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Just war I

  • 07 July 2006

The Australian government is withdrawing its 450 Special Air Service troops from Afghanistan to Australia so they can be redeployed to Iraq if needed.

Many Christian churches have opposed, or cautioned against, war with Iraq—in marked contrast to their initial support for the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The mainstream western churches, having subjected the claims of the Bush administration to careful scrutiny, remain unconvinced about the moral legitimacy of the war and have refrained from blessing any such endeavour.

Their opposition has presented the US administration with an unprecedented problem of moral legitimacy. The US churches play major roles in shaping public opinion. If they continue to refuse to endorse military intervention, it will create grave problems of conscience for many Americans. 

President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney have met opposition to pre-emptive action against Iraq even from within their own churches. On August 30,  Jim Winkler, chief staff executive of the United Methodist Church’s advocacy and action agency, appealed to George W. Bush to refrain from taking military action. ‘Pre-emptive war cannot become a universalized principle lest disaster and chaos result’, he said. The World Council of Churches also urged restraint, fearful of the cost to innocent civilians.

One of the few religious organisations to support military intervention has been the Southern Baptist Convention, comprising 16 million adherents. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission,  claimed (without evidence) that Saddam Hussein planned to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States. Rich Cizik, an official in the National Association of Evangelicals in the United States, also supported intervention on the grounds that Saddam was linked with the al Qaeda attacks (again, without evidence).

The Catholic Church overseas has consistently urged restraint and has refused to accept that the Iraq situation meets the conditions for a just war. The Vatican’s Cardinal Ratzinger did not accept the concept of a ‘preventive war’, insisting instead on the need for the United Nations to authorise any decision for intervention. He considered that any war would wreak more harm than good—hence failing the principle of proportionality.

In September, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Ruini, added a warning about the growing differences between the United States and Europe over Iraq. In October the French bishops’ conference said the ethical conditions for a just war were not met, including the condition of last resort.

In England, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor in the London