Thomas J. Massaro

Can anyone seriously doubt that sustained reflection on the topic of peacemaking is among the most urgent tasks facing humankind? In the wake of the bloodiest century in history, the Christian community has a solemn obligation to share with the wider human society whatever insights it can glean from its traditions regarding ways to prevent warfare and to limit violent conflict in all its forms.

Just War, Lasting Peace succeeds splendidly in the task of helping us reflect on the ethics of war. A joint project of the U.S. Jesuit Conference and the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, D.C., it draws from presentations and conversations among dozens of participants at a daylong conference held at Georgetown University in November 2003. Its nine chapters cover such topics as the history of warfare, the varieties of just-war theory and nonviolence, moral principles appropriate to this age of terrorism, the role of forgiveness in politics and the promise of interreligious dialogue regarding peacemaking.

In this volume, world-class experts share their analyses of the significance of past and current developments in such fields such as geopolitics and theological reflection. Particularly credible voices include several that will be familiar to readers of this journal, such as the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, Margaret O’Brien Steinfels and William Bole. Their wise counsel is nicely supplemented by that of political scientists, scholars of Jewish and Islamic thought and even military experts.

Perhaps most impressive is the testimony of Maryann Cusimano Love, professor of international relations at The Catholic University of America. Drawing on both theological insights and the field of security studies, Love paints a particularly vivid picture of the nature of contemporary terrorism and probes ethical considerations that should inform any strategy to thwart it. The title of the chapter she contributes to this volume, “Effective Ways to Fight Terrorism While Retaining Our Values,” captures well her insistence that the supposed opposition between power politics and upholding ethical norms is a false choice.

No other currently available book accomplishes all that is found in this volume in such an accessible way. Two strengths of this work particularly recommend it. First, there is much reliable information presented in a rich variety of formats, including short and longer selections from the 2003 conference proceedings. The editors provide a series of helpful “framing” essays and even well-placed informative sidebars inserted throughout the text. Second, the book is eminently user-friendly and lends itself well to classroom and reading group adaptation. Each chapter includes suggestions for reflection and practical application. Two appendices offer a number of group activities, case studies and lists of such cultural resources as literature and films about war, complete with discussion questions to spark dialogue about the challenge of peacemaking in our time.

Some readers may find that Just War, Lasting Peace does not quench their thirst for rather more sustained treatment of these complex issues. Surely we would all benefit from knowing even more about such topics as the history of attempts to justify the use of force and comparative religious perspectives on violence. A slender volume simply cannot explore all the pertinent paths of knowledge, but this particular one does include a helpful thematic bibliography to point the curious reader to further resources.

Wise coaches frequently counsel young athletes to visualize the accomplishment of their goals. It is helpful to conjure in the mind’s eye a vivid image of the ball sailing through the hoop or splitting the goalposts or slicing into the service box. By concluding with three chapters describing the peace movement, including an excellent sketch of initiatives regarding forgiveness in politics, this volume similarly helps us to visualize progress toward peace-building. The effect is most encouraging and uplifting. Indeed, despite the editors’ deliberate decision to allow a very wide variety of voices to speak for themselves throughout these pages, this volume consistently displays a knack for keeping its focus on fervent hopes for a better future. This is no small accomplishment when treating a topic with as heavy a past as war, which remains “always a defeat for humanity.”

Thomas Massaro, S.J., teaches social ethics at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass. He is co-author (with Thomas A. Shannon) of Catholic Perspectives on Peace and War (Sheed and Ward).