Christian studies department by wyatt bulgrien hillsdale, michigan

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MAY 1999

Throughout human history, there have been wars and rumors of wars: wars of territorial aggression, wars of revenge, wars of defense, wars of ideology, wars of genocide, wars of pride, wars of fear, wars of justice, wars of harassment, wars over resources, holy wars, wars for the sake of wars, wars for prestige, wars for power, and many other kinds of wars. Commonly, political historians begin the twentieth century not with the turn of the date from 1900 to 1901, but with the beginning of the First World War in 1914 – getting the century off to a bloody start. And the twentieth century has continued to be a period of especially intense and destructive warfare, not only because of the steadily advancing technology and methods of warfare itself, but because of the totalitarian ideological states (Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia) that have sprung up in opposition to the Western democracies. Future historians, one may hope, will hold the twentieth century to have ended on Christmas Day, 1991, with the breakup of the great menace and America’s opponent in the Cold War, the Soviet Union. Perhaps the wars of the twenty-first century will be wars not of democracy vs. totalitarianism but of some other nature: for example, “brush-fire” wars like the Persian Gulf War and the NATO involvement in Kosovo. Even if the twentieth century can have been only 77 years in duration, however, the wars of its time have been responsible for many more than a hundred million deaths, and possibly many hundreds of millions (estimates for World War II alone range from forty to sixty million).

Because of fallen human nature, wars will most likely continue until the end of history – indeed, the Apostle John predicted in his book of the Revelation that the nations of Earth would wage war against the Lamb of God when He returns. War is a fact of life that the Christian cannot avoid unless the grace of God protects him in unusual ways, and even then the possibility of a war is a question for the Christian’s principles that he cannot avoid. The Christian must therefore think through important questions: whether or not war, of any kind, is justified; whether or not killing of any kind is justified; and whether a Christian ought to fight in a war, or whether he ought to refuse to fight, even at the risk of prosecution or the loss of his own life and his family’s. What exactly did Jesus mean when He said, “turn the other cheek”? The question of war does not have an easy answer: if war is never justified, if a Christian nation ought never to go to war even to protect itself against utter destruction, then any Christian nation will not remain a nation for long. If Christians do not resist evil, with force if necessary, are they not in fact, if not in intention, tacitly condoning the evil? And, conversely, if war is justified, even in only a few cases such as national self-defense, then it will involve the killing of men, usually conscripts who are not responsible for the war – and very possibly killing brothers in Christ, as well as sending the unsaved into eternal punishment. Christians must answer two questions, then: is war ever justified, and, if so, what is permitted and what is not inside war? These questions are commonly called ius ad bellum and ius in bello: respectively, justice in going to war and justice inside war itself.

The theory of “just war” is probably the preeminent Christian view on the question of ius ad bellum: that is, that some wars are justified and necessary, but only under certain very stringent conditions. Arthur F. Holmes outlines the commonly accepted restrictions in his essay in War: Four Christian Views. First, the cause must be just: the war must not be aggressive, but defensive. Second, the intention must be just: to secure peace for all involved. Third, war must only be a last resort; every other method of ending the dispute must already have been tried and exhausted. Fourth, there must be a formal declaration of war by the highest officials, because war is not the prerogative of private individuals. Fifth, the objectives must be limited: unconditional surrender and total destruction are outlawed.

Other Christians, especially the Anabaptist denominations, hold the view that the use of physical force by Christians is always wrong. They may permit the state and non-believers the use of arms in defense (although most Anabaptists do not even support that), analogous to the just-war principle, but they believe that Jesus taught that Christians are “not of this world” (John 18:36) and that “we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (II Corinthians 10:3-4): that is, that they are spiritual. These Christians believe that the world is separated into two kingdoms: the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven. The Christian must remain separate from the world, and this means that he must not be involved in such worldly affairs as disputes between states, and certainly he ought not to participate in the administration of justice by force. If all Christians, everywhere, were to foreswear violence, would not the world take note of our example? If the one billion Christians in the world were to speak with one voice, they could most certainly change the world.

