2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must
be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily
in evaluating this condition.These are the traditional elements enumerated in
what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
And now let's go step by step in the context of the current conflict, focusing on the different principles enunciated in the Catechism.
(1) The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.
Score one for Israel. Hezbollah's actions against civilians were and are unjustifiable, and should be considered war crimes. Even Juan Cole, whose sympathies lean in the Arab direction, argued that Nasrallah should be dragged before the Hague for ordering attacks on non-combatants.
(2) All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
For a start, Israel did not even bother to seek a diplomatic solution. But a counter argument would be that the very nature of Hezbollah-- including its glorification of violence and so-called martyrdom, its fundamentalist eschatology, its disdain for life (especially Israeli life), and its general lack of respect for Lebanese civil life and democracy-- renders a diplomatic solution useless, given that it would merely postpone and not solve the problem. But remember the point made by moralist Germain Grizes (see earlier post) that terrorism cannot be defeated by military means alone. You must address the root cause of the problem. Bush and Cheney seem to have learned this lesson the hard way (actually, whether they have learned anything at all after six disastrous years is very much open to question). The cowboy mentality is destined to fail.
(3) There must be serious prospects of success.
What is the aim of Israel in this war? Israel seems intent on eliminating Hezbollah, a political party supported by half the Lebanese population. Given this support, and deeply embedded Hezbollah is with the Shia population, the elimination seems pretty impossible. Again, you cannot defeat terrorism by military means alone.
(4) the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
Now we come to the crux of the matter, the proportionality condition. Straight away, the Catechism cautions us that the decks are already stacked against the pro-war position when it comes to modern weaponry. What is the evil to be eliminated? It is not just the threat from Hezbollah rockets today, but as Michael Walzer noted in the New Republic, "also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do." Proportionality is not just stacking up bodies on either side. We need to look at the totality of "evils and disorders" created by Israel's response. I think there are at least four.
First, the bombing of civilian areas. The words of Israel's military strategists are quite damning in this regard. General Dan Halutz basically said that retaliation is the name of the game, giving "the order to the air force destroy 10 multi-storey buildings in the Dahaya district (of Beirut) in response to every rocket fired on Haifa". He also declared that since the aim is to win, "nothing is safe." And don't forget the threat made during the early stages of the war to turn the clock back to the days of the civil war. And remember that the southern suburbs of Beirut, basically densely-populated Shia slums, have reduced to rubble.
Second, Israel has destroyed the Lebanese economy and infrastructure, punishing an entire nation for the crimes of one militia. Note also that Israeli sources threatened that "if Tel Aviv is attacked, Lebanese national infrastructure will be destroyed." More recently, the Israeli army announced it would "hit strategic civilian infrastructure". Here, the war party seem to indict the Lebanese government for allowing Hezbollah such a free reign. In fact, The cedar coalition (Christian-Sunni-Druze) would like nothing better than to disarm Hezbollah, especially after their cynical backing of Syria after Hariri's murder. But they are also fully aware that Hezbollah has the support of the Shia (remember their huge pro-Syrian demonstration in Beirut last year), and any move to disarm them could re-ignite the civil war. Indeed, all sides recognized that the way forward was to "normalize" Hezbollah by integrating them into Lebanese government and civil life. Even Maronite politician Michel Aoun, the author of the extremely costly "war of liberation" against Syria in the last phases of the civil war, did a deal with Hezbollah.
Third, Israel has threatened a democracy that has finally thrown out the Syrian occupiers (after almost 30 years), and is creating the conditions for a return to full-scale civil war. What often gets lots in the equation is that Lebanon is a full democracy, no longer under occupation. Sure, it has some confessional quirks, and lots of gerrymandering, but it is a democracy nonetheless. And, like it or not, Hezbollah plays a major role in that democracy. The nature of a long civil war means that many current players have less-than-perfect histories. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, regarded as a brave statesman for facing down Syrian death threats, was trying to ethnically cleanse the Chouf mountains in the 1980s. And the Christians were also no stranger to atrocities: the extremely popular Samir Geagea was recently released from prison for killing numerous rivals (plus their entire families) during the war. Compared with this cast of characters, Nasrallah does not seem so out of place!
Fourth, Israel's actions have boosted the popularity and strength of Hezbollah (and by extension, Iran and Syria) at a time when were being integrated into the normal political process (not not doing too well, for that matter). This has implications not only for Lebanon, bit the entire Middle East, and beyond.
But where is the Catholic voice in the United States? Week after week, Pope Benedict calls for a ceasefire, and it gets basically ignored by the Bush-worshipping Catholics on the American right, the same group who were driven into a frenzy by the death of Terry Schiavo (were the issues were every bit as complicated and nuanced as they are in the current conditions), but seem unmoved by the suffering of the Lebanese people.