Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Catholic Looks At Veteran's Day

(hat tip to The Wanderer Forum Foundation,

Veteran's Day Address to Notre Dame ROTC Tri-Military Veteran’s Day Ceremony

Prof. Emeritus Charles E. Rice, Notre Dame Law School, University of Notre Dame

Nov. 11, 2010

This commemoration used to be called Armistice Day, in observance of the end of World War One. That was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.” It didn’t work out that way, as your presence here in uniform confirms.

You are volunteers. One price you pay for that decision is misunderstanding by others as to who you are and what you are doing. In an environment of “political correctness,” especially on college campuses, we can understand how sincere but misinformed critics disparage your choice and the military vocation as contrary to the Christian tradition. But those critics are wrong. Let’s try to set the record straight.

When “soldiers” asked John the Baptist, “And we—what are we to do?,” John did not tell them to find another line of work. “[H]e said to them, ‘Plunder no one, accuse no one falsely, and [perhaps most important] be content with your pay.” St. Paul did not demand that newly converted Christians who were soldiers must leave that profession. Instead he said, “Let every man remain in the calling in which he was called….[I]n the state in which he was called, let every man remain with God.” In the early Church, Christian pacifists drew support from Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius, and other theologians, but they reflected neither the dominant Christian view nor the teaching of the Church.

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., dealt with this issue: “What was the attitude of the early Church toward the bearing of arms? More truly citizens of the earthly fatherland than has sometimes been thought, Christians similarly did not hesitate to become soldiers, charged with their country’s defense and perhaps extension. Accordingly, we find numbers of them in the Roman armies at a time when military service was obligatory only for the sons of veterans or in the infrequent cases of extraordinary levies. The fact that Emperor Galerius on the threshold of the fourth century had to ‘purge’ the armed forces because they had too many Christians is the best proof that, from the end of the second century to the beginning of the fourth, ‘conscientious objection’ was not felt by the majority.”

One reason for the rejection of military service by some early Christians was not an intrinsic objection to military service as such, but rather the potential of that service to require immoral conduct and idolatry. An example from the third century illustrates the duty of the Christian citizen both to participate in the common defense and to recognize that his ultimate loyalty is to God rather than to the State. The Theban Legion, composed entirely of Egyptian Christians and stationed at Thebes in Egypt, was ordered by the Emperor Maximian to march to Gaul to suppress a rebellion. Under the command of Mauritius (Maurice), the Legion marched through the Alps into Gaul. Maximian then ordered, in 287, that the whole army must offer sacrifice to the pagan gods and must take an oath to assist in the extermination of Christians in Gaul. The members of the Theban Legion unanimously refused. Their number is commonly placed at 6,600, although that number has been disputed. In reaction to the Legion’s refusal, Maximian ordered the legion to be decimated, with every tenth man selected to be killed. A second decimation followed, but the survivors remained resolute. Following the lead of Maurice and their other officers, they sent Maximian a reply which capsulizes the vocation and duty of the Christian soldier:

We are your soldiers, but are also servants of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience; but we cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours even though you reject Him. In all things which are not against His law we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto. We readily oppose all your enemies, whoever they are; but we cannot dip our hands into the blood of innocent persons. We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you: you can place no confidence in our second oath if we violate the first. You command us to punish the Christians; behold, we are such. We confess God the Father, author of all things, and His Son, Jesus Christ. We have seen our companions slain without lamenting them, and we rejoice at their honour. Neither this nor any other provocation has tempted us to revolt. We have arms in our hands, but we do not resist because we would rather die innocent than live by any sin.

Maximian proceeded to execute every member of the Legion, none of whom offered any resistance. The massacre occurred at Agaunum, now St. Maurice-en-Valais, Switzerland.

So don’t let anyone, on this campus or elsewhere, tell you that your commitment to military service is somehow inconsistent with the Christian tradition. That commitment might be unpopular with one group or another from time to time. But it is a noble calling fully in accord with, and indeed dictated by, the Christian tradition.

It is not enough, however, for you to rest on the assurance that you are doing the right thing. You have to know why it is so and you have to be prepared to educate your critics on the realities of the duty to defend the common good. So let’s review some basic principles.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the traditional Christian view that “governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.” Citizens are obliged to support a just war. “Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.”

Such defense must satisfy “just war” analysis. The requirements for jus ad bellum, justice in going to war, are proper authority, just cause and right intention. The Catechism lists further details: “[T]he damage inflicted by the aggressor… must be lasting, grave and certain;” war must be a last resort, with “all other means impractical or ineffective,” “there must be serious prospects of success;” and “the use of arms must not produce evils… graver than the evil to be eliminated.” “The evaluation of these conditions,” however, “belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” Citizens, including members of the military, are obliged, in effect, to give a benefit of the doubt to the decisions of those in lawful authority.

Jus in bello, justice in fighting a war, requires proportionality and discrimination (non-combatant immunity from intentional attack). The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that: “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.” Pursuant to the principle of the double effect, however, it can be morally justified to attack a military target of sufficient importance even though the attacker knows, but does not intend, that innocent civilians will be killed in the attack. The key is the intent. No one ever has the moral right to intentionally kill the innocent. But the good act of attacking the legitimate target can be justified even though it has the unintended evil effect of killing the innocent, provided that the good effect of the attack is not obtained by means of the evil effect and provided there is sufficient reason for permitting the unintended evil effect.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the very restrictive Rules of Engagement and other binding military policies effectively protect noncombatants and otherwise conform to the requirements of jus in bello. Some military personnel violate the law but their record is far better than that of corporate executives and members of Congress. And the armed services are diligent, sometimes even to the point of excess, in prosecuting putative offenses.

The Second Vatican Council affirmed that, “All those who enter military service in loyalty to their country should look upon themselves as the custodians of the security and freedom of their fellow countrymen; and when they carry out their duty properly, they are contributing to the maintenance of peace.”

The universal pacifist refuses to take part in any and all wars: “Those who renounce violence,” said Vatican II, “and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear… witness to the… risks of recourse to violence.” However, a universal pacifism which denies the right of the state to use force in defense, is inconsistent with the teaching of the Church.

Granting the sincerity of universal pacifists, their claim to moral superiority is flawed. One can well “bear witness to evangelical charity” by renouncing force in defending himself. The universal pacifist, who denies that force can ever be used in defense of the common good, would refuse to defend not only himself but others. He would deny to his fellow citizens their right to have the state provide what the Catechism calls “legitimate defense by military force.”

Unlike the universal pacifist, the selective pacifist refuses to take part in a particular war he regards as unjust. The law of the United States allows exemptions from military service only for universal, and not for selective pacifists. The Catechism urges, but does not require, the state to make “equitable provision” for all conscientious objectors who “are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way.” It is difficult, however, to see how an exemption for selective objectors, who object not to war in general but only to a particular war, could be administered without inviting fraudulent evasion.

Whatever its legal status, selective pacifism is required by the teaching of the Church. We should all be selective pacifists, insisting, with prudence, that any war—or any other act of state,-- is subject to the higher standard of the natural law and the law of God. A strong presumption of validity attaches to the decisions and acts of those entrusted with the care of the common good. But that presumption is not conclusive. All wars are debatable, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Subject to the legitimate authority of Congress, the president has the duty to defend the nation. His decisions and those of Congress are entitled to a strong benefit of the doubt. But there are limits.

To participate in the defense of the nation and the common good is an honorable calling. Those who do so deserve appreciation and respect. So, please, do not permit anyone to try to lay a guilt trip on you for your commitment to your country’s military service. You should be proud of that freely given service. You have earned the appreciation and respect of the Notre Dame community, and especially of those who profess allegiance to the Christian tradition.