But this change might not be for the better. In the face of radical Islam and other threats to world peace, if Christians were to lay down their arms of defense they would give the forces of chaos free rein. Many Christians point to the examples of Jesus speaking with centurions and other soldiers. He commends them for their faith in God, yet He does not tell them to change professions: soldiery is an honorable, worthwhile, and necessary occupation. These Christians claim that the spiritual kingdom of God is universal and encompasses all things – even positions within the earthly government and military forces. As agents of the state, soldiers and policemen must be prepared to use force in order to protect not only themselves but also their families, neighbors and countrymen. Peace is not simply the absence of active hostilities. “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he (the one in authority) does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer,” says Paul in Romans 13:4. Some Christians, though, hold that believers must not serve God in this way. Some Christians certainly may not be called to serve in this way, and because “each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (I Corinthians 7:7), they who are not called need not fight. But fathers ought to protect their children and husbands ought to protect their wives – we would call any father who could stop someone attacking his child, but did not, a bad father. Because the primary function of a just war, by the guidelines given above, is protection and defense, it seems that, by extension, a government that can protect its subjects from deadly harm by other nations is obligated to do so, just as a father would protect his children. Even if that protection involves the use of deadly force, the Christian may use that force. If a person or thing is such that it must be defended from evil, then the Christian ought to fight for what is right. In other words, if a thing must be defended, then ought only the unbelievers to defend it?

Some would also add the further constraint to the rules of a just war: that the war must hold a reasonable chance of success – that is, that the objective of the war must be attainable within the delineated means. A peace that cannot be won under the restrictions listed above is not worth winning, claim Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla in War: Ends and Means: “The reasonable likelihood of success is a sine qua non of ius ad bellum. Human life is not to be hazarded lightly” (220). What to do, then, in the case of an invasion of overwhelming magnitude? The only option apart from resistance seems to be simply to watch the devastation. The definition of a hopeless case is very unclear, however, especially when one reads the stories in the book of Judges: Gideon, Samson, and others faced overwhelming odds that normally would have seemed hopeless, but because they were on God’s side they prevailed. So it seems, then, that in the case of the Christian no case, at least of national self-defense, is a hopeless one. But one need not always fight – for the most effective resistance against an overwhelming, oppressive invader might not be armed resistance, but nonviolent resistance. Not collaboration, not capitulation, but loving noncompliance might turn the invaders’ hearts. Individual cases may call for this, in fact, because every circumstance is different and unique. Only in the individual can this kind of sacrifice be asked, however, just as the sacrifice of violence. No prescription for “all Christians” can exist, for, again, every one has his own gifts and his own calling. To say that all Christians ought to protect by means of deadly force or to say that all Christians ought to practice nonresistance is to say that one faction is correct and the other is not: but our response to evil needs to be both in the willingness to lay down our lives for our friends and in the willingness to lay down our lives for the sake of the enemy.

Herman A. Hoyt, a proponent of nonresistance, responds to the just-war theory that wars seldom, if ever, stay within the proposed guidelines. “These rules pose an ideal situation to which modern warfare, if any, can hardly lend itself” (Clouse 137). The very purpose of any army is to kill people and break things, and war, because it engenders hatred, can bring about great suffering on the innocent. However, refusing to fight an aggressor can also bring about great suffering on the innocent. In any case, it seems that just because a thing is often done poorly does not mean that it cannot be done well and that we ought not to attempt to do it well. For example, marriage in modern America is very often not done well, even by Christians, but people ought to and do still attempt to reach the standards of marriage laid down by God’s Word. In the same way as a doctor is an instrument of God’s healing and a writer is an instrument of God’s creating, a soldier is an instrument of God’s protection. Yet, although doctors and writers may also misuse their God-given talents for evil, we value and reward the professions of the healer and of the artistic creator. It seems, though, that the value of the protector is as great, if not greater. All of the teachings of Jesus, in fact, because of the fallen nature of humans, are very difficult and we very seldom achieve them, and we succeed even then only with the help of God’s grace. Even though Paul admits to the congregation of the church in Rome that he does the things he does not want to do and does not do the things he wants to do (Romans 7:19), of course he still tries to do what he ought. The argument against a just war on the grounds that it is an ideal that cannot be reached in the midst of a fallen humanity is an argument against the very New Life of a Christian.

