Right Intention

George Weigel in The Just War Case for the War (3/31), argues that the war against Iraq is justifiable in light of traditional just war thinking. While I find his reflections on the criteria of just cause, legitimate authority, proportionality and last resort both reasonable and in some places compelling, I am surprised that he says nothing whatever about the criterion of right intention. According to Aquinas (who follows Augustine), It is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention in order for a war to be just (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 40, a. 1). This was never an add-on to classic just war reflection, but an indispensable factor. I think Weigel’s case for the justice of the present war is significantly compromised by his decision to omit the question of intention.

It is no doubt true that this criterion is difficult to apply: intentions (as opposed to reasons or pretexts) often go unarticulated, and different people within the government and armed forces of a nation will have different objectives and different motives. Nevertheless, thanks to our democratic institutions and advanced forms of communication, we can know a great deal about what our leaders are thinking and what motivates their decisions. We know, for example, that a number of the prevailing voices in the current administration believe that the United States should exercise unfettered global hegemony in the 21st century. Does the White House’s National Security Strategy propose an ethically acceptable approach to international relations, or, like Athens at the close of the 5th century B.C., are we descending into a reckless and dangerous policy of aggrandizement?


Our intellectual culture urges us to be ever suspicious of the intentions of the powerful. When this attitude preempts serious thought and discussion, it departs from rather than contributes to a responsible moral debate. But the dogmatic rancor emanating from Noam Chomsky and others does not excuse someone in Weigel’s positiona theologian who is also a Washington insiderfrom making a critical assessment of what motivates his fellow neoconservatives, who presently dominate our government and are severely reorienting our relationship to the rest of the world. Without applying some kind of hermeneutics of suspicion to current U.S. foreign policy, our appeal to the just war tradition in debating the present conflict will not only be unconvincing, but tendentious and untraditional as well.

Tom Irish, O.P.
Oakland, Calif.

Common Good

A recent article by George Weigel (3/31) that seeks to make a case for military action in Iraq is indeed wanting, both in its initial premise and in its portrayal of the Christian tradition.

To assert that the just war tradition does not begin,’ theologically, with a presumption against war’ appears to take the position of Cicero, whose concern was with an appropriate governmental authority: only a state may wage war. However, even that Roman philosopher sought more to contain the bellicose tendencies of his time than to justify them. To do otherwise today can hardly be praisedor justified. Also, the use of St. Thomas Aquinas to justify war, making the good of concordia the presupposition of such an effort, is a distortion of the Christian meaning of charity.

St. Augustine writes: When Christians deem it necessary to respond with appropriate force to an attack on their country, they should do so with the utmost concern to provide benevolent correction to the wrongdoer and to promote justice and charity in the widest possible political and social contexts (Augustine, Letter 138, 13-14).

Thomas’s thoughts on what might make a given war just depended significantly on Augustine. For both of them, war was a last resortbut not merely from the point of view of prudential judgment. That shift of attention from a Christian perspective to mere human judgment may be the most distinctive weakness of the Weigel article. Last resort suggests rather that the overall process is one of seeking peace; thus, every available means was to be used in view of a common good.

When the Vatican issued its statement on March 13The one who decides that the peaceful means that International Law makes available have been exhausted, accepts a serious responsibility before God, his own conscience and historythe papal spokesperson explained that this unusually strong statement was made because of President Bush’s claim’ that he could decide’ without the United Nations and his assertion of a moral duty’ that concerned his responsibility to his own people. The common good cannot be the good of only one nation. By placing full attention on the good of one nation the United States has rendered the common good of humanity secondary. Pope John Paul II could hardly let such use of authority pass without challenge.

If the rationale for approving this war is a judgment call, the notable absence of any concern for the common good of humanity in this article may also be the most telling reason for the rush to war that we have watched aghast. The judgment that the inspections process seemed almost certainly incapable of succeeding in its task would be a remarkably tentative basis for the massive display of force that we are witnessing. While the laudable goal of disarming a dictator may be something all could share, elementary philosophyas well as human experiencehas always taught that the end cannot justify the means. Since the other way to attain disarmament had barely been tried and its failure remains, at best, a matter of conjecture, not fact, the either/or proposition that stymied every other possible avenue can hardly be praiseworthy.

Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A.
Rome, Italy

Courage and Faith

Lucy Fuchs makes some powerful observations that deserve much more thought and discussion (Letters, 4/21). She asks whether the just war theory has ever stopped a war. She then proceeds not to where reason always seems to go (our cause is just), but where courage and faith may lead. She envisions a Catholic Church that is pacifist and the difference this might make in the world.

The Gospel taught by Jesus Christ seems unambiguous concerning such things as power, possessions and prestige. How much longer can his followers endorse war as a means of settling disputes? I hope the discussion continues in the pages of America.

Ernie Basile
Downers Grove, Ill.

Practical Suggestions

William J. Byron, S.J., has taken on a difficult, contentious and important topic in his article, Children of Great Price (4/28). The ideas he offers are intriguing. I worked for 10 years as an economist before leaving to be at home with my two boys. Not only were there no economic incentives for doing so; there were, in fact, strong economic and social disincentives. We are a church that preaches social justice and the importance of the family, and Father Byron offers practical suggestions for practicing what we preach. Thank you, Father Byronfrom an economist, minister and motherfor addressing this important issue!

Kathleen Brown
Alexandria, Va.

Jesus Seminar

I would like to thank John R. Donahue, S.J., for his review of Anselm Grün’s Images of Jesus (4/21). In this Lent-Easter season I have been offering a reading-reflection group called The Jesus Seminar at St. Ignatius Parish in Chestnut Hill. (Yes, a little Jesuit irony!) The 30 or so participants have been enthusiastic about the book and its ability to help them think about Jesus in new ways. As one reader said: Even though I go to Mass every week and hear the Scriptures, I think only about the birth of Jesus, his death and resurrection. Now I am thinking about how human Jesus really was.

I highly recommend this work for anyone who is doing religious formation for adults in parishes. I am delighted with the response of our parishioners.

Robert VerEecke S.J.
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
This book can be purchased from the Catholic Book Club at America’s Web site

Intimate Knowledge

As I read On Being Gentle and Firm, by Robert P. Maloney, C.M., (4/28), I had the singular sense of peering into the disarmed, stalwart face of Christ. What a graceful, powerful picture Father Maloney paints of the paradoxes of discipleship. Obviously, in addition to that older Italian priest homilizing in St. Peter’s, Father Maloney also has intimate knowledge of what he’s talking about.

(Rev.) Robert A. Uzzilio
Stamford, Conn.

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