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Getting sick of war

Hypochondriac that I am, I’m surprised I haven’t caught it yet. Now I fully expect to soon be infected with West Nile disease, and chronic wasting disease is probably right around the corner, but try as I might, I seem to be immune from the one sickness that seems, if the polls and our president are to be believed, to be sweeping the country like an epidemic: War Fever.

From what I read, fully two-thirds of Americans are ready to head into Iraq. (It is probably more accurate to say that fully two-thirds of Americans are ready to send other Americans into Iraq.) I may be hanging out with the wrong folk, but honestly, I haven’t actually met any of these two-thirds yet. The people I talk to confess they’re pretty confused about the whole thing and don’t seem to be in as much of a hurry as our president appears to be. (That may have something to do with the fact none of the people I talk to are being blamed for an economy in tatters and a stock market in the tank.)

While waiting to be infected, I’ve been doing a little research regarding one area of military policy that is being bandied about by some Christians who apparently are sick already: The Just War.



The Just War is a cleverly devised defense originally developed by St. Augustine somewhere around the beginning of the fifth century – and just about the time he was probably feeling a little feverish himself. It consists of seven conditions that must exist before a war can be justified:

1. The war must have a just cause.



2. It must be waged by a legitimate authority.

3. It must be formally declared.

4. It must be fought with a peaceful intention.

5. It must be a last resort.

6. There must be reasonable hope of success.

7. The means used must possess proportionality to the end sought.

As nice a guy as St. Augustine must have been, most nations that get themselves into wars don’t pay a lot of attention to these seven conditions. Indeed, most Christians haven’t the slightest idea of what constitutes a just war. If it feels just, it must be. That’s what the Christians must have felt the first few times they went on a crusade, I suspect.

One of my mentors, Dr. Walter Wink, was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the Falklands War. Every Christian theologian he spoke with there felt that Argentina’s claims on the islands were just. Later, when he went to England, he found that every Christian he spoke with in Britain believed that England’s claim was equally just. Apart from the legitimacy of their arguments, he was struck by the incredible predictability of each side. Christians, ancient wisdom notwithstanding, tend to follow their flag before anything else.

Before my temperature rises and night sweats begin, I wonder how many Christians have taken the time to ponder Augustine’s list. Numbers 1 and 3 may fit the bill but 2 and 4 are a little iffy and 5 certainly doesn’t seem very clear at all. I’ll leave 6 and 7 up to folk better equipped than me to ascertain. But just giving the list a quick once-over isn’t very convincing to me that Augustine would be convinced.

I suspect that these seven criteria don’t factor too heavily into the decision-making going on in Washington. I certainly can understand that. After all, who wants to listen to someone from all the way back in the fifth century or, even worse, the first century?

Columnist Rich Mayfield writes in this space on Saturdays. Just ’cause.


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