And it might be that some of the rules can be bent or even broken, depending on the situation: so-called “necessary evils” are not necessarily evil. Jesus said, “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no,’ ‘no’” (Matthew 5:37), but in the case of the German Christian in World War II hiding the Jews in his attic, certainly he ought not to tell the truth to the Gestapo when they ask him. To insist that he ought to reveal the Jews to the Nazis in order to follow Jesus’ command of truth-telling betrays a lack of a sense of proportion, at the very best, and a wanton disregard for human life at the worst. The Christian must then, however, ask how far one may go in the defense of human lives. If the Nazis were to search the house and stumble upon the Jews, it might still then be acceptable to kill the Nazis to prevent them from killing the Jews. Even if so, however, killing the guilty is one thing, but killing of the innocent, even to save oneself, one’s family, or one’s comrades in arms, might be another. For the enemy soldiers, especially if they are conscripts, have by no means caused the war. They could very easily have joined the military under coercion – under threat to their families, perhaps. They could very well be brothers in Christ. Even though a Christian may acknowledge the necessity for killing the guilty in self-defense or for capital punishment, the necessity of killing the innocent is a much more difficult question. Even if the guilty are to be killed, war is an especially indiscriminate and imprecise tool for killing them, and the innocent will also suffer.

How, then, can war be just? The Christian must ask how the death of a single guilty man, or even the deaths of the tens or of hundreds of leaders who deserve it, can justify the killings of thousands or millions of their followers who do not. Also, any war that is fought will cost lives on not only the aggressing side but on the defending side, and very possibly many more lives will be lost by defending than by simply capitulating peacefully (if only on the attacking side). Punishing the guilty is a worthy goal, of course, but so many sacrifices might not be the best way to carry out that punishment. Where there is life there is hope: hope of freedom, hope of reconciliation, hope of a restoration without bloodshed. Herein lies the very basis for the pro-life argument against abortion: human life is sacred and of inestimable value, even in the worst of conditions – even under the dominion of an evil leader. Neither poverty nor disfiguration nor disability warrants the murder of the innocent. Neither do the crimes of the father: to kill a child born as a result of rape because of his paternal origin is absurd and equally unjust. The case of the enemy soldier seems to be the same. Metaphorically speaking, his father is his government – and even if his government has acted invasively and unjustly, ought we to punish him for the crimes of others? Life under the thumb of the evil is still life, after all. As such, it might appear to be better than death for the sake of freedom.

This case, however, is not completely analogous to abortion, for war is the pitting of many lives against many others. A strict utilitarian would attempt to judge the greatest good for the greatest number, but Christian doctrine has never proposed a utilitarian system of ethics. When we speak of “the good,” we mean God’s will, and God has never measured His will by numbers of human lives or any other measure of earthly goods, at least so far as He has told us. The assumption underlying this last argument is that human life is the highest good; that the ideas and principles that God has given to guide us are somehow subordinated to a utilitarian calculus. But according to God’s word and His very example of Jesus on the cross, some ideas, principles, and goals do outweigh human life. Life is not an end to the Christian or to God, but a means: a means to truth, beauty, virtue, and the glorification of God. In our individual lives, Jesus did tell us not to resist evil people (Matthew 5:39). But He did not intend Christians to be punching bags or doormats when protecting others. Even if the enemy soldiers are not the ultimate cause of the war, they are the proximate cause of the destruction in war, and killing is very often the only means of stopping them. “Grace,” says Holmes in his response to Augsburger’s Anabaptist pacifism, “neither supersedes nor abrogates the morality that is universally binding” (Clouse 105). The law of love, claims Holmes, actually requires such principles as the just-war theory, in a fallen world, because it “inculcates both peace-loving attitudes and limits to violence.” It is a step in the very direction of the quest for peace, not an alternative to that quest – and it is a step that mankind still sorely needs in its present condition (107-108). The commitment to peace is also a commitment to the restoration of peace when an aggressor has broken that peace. As Captain Benjamin Sisko said on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “There is a peace that exists only on the other side of war.”

The defense of one’s own nation might justify going to war, but the defense of another nation is another question. Again, the Christian must ask how far one can stretch even the defense of one’s own nation: whether or not a nation ought to fight for its “interests” as well as its territory and its people, and which interests are worth fighting for and which are not – the relative weights of interests. Wars over resources (as opposed to ideas), as many have argued the Persian Gulf War to be, might be unjustified wars because they are not for the purpose of protecting human lives or freedom. Wars, as stated above, are primarily for the purpose of protecting that which needs to be protected and for the sake of a worthy and lasting peace. The rule that the war must be defensive does not, in itself, distinguish between things that must be defended even at cost of war. The means of defense ought to be proportionate to the threat – that is, to the value of that which is threatened. Because war generally involves killing on a large scale, only the gravest threats warrant the necessity of recourse to war – but threats to whom? Is a war to defend another nation just?

