Each Friday in Not Fit for Dinner, C. Ryan Knight explores political issues and the preconceptions guiding our understanding of and responses to them.
Americans have even stronger reason to consider the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan after the Los Angeles Times released two photos of American soldiers posing with slain Afghan insurgents. The photographs are the latest of 2012’s revelations of military misconduct in Afghanistan this year—the others being the urinating on dead bodies by soldiers revealed in January, the burning of Korans reported in February, and the murder of civilians by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales last month.
This incriminating series of events should make people question whether or not the war in Afghanistan was and remains just. Whether the argument was legitimate or not, the war in Afghanistan was accepted under premises drawn from the just war doctrine. Neoconservatives were supported by Christian groups like the Society of Christian Ethics, which determined the reasons for war with Afghanistan aligned St. Augustine’s tenets of just war.
I have neither space nor the inclination to re-examine claims that starting the war was just here. Instead, it seems well to recall that just war theory has two central components: jus ad bellum, justice prior to war, and jus in bello, justice during war. Perhaps there was justice prior to the war in Afghanistan, but what we are seeing this year is nothing short of undeniable evidence of the deterioration of justice during war.
According to the New York Times, an 82nd Airborne Division soldier first contacted reporter David Zucchino with the information and pictures because he was “very, very concerned about what he said was a breakdown in security, discipline and professionalism.” In terms of the principles for justice during war, though, these recent infractions do not amount to the invalidation of the criteria for just war in progress, which are proportionality (what Americans call “collateral damage”) and deterrence.
People are nonetheless aware of the fact that these injustices are eroding the justice of the war in Afghanistan, even if recent events do not violate the traditional requirements for continuing war justly.
One of the groups best situated to address these recent events in Afghanistan is Christians, for the theory of just war has strong roots in the Christian church and in the writings of Christian thinkers. St. Thomas Aquinas returned to the notion of just war in the Thirteenth century, and Reinhold Niebuhr also examined it as the Twentieth century thundered.
I wish to propose that Christians should add a moral dimension to the criteria for justice during war. Proportionality and deterrence may be effective means of measuring justice during war in military terms, but what has happened lately in Afghanistan suggests a means of measuring the moral dimension of the war is also needed.
The two primary aspects of this moral dimension are the well-being of soldiers conducting the war and the well-being of those for whom soldiers are allegedly trying to help—in this case, the Afghan population. It seems quite evident that the diminished well-being of either, or both, coincides with the diminished justness of war.
The leaked photographs from this week give clear evidence that too many American soldiers are no longer fit and disciplined to conduct war justly. It’s also important to note that this deterioration of discipline is not suddenly happening this year. Though the Los Angeles Times released the controversial photographs this week, they were taken two years ago. Thus, it appears this deterioration has being happening for quite some time.
As to the diminished well-being of Afghans, Terry J. Allen has recently explored the “devastating toll on [Afghans’] mental health.” War hardly seems just if it keeps a population safe by driving it “past sanity by violence.”
Let military strategists say what they will about the timing of withdrawing troops. Christians should firmly assert that justice during war has been compromised, and the war should end as soon as possible. America cannot afford additional moral lapses such as those which have transpired this year.