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Wars Without Violence? | Fr. James V. Schall,
S.J. | June 26, 2005
Many want a world without war. Others want a world without injustice.
Some think we can only have limited justice with wars, others only without
Still others, like myself, think that some wars
need to be fought, others not. To insist on a perfect world, especially
to insist that we can achieve it by our own powers with a few political
moves or institutional changes is probably a more dangerous position than
any other. Naivete also causes bloodshed. It fails to understand the human
condition as it exists among us. A world-wide tyranny, a real possibility,
would in fact be a world without war. So would a war in which Al Qaeda
conquered. It would have effectively eliminated any internal possibility
of protest or action against it. This possibility is why some of us pay
particular attention to the intellectual forces that motivate the United
To have a war in which no violence, no wounding, no killing occurs is
not possible. Other ways of settling things by persuasion can and ought
to exist. Often they help and should be attempted. But we must cause the
very possibility of discussion to exist. Wars, in the best sense, are
fought precisely to enable persuasive institutions to exist and to function.
This position, I believe, was the central thesis of the Declaration of
Soldiers exist to fight wars, not for wars own sake, but to protect
ones society in existence and freedom. Soldiers act in the name
of a greater good. Theirs, in the best sense, is a service to others,
even a sacrificial service, to enable others to lead normal lives against
those who would deny such reasonable normalcy to a populace. We often
underestimate the relation we have to the willingness of soldiers to do
their often unheralded duties.
It is possible, even laudatory, not to resist in person some attack against
oneself. But it is not praiseworthy always to refuse to defend others,
especially the innocent, especially if we can do something about it
especially if it our natural or established duty to protect them. Still,
it is not possible to make any attack against ourselves not to be an "attack,"
not to be violent. We live in a world in which unjust things happen every
day, even on a massive scale. We read military history in part to remind
ourselves of this fact. Not to know this fact or not to acknowledge its
abiding pertinence is to abdicate the basic responsibility of knowing
or comprehending what actually happens among men. Not a few people either
do not or will not understand this recurrent danger of unjust war in human
society and the corresponding need of just defense against it.
Nor is it possible not to defend oneself against an attacker always in
a non-violent way. Not every war in history has been a "just"
war, but certainly many have been, at least on one side. A just war will
still be a war, probably still very bloody, however much we strive to
limit its horrors. Even if our cause, intention, and mode of fighting
are just, bad things can still happen on the side of the just. Individuals
on unjust sides can do good things; individuals on just sides can do evil
things. This is what free will means, even in war.
Never to fight a war means never to take the trouble to stop unjust aggression
when it happens. This is not a virtue. The history of our kind, to be
sure, is filled with wars that should not have been fought. It is also
and this we forget filled with wars that should have been
fought and were not. Much evil has followed from unjust wars. Much evil
has also flowed from wars that should have been fought and were not, or
were, as in the case of World War II, not fought soon enough.
Never to defend ones nation or culture against any attack from whatever
source implicitly is to admit that what one stands for is not worthy of
any sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of death in defending it. Socrates,
who fought in the Athenian army, was also the one who first said that
"it is never right to do wrong." Given a choice between performing
an unjust deed, even when it is requested or required by the state, or
death, death is preferable. It at least upholds what is right. To change
our principles on any challenge or threat of death against us, logically,
is not to have any principles. If our enemy knows that a threat of death
will induce us to change our principles, he will certainly threaten war,
knowing that we will not fight to uphold what is right.
A war is a drawing of a line beyond which, in refusing to defend ourselves,
we cannot be anything but cowardly or capitulating before evils that are
known, dangerous, and politically organized. It is a noble thing to resist
tyrants and terrorists, in whatever form, even when they appear in the
democratic or non-governmental forms, in which we sometimes see them today.
It is more noble still to be able to define precisely what tyranny is.
It is all right to praise "peace" over war, provided that we
remember that peace is the end of war, not its mode of operation. Even
devils, Scripture tells us, do not war against themselves. If we mean
by "peace," however, simply the lack of fighting, then concentration
camps, gulags, and tyrannies of iron control are "peaceful"
cities. When we praise "peace" for its own sake, we have to
take care not to be praising injustice at the same time. This latter is
a temptation, especially among the pious.
The "evolution" of just war theory is not towards "no wars,"
but towards lessening injustice. To achieve the latter, wars are often
the last but necessary instrument. A world of no actual wars is by no
means in principle a world of no injustice. Moreover, justice is a very
difficult and harsh virtue. Not a little utopianism is found in maintaining
that a world completely without injustice, and therefore completely without
wars, is possible to us. Scripture warned us that there would always be
wars and rumors of wars. Perhaps this warning was a reminder of the dangers
of our claims that we could simply, on our own, eliminate all injustices.
All war begins in the minds of those who pursue it. So does all defense
policy against those who begin wars. Today we persist in calling war,
"terrorism." We are reluctant to examine the ideas that justify
terrorist wars. That is why we do not understand those who would inaugurate
them. The first battles are always intellectual ones. The last battles
are military ones and result in peace either with or without freedom for
those who survive.
The most dangerous part of the terrorist wars of today is not a military
failure, but an intellectual failure to name things as they are. This
is why our wars are no longer fought on battlefields but on streets and
Other recent IgnatiusInsight.com articles by Fr. Schall:
the Delight of Truth
The One War, The
On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly)
Had a "Liberal" Pope
On Being Neither
Liberal nor Conservative
Is Heresy Heretical?
Commencements: A Time for Truth to Be Honored
On The Sternness
On Teaching the
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of
Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing,
Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing, and A Student's Guide to Liberal
Read more of his essays on his
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