IS WAR EVER JUST? HAVE WE EVER DEALT WITH THE UNDERLYING CAUSES OF WAR SO AS TO MAKE WAR UNNECSSARY?
We in the
Was there no other way to abolish slavery? Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1837; in
In our Civil war, both sides saw themselves as civilized. Both sides were Caucasian. Both sides saw themselves as Christians and prayed to the same God for victory. Brothers fought against brothers. Military commanders on both sides were trained at
Nicholas Lehman has written a new book, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War that is brilliantly reviewed by James M. McPherson, Professor of History Emeritus at
Former slave owning Democratic Party politicians resumed their Congressional offices almost immediately, and by 1894 these Southern Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. They had enough Justices on the Supreme Court to gut the 14th Amendment by 1876 so that it was no longer a Federal crime for Southerners to lynch Blacks. Southern White Supremacy over Blacks was guaranteed for more than a century after the Civil War had been “won.” These Southern Democrats blocked the enactment of a Federal law against lynching until 1968. These Southern Democrats, both the rich and the poor, have not given up to this day. After the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 they switched to the Republican Party that elects its candidates by sly code words that signal its racism. The poor white Southerners to this day are still voting against their own self-interest because of their own racism. So this “just” war has still not achieved justice or equality.
All of this raises the very serious question of whether national armed force can ever be successful against passionately determined guerrillas. This is relevant for the
Most people would agree that war, even a just war, should be started only as a very last resort when all possible alternatives have been fairly tried and have failed. We see from our own Civil War history and the failed Reconstruction effort that the use of armed violence does not achieve victory over evil. War produces among the “defeated” hatred, resentment and a passionate determination to seek revenge. War and violence seem to perpetuate the evil that the war was intended to overcome. War creates unintended side effects such as the deaths of innocent civilians, trained killers and sadistic torturers among the fighters on the “good” side, maimed and amputated wounded, and post traumatic stress syndrome in both victor and vanquished. War requires the use of means and mental habits and attitudes that are counterproductive to those needed to achieve victory over evil, peace and reconciliation.
Let’s therefore give serious consideration to the successful alternative to War used by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The use of nonviolence as a means to exercise power is not widely understood, so we shall examine the little book, Jesus and Nonviolence,
From these sources we derive the following:
Using the power of nonviolence does not mean doing nothing and it does not mean being passive. It does involve being fully aware of and accepting of one’s anger at an injustice so that if all else failed one might resort to violence. It involves the conscious overcoming of the fear that might lead to flight or doing nothing, and diverting the anger that would ordinarily result in violence. It involves advance personal orientation and training so that one can then utitilize nonviolent resistance as a creative means of most powerfully resisting the evil. There are at least 168 different ways of resisting evil in this way. Some recent examples that are etched in our memories are: Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham jail when he violated an unjust law to demonstrate that he believed in and wanted the rule of law, but just laws, to implement his dream; Rosa Parks violating the bus seating law; MLK Jr leading the parade of Blacks facing Bull Connor’s dogs and whips.
Some of the ways of exercising nonviolent power among the 168 are:
Work stoppages and work slowdowns
Intentionally violating an unjust law and accepting the punishment
Posters and Graffiti
The effective use of the power of nonviolence involves the following:
Seizing the moral initiative
Finding a creative alternative to violence
Asserting one’s own humanity and dignity as a person
Meeting force with ridicule or humor
Breaking the cycle of humiliation
Exposing the injustice of the system
Taking control of the power dynamic
Shaming the oppressor into change
Standing one’s ground
Forcing the oppressor to make a decision for which he is not prepared
Recognizing one’s own power
Being willing to suffer rather than retaliate
Depriving the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective
Being willing to accept punishment for breaking unjust laws
Avoiding tactics that arouse the fear of one’s oppressor
It is immediately apparent that the use of nonviolent power requires much psychological, emotional, and moral maturity. It requires much intelligence and creativity. It is not a normal human response. It requires much advance training to overcome the intuitive reaction of fleeing or fighting. It requires immense courage. It is not for the lazy. It requires much knowledge of one’s inner self, the recognition of one’s own dark side and capacity for evil and violence, and the control of one’s own violence.
The underlying theory is that one resists the evil acts of a person without demonizing the person. One must sincerely feel love for the person, or at least caring attention. One is trying to change his attitude and his behavior, with the full realization that this person is not going to evaporate and that one will have to live with him and relate to him whether the nonviolent confrontation is immediately successful or not. For religious persons, one fully recognizes that the other person was also created by God and equally loved by God, and therefore the non-violent resistor must also. One approaches the opponent with the hope and objective of changing his mind no matter how hopeless that may seem. One loves one’s enemy because it is in one’s long term self interest to do so.
Defenders of the use of violence usually argue that the exercise of nonviolent power is effective only against governments that have achieved a minimum moral level. That argument is based on the belief that every single person among one’s opponents is totally beyond any possibility of change and has not one shred of human feeling. The successful use of nonviolence in
Nonviolent power is founded on the concept that the means used to confront evil must be consistent with one’s objective. The means used are at least as important as the objective. The means used give advance information about how things will be if one is successful in overcoming evil.
It is not an absolute moral law that one must always be non-violent. Violence is not an absolute evil to be avoided at all costs. It is not even the main problem, but only the presenting symptom of an unjust society. War is usually used to maintain and protect privileges and material wealth. All injustice, all inequality of power and wealth is maintained by violence. The nonviolent use of power involves reforming unjust situations long before the seeming need for violence arises. If one is himself accepting of the material benefits of an unjust system, one cannot then argue that a “just” war is necessary to quell those who seek to resist the injustice. Peace is not the highest good, but rather the outcome of a just social order. An example of all of this is WWII with
Let us now take another look at our own Civil War. Was it just? Were all possible steps taken to try to deal with the evil of slavery short of war? Did the Civil War really solve the evils of slavery or its causes? Let’s ask the same questions of the Israelis and their ongoing wars against Muslims. Let’s ask the same questions of ourselves about the
Dated: November 18, 2006
Douglas R. Page
This article and other articles by Doug Page may be accessed at Doug’s blog at