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The war in Ukraine: A Roundtable

  • 19 May 2022
Andrew Hamilton: We are now three months into the Ukraine war. From an invasion it has turned into a war of attrition that has cost many lives, displaced civilians, destroyed cities, and led to sanctions and the making of alliances with effects that have spread suffering far beyond Ukraine. 

In such a situation it is not easy to find a steady moral compass. It is impossible not to admire the strength of Ukrainians and the leadership of their resistance. Impossible, too, not to fear for the harm that a prolonged war will bring to all affected by it.

My own starting point is the evil of war, particularly of modern war. It is destructive of human lives, human values and of the human environment. The destruction extends beyond individual acts of war such as shootings, shellings and bombings, and beyond the deaths of those killed on both sides in acts of war. It encompasses the partners, children and parents of those who are killed and maimed, those made homeless and penniless, and those having to flee their home towns and nations. It includes, too, the psychological harm and moral stress suffered by those who fight in war, those who flee from it, and their families and friends. Like nuclear fuel the pain and sorrow of war have a half-life that lasts far beyond the war itself.

War, too, creates divisions and foments hatreds that extend beyond the warring parties. It leads people in other nations to take sides, to break off relationships with one side or the other, to make enemies and to pressure their fellow citizens to join their enmity. As a result war coarsens the political life and the moral sensitivity of all those sucked into it, turns truth into a convertible currency, encourages national governments to make war and internal security a higher priority than the equality and development of their citizens, and leads to starvation and destitution in neglected parts of the world. As a result, the most pressing needs facing the world, to minimise climate change and to address gross inequality, are neglected and scorned. This is also true in the war in Ukraine.

Lament and anger at war-making is commonplace in the writings of popes from John Paul II to Benedict XVI to Francis. Their protest against war is shaped by their faith. But it is also deeply based in observation and in the lives of those who