Modern America, as the sole superpower in the post-Cold War world, has assumed a limited role as the world’s policeman – “limited” because it has been very selective in its choice of what and whom to defend against aggression and tyranny. Even during the Cold War the United States, following its policy of containment, defended other nations (however ineptly) from Soviet and Chinese aggression. But, going back to the First World War, the blind defense of another nation, without thinking through the consequences in a complicated network of alliances, can lead to disaster. Like it or not, therefore, the modern policy of delay and coalition-building before attacking to defend another nation seems to be the most effective and safe way to prevent such a catastrophe from exploding out of a relatively small regional conflict. Another consideration the moral warrior must make, however, is the possibility of stopping the fighting. As we are learning in Kosovo and as we ought to have learned in Kuwait in 1991, attacking a dictator who is occupying another’s territory can make him grasp the harder to keep it, making the inhabitants of the occupied territory worse off. So, if a nation ought to be defended and the atrocity is enough that it warrants going to war, the next question a Christian must answer is how one ought to go about defending it.

How one fights a war is at least as important as that he fights it. Holmes gives a few guides for what is ius in bello: the means must be proportionate: only that which is needed to repel the attacks and prevent future aggression is allowed; and noncombatants must not be targets of military action. But these, of course, are very subjective guidelines. The principle of not killing noncombatants, for example, might include those who support and facilitate the hostilities by manufacturing ammunition and military vehicles. It might include the pilots and crew of cargo planes who are supplying their forces. It might include the leaders and politicians of the nation, who are responsible for the war but do not actually participate in the violence itself. One must ask other questions as well: which weapons are acceptable in war, such as whether the “ABC” weapons of mass destruction (atomic, biological, and chemical) are ever appropriate, or whether only “conventional” weapons are acceptable; what, exactly, constitutes “total war;” and how one ought to treat enemy prisoners of war. Even the non-Christian will recognize some limits to the practices of warfare, but the Christian has a definitive guide in the Bible – and especially the teachings of Jesus – to live by that should direct his practices.

A soldier does have responsibilities to his enemies. Jesus told us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). Ought we, then, to be soldiers like the sniper in Saving Private Ryan, who, with every shot at a Nazi, quoted Scripture? That might be going a bit far, but it does mean that we ought to remember at all times that our opponents are human beings – sons of God, even if prodigal sons – just like ourselves, with hopes, dreams, and loved ones. “The rule of the West,” say Seabury and Codevilla, “has been not to go beyond what the battle against combatants requires and that as soon as resistance stops one should show mercy.” They continue: “The traditional Western teaching is that as soon as an enemy is wounded, lays down his weapons, or otherwise ceases to pursue the purpose of the war, he ceases to be an enemy to be killed and becomes someone to be treated in a brotherly fashion” (Codevilla 230). War, after all, is for the purpose of peace among men, and retribution or other harsh treatment of prisoners encourages only discord and hatred. The real enemy in war is “not a set of persons on the opposing side,” say Codevilla and Seabury, “but rather a set of evil intentions.” So Paul says in Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (emphasis added). Above all, therefore, soldiers ought not to kill their enemies out of hatred, but solely out of necessity, for they are not our true enemies.

Those who are planning and directing a just war must also find the quickest, most efficient, and most certain way to win that war, say Codevilla and Seabury. “…shooting as many simple soldiers as possible all along the line – imposing attrition – is such an inefficient, uncertain, and slow means of winning a war as to be immoral…. Going after those whose death is [sic] most likely to stop the killing is not only more ethical but more effective militarily” (229). The random killing of civilians is clearly immoral, and Western tradition outlaws the assassination of individuals. But why, they ask? Was it better in the Vietnam War to shoot enemy draftees while sparing Communist officials, for example? In the years after World War II, during the Cold War, the American government warmed to the principles behind assassination, although they never tried to justify them. In Vietnam, for example, the CIA’s Project Phoenix, designed to identify and kill the leaders of the Vietcong, fell under fire from liberals when it was disclosed, because of the liberals’ opposition to the war. But they “were not advancing a particular view of justice, they were blaming the U.S. government for being on the side they opposed” (228). The U.S., however, was “not interested in victory, and it did not want to explain why…. Both sides, each for their own reasons, avoided a debate that would have been enlightening.” The proposition against assassination is not a product of careful moral and practical reasoning, they conclude, but rather the converse: a lack of willingness or capacity to think through these difficult questions.

But the targeting of leaders seems, more and more, to be becoming the preferred method of warfare for the United States, even without this explicit justification. The better our weapons technology becomes and the better the precision of our munitions, the more efficient destruction becomes. In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. air campaign severely disrupted Iraq’s leaders’ ability to control their troops, who readily surrendered when the ground war began. However, one of the explicitly rejected but implicitly obvious goals of the war, especially in hindsight – the removal of Saddam Hussein from power (presumably by means of killing him) – failed. An air war cannot get rid of or kill a dictator who hides in a bunker, and the limited ground war, as successful as it may have been in restoring peace and sovereignty to Kuwait, only crippled him for a time. If the goal of the war was to remove Hussein, why did the American leaders not pursue that goal with the wholehearted zeal that they used in ejecting the Iraqi army from Kuwait? Again, the U.S. government seems to accept the principle of assassination but is uncomfortable with the reactions of the public against it – and unwilling, for some reason, to discuss it. But it seems, as Codevilla and Seabury say, that “the most discriminate, economical, effective, and moral act in World War II surely would have been the killing of Adolf Hitler” (227), as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, attempted in 1944. If in World War II it was justified, clearly, to assassinate the enemy leader responsible for the war, then – given the likelihood that it would facilitate the end of the war – it would be justified in any other just war.

Another tactic of the Gulf War that led to a quick and efficient end and restoration of peace was the quick and decisive attack, as opposed to the gradual buildup of American involvement in Vietnam and, what looks to be similar, NATO’s present strategy in Kosovo. For a quick, sudden and powerful thrust such as the invasion of Normandy or the invasion of Iraq will overwhelm the enemy, whereas a slow buildup such as the involvement in Vietnam will allow him to keep his resolve and morale steady while he waits out the attack until the superpower grows weary. After all, a Ho Chi Minh will see no problem with losing hundreds of thousands or millions of men, while America mourns every son who dies in defense of freedom. That gives the dictator the advantage, as nothing is hurting him personally and, all the while, American boys are fighting and dying only to be made slaughterers. So the military, in order to restore peace as quickly and with as little destruction as possible in the long term, must destroy and kill with as much facility and ferocity as it can, and as is justified, in the short term.

How should a Christian think about nuclear weapons, however? Does this ferocity in war ever justify the use of weapons of mass destruction? After all, they are the quickest and most efficient killers, and their deployment poses no risk in manpower to the side that uses them, especially the United States, which now has a fleet of B-2 stealth bombers with perfect operational records in combat, as well as the older standby of inter-continental ballistic missiles. The weapons which can kill large numbers of troops at a time, however, can also kill large numbers of civilian non-combatants, especially with the larger strategic weapons which consist a majority of both the American and Russian nuclear forces. Nuclear weapons are of such magnitude and horrific power that one might say that their use could never be justified under the just-war conventions. Yet the American government has been stockpiling such weapons, along with the Soviet government and its successor Russia, for over fifty years. No nation has used nuclear weapons in combat since the explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, and the threat of their use has, in some way, been responsible for the relative peace of the latter half of this century. After all witnessed the awesome destruction that these weapons can wreak, all have feared their use, and so far no one has been willing to use them again. But we must ask whether or not we were right to use those weapons then – so primitive and impotent compared to today’s multiple-warhead, multiple-megaton missiles, and yet still so terrible: and, should the cause be grave enough, whether or not we would be justified in using these weapons today.

