In this episode of True North, our dynamic duo helps us get our bearings properly centered on the just intention of war. In their intriguing—if idiosyncratic—way, they reflect several critical questions: What does peace look like? What can we realistically do to promote peace? How does peace relate to order? To justice? Moreover, because the road to the Lake of Fire is paved with good intentions, are there limits to what Christian realists should support even when their intentions are right? 

Rough Transcript

LiVecche: Hello everybody. Welcome to another episode of True North. I am one half of your host, I am Marc LiVecche. I am executive editor here at Providence, and I am Stockdale Fellow at the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the United States Naval Academy. And I am joined by-

Strand: Daniel Strand, Professor of Ethics at the Air War College in glorious, sweet Montgomery, Alabama.

LiVecche: Today we are continuing our short-run series on the Just War tradition, or Just War tradition, throwing out the definite article, because there’s more than one tradition. What we are talking about is grounded in its classical roots; comes to us from some of the old Greeks and some of the early Christians, and we have been talking about jus ad bellum, which is a really fancy way of asking when is it right to fight. And we have gone through sovereign authority, and last week we did just cause, and today we intend to talk about right intent. Do you want to start us off, Dr. Strand?

Strand: Yeah, so of the three kind of fundamental criterion, or whatever we want to refer to them as, moral principles with Just War, right intent I think is very important. And I think probably the focus on intention is where you could say the focus of Christian ethics, or Christianity as a whole, sort of the inward intention of one’s actions, becomes very important. Any moral act of course is not going, despite what people say today that only outcomes, or we don’t care about what you intend or the intentions of one’s words or so forth, intention is absolutely essential. And in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we know that there is a difference between murder and killing. Now, there’s a lot of reasons for that, but one of the most important things has to do with intention. We just saw the Derek Chauvin case for the now murder of George Floyd. That’s different than saying the killing of George Floyd. Murder implies a level of intention, and you have second degree, first degree, third degree, right. All of those are fundamental. As a native of Minneapolis, I’m always attuned to what’s going on there. And there was also another killing in Minneapolis last week where a police officer, female police officer, in Brooklyn Center, which is just north of Minneapolis, accidentally killed somebody. She thought she was grabbing her taser, and she grabbed a gun, shot this man, and apparently, they’re going to bring charges of manslaughter. Because there’s a fundamental difference due to intention. So, intention is extremely important. It doesn’t get probably as much attention, and once again, it’s hard to do when you’re looking at nations, looking at what they intend to do in this or that war. We tend to be pretty cynical people these days, and so people tend to read into someone’s intentions. But nevertheless, the Just War tradition says intention really matters. What we intend to do in war can’t be for aggrandizement; it can’t be for conquest. It has to be ultimately for restoring the state of peace to the best of our ability. What Augustine coined the term “the tranquility of order.”

LiVecche: That’s right. Let me interject here. So, right intent in Just War is peace, the restoration of order. Is that monolithic? So, every just war that is the intention is the restoration of order, of peace? So, this is variable, how do you respond to that?

Strand: I think the intention always has to be towards some sort of restoration of the best possible conditions, but the world as it is, and I think many Westerners, Americans have a very idealistic view of the way that society functions and they get maximally frustrated when things don’t kind of pan out to the world that they have in their minds, but most people outside the West I would say understand that the world is actually very fragile. And maybe this pandemic has removed some of that confidence and idealism in the sense of showing just how fragile the pandemic can throw the world into such kind of upheaval. But to your point, no, I mean, to throw the question back to you in some ways, what would peace look like in the Middle East? What would it look like in Europe versus North America? What would it look like on the borders of Russia and Eastern Europe? What would it look like between China? What would it look like in Afghanistan, right? We’re pulling out of Afghanistan. I think an interesting question, or at least a good debatable question, it’s an empirical one, but in the end, what does peace look like in Afghanistan? This country that seems to be untamable. Some people want to stay long-term and think maybe, well, more of an argument I’ve made is that it’s kind of more of a Colombia scenario where we stuck it out in Colombia, we provided military aid for them and assistance, and look what happened. Colombia turned out, I mean, they brokered a deal, they’ve ended this long sort of civil war going on, and so they’re actually coming about something that actually looks like peace, like a somewhat functioning democracy. Could that happen in Afghanistan?

