On Killing Soldiers: Was it legitimate to shoot at Joseph Ratzinger during World War II?

At age 16, Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, was drafted into Hitler’s military. He was assigned to an anti-aircraft unit outside of Munich that targeted Allied bombers, a job Ratzinger described as bringing “many an unpleasantness, particularly for so nonmilitary a person as myself.” In the last stages of the war, he was transferred to an infantry unit where he carried an unloaded gun and saw no combat.

Coming from an anti-Nazi family, the young Joseph Ratzinger considered Hitler’s war to be criminal and hoped for a quick Allied victory. With German forces in collapse after Hitler’s death, he deserted and headed home. Captured by American soldiers, he spent a few weeks in a prisoner of war camp and was released, going on to lead a full life as a priest, theologian, bishop, cardinal, pope and now pope emeritus.

The Catholic tradition has long recognized the possibility of a just war, and for many no better proof exists than the one waged to stop the Nazi regime in World War II. According to the just war theory, the young Joseph Ratzinger was a legitimate target in that conflict. As long as he was serving in the German forces during the war, it was morally acceptable to try to kill him. As such, his case illustrates a serious but often overlooked problem at the heart of Catholic ethics related to the just war tradition.

One of the most powerful moral principles in Catholic doctrine is the absolute prohibition against the intentional killing of an innocent person. Calling this principle “universally valid” for “each and everyone, always and everywhere,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church deems its violation gravely immoral “under any circumstance.”

This moral principle is the foundation of the Catholic Church’s radically countercultural witness on behalf of the unborn. Because the unborn are innocent persons, any direct and deliberate abortion is morally impermissible. Even pro-life politicians often make exceptions in the cases of rape or incest, and almost always when the life of the mother is endangered, but while these may be intensely painful reasons to seek abortions, they do not override the moral prohibition on deliberately killing the innocent. Catholic teaching upholds this principle without exception, even if this stance strikes mainstream society as extreme moral inflexibility in the face of heartbreaking situations.

The principle also applies to war. Catholic doctrine does not consider armed conflict to lie outside the realm of normal moral analysis, so it is always wrong to intentionally kill the innocent there as well. The most frequent application of this principle to situations of war relates to civilian casualties. For example, was it morally acceptable to bomb Dresden during World War II? In Catholic thinking, however, this principle is rarely applied to the killing of soldiers. Hence the question: Was it morally acceptable to try to kill Joseph Ratzinger during World War II?

Legitimate Punishment?

The central question is: If it is always wrong to kill the innocent intentionally, what justifies killing ordinary soldiers in a just war? The earliest answer was that such killing served a punitive purpose. The offense that justifies the war also justifies killing the soldiers on the unjust side. They are incriminated by the moral guilt of their side, the guilt that makes the war itself necessary. This was the view of St. Augustine, and largely adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas. While it is wrong to intentionally kill the innocent, enemy soldiers are not innocent. They share in the collective guilt of their nation that brought on the war, or at the very least they knowingly participate in the war as unjust aggressors.

Just war theory is divided into jus ad bellum principles, which address when it is right to go to war, and jus in bello principles, which address right conduct within war once it is underway. Augustine and Aquinas focus primarily on ad bellum considerations like just cause and competent authority. Augustine, for example, pays little attention to distinctions between killing soldiers and civilians in a just war. It is only with the later rise of fully formed in bello principles, developed within and adopted by Catholic teaching over the last several centuries, that the weakness of the punitive justification becomes clear.

The principle of discrimination—that soldiers may be killed in warfare but civilians must be spared direct attack—is based on the claim that most civilians do not bear guilt for the war. Ordinary persons going about their lives far from the centers of power cannot be blamed and killed for the wrongdoing of their leaders. They did not cause the war and are usually merely trying to survive it. Therefore, civilians are separated from the wrongdoing that justified the war in the first place; they are innocent and cannot be deliberately killed.

The problem is that the same is true of many soldiers. Most soldiers have no say in when or where their national leaders start wars. They have joined the military for a variety of reasons—patriotism, family tradition, to feed their children—unconnected to the particular wars in which they eventually find themselves. And plenty of soldiers have little choice at all. Slavery, conscription and the press gang have filled military ranks for as long as warfare has existed. Children have always been among these involuntary soldiers, something also true today. So as a boy forced into military service toward the end of a war he did nothing to start and by a regime he deeply opposed, Joseph Ratzinger was in a situation that was in no way unusual. While he made it home alive, many like him have not.

