Just War Doctrine: The better choice

By Steve Farrell
web posted September 25, 2000

Thomas Paine"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right," wrote Thomas Paine two centuries ago. Fortunately, for a good portion of our history, the United States in its conduct with foreign nations, though certainly not without sin, provided relatively few enduring examples of Paine's reference to a seared conscience.

In so many ways the United States set a remarkable and unmatched example, and she did so because she thought it dishonest to "[cry] peace to pursue lawless ends," and because she thought it true to "[pursue] ends [which] were upright, [by] means [which] were pure."

Our history has been, in truth, a long habit of trying to do right, not a long habit of trying to appear right. It was a natural by-product of the religious nature of the American culture. It affected everything we did, and in the case of foreign policy, it put considerable restraint upon how often, in what ways, and to what extent we used deadly force. Because this was true, we and the world have been greatly blessed with greater liberty and greater security.

Thanks be to the Founders!

Springing from the Biblical principle which forbade murder, and its partner principle which commanded man to protect innocent life and to confer justice upon the murderer - the American Founders saw only two legitimate uses of force: self defense and justice. Protection of property and liberty were included. "For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?" asked Bastiat.

Extending this to the principle of war - "Just War," then, was none other than a collective and commissioned act of self defense, or as an after-the-fact administration of justice upon belligerents. Offensive War, on the other hand was considered unacceptable and evil.

These doctrines lay at the foundation stone of the American foreign policy of yesteryear - attack only those who attack you - to which was sensibly added - be strong enough to discourage attack.

During the Constitutional Convention Founder Charles Pinkney, the prominent delegate from South Carolina, observed on this point: "Our true situation appears to me to be this - a new extensive country, containing within itself the materials for forming a government capable of extending to its citizens all the blessings of civil and religious liberty - capable of making them happy at home. This is the great end of republican establishments.

"We mistake the object of our Government, if we hope or wish that it is to make us respectable abroad. Conquest or superiority among other powers is not, or ought not ever to be, the object of republican systems. If they [our Representatives] are sufficiently active and energetic to rescue us from contempt, and preserve our domestic happiness and security, it is all we can expect from them, - it is more than almost any other government ensures to its citizens."

And so what could be better than that? This was the gospel. It was largely obeyed. When departed from, it was quickly returned to. It gained us the respect of nations, and it kept us nearly free from all the petty and bitter embroilments and battles of foreign war for 130 years, and free, also, from the moral and political degeneracy which accompany frequent war.

But the good is always under attack from the bad, isn't it?

So it was when the religious reasoning and the relative peace of 18th and 19th century American foreign policy met head on with the European-bred, poor-excuse-for-a- political-philosophy, meddling-busy-body-socialism.

Come the 20th Century, it was no longer good enough to be free and independent - we must insure that the world is too, and if it is not then we must make it so by canon and ball!

This was no small change. It was an abrupt about face. In the past, even aggressor nations, said Clausewitz, were wise enough to present "aggression . . . as a defensive reaction."

But socialism breeds arrogance. It captures the educational and press establishments. It boldly brags that it can reinvent traditional values by teaching from cradle to grave the most absurd things to be true. It works tirelessly to make this so; and it knocks down any who disagree.

It took a full century, but the American psyche succumbed and now ascribes to the ridiculous belief that it is just to kill before being killed, to prosecute supposed intent prior to criminal action, to protect America's vague "vital interests" instead of her private property, and to impose "democracy" instead of sharing it by example.

In other words, we have come to believe we are Romans, that we should - no, that we must - impose liberty at the point of a sword; for the world is full of a bunch of bloody barbarians and it is our duty to bring them civilization!

Think about it. This has become our new gospel.

It is an interesting theory, but where is the honor in it, and where is the safety in creating one central authority, one so powerful that no nation can resist its so-called good intentions?

Thomas Paine, one of the great proponents of those higher moral laws which we are now tempted to abandon warned: "Our Independence with God's blessing we will maintain against all the world; but as we wish to avoid evil ourselves, we [must not] inflict it on others . . . Offensive war," said he, "is murder."

We should remember that, "a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, [only] gives it a superficial appearance of being right." Wrong is still wrong. It ever will be. And sooner or later, if we as a nation do wrong, we as a nation will reap disaster. On the other hand, sooner or later, if we as a nation do right, we as a nation will reap success. The choice is ours.

Please send e-mail your comments and/or media requests to Steve at Cyours76@yahoo.com.

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