The argument against the morality of the use of atomic weapons in World War II consists of the fact that their targets were civilians instead of the fighting forces of Japan: the destruction of a city full of non-combatants explicitly and grossly violates one of the rules of ius in bello. However, very few dispute the fact that many lives were saved by the use of the bombs – Japanese and Allied. Tens of thousands of Japanese and American soldiers died fighting for the islands of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, and the estimates of the time projected the casualties of an invasion of the main island into the millions on both sides, without the aid of nuclear weapons. But the saving of millions might not justify the killing of tens and hundreds of thousands – especially if those are not fighting the war. President Harry Truman, however, made the decision that it does, and because the Japanese had no defense against the bombs they decided that they had no choice but to surrender. So Truman seems to have violated a principle of ius in bello in order to gain what he saw as more important: a quick and relatively less destructive end to the war. Did the war become unjust as a result? The American people were becoming war-weary, and, no doubt, so were the Japanese, who must have known that defeat was inevitable. Because of their honor, however, they could not surrender, and so, it is assumed, they would have fought to the bitter end to protect their homeland. Harry Truman and the atomic bomb did what was necessary to end the war quickly and efficiently and restore peace. How does that justify killing civilians, though?

President Truman said that he wanted to “make sure that it would be used as a weapon of war in the manner prescribed by the laws of war. That meant I wanted it dropped on a military target.” Clearly, therefore, he thought of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki primarily as military, not civilian, targets. The advisory scientific panel appointed by President Truman to consider whether a demonstration explosion might be sufficient to bring the war to an end judged that “no technical demonstration [is] likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use” (Spaeth 11). The distinction between combatants and non-combatants is not a clear one, in any case. The alternatives to the nuclear weapons, however, would have been just as destructive to the civilian populations of not only these two cities but to the rest of Japan. A conventional invasion would have wreaked havoc on a much greater scale, and the firebombing of Tokyo, before the power of the atom was unleashed, killed in the hundreds of thousands. None of these methods of warfare available at the time were precise or discriminate enough to warrant their use instead of the nuclear weapons, and they involved much greater risks to both the enemy and the Allies – but their destructiveness was not as immediate or impressive.

My father, who fought in Vietnam, once summed up the rules of war in a nutshell: he said that the point of a war is to “out-cruel” the enemy to make him stop. Of course, the key phrase is “to make him stop.” Wanton, unnecessary cruelty usually is insufficient and only inspires the enemy more to try to stop you. In the case of the Japanese, their honor prevented them from surrender until it was clear that continuing the war would only be suicidal. In effect, the nuclear explosions forced the Japanese, who were, after all, protecting their homeland, as they saw it, to consider the cost of continuing the war. Their honor and reason were the keys to the effectiveness of the bombs, and ensured a quick end to the war and the minimal destruction on both sides. So the use of atomic weapons in Japan in 1945 was just, in the same way that war itself is just (though undesirable and tragic), because it brought peace by means of the most timely, discriminate, and efficient method available.

But, in the case of an irrational enemy such as a dictator who considers his men nothing but pawns, as in the case of Communist Vietnam, even nuclear bombs would not have persuaded the enemy to cease the war – and their use could have provoked a response in like kind from the Soviet Union. Their use would have been pointlessly destructive and unnecessarily inflammatory in an era of cold war. We could not count on the Communist leaders to be rational, as we could the Japanese leaders in World War II – and, too, the Communists had a defense against the bomb: bombs of their own. Whereas the Japanese were trying to protect their homes and families, if militaristically and ruthlessly, the Communists were idealists who had no principles save the advancement of the Revolution throughout the world. Of course, this single-minded determination made the last half of the twentieth century a precarious dance of one-upmanship and brinkmanship between the Eastern communists and the Western democracies.

The arms race is, hopefully, over now, but looking back from the perspective of 1999 to the height of the Cold War and the arms race – the 1960s – we must ask whether or not the American policy of nuclear deterrence was moral. There might have been a better way to defeat the Soviet menace than by forcing them into a desperate spending spree, trying to keep up militarily, and very possibly causing a global nuclear war in the process. After all, common wisdom in the ‘60s did not hold that the Soviets were weak and could not support such a spending campaign for very long – the appeasement theory of détente of the 1970s proves, indeed, that many held the Communist government to hold the position of strength. This was an understandable presumption after the American debacle in Vietnam, of course, but even then the question remained: how we are to deal with a potentially (or practically) aggressive power with its hands on nuclear weapons – besides carefully.