The foundation of the jus in bello structure is the separation of soldiers from the offense that initially justifies the war. Ordinary combatants on both sides are not responsible for its larger causes. This distinction is the reason it is wrong to kill soldiers, even those on the unjust side, once they are wounded or have surrendered; they have done nothing to deserve it. It is why, even as the Vatican condemned the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 as unjustified, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace refused to condemn U.S. soldiers who participated, saying, “The responsibility is not theirs, it is of those who send them.”

According to jusin bello principles, the only thing that justifies punishing soldiers for actions in war is the violation of international humanitarian law—massacring civilians or shooting prisoners, for example. And this law applies to those on the just and unjust sides equally. A soldier on the just side of a war can be guilty of war crimes and rightly punished, while a solider on the unjust side can fight justly and be immune from punishment. It is wrong to punish ordinary soldiers like Joseph Ratzinger for merely being on the wrong side of a just war.

This line of thought, then, is the problem with the punitive justification. If we really thought Joseph Ratzinger and others like him were guilty enough to justify a punishment of death for their actions in the war, why would this guilt suddenly disappear once they surrendered, were wounded or the war ended? It would be like saying bank robbers can be punished for their theft only during a robbery; after the robbery, or if they surrender to police during the robbery, they are suddenly immune from punishment. If the young Joseph Ratzinger was innocent of anything that warranted execution after the war, let alone lesser punishments like imprisonment, restitution or even ineligibility to become supreme pontiff of the universal church, then there was no punitive warrant to kill him in the first place.

This problem is why almost no modern versions of just war theory use punitive justifications. There are too many cases like that of the young Joseph Ratzinger to make it tenable. If not punishment for moral guilt, what can justify killing such soldiers? The leading alternative theory is self-defense. If a person breaks into my house and attacks my family, my use of force against him is not justified as punishment. That is the job of the criminal justice system after the attack. Instead, what justifies my resort to violence is the immediate need to prevent a grave threat to innocent lives.

Many modern accounts of just war theory draw a similar conclusion about warfare. The material threat posed by soldiers explains why it is permissible to kill them, as well as why this becomes impermissible once they are wounded or captured and no longer pose such a threat. Here the justification for trying to kill the soldier Ratzinger during World War II is preventative rather than punitive. It was the material threat he represented that made killing him acceptable, just as the end of the threat at the war’s close made it right to let him return home without blame or punishment.

Rethinking Self-Defense

Going back to Aquinas, Catholic doctrine allows for killing in self-defense. It is permissible to use force against attackers, though only as much as is necessary to repel them. Under the principle of double effect, the intent of such force is to stop the aggression or give victims a chance to escape, not to deliberately kill aggressors, even though sometimes they may die as a result. A jogger who hits an attacker in the head with a rock and escapes to call the police does not intend his death, even if the attacker ultimately dies from the blow. In “The Gospel of Life” (1995) Pope John Paul II stated that when the force necessary for self-defense results in the unintentional death of the attacker, “the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.” It is the action of the aggressor who initiates an unjustified attack, even if he may be delusional and not fully aware of what he is doing, that justifies the use of self-defensive force against him, even force that may result in his death.

There are two important limitations here. First, legitimate self-defense hinges on a fundamental moral inequality: the difference between an innocent victim, meaning someone who is not properly subject to attack, and a non-innocent attacker, meaning someone whose unwarranted aggression initiates the conflict. Only one party to the conflict, the innocent victim, may justly use violence. Otherwise, the principle would be meaningless because all parties could claim self-defense once a conflict is underway. Murderers could kill their victims in self-defense once these victims start fighting back, or criminals could plead self-defense after killing police during a shootout.

Second, the danger to innocent life posed by the attacker must be immediate. Aggressors are people who behave aggressively, who are active and imminent threats. It is wrong to kill people we think may attack us at some point in the future. Fear of later aggression is no justification for planting bombs in their cars or shooting them in their sleep.

