On War

The Siege of Gondor

"The Battle of Lepanto" by Paolo Veronese (Source)

“The Battle of Lepanto” by Paolo Veronese (Source)

We that live in safe and easy times find it safe and easy to outright and with outrage critique the very occurrence of conflict as an evil. It is said that war cannot be defended, that after years of militant action, in a time as enlightened and progressed as ours, it can no longer be justified. Yet such a time seems the exception, and therefore we should be wary: for even Christ Himself acknowledge properly exerted force when he advised (Luke 22:36) that “let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.” “Insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ” (Gaudium et Spes, 78). War is a necessary condition of a fallen world, and while we may long for the day that we can beat our swords to plowshares, until then we must acknowledge combat for what it is.

War is not a good or an evil: it is a neutral occurrence, charged with the potential for good or evil based on what path men and women take when faced with it. We who love peace must be slow to violence, but we also must not be afraid to turn back evil when it arises and threatens good and beautiful things. As Faramir says, “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all.” There is terror in war, and tragedy, and pain, and death; but there is also courage, and virtue, and nobleness, and death for the sake of something. As Gandalf remembered so many pages ago, “There was sorrow then too, and gathering dark, but great valour, and great deeds that were not wholly in vain.” Is it not better to die for something than to live without anything – to pass as someone rather than to endure as no one? We are grieved by the persecution of Christians throughout the world: yet, they’d rather fight and die with the faith than sacrifice it for the mere turning of days. Should we question their virtue, their hope, their love?

Great is the potential for both good and ill in the midst of war, and so it requires rigorous reflection. The Catholic Church has long maintained its long-considered criteria for conflict: that the damage of the evil be lasting, grave, and certain; that all other means be shown impractical and ineffective; that success, however fleeting, be possible; and that the war itself not produce greater disorders than the evil to be eliminated. The disciples of Christ are not lovers of violence, and do not revel in war for its own sake: “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend,” as Faramir declares. Yet there is virtue in the struggles of war: a place for valiant and courageous deeds, or honorable and merciful decisions, of good and righteous living. To be adamantly and unquestionably against war is little different from being an ideologue for bellic strife: to ignore the depth of what’s at stake in war and peace.

We who have been blessed to live in safety and ease, and who have largely not been called to serve in the trenches, especially in these modern times, cannot fully understand war. We do not grasp its bitterness and glory, its isolation and its fellowship, its darkness and its light. Much has changed of warfare in the fires of industry, technology, and progress: we should not refrain from critique, and admonishment, and just laboring service against the sword. Yet there is darkness in the world, and innocent lives worthy of defense, and beautiful causes worthy of death. Let us reject the hubristic assumption that we civilized and modern people uniquely have the capacity to resolve all ills by our mere progress and desire. War was, is, and will be, until the changing of the world: and we who claim to have glimpsed the precious kindling of the Good know it to be worth of our noblest safeguard.

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