Killing, Just War, and Chivalry
Unfortunately, the state of society is such that a discussion of chivalry actually requires a previous discussion on violence. I presume my audience is familiar with the metaphor of sheep, sheepdog, and wolf presented by David Grossman. If not, read it first.
You see, the common, ordinary decent American (never mind the even more 'civilized' European or Canadian) has such an overwhelming aversion to violence that he cannot be chivalrous. Further, he cannot appreciate the existence of chivalry in its entirety. The culture of the victim shows in every place. Soldiers, we professionals of bloodshed, are described as heros for our sacrifices and casualties, not for our prowess at arms and victories. Passive resistance is hailed as morally superior to armed revolt regardless of the tyrant. Self defense against criminals is legally prosecuted and socially disapproved as 'vigilantism'.
I understand the ability to coolly shoot down a man or cut him down in the heat of battle is a minority attitude. Only certain people can engage in violence when not personally so enraged that they can be killed out of hand by anyone with a head on their shoulders. This is not laudable in and of itself--nor is the lack of this ability morally superior or inferior to its presence. This ability can be trained, but not easily. Situations can make it easier to find this ability. It simply is, and like any other attribute, its use makes it morally licit or illicit.
"In the various occurrences of life we find differences which exist according to different situations, for example: it is not lawful to murder, but in war [it is] both lawful and worthy of approval to destroy the adversaries. Thus at any rate, those who are bravest in war are also deemed worthy of great honors, and monuments of them are raised proclaiming their successes; that the same thing, on the one hand is not lawful according to some circumstances and at some times, but, on the other hand, according to some other circumstances and opportunely it is permitted and possible." -- St. Athanasios the Great
Now, a person who cannot exercise violence cannot be chivalrous. This is simple logic--chivalry is a code regulating violence, determining where it can be used, against what targets, on what grounds, for what reasons, and when the violence must be halted. A person who cannot bring themselves to strike another human being with lethal intent may be courageous, morally correct, virtuous by any other measure, but he may not be chivalrous. A priest or monk may be a holy man, well qualified to advise a warrior on chivalry, but he cannot live that code himself, Alexander Peresvet aside.
"It behooves you, lord, to have a care for the lives of the flock committed to you by God. Go forth against the heathens; and upheld by the strong arm of God, conquer; and return to your country sound in health, and glorify God with loud praise." -- St. Sergius of Radonezh
But a true enemy of chivalry and virtue in general is the person whose aversion to violence is such that in order to cover his own insecurities, he attacks (in writing, speech, or actions) those who can and will use violence to protect him. This insidious breed of vermin is not only a serf, kept free by the exertions of his betters, but wishes to drag all around him down to his own level. He is devoid of those moral qualities which keep a free peoples free, and cannot even choose the lesser path of security. He must, necessarily, be a sheep and submit meekly to the wolf, moralizing and complaining the whole way, but crippling the flock by disallowing the sheepdog to kill in his defense. Understand, the difference between a wolf and a sheepdog is a code of honor, of professional ethics, of chivalry. Without that system of values, whether encoded in the UCMJ or picked up as a subtext of the epic of Beowulf, there is no distinction in behavior. That code is the only protection for those incapable of violence from the wolves and sheepdogs alike. A wolf who absorbs that code and makes it his own transforms into a sheepdog, albeit one a little rough around the edges. Conversely, there is no worse wolf than a sheepdog who has lost the faith.
"Duty, Honor, Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.
"The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule." -- General Douglas MacArthur
So where is a man to stand on this question of violence? The shortest and most to-the-point answer comes from the Catholic Catechism, I think. "The use of force to obtain justice is morally licit in itself."
So we have established that violence is 'morally licit' in certain circumstances. What are those circumstances. Setting aside obvious cases of self-defense, and also setting aside the individual criminal corralled by the police or concerned citizens, we head directly down the path to considering warfare--the proper province of warriors. When, then is warfare justified? When is it moral to destroy the works of man and the lives of your fellow human beings in cold blood, deliberately, and where ever they are found?
This discourse actually began in my mind when reading President Obama's speech in Oslo to the Nobel Prize committee. What a shock to his more foolish supporters and to his European slavering faithful!
"But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."
Now, I give that speech about a B-, because he loses points for the flaw within it. I noticed it, but did not give the issue a great deal of thought until I read this article which points out the error in the first assumption, the presupposition of war as something which is the last resort. I was immediately reminded of a quote from a Science Fiction author.
"Only the incompetent wait until the last extremity to use force, and by then, it is usually too late to use anything, even prayer." -- H. Beam Piper
Let us back up and begin from the beginning in regards to Just War. Only by showing what Just War is can we address the error introduced by misstatements such as, "war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence."
Note on sources and methods: Though an Orthodox Christian, I find the West has done more and more precise delineation upon the subject, so I borrow freely from Catholic tradition on the subject.
"Glorious and Just Lord, Great and Powerful God, God Eternal, who created heaven and earth, and who determined the boundaries of the peoples; Thou commandest people to live without oppressing other countries. O Lord, judge those who offended me. Smite those who set themselves against me and come to my aid with arms and shields." -- attributed to St. Alexander Nevsky
First, let us demonstrate the necessity for a theory of just warfare. As warfare is a necessary fact of human existence (a cursory reading of history will demonstrate the point, exercise is left to the student), it follows that a means to determine the moral way to fight it is necessary. Without moral guidelines, there is no curb on the means or methods--and the natural tendency is to descend to depths of murder, terror, and indiscriminate destruction in order to overawe the enemy with ferocity. This is a seductive temptation even for the most moral and chivalrous of men who are faced with the damage inflicted by enemies. Yet this is not justice, but bloody rage and immoderate passion--enemies of virtue and fountains of vice. Without guidelines for moral conduct of war and differentiation between moral and immoral war, men who fight these wars become monsters, threats to others and threats to their own souls. To argue that war is evil on the face of it is to suggest that as any combat is evil, one may as well descend immediately to the depths of hell. To argue that as victory is a good thing any act taken towards victory is justified by the ends is to introduce the fallacy that the ends justify the means. Because of the horrific nature of the means available to the warrior, because of the passions aroused by combat, and because of the mental damage inflicted by combat, this is both tempting and as dangerous a notion as could be introduced. Violence scars the soul. Illicit, immoral violence scars the soul to a greater degree. Enough damage and the warrior becomes wolf, freed of the constraints of the code that holds him tighter than any leash and which he must accept in order to protect those around him who cannot defend themselves any other way.
Just War theory frequently is divided into jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Justice in starting a war and justice in conducting a war. A Soldier is most concerned with how to fight, a statesman with when to fight. President Obama spoke largely to jus ad bellum, speaking of the traditional tests to determine whether or not to resort to force of arms.
The Catholics lay it out thus:
"1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
3. there must be serious prospects of success;4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition"
A fifth criteria is frequently included in this discussion, which is that war must be fought on behalf of an a legitimate authority. That becomes complicated when speaking of a rebellion--I will address it below.
These conditions are excellent criteria. The first criteria speaks for itself. Someone who is merely annoying is not a legitimate target for war. Hugo Chavez is a pompous twit, but he lacks the ability to inflict lasting grave harm upon the community of nations.
The third is illustrated by the example of St. Alexander Nