The editors discuss Eric Patterson’s article about jus post bellum and war crimes, Reinhold Niebuhr’s letters from Scotland, and Mark Tooley’s remarks on regime change.

Rough Transcript

Mark Tooley: Hello, this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism with fellow Mark’s and fellow editors, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton, reviewing three pieces from Providence this week. Firstly, our regular contributor Eric Patterson himself, a just war scholar and a self-identified Christian realist, has done a series of pieces examining the Ukraine War through the prism of just war thinking. His most recent piece examines the potential of a war crimes tribunal when this horrible war is finally concluded. Secondly, we have a piece from Reinhold Niebuhr from 75 years ago. We’re reporting on his trip to postwar Europe. And then, finally, I wrote a piece on regime change as it relates to Russia and Vladimir Putin. But first, let’s start with Eric Patterson, just war crimes. Marc LiVecche, as a fellow just war scholar, what critique or analysis do you have of Eric Patterson?

Marc LiVecche: Eric Patterson gives us a very good overview of the potential of, first the character and nature of war crimes, and then the pursuit of justice against war crimes. It goes through the taxonomy, which is very helpful, helping people to understand the various crimes that actually exist, kinds of actions in war during criminality. And then he directs our attention to the mechanisms for actually being able to bring punitive measures against war criminals. And hovering constantly in the foreground is the notable and properly placed desire, I think, on the minds and hearts of a lot of Westerners, certainly a lot of Americans, that Vladimir Putin himself would face war crimes, would be brought to justice, would be given his due, and even would be somehow ousted from the leadership of Russia. And Patterson, I think, rightly acknowledges the sentiment and the desire for justice that’s behind these desires, but also rightly cautions caution, because the mechanisms in part that one might bring to bear against Vladimir Putin are one, quite likely unable to be executed by us, unless we come into direct confrontation with the Russian people, and then they’re bad precedents, and you’ll touch on this as well in your piece on decapitation, but decapitation has always been something that western military ethics has cautioned, if not against, has really counseled caution in thinking about, for a number of reasons, one being that if you pin a leader of a particular nation against the wall and make it clear that they have no way of surviving the present conflict, then they also have no reason to stand down. So that’s part of it. He cautions on it and he’s also, I think, sort of moderating expectations. It is highly unlikely that any of the available mechanisms for bringing punishment directly to bear on Vladimir Putin are going to be brought to bear against him. The UN is unlikely to hold war crimes tribunals. He compares the case to Rwanda, he compares it to Yugoslavia, and he rightly notes that the will is simply unlikely to be there. In the end, he doesn’t suggest we do nothing, he does talk about bringing direct economic punishment against Putin and the rest of his kleptocracy and he sees that as the most probable way of approximating justice. And I think the strength of Eric’s piece is exactly that: he recognizes justice, he recognizes the need for justice, and then he recognizes as a Christian realist is going to, that we’re only ever going to approximate it. And so, his wide counsel is not to be satisfied, but to accept the fact that the best we’re going to get out of this in all likelihood, is an approximation of justice. And if real justice comes before Putin gets before his Creator, then that justice is likely only to come from the Russian people themselves.

Mark Tooley: Excellent, it sounds like you’re largely in agreement with Eric then, Marc.

Marc LiVecche: Oh, I am, but as I’ve made known, I think, throughout this whole campaign, it is a bitter kind of agreement, because we want Vladimir Putin to receive his due, so far as we are made to understand what that due might be. And prudence dictates against trying to bring the full measure of justice against him, because the outcomes of that will almost certainly be disproportionate to the goods that will come of that. So, as Christians have long had to be, we just have to be patient and recognize that ultimate justice is in God’s hands, and we can rest assured that it will be brought.

Mark Tooley: Turning to you, Mark Melton, in Reinhold Niebuhr’s piece that he wrote for his own Christianity and Crisis magazine 75 years ago, our model journal, and he being our patron saint of a sort, he shares his observations about postwar Europe and is especially impressed by the worship at the Church of Scotland, but he has other more politically relevant observations. Would you share a bit about Reinhold Niebuhr in postwar Europe?

Mark Melton: Right, so like you said, he’s been traveling in Europe. This is also his second travel, maybe? I don’t know his exact itinerary in ‘46 and ’47, but he also traveled in Europe in ‘46, went to Germany, had a report from Germany that we published last fall, I believe, but in this piece, he’s traveling through Scotland specifically. There’s two pieces: one that’s definitely written from Scotland, the other one, based on the other writings I think is probably from Scotland, but certainly somewhere in the United Kingdom. And so, he’s offering a series of observations. The first one is kind of an economic observation. He talks about, basically, America is very powerful and wealthy, and Americans don’t understand the problems and the poverty that is facing Europe. Britain is much better off than the continent, but it is still struggling, there is a coal shortage going on. In the United States there are strikes going on, I think there were some coal shortages, but I think those were later in ‘46 and early in ‘47. And in this, he offers an economic observation about how Britain is still rationing its supplies. America at this point had abandoned this, it basically was forced to by voters, forced to do this by a lot of meat packers who went on strike because they weren’t able to raise prices to compensate their workers. So, there were food shortages in America, and they basically lifted and liberalized all of the prices in America. There was massive inflation, much more than we have right now, and so he’s kind of writing from a point of frustration. I think that whole observation is interesting because the previous year, he did write about economic issues and his conclusion there was ministers and pastors and theologians should not comment on these economic issues, because they don’t know that much about it. And here, I think he’s reversing course. He’s trying to say that the British were doing it better. But I linked to some of these older articles that he talks about that go into more details, I think, about how opening up and ending the price controls is the right thing to do, because it basically helps America recover and it incentivizes workers to produce more stuff, so that’s one observation. Like you said, he talked about the Church of Scotland, he talks about how he likes this liturgical, Church of Scotland, Presbyterian style. He’s a Lutheran, and so he’s kind of used to that. I contrast this where I link to another piece, where he talks about going to an evangelical Easter service in a movie palace – I don’t think he called it a movie theater, but a movie palace – and he was very critical of this evangelical worship, so I think it’s interesting contrasting that appreciation for the liturgical Presbyterian style coming from this Lutheran pastor. He also offers some observations about how the British are no longer able to afford empire and that they’re having to give up India and that they’re trying to pull out of Palestine, and so I don’t know if there’s many other articles in Christianity and Crisis that talk specifically about Palestine, the looming Crises with Israel, that were coming up, so I think this is the first one I read. They may have had some other ones, I would have to do a search, but this is one of the first times he even mentions Palestine, and I know in Christianity and Crisis there were divisions about how the writers of Christianity and Crisis would approach Israel and Palestine. I believe, if I remember correctly, Niebuhr was much more in favor of supporting Israel than some of the other writers, but in this piece, though you kind of see a lot of these different topics coming up and there’s another correspondence I believe from the Netherlands that I’ll get ready and pair with another article that talks about the Netherlands because I think that might be of interest to some readers, because I know a lot of our people like Abraham Kuyper and some of the people who wrote for Christianity and Crisis did not like Abraham Kuyper, so that might be of interest.

Mark Tooley: Thank you, Mark Melton. Finally, I wrote a piece on regime change responding, at least in part, to President Biden’s speech in Poland where, leaving his script, he expressed his hope that the day would come when Putin is no longer on his throne, which prompted a chorus to lament or to warn that America was perhaps at another crusade for regime change, not having learned the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and in my piece I review history, noting that America has been fighting for regime changes of sorts for its entire history. Almost all of our wars have contained some aspiration for regime change and even in peacetime, we have undermined governments and waged proxy wars, or simply through our rhetoric advocated the overturning or the replacement of regimes deemed odious by us and our democratic standards. So, in fact, regime change is not just a dark innovation in the last 20 years, post-9/11, but it’s always been part of American history and, in fact even when America is completely passive, just the fact that our nation is built to our founding documents on the premise of God’s guaranteeing certain human rights to all people, that is a threat to all non-democratic regimes, so in that ethereal spiritual sense, we’re always advocating some sort of regime change around the world, wherever basic human rights are being abridged. I also warned against the fatalism of assuming that the status quo is always preferable to any kind of change. If Putin were overthrown, his successor, or the subsequent chaos, it could be worse than his regime, but his regime is so horrendous and so destructive and so dangerous, it’s almost worth the risk. I did not mention this in the article, but the Allies did not support the attempt against Hitler’s life in July 1944. They just assumed it was a group of Nazis trying to overthrow Nazis and they would represent no substantive change. That was a miscalculation on their part, but Marc LiVecche, Mark Melton, any thoughts on regime change?

Marc LiVecche: I’ll just add that I think you’re right it’s long been a part of American strategy policy or outlook and I think, to some degree, it goes hand in hand with the way that, ideally, we’ve always approached war. We see war as a last resort, which often suggests that once you’ve come to the point where conflict is necessary, things have gotten so bad that the status quo ante just really is no longer plausible and that the way to fix the injustice that prompted the just cause in the first place is ultimately going to be something like regime change. And then again dovetailing with Patterson’s piece, I think you’re right to caution against certain modes of bringing about that regime change. That regime change is, ideally, in this case, going to be brought about by the Russian people themselves. I think that’s best for the world, I think that’s great for the Russian soul, I think this is something that they need for their own good, and for their own future flourishing. They need to take care of themselves and that’s certainly where I would want to see that.

Mark Melton: I was going to say, one thing you mentioned is about how the Americans thought that the Nazis overthrowing other Nazis with the assassination attempt. I know that in Christianity and Crisis, they were trying to present the idea that these weren’t other Nazis, that they were genuinely wanting to overthrow Adolf Hitler and so they published (?), and they published some other pieces that tried to explain that they weren’t just Nazis and so that was, I mean, that’s years after World War Two is over, but they’re still trying to convince Americans that there were Germans who were not Nazis.

Mark Tooley: Well, some arguments take years and decades to make before they’re persuasive. On that note, thank you for listening to another episode of Marksism. Until next week! Bye-bye!