Yesterday was the 235th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Permit me to quote a line from the Marine Corps Hymn which I rightly apply to you and to the Army, Navy and Air Force in honor of your service: “Here’s health to you and to our Corps, which we are proud to serve.”

Thank you. And God bless you.


Luke 3:14.

1 Cor. 7:20-24.

John A. Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Catechism (1975), 346-347.

Butler’s Lives of the Saints (1963), vol. III, 619.

The Roman Theban Legion, St. Maurice of the Theban Legion,


Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), no. 2308.

CCC, no. 2310.

CCC, no. 2309.

Gaudium et Spes, no. 79.

CCC, no. 2306.

CCC, no. 2309.

CCC, no. 2311.


BigSofty said...

You give an example of a legion willing to die rather than kill innocents, while proclaiming that a bit of "collateral damage" is OK?

We are to give the government, instigator of all modern wars, the benefit of the doubt while waging open warfare? By definition then anyone accused of anything by any government must be presumed guilty, and suffer anything up to and including capital punishment by napalm, bomb or bullet.

"He would deny to his fellow citizens their right to have the state provide..” This is illogical. Someone refusing to use force is not denying anyone anything other than the use of his body to inflict harm.

In short you've done nothing but weasel up some excuses why it is OK for people to join and stay in the armed forces of empire, even though the ongoing killing is clearly not in anything resembling self-defense.

Sumus Mori said...

You wrote:

"John did not tell them to find another line of work. “[H]e said to them, ‘Plunder no one, accuse no one falsely, and [perhaps most important] be content with your pay.” St. Paul did not demand that newly converted Christians who were soldiers must leave that profession. Instead he said, “Let every man remain in the calling in which he was called….[I]n the state in which he was called, let every man remain with God.”

Neither Christ nor Paul told the slaveowners to release their slaves from slavery. Is that supposed to be an approbation of slavery? Of course not. God reaches out to sinful people where they are.

Nobody is "called by God" to kill people at the behest of the politicians, who throughout millenia of unjust wars, have always couched their motives in terms of "defending the country." Recall the words of Hermann Goering, a man who had nothing more to lose. Remember what he told Gustave Gilbert about the way wars are really initiated.

I cannot fathom a conscientious "Catholic" who helps operate a boomer that carries within it nuclear weapons capable of destroying the earth three times over. What "Catholic" could launch a missile that is pre-targeted an entire city? What moral Catholic could deliberately try to destroy entire civilian cities as they did in Germany and Japan?

Do you dare assume that that group of power-hungry, amoral, nihilistic, infanticidal maniacs known as the Congress and Senate would ever think it incumbent upon themselves to only wage a war that was in accord with the Just War theory? Do you even think they know any of the principles? They refuse to outlaw abortion, yet you think they have the moral capacity to decide what adult humans should be annihilated by B-52 strikes in Iraq? (Which did the bulk of the bombing in the First Gulf War.) Who deliberately attacked the water purification and sanitation systems of Iraq in the First Gulf War? Who cited the lie perpetrated by "Nurse Nayirah," (actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador) about Iraqi soldiers throwing dozens of babies onto the hospital floor?

Sumus Mori said...

Do you truly expect me to believe that the same people who think that slaughtering a pre-born child is a "human right" have any moral claim to decide what foreigners should be destroyed?

Do you think the politician savages who support torture have any capacity to decide the morality of killing? Yes. Waterboarding, sleep deprivation and "stress positions" are torture. Torture is an objective act: it is a means to an end, and the definition includes acts of deliberate infliction of suffering as a means of coercing the free will, a free will given by God Himself, who Himself refuses to coerce the free will) not merely a "certain amount of subjective pain" as the Wormwoods in the military and congress would have us believe.
If torture is an objective act, it cannot be defined subjectively.

A solid, thinking Catholic with an inkling of history would never support 95% of any military actions in history. If I have any presumption about a war, it is not that the Powers are justified in their action, but that that the politicians are immoral, consequentialist thugs who have no right to send anyone to kill. History supports this presumption, and any Pollyanna preaching to the contrary is not in accordance with the practical reality of the matter, and is hence not the teaching of the Church.

Catholics giving deference to politicians and their gunmen is sickening and a scandal. Soldiers know who butters their daily bread. That's why almost all the allegedly Catholic soldiers went in to kill Iraqis and Afghanis at the behest of the politicians, because they were just about to land on American beaches waving scimitars and screaming "Allahu akhbar!" and impose Shariah law, packing up our freedoms into large duffelbags.

General Smedley Butler had it right. "War is just a racket. I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket. . . . I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service."

I look at the soldiers who fight for politicians as people who pour water on a grease fire. While their intentions may be good, they are certainly not heroes: they are endangering their own lives and the lives of others because while their hearts may be in the right place, their good intentions do not change the reality of the situation and the stupidity of their actions.

May God illuminate the hearts of those who mistakenly fight for the State under the pretense that they are fighting for their neighbors and homes.

Perry Mason said...

BigSofty, the problem with Catholic Just War theory (and I consider myself a Catholic in good standing) is that properly interpreted it is incredibly narrow.

Charlie Rice, a great and accomplished scholar, nonetheless makes many common errors in attempting to describe it, particularly when giving examples.

First, all people are responsible for the common good, except infants, the weak and infirm. Yet even they who are able must follow the commandment to love our neighbor.

Thus, properly interpreted, no modern State or government can be given a presumption of being correct, particularly when every modern state is full of lies and corruption.

More importantly, Mr. Rice glosses over the "proper authority" requirement. This is where Catholic Just War theory applied to almost all wars implodes. Modern democratic governments, frankly any non-voluntary government, is not proper. It is not legitimate. It is based on coercion and de facto assumption of power alone, which is contrary to God's greatest commandment.

The Church has no special insight or knowledge as to when a government is "legitimate" or not for purposes of applying Just War Theory. However, using basic principles the Church can promulgate, one can deduce that in fact Congress, for example, is not legitimate.

Where would the theory justify the use of force? Take for example a small city with a ruling counsel of elders who the great majority assent to for dispute resolution, and who do not coerce those who do not so assent. This city is invaded unjustly and the elders instruct all able citizens to resist to protect their lives and the lives of their families. The resistance in this instance, subject to rules of proportionality and other moral considerations, could be just.

It is simply a matter of applying the law of self defense to a greater group.

Derrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aged parent said...

I must wholeheartedly agree with Derrick who states that the comments section was more enlightening than the lead article.

Dr Rice is a good, an honest and a kind man who has wirtten many fine things in his career. But where this fine gentleman falls down is on two very crucial areas: first, he is an Americanist; he has accepted the fallacies of Americanism, an "ism" that was justly condemned by the Church, most particularly by Leo XIII. This acceptance of the false ideas of Americanism does not make Dr Rice a villain, but it does very definitely color his thinking.

Secondly, Dr Rice is quite uncritical when it comes to some of the directions our recent Popes have taken the Church, a direction that, as we look at the "devastated vineyard" around us, has hardly been good for the Faith. Dr Rice's lack of critical thinking in this regard is indicated in his numerous references to the New Catechism - a catechism that has, yes, been authorized offcially by the Church, but a catcechism that is nonetheless vastly inferior to previous catechisms and is quite deficient in a number of important doctrinal areas. Dr Rice would be well advised to look back at the thinking of great Catholic minds of the past and to eschew the trendy modern theologians who are so namby-pamby and so terrified of a media lynching that they are only too happy to water down as much as possible the hard teachings of Christ.

I commend those who responded, and would only gently correct "Perry Mason" on his occasional misreading of the Just War theory which, if I read him right, he finds flaws in. I would cordially recommend him to read those two excellent Books, "Neo-Conned" and its sequel, "NeoConned Again". In them he will find brilliant analysis of the Just War doctrine.