Both of these limitations undermine preventative justifications for killing soldiers like Joseph Ratzinger in World War II. Start with the moral inequality requirement. Since jus in bello principles clearly separate ordinary soldiers from the larger causes of the conflict, we cannot hold each and every German soldier responsible for German military aggression, especially those, like Joseph Ratzinger, who were conscripted well after the beginning of the war and did not participate in the invasions of other countries. Instead, the just war framework holds ordinary soldiers on both sides to a common set of rules, one of which is the permission to kill each other without blame, regardless of side. Unlike murderers when their victims resist, or criminals pursued by police, enemy soldiers do get to shoot back, which is why Joseph Ratzinger was not put on trial for being part of an anti-aircraft crew that targeted Allied pilots.

Soldiers are obviously in a very different relationship with one another than the innocent victims and non-innocent attackers envisioned in the principle of self-defense, a principle that depends for its very meaning on only one side being morally permitted to use violence. In war, ordinary soldiers on both sides actively try to kill each other. Unlike a jogger assaulted in a park or a sleeping homeowner attacked at night, soldiers both initiate and respond to acts of lethal aggression. Because both sides represent threats to the other, both are permitted to kill the other in self-defense. So the problem with killing in war, even in a war fought for a just cause, is that it forces large groups of people—who are morally innocent of the wrongdoing that started the war—to nonetheless set about trying to kill each other, all acting in self-defense. Ancient gladiator spectacles also featured innocent people who fought to the death in self-defense, which is exactly what made the nature of their killing so wrong.

The immediacy requirement of self-defense is also a problem. From the classic formulations by Francisco de Vitoria, O.P., and Francisco Suárez, S.J., to the influential modern formulation by Michael Walzer (see his Just and Unjust Wars), just war theory permits targeting enemy soldiers not only when they are engaged in acts of aggression, but at any time. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explicitly prohibit targeting civilians or wounded and captured combatants, but they do not distinguish between soldiers engaged in actual combat and those who are not.) For the just war theory, bombing cooks and company clerks who go about their work is as legitimate as shooting infantry troops who charge your trench. Snipers may kill unsuspecting enemies bathing in a river. Navy ships may launch missiles that incinerate troops as they watch a film in a recreation area, troops who will never see or be in a position to threaten the faraway sailors who kill them with the press of a button. The whole point of effective warfare is to kill as many enemy soldiers as possible when they are not a threat to your troops—from a distance, with superior technology, using surprise.

The young Joseph Ratzinger, a boy forced into a war he did not support, was considered a legitimate target any time he was in uniform. For the just war theory, it was morally permissible to bomb, shoot, stab or otherwise kill this boy while he lay in his barracks, next to his unloaded gun, as he slept, thought of his family or read his Bible and prayed for the end of the war. Joseph Ratzinger never traveled to Russia or Texas or England to break into someone’s home and attack its occupants, yet if self-defense justified Allied soldiers from Smolensk or Dallas or Leeds in traveling to Germany to try to kill this sleeping boy with the unloaded gun, then it has gone well beyond its much narrower meaning in Catholic teaching.

Searching for Answers

It is a testament to the intractability of the dilemma within Catholic just war theory about killing innocent soldiers that some thinkers have embraced a desperate escape. If it is always wrong to kill innocent persons intentionally, and neither punishment nor prevention gets around the problem of innocence, the only other option is intentionality. Some enemy soldiers may be innocent, but as long as we do not kill them on purpose, the dilemma is solved. Otherwise sensible Catholic philosophers like Germain Grisez and John Finnis embrace this argument. Professor Grisez, for example, acknowledges that many soldiers on the enemy side will be innocent, but claims that a soldier may shoot directly at them or even bomb entire encampments full of them with the intention of lessening the enemy’s power rather than actually killing anyone.

Of course, the idea that soldiers do not intentionally try to kill each other in warfare is a triumph of abstract theory over reality. This situation is different from hitting a nighttime intruder over the head with a heavy object and fleeing the house with one’s family, not knowing whether the blow killed him. Scholars like Dave Grossman and Joanna Bourke, who study the actual experiences of soldiers in war, clearly show that soldiers deliberately kill. The training of soldiers is explicit about this intention; their weapons are specifically designed for the job, and when interviewed they are forthright about their intentions. Their task, which many loathe, is to actively search out enemy soldiers and do their best to kill them. In his memoir about fighting in Iraq, Chris Kyle, a U.S. sniper who killed over 150 people, was clear about his intent: “My job was killing.” Even if considered just, war is the large-scale, carefully planned, deliberate killing of enemy combatants.

The failure of both punitive and preventative justifications for killing innocent soldiers has led an increasing number of secular just war accounts to excuse such killing by appeals either to convention (it is a consensual practice that nations have simply developed over time) or to an alternative morality (war has a moral code unique to itself). These accounts essentially conclude that soldiers can kill each other because they are soldiers, and a just war would be impossible if they could not. Even though the intentional killing of the innocent is usually wrong, wars constitute an exception because of their unique nature and the dire consequences of not waging them when necessary.

This path is obviously closed to Catholic ethics. The prohibition on the intentional killing of innocent persons does not allow exceptions. It is as wrong to deliberately kill the innocent in warfare as in any other circumstance. Which brings us back to abortion. Ethicists have tried many ways to reconcile direct abortion with the wrongness of killing the innocent: the taking of innocent life is wrong, but abortion involves only potential life; the intent is not to kill the unborn child, but to eliminate unwanted pregnancies; self-defense justifies abortion when the unborn child threatens the life or liberty of the mother (a claim that, like the preventative case for killing soldiers in war, owes much to the work of the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson). But because none of these attempts succeed, the Catholic position remains one of consistent opposition. While this stance strikes many as unduly harsh and reckless, it flows from the importance the tradition attaches to protecting innocent life.

Perhaps the time has come for a similarly radical witness on warfare. Even though there remain compelling reasons to fight wars, just as there can be compelling reasons for abortion, the reasons in both cases simply cannot override the exceptionless prohibition against the deliberate killing of the innocent. Even just wars butcher shocking numbers of innocent soldiers caught up in them. Some readers of America probably considered one or both U.S. wars against Iraq justified, but no one can deny that both wars included the deliberate killing of conscripted Iraqi boys, themselves victims of the regime, who were sitting in their barracks or trenches and who never saw the bombs coming. They, like the 16-year-old Joseph Ratzinger asleep in his bunk, did not deserve to be killed any more than unborn children in the womb. The circumstances that make war or abortion seem necessary, no matter how grave, still do not change the wrongness of the killing. While this analysis may commit Catholic ethics to a position on war that most people might consider extreme and dangerous, moral consistency may well require it.

David Pasinski
3 years 1 month ago
A brief first reaction... a wonderful and challenging argument. If this is true, what to do with Catholic campuses that promote ROTC and a host of other military-industrial projects?
J Cabaniss
3 years 1 month ago
Just war theory also recognizes that innocent civilians may be killed even in just wars. What it demands is that they not be targeted and that every reasonable effort be made to spare them. It hardly seems a stretch to extend this concept to "innocent" soldiers: so long as they are not deliberately targeted their deaths, tragic though they may be, are not the results of immoral acts. Perhaps we view the meaning of the word innocent differently. Pvt Ratzinger manning an anti-aircraft weapon is no longer innocent, regardless of his views on the war. At the very least, this degree of innocence does not protect him from the deadly response of those mortally threatened by his actions, however unwilling and indirect they may be.
J.J. Hayes
3 years 1 month ago

I am not entirely buying this analysis. The notion that the following of orders renders the conscript without responsibility seems to remove all responsibility from the individual to make their own determination as to whether a war is just and to decide whether to participate. Likewise we need to ask whether in a modern democracy civilians do not bear some responsibility for the actions of those whom they empower and the armies for whom they pay. Just war principles were formulated in a time of kings after all.

