As we remember the fallen this Memorial Day, we must remember also that we need to look past it and do all that is possible to prevent more death and violence. We, as citizens of Heaven, must also remember and pray for the families of the fallen of those we have fought against, for God is indeed the God of all nations, and the death of any of His children by violence is a grave thing indeed. We must remember to be patriots, yet not drift to nationalism. We must remember to honor those who have fallen, but not to glorify the wars that caused so many deaths. We must resit the temptation to look at the pragmatism of this world, but look rather to the Blessed Hope and the Kingdom he has called us into. To aid in this, I invite you all to look beyond Memorial Day and glance briefly into the theological and philosophical principles of what circumstances war is permissible and how it should be conducted.
Jus Ad Bellum (The legal authority to wage war).
Before digging into what a just war is, we must stipulate that only a sovereign and recognized state can institute a just war. Such a state must be recognized by it’s citizens, by it’s peers in the international community, and must not violate the rights of other states. There are six commonly accepted stipulations for a “just war” to occur. The first is that for a war to be just, it must be in defense. That is to say to defend your nation, others who can not defend themselves, etc. The first principal of a just war is that it is in defense. A just war is not an aggressive action, but a defensive action. The second basic principal of just war is that any other rationale for the war, material gain, oil, resources, etc. undermines the justice of the war. The third basic principal of just war, and the final deontological one, is that a just war must be properly laid down by the legal governing authority and with a public declaration. This Memorial Day, I ask you to look at the wars that we are fighting and supporting to discern if they follow the above.
The next three deal with securing the best consequences possible in the tragedy that is war. The first principal is that a declaration of war must be the last possible resort used only after all other measures have been exhausted. Every alternate means of resolving the conflict must be explored and exhausted. The second principal is that a war can only be just if there is a likely hood of resolving the conflict through it. Violence absent this can not be justified. The final principal is that the just war must be proportionate. The good that can be achieved through the war must far outweigh the evils that will occur as a result of the war. In examining this, the state must look beyond itself and calculate the cost to the enemy in causalities, the civilian population, even the destruction of the land itself. In honor of those who have fallen, I invite you to discern if the wars that we are fighting and supporting meet these criteria.
Jus In Bello (Justice in war)
How we treat our enemies is a concern, or at least should be. Again there are six basic principals to look through and follow here. The first is that weapons prohibited by international law must not be used. The second is that there is a difference between combatants and noncombatants. Only combatants must be targeted, and then with the minimum amount of death and destruction necessary. The third principal is that armed forces must use proportionate force to meet the end goal as well as to conform to the realities of the situation of the ground. For example, bombing a civilian market to kill a few hostiles is NOT a proportionate response in a just war. I invite you to examine the wars we are fighting and supporting and ask if the conform to these principals.
While the first three were more general, the final three get into more specific matters. The fourth principal states that prisoners of war must be treated well as once they are prisoners, they are no longer a threat in the war. The fifth is that no weapons or methods of war that are evil in and of themselves, must be used. Some examples would be ethnic cleansing, mass rape, or torture. The sixth, and final, is that the enemy violating these principals is not sufficient reason to not follow them. The breaking of these principals can not be justified, even if the enemy is doing so.
Jus Post Bellum (Justice after war)
Justice after war is a tricky subject and there is little agreement on what it should look like, but a few ideas I think will give a workable outline and framework. First, the rights of those that were violated causing the just war must be secured. This is the cause of the war, and in order for there to be justice after it, they must be protected. Just as the declaration of war is issued quickly and publicly, so also must the declaration of peace. The distinction between combatants and noncombatants must still be distinguished, and public war crimes trials should be held.
There are other things to consider. Does justice after war call for rehabilitation of the aggressor? Does it allow for the nation to be disarmed? Does it call for a restoring of the nation to the international community? Does it call for human rights training, political rehabilitation, or more? These are all things worthy of discussion that there is not broad agreement on, mostly because in the modern context we find ourselves in the fighting has not stopped long enough to consider them.
The only way to properly celebrate Memorial Day is to look past it and reflect upon the current state of things, no to the detriment of honoring the fallen, but precisely because we honor them. While it is good and right to remember the fallen on Memorial Day, do not forget the prayers of forgiveness that we need to offer up for whatever part we have played in the ongoing violence and bloodshed that makes days such as this a necessity. We pray forgiveness as individuals, as the congregation of the faithful, as a nation. The only way to properly honor the fallen is to craft a world where their sacrifice will not be asked of others. Come Lord Jesus.