LiVecche: Peace and the ambitions you have toward moving toward peace are going to be context dependent, right. It’s one thing to hope that we can, in a domestic scene, reconcile with our neighbors in Minneapolis. That might look like one thing, but it’s a far cry to expect the same things out of a part of the world where sort of none of the conditions on the ground look toward being conducive to peace. Maybe a better approximation of peace, and this brings us to the question of what is peace composed of, you start to break it down and you recognize, as you’ve talked about, Augustine’s tranquility of order, of order being a precursor for peace, justice being a part of all of that. So, justice and order maybe together begin to make peace. Yeah, you look throughout the globe, you look at our own cities, and you don’t necessarily see a whole lot of justice, or even if you do, you don’t see a whole lot of order necessarily. Or varying degrees of it. So, the best you can do is an approximation. So, when we say the right intent is peace, then you might say okay, so why an airstrike in Syria because Assad barrel bombed or gassed his own people? You think that the airstrike is going to lead to peace? Well, no, we don’t. Good question. Very limited objection here. We want to stop barrel bombing and gassing your people, and that’s going to be the restoration of order that we’re asking for. It’s not much. It’s a low bar. It doesn’t promote justice and order in your society in other ways, so it’s limited. You and I have talked a lot about if right intent is peace, then built into that is the assumption that you’re going to fight to win. But not every win looks the same, right. It might not mean the destruction of the regime against which we’re combatting; it might simply mean my objective today is for you to stop committing atrocities. To stand down, and we stand down, and we we’ve reached a ton and it’s not perfect, but it’s better than we had. History has taught us that justice and order are goods because they lead to peace, but maybe order without a full measure of justice is still better than anarchy. You have to make these sorts of deals maybe with the devil just because the world is a real place that real people have to live in. Ambitions aren’t always-

Strand: So, what do you make of this, when I think about kind of just your average everyday American looking out at the world, one of the criticisms you’re going to see, and this is where I feel like people from a more realist perspective which is going to say something like the world’s just a bad place, the United States needs to look after its own interests first and that means doing bad stuff, making alliances with bad people, and that’s just the way it works. So, that’s maybe a sort of generic perspective. And then you have, I think this is where the sort of pacifist comes full circle with the realist, and they’re actually quite close on many issues in their reading of things, is yeah, that’s it. That’s why Christians don’t get involved in the bloody goriness of international politics. It’s brutal, it’s rough, it’s full of lesser evils, and all these sorts of things that we need to sort of purify our hands from. So, they agree with the realists in terms of the sort of analysis. So, that criticism of the Just Warrior, or this this idea that we’re talking about, seeking peace, is that this is sort of a moralization. It’s making something ethical that’s not. It’s fooling ourselves, I guess. And so, you’ll get criticisms about why are we allies with Saudi Arabia? Why are we allies with Saudi Arabia? Because we want to balance the power of Iran. So, Saudi Arabia as sort of that bulwark is the one thing that we have to sort of keep the Iranians at bay in the Middle East. So, how do you respond to the person who makes these criticisms? Because I’ll defend to a certain extent the Saudis’ war against Yemen, even though it’s brutal. I mean, there’s starvation. It’s gory. It’s terrible impart on those grounds that it’s a proxy war for the Iranians, and the Iranians are fomenting all sorts of discord around the Middle East. So, if the intent is peace, in the end some sort of peace, then that seems what we have to do. But how do you respond?

LiVecche: Yeah, wherever you sit on that it should be uncomfortable. You shouldn’t be glad about being friends with the Saudis when the Saudis are guilty of all sorts of violations against dignity. But you could probably make the case that this whole idea of right intent, peace, and all of that, a lot of this hinges, and we’ll talk about this a little bit more in a moment, a lot of this hinges on justice. And justice is giving each their due. That’s been true from Aristotle to Cicero to Aquinas. And the idea of giving people their due, or giving states their due, regimes their due, all of that, international justice, whatever we’re talking about, built into that is the necessity of discrimination, of making discriminatory judgments between righteousness and wickedness, good and evil, innocence and guilt, those sorts of basic judgments. And these judgments are probably best made with scalpels and not hatchets, right. So, you look at Saudi Arabia and you think okay look, we have a role to play in the Middle East, maybe for in one sense altruistic reasons to help the Middle East, but for selfish reasons, too. Peace in the Middle East, the free flow of oil, all sorts of goods that reverberate throughout the globe and rebound to our own interests. We have vested interests here. So, who are we going to be friends with? Okay, we have Israel. That’s grand. Who else are we going to be friends with? Saudi Arabia is a powerhouse in the region, and they’re better than others in the region. They’re not great, but they’re pretty good. Now we can be great friends with Bahrain, and that gets us a certain set of benefits, but it would also be really good to be aligned with another military power. Saudi Arabia is there. They’re not great. It seems to me that America has two types of basic power. We have the power of intimidation. You mess with us and free men and women will kill you. That’s the military; that’s hard power and some of the more coercive aspects of soft power in some ways. That’s one power, intimidation. The other power is persuasion, inspiration. And with Saudi Arabia, we could intimidate them or we could try to come alongside them and inspire them and try to make incremental changes where we can. I don’t know this but it would be interesting to see where was Saudi Arabia at one point and where is Saudi Arabia now. And have people in Saudi Arabia benefited from our alliance with their government? My guess is yes. Maybe that’s not true, and if it’s not true then it’s to our shame, because when you’ve been friends with somebody for a long time, that person should be better. I mean, since we’ve been friends you are just a better human being.

Strand: That’s true.

LiVecche: So, I’m America, you’re Saudi Arabia, and I should have an influence. It could be something like that. I think another response that I have is just that I touched on this hinging on a question of this, and so, I think when so many people look at the world, and in particular looking at a world in which there’s war, good men and women see war on the one side and they see peace on the other. And they hear Daniel Strand talking about peace being the right intent of war, and they think you’re a lunatic because these two spheres, war and peace, are discontinuous. There’s no overlap. They’re absolutely incommensurable; one cannot influence the other. In fact, they’re binaries. They’re opposites. According to Christian intelligence, classic thought, that’s a false dichotomy. War and peace are not necessarily opposites. And I think the Just War tradition, by putting intention up there and making it the right intent of peace, acknowledges that peace making is difficult work. Yes, as followers of Christ we should always up to us live in peace with all men. But there are limits to that, right. Our enemies have a vote, that’s one limit. Who we are as Christians is another limit, because as Christians we’re supposed to do justice. And we’ve already noted that doing justice is giving to each their due. It’s making discriminating judgments. And if somebody is doing an act of evil, then justice is one, to identify them as doing an act of evil. And the work of justice is also to get them to stop. So, last week we talked about just cause. We said protect the innocent, right. That’s due to them. The innocent deserve protection. Dignity demands that people take on the burden and the duty of protecting the innocent. We talked about another just cause being taking back things that have been wrongly taken. When people wrongly take your stuff, if it’s land or if it’s your women or your daughters or whatever it happens to be, justice demands making that judgment, identifying that is wrong, and restoring wrongly taken things to the people who they’re due to. That’s a justice issue. And then this idea about punishing the guilty or punishing evil, that’s making the discriminating judgment that what you’ve done is wrong and it needs to be stopped. That’s justice work. And these things are necessary precursors to peace. I think last week we said that peace is not a virtue, peace is the fruit of virtue. Justice is one of the cardinal virtues, right. You can do it in excess, you can do it in deficiency. The right amount of justice, the right things in the right way to the right people, has in this world the best and maybe only chance of approximating something like peace. You see that as the golden thread I guess in the Just War tradition. So, if the right intention is peace and peace is a product of justice, then from that you start getting principles of proportionality, which says that the right things are owed to particular people, you give each due, the combatants, the non-combatants, the innocent, guilty, discrimination, the same sort of thing. All these things begin to radiate out from a proper understanding of what justice is.

Strand: Marc, you made this distinction between sort of the sphere of peace and the sphere of war. And oftentimes, we think of them as sort of two hermetically sealed bubbles. We go from this state of peace to the state of war, and we can kind of decide. What are you getting at with that? Flush that out just a little bit more, because you touched on it but I’m just interested in hearing why you think that’s a false dichotomy.

LiVecche: In part, we both touched on this already today, but in this world, peace doesn’t just fall from heaven and justice doesn’t just fall from heaven sort of already baked and ready to go. Romans 13. God provides a government and expects that this government colludes with the divine in order to bring about the conditions necessary for justice, order, and peace, but it takes human work. I mean, the mandate from the very beginning has been exercise dominion. And in a fractured world that’s cursed because of human fallenness, part of dominion means the restoration of order, and I don’t see any other way that that necessarily comes about. Now if somebody does something wrong and somebody confronts them with a strong word and identifies what they’ve done is wrong, some people will stand down. And they will repent. And they will stop. And then you stop also because the job is done. And so, in that sense war wasn’t necessary. Any coercion more than a word, and let’s not be under the illusion that this is just a trajectory, right. There’s the harsh word of rebuke and then maybe on the other end there’s war, but that’s a continuum, and where I plot myself on that continuum is very largely dependent on the person who’s doing the injustice. If a harsh word stops them, then we’re reconciled. If it takes something more than that, if it’s a sufficiently great evil, then you amp it up.

Strand: So, let’s just say Americans who think peace is sort of the natural baseline, it’s just how humans normally live, and so war is a sort of violation of that versus something like peace is an achievement, it’s something that we need to constantly protect and preserve with all these different tools: government, civil society, families, institutes, whatever. And that military power is one of those tools, but a necessary tool to sort of cultivate that. So, you have these kind of two different paradigms it seems like you’re tracking with.

LiVecche: Yeah, I think that’s right. And I think they’re not entirely distinct. I think they overlap in important ways. Augustine, and he wasn’t the first and wasn’t the last, but he made the important observation that at one level, all human beings have a natural propensity to drive toward peace. So even competing clans of the mafia are most likely going to desire some sort of peace. At the same time, they’re the mafia. They’ve also got a vested interest in not being particularly peaceful with other groups. So, we’re human beings, so there’s these dual drives for both peace and conflict. And so, it’s both.

Strand: Just War is going to say, so here’s what I kind of draw from what you’re saying is everybody wants peace of some sort or another, but the Just War is going to say we have to judge those peaces. So, the peace of the dictatorship might be worth preserving given the alternatives; it might not be the peace worth preserving. So, where I think a lot of Westerners get their hands up when they see the United States poking around another part of the world, they say leave it alone, just leave it alone. And I think the rejoinder is going to be that it may be peaceful, but that isn’t a peace worth preserving. Some peaces are not worth preserving. Some peaces are worth taking up arms, and especially if you live in those countries, you might think yeah, going to war and fighting is justified.

LiVecche: That’s right, and this is where we’ll come. I think next time we’ll talk about some of the prudential categories of the jus ad bellum. We’ve already moved through the deontological ones, the ones that have to be there. Next, we should talk about some of the prudential sort of side constraints that even if we have a legitimate authority, a just cause, and a right intention, prudence might dictate standing down and not pulling the trigger. And one of those prudential judgments is the probability of success. And while Christian hopefulness is a virtuous thing, we shouldn’t be naïve. There are certain aspirations that we have about going in and fixing the peace that are likely only going to make matters worse. This isn’t perfect and for some people in that regime it’s a hell on earth, but to go in there and break it we’re going to make it worse. And we’ve seen that in recent history. So, there we are.

Strand: There we are.

LiVecche: Right intention, pretty good.

Strand: We must intend.

LiVecche: We must intend rightly. All right my friend, we should probably end because we are approaching 25 minutes and my managing editor is going to find me liable for just cause. This was good. I think this was good. We’d love to hear from people. I feel like I’m talking to a black hole. If this is helpful, send us emails, praise, and compliments to [email protected] Complaints and criticisms to Daniel Strand.

Strand: I’ll happily receive my critics.

LiVecche: All right. Thank you, Dan. We will talk to you next time.

Strand: All right. Until next time. See you, Marc.