Nuclear weapons are no different, in principle, than any other weapon of war. They are not evil in and of themselves; they, like all other forms of technology, are only facilitators of the good and evil that exist already in men. But when such technology increases to the point where it could kill every human being on the face of the Earth, might not one say that the risks outweigh the benefits? Had America launched all of its weapons at the Soviet Union, even providing that the Soviets had launched first, it would have been sheer retaliation, with no hope for victory – the situation would have been a hopeless one. J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the chief developers of the fission bomb, argued against the development of the fusion bomb on the principle that it was in a completely different category from the fission bomb, for its use would involve the decision to “slaughter a vast number of civilians” (Spaeth 14) because of its vastly greater power. Yet the very threat of that retaliation kept the Communists from attacking, and it is not irrational to say that only that threat kept them in line. So was the threat a serious one – and, if so, was it a moral one? We must assume that the threat was, indeed, a serious one. The threat, they knew, was the only thing that stood between them and destruction. So, again, the threat was justified by the very fact that it kept the peace in the most efficient and discriminate way: by not breaking it in the first place.

Still more troublesome, however, is the provocative nature of the threat. Because of the threat to their power posed by a Western democracy with superior military technology, the communist leaders embarked on a campaign to design, spy, steal, and come into possession by any and all other means of, nuclear weapons equal to and surpassing those of the United States. In a vicious circle, American and Russian fears played off of each other to create the arms race, with each side vying for supremacy. The two nations built more powerful and more numerous weapons to keep the balance, and to get ahead a little if they could. Soon they amassed arsenals that could have killed everyone, not only in the two superpowers, but everywhere else in the world, if they had so chosen. Was this truly the only defense the democratic West had against the totalitarian East? America walked a tightrope and succeeded in bringing down the Soviet empire by simply waiting and outspending it – forcing it to devote more and more of its limited resources under an inefficient economic system to its military and causing it to collapse of its own weight. It seems that any other response would have been perceived as too weak and inciteful to attack, or too strong and inciteful to attack.

All of these weapons still exist today however, even though ideological hostility has waned considerably, and now there is a danger that, because of economic instability, the inheritors of the Soviet nuclear arsenal may turn their weapons into plowshares – not by beating them, but by selling them. In today’s world of prolific nuclear power, where many states have access or potential access to weapons of mass destruction, the potential for misuse of these weapons has grown even more than during the Cold War, where the principle of mutual assured destruction kept the two superpowers at an uneasy peace. The best defense against nuclear weapons in the current circumstances would seem to be, as it always should have been, missile defense. If America were to put into place an impenetrable defense perimeter, as Congress has recently approved the funding for, the world would indeed be a safer place. The usefulness of at least strategic nuclear weapons will come to an end – man will finally transcend this dangerous nuclear era. No longer will we need them to threaten retaliation, and in the absence of such a necessity they are unnecessarily ominous and intimidating. Tactical nuclear weapons, however – those much smaller devices which can be fired by tanks or artillery pieces – may still have a role to play, as they are much more limited in scope and power. They are not anti-city weapons, as the strategic nuclear devices are, but rather can be used effectively against military installations and even troops on a battlefield, with little radioactive fallout or danger to noncombatants. Still, these weapons are much less discriminate and precise than most of the weapons available in the U.S. arsenal today and should only be used in the utmost necessity.

A Christian must not be an ostrich with his head in the sand when it comes to moral problems such as cultural decay, political corruption, and war – or, indeed, when it comes to anything. We are not of this world, but we are still in it, and so we have responsibilities to our brothers and sisters: we need to love them as we love ourselves, said Jesus, and that means desiring and acting to obtain the best for them. Whether God’s will for us means staying and working for them as Christ did for a time, or whether that means dying and going to be with Christ, to stand up for principles and to defend the freedom and lives of others, then we must follow Him. God does not have a prescription for all men in the matter of protection, just as He does not commission all to be doctors or writers or teachers. He may call some – indeed, even many – to stand up for Him and His children by refraining from violence. But violence, for the purpose of the protection of that which needs to be protected, is sometimes necessary. Every man hopes that he will never have to fight in a war, but the world is such that doing what is right demands such sacrifices of many. Fighting a war does not mean simply killing as many enemy soldiers as possible, nor is it for the purpose of personal or national gain. War is only a last-resort means toward obtaining a lasting and worthy peace. This peace is not simply the absence of fighting, but the preservation of a just and free society for all men. The killing done in war should be only through necessity, for all combatants in a war are men and brothers, not simply machines or pawns, and certainly should not be the objects of hatred, but of love. The killing, therefore, should be in self-defense or in a way calculated to bring the quickest, least bloody, and most effective end to the war and a restoration of peace and brotherhood.

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