I should like to thank the editors of Mennonite Life for reprinting "Moral Clarity in a Time of War" and for inviting me into this conversation. With a few exceptions, my respondents avoided the archness and ill temper (formerly known as odium theologicum) that too often characterizes these exchanges, and I am grateful for the effort that they have given to grappling with my essay. Time and space do not permit a response to every question and issue raised, so let me flag a few misunderstandings and then raise the question we all must face in a world whose politics have been decisively changed by 9/11 and by the battles of Afghanistan and Iraq, albeit from a slightly different angle than the one I took in "Moral Clarity."

As to the misunderstandings:

  1. Witness to Hope is not even a "semi-official" biography of Pope John Paul II, as I carefully explained in that book itself.
  2. I do not assert my own authority in denying that the just war tradition begins with a "presumption against violence." Nor am I alone in arguing that beginning with a "presumption against violence" distorts the tradition's internal logic and impedes its capacity to illuminate moral choice. Rather, I rely on the authority and analysis of the Anglophone world's leading historian of the just war tradition, James Turner Johnson. As I have contended for more than twenty years now, the burden of proof rests with my friends Fathers Hehir, Langan, and Christiansen to demonstrate that their "presumption against violence" can be given a secure historical foundation and can be made to make sense in terms of the tradition's theo-logic. I fear that neither test has been met.
  3. I recognize, if not altogether happily, that I am in a minority position among Catholic intellectuals in the U.S. today in my understanding of the just war tradition. But as history itself - in the form of the Revolution of 1989 - has vindicated my critique of the "presumption against violence" camp in its impact on the political analysis of the 1983 U.S. bishops' pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace," I am reasonably confident that intellectual historians of the future will read this debate rather differently than my critics here suggest.
  4. As the author of The Final Revolution, the first book arguing that nonviolent Catholic resistance was crucial in the overthrow of European communism, I hardly dis-esteem the possibilities of Christian commitment and non-violent direct action to bend the course of history in desirable directions, under certain circumstances.
  5. I do not agree that Roland Bainton's "three traditions" model (pacifism, just war, crusade) adequately tracks the history of Christian reflection on war and peace or properly "locates" the distinctive authority of the just war tradition, as least as the Catholic Church has understood it.
  6. I certainly did not argue that we must maintain a rigid separation between our thinking about ends and our thinking about means in moral reflection on war and peace - indeed, the whole burden of my argument on this point in "Moral Clarity" is to get means re-connected, intellectually, to morally worthy public ends, through a recovery and development of classic just war thinking.
  7. In the essay, I take pains to show how the concept of "national interest" cannot be construed narrowly, but must include efforts to build the peace of order in international public life.
  8. I flatly reject the notion that describing al Qaeda for what it is - an unmitigated evil whose only purpose is wickedness - shifts us into a crusading mentality. Nor does it make any sense to suggest that discerning a moral obligation to interdict an evil like that posed by al Qaeda automatically turns one into a holy warrior.
  9. I quite agree that the principles of the just war tradition may, if taken seriously, place those who adhere to those principles in a position of opposition to the plans of a given nation-state. To take one example, I believed it possible to make an ad bellum case for intervention in an imploding and genocidal Yugoslavia; but I could not make the in bello case to my own satisfaction, given what I regarded as the incapacities of the Clinton Administration.
  10. Learning how others perceive America is certainly an important part of building the peace of order in the world. But I am not prepared to say that all perceptions are equal, or that all perceptions are sensible. Remember, for example, Fouad Ajami's brilliant analysis of the culture of "bellicose self-pity" in the Arab Islamic world.
  11. And, last by not least, I very much doubt that the religious leaders who have been chanting that "violence only begets violence" since 9/11 are doing so as the result of a close reading of Rene Girard's philosophical anthropology.

Enough of that. On to the larger issue, which is captured in a trope that got established in the Catholic conversation months before armed force was used to enforce disarmament in Iraq and liberate the Iraqi people from a vicious dictatorship: the juxtaposition of "the force of law" and "the law of force." I imagine this dichotomy will be a regular feature of the debate about the future of world politics in our various Christian communities. So let's take a moment to think about its heuristic value.

The "force of law/law of force" juxtaposition neatly divides the world into two camps. Those who wish to settle conflicts through diplomacy, political compromise, the mechanisms of international law, and/or nonviolent resistance are thought to live on one side of this particular great divide; those who believe in using armed force are on the other. Given that dichotomy, the Christian moral choice seems clear: the first camp.

The problem is that the world doesn't work the way the trope suggests. Of course, legal, political, and diplomatic means of resolving conflict are morally (and politically) preferable to armed force. But what if the these and other non-military means can't cope with a threat that cannot be ignored (German and Japanese ambitions in the 1930s; ethnic-cleaning in Bosnia; disarmament in Iraq)? Can't proportionate and discriminate armed force contribute to the rule of law in international affairs, by demonstrating that lawbreakers will pay for their aggression and will not be permitted to destroy the minimum conditions of order in international public life? Is the relationship between international law and armed force a zero-sum game, such that every use of armed force necessarily entails a loss for the "force of law"?

That is not the lesson of history, nor is it the way that the just war tradition, rightly understood, has thought about these things. As I indicated in my essay, armed force is not intrinsically suspect, morally speaking, in the just war tradition. Classic just war thinking about world politics understands that armed force can be used for good or evil, depending on who's using it, why, to what purposes, and how. Armed force is one instrument among the many available to prudent statecraft. Other instruments should be tried first. But the use of armed force under certain specific circumstances - defined by the just war tradition - can serve the rule of law, not wreck it.

How could it not be so? Imagine a world that had evolved politically (and culturally, which is to say, morally) far beyond our present circumstances. Imagine a world in which there really were effective legal and political institutions for resolving conflicts between nations - the world sketched by Blessed John XXIII in his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, so widely esteemed throughout Christianity. Even in that world, the option of armed force would have to remain open.

Why? Because the rule of law is not self-vindicating. Human nature being what it is, somebody is going to break the rules, and sometimes do so in ways that cannot be handled through diplomacy. Even in a world governed by the "force of law," the sanction of proportionate and discriminate armed force must be available, precisely to vindicate the rule of law.

The slow, steady creation of a world governed by the "force of law" must be an exercise in moral realism - in idealism without illusions - if humanity is to avoid catastrophe along the rocky road from the ways things are to the ways things ought to be. One of the more disconcerting aspects of the religious "peace" movement in the months before Operation Iraqi Freedom was the bald assertion, heard time and again, that today's instruments of international law can resolve every imaginable conflict. Asserting that that is the case will not, and cannot, make it so. When today's international legal and political institutions refuse to do their duty, as they manifestly failed to do in the case of Iraq, the duty to repel aggression and defend basic human rights will fall on "the willing." Their use of armed force, as a last resort, can help sustain the rule of law. That must not be doubted - especially by those serious about the rule of law.

Finally, a word about the role of Pope John Paul II in the pre-Iraq debate, to which several of my critics allude. John Paul II speaks, as all popes speak, in several different registers: magisterial, doctrinal-theological, pastoral, prophetic. To suggest, as some of my critics, here and elsewhere, do, that these are all the self-same papal voice - equivalent acts of the papal magisterium with equally binding force on the consciences of Catholics - is to make a fundamental theological error. The Pope himself doesn't make that mistake. Neither should critics who attempted to parse the Pope's statements on Iraq as binding magisterial support for their own prudential judgments about the best way to handle the Saddam Hussein regime.

Once again, let me reiterate my gratitude to the editors for their courtesy in reprinting my essay and to my interlocutors for their interest in my work. Oremus pro invicem, as we all used to say.