Jonathan James
3 years 1 month ago
He could have taken the responsibility himself and gone to jail or concentration camp for resisting joining the Army. By putting on the uniform and carrying a rifle, he no longer was an "innocent" bystander. He was actively supporting the regime in which uniform he wore.
Paul Ferris
3 years 1 month ago
The summary of the Catholic position on just war is excellent. David Cochran does at times seem to belabor the obvious. That is probably because the Catholic position is for the most part common sense. I also like using Pope Benedict as an example. I have a few questions. #!. I could not help thinking of the Treyvon Martin case. The man who killed him was the unjust aggressor even if it were true that Martin got the upper hand as he claimed. (Sorry the name slips my mind). #2. On abortion: what about the case where both mother and child will die if the child is not aborted. Wouldn't this be an exception that should be allowed? Why should the mother die when there is not chance of saving the innocent child ? #3. l agree with the comment that Ratzinger could have refused to fight just as some Germans did and face a firing squad. Cannot remember the name of this famous example either}.Wouldn't it been great if Ratzinger canonized this person when he became Pope Benedict ? (Someone please help me with the name.) #4. What happens to any person who kills another even in war. I read an article a few years ago in the New Yorker magazine that the person will never be the same. He has done something so "unnatural" that it has affected his relationship with himself or herself, the person he/she killed, and God. This is the argument for pacifism which the author does not consider. #5 There are all kinds of complexities in the real world. The Church allows the politicians to make decisions about war and peace. It refuses to call the individual to account as it does the woman in the case of abortion. What if the Catholic and German Protestant Church told the 90% of baptized Christians, 75% who attended Sunday liturgy to refuse to join the German army. The same situation exists today in the US. What if the Catholic Church says to its soldiers you cannot cooperate in the production and use of nuclear weapons. A few years ago some Catholic Bishops supported an Air Force officer who spent twenty-four hours in a nuclear bunker who claimed that being close to a female Air Force officer was a near occasion of adultery for him. Let us say that officer was called on to fire nuclear weapons just after he had sex with his female offer partner. Millions of people were killed. He goes to the pearly gates and St. Peter says that Jesus reserved some confessions to Himself. The officer says to Jesus that he committed the sin of adultery. Jesus with sad eyes asked if the Air Force officer had anything else to confess ?
Paul Ferris
3 years 1 month ago
Read below. Duplicate entry.
David Ryan
3 years 1 month ago
I do not claim to have all of the answers, but have studied this topic and it is of some interest. Let me propose an idea. The point at which I disagree with the logic of this argument is that soldiers do not meet the second requirement of self-defense, namely that their threat is not immediate. In donning a uniform (in a traditional, state-declared war), a soldier in effect says, "Preserving my life is more important than not taking yours. If I get the chance, I will kill you." Take the example of Pvt. Ratzinger--without assigning any blame or indictment. He deserted later in the war, when it was presumably safer. Had he believed his nation was in the wrong, he could have deserted straight away. This may have meant death, but he would have then been a martyr for his beliefs. For killing soldiers in war to be justified under self-defense, one must be a part of the just side of the conflict (requirement 1, moral inequality, which is endorsed by the Church) and believe that there is an immediate threat to their life (requirement 2). Having an enemy in uniform that has not deserted, not surrendered, and is by all available information to the outsider supporting the military nature of the war effort, I would argue, constitutes an immediate threat. If a robber breaks into a house, threatens the family, and is a moment away from ripping off his mask and saying "just kidding," it is not the responsibility of the victim to discern that intent. That is a long way to say--I believe that a solider in uniform constitutes an immediate threat, and therefore, coupled with being on the just side of the war, constitutes a legitimate target. The corollary to this argument is that it then becomes a Catholic's responsibility to oppose and not participate in an unjust war, lest he or she become a legitimate target for the other side.
laura sabath
3 years 1 month ago
Paul Ferris below asks for the name of a "famous" person who refused to fight under Hitler and says, "Wouldn't it been great if Ratzinger canonized this person when he became Pope Benedict?" Perhaps Ferris is thinking of Blessed Franz Jagerstatter. Pope Benedict XVI did not get to canonize him, but he did beatify him Oct 26, 2007. "On June 1, Pope Benedict XVI approved a series of decrees, issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, that attributed martyrdom to Jägerstätter, a husband and father of three who was beheaded on August 9, 1943, for refusing any collaboration with the Nazis…On Wednesday 6th July 2007, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI will beatify Franz Jägerstätter," Cardinal Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes, actually presided over the beatification celebration in Linz, reading the words of proclamation by Pope Benedict XVI. http://www.dioezese-linz.at/redaktion/index.php?page_new=871
Paul Ferris
3 years 1 month ago
Thank you Laura for the name. Franz Jagerstatter is the person I was trying to remember. I also appreciate the link. I read the homily of Cardinal Schonberg. Very inspiring. Also credit Benedict XVI for beatifying this man. If you read Gaudium et Spes, there is reference to praising soldiers who fight for their country and those who choose to become pacifist. It is very difficult to determine in reality which side is the aggressor in a war. Usually there is blame to go around and the victors get to write the history. I also do not disparage Joseph Ratzinger at age 16 for his contribution to the German side of the war. When I was a young man I leaned toward pacifism. I was drafted and did not want to go to Vietnam. I looked for support among theologians and read John Courtney Murray. His opinion was that conscientious objection could not be justified unless the objector could prove that the community was wrong in its war effort. The burden of proof was on the individual. That was very difficult to do at the time, especially since the world was divided between God fearing USA and atheist communist. Needless to say I was disappointed in Murray's opinion.
Jean-Pierre HERVEG
3 years 1 month ago

When discussing this problem the only reference should be Jesus. Joseph Ratzinger and Bernhard Lichtenberg knew Jesus' teaching. Joseph Ratzinger entered Wehrmacht and is still alive. The old "blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg" was send to Dachau and died as a martyr in 1943 (Dachau was one of the first concentration camp). One of them avoid "confrontation": which one ? Who will juge if a war is a "just war" ... The winners ?

Frank Gibbons
3 years 1 month ago
Jean-Pierre HERVEG, Bernhard Lichtenberg was 67 when he was martyred; Joseph Ratzinger was 16 when he was drafted.
Jean-Pierre HERVEG
3 years 1 month ago

Sure there was a difference of age ... But what's your point ? Bernhard Lichtenberg was 63 during "Kristallnacht".

Jane Meneghini
2 years 9 months ago
Thank you, DCC, for your excellent & provocative thinking re the conundrums of the "just war". I am reading your book "Catholic Realism" with great interest. However, I have one objection to your tactics in this article: you use (exploit?) our Church's lack of compassion for pregnant women as the lynch pin for your argument. In this you seem to tacitly agree with Catholicism's "extreme moral inflexibility in the face of heartbreaking situations." Does an Innocent (i.e. not-threatening-anyone) woman have the right to defend herself against a medical complication of pregnancy that is taking her life? It seems our Church now says NO, as you emphasize. (We no longer hear much about the ectopic pregnancy loop-hole.) At Catholic hospitals, she is denied the choice of self-defense, or any free choice in the matter at all. Yet no one questions that young Joseph Ratzinger, conscripted into Hitler's army, would have been morally justified to use lethal force against any allied soldier who came at him pointing a weapon and seeming about to use it. Neither do we condemn the former Pope for not choosing heroic death by firing squad rather than cooperate with a Nazi army he saw as "criminal". This seems right & just to me. A person must be free to choose the cause in which he (or she) sacrifices his (or her) life. To freely lay down one's arms rather that take another life in self-defense is surely heroic virtue, provided one has the option of freely choosing it. Please find another lynch pin to advocate for peace. This one won't hold. At least it won't hold with most women. Couldn't we simply ask what Jesus would do? Couldn't we apply the Beatitudes when trying to discern the way forward in an era of violence and heartlessness?
Robert Lewis
2 years 9 months ago
It WAS "easy" to prove that "the community was wrong" in the case of the Vietnam War. Ho Chi Minh was a patriotic nationalist leader in the eyes of his people, and NOT primarily a "communist." He had ASKED for the support of the United States of America in his people's struggle against French colonialism. All of this was well known at the time, by people who bothered to inform themselves of the actual history of French Indochina. By no standard whatsoever could the war in Vietnam be considered "just": it wasn't defensive; it did NOT have "limited objectives"; and the defined objectives did not merit the wastage of human lives, military and civilian. I was almost old enough to have participated, myself, had it been prolonged by a year or two and these were the details upon which I would have based my claim for conscientious objector status, and had it not been granted, I was ready to flee to France.
Bob Baker
2 years 9 months ago
The 1954 Geneva Accords, in essence, created a North and South Vietnam. In the North, disagreement with the communist government brought years at hard labor or execution - the people knew he was a communist and that's why over a million people moved south. With the North's refusal to hold elections under UN guidance, the two remained separate. Having served in Vietnam, I have seen what the Viet Cong did to people (including children) to intimidate and for retribution. This was easily a defensive war - the end result were gulags and death for many after the North violated its word (as unusual) and the communist government remains today, unhindered by justice and common decency.

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