.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King,
Chapter 10: “The Black Gate Opens”

Friday, September 7, 2007

"Love thy neighbor" and national messianism

Appropos of my last post, I just happened across this (italics mine):
It is very hard for any nation, especially one as allegedly well-intentioned as the United States, to resist the messianic temptation, especially when we see the genuine political and social needs of the nations of the world.

But it is very important to remember that the Biblical fruits of covenant-keeping faithfulness to God cannot be exported without first exporting the source of those blessings — the preaching of the gospel of Christ and His life-transforming (and culture-transforming) work. This is the essential difference between 18-19th Century colonialism and the imperialist efforts of the super powers in the 20th Century. The former usually sent missionaries first, where the latter have sent the army.

Nor can we properly apply the Biblical maxim of "love your neighbor" directly to the state. The state, as a "minister" of God for the sustaining of righteousness and justice (cf. Rom. 13:1ff) is strictly limited in the scope of its legitimate use of coercion (the "power of the sword"). To give to one, it must first take from another, and God in His wisdom has restricted the circumstances under which the state can coerce its citizens into helping another nation.

I'm especially interested in hearing the biblical support for Wagner's last assertion. (I wonder if I might simply call and ask him?)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Who is my neighbor?

The classic just war doctrine as articulated by the Church does not view all use of force as evil; rather it declares that war can actually be a positive act of love entirely consistent with the character of God. Love of God and neighbor impels Christians to seek a just peace for all, especially for their neighbors, and military force is sometimes an appropriate means for seeking that peace.

~ Dr. Darrell Cole, When God Says War Is Right, p. 7 (my bold)
While I agree generally with Dr. Cole’s assessment of war as expressed in Christian just war doctrine, it is vital that we ask, “Who is my neighbor?”

A lawyer once asked Jesus the same question, trying to find out just how far God expected him to take this “love your neighbor” stuff (Luke 10). But in the context of war, we don’t ask “Who is my neighbor?” to avoid showing mercy and compassion, but rather to determine legitimate jurisdiction in wreaking violence. Binding a neighbor's wounds and putting him up at the inn is one thing. Devastating his community, and killing and maiming countless of his family and friends in the process of “liberating” them, is another thing altogether.

One of the jus ad bellum (“justice in going to war”) criteria is proper authority. I.e., the decision to go to war must be made by the appropriate governing official(s). And of course, where there is authority, there is the matter of jurisdiction — the lawful extent or range of that authority.

St. Paul teaches, “There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1). But I am unaware of any scriptural support for the idea that rulers have lawful authority to intervene militarily in other nations, even in a just cause. Dr. Greg Bahnsen stated the matter well in his sermon series A Christian View of War:
[T]he circumscribed area of lawful authority for the state is its own citizens, and not the citizens of another land or another nation.

Do nations accrue moral responsibility, in the name of justice, for what happens in foreign regimes? If so, where does God tell us this? Where does God tell us we have the right to intervene in another nation, even in a just cause? And the answer, I think, is that deafening silence — He does not.
Just war is rooted in the right to defend one's family, community and nation against violent aggression. Inasmuch as men have a civic responsibility, then, to defend their own communities and nations, Cole is correct. Love of God and neighbor should impel Christians to come to their neighbors' defense.

Of course, one may legitimately choose for himself to participate militarily in some just cause on foreign soil. But another man — even the president of the world's sole superpower — has no right to choose this for him. Bahnsen continues:
Politicians who choose intervention by war, you must remember, are always expending the lives, money and freedom of others. And they have no right to do that, except where God has authorized. They have no right to take jurisdiction and apply the police, coercive powers of the state [to compel their own citizens' participation], except where God authorizes.
And this is where it seems Cole’s recourse to “love of God and neighbor” may be unduly overbroad — an attempt, perhaps, at justifying foreign military adventurism in the name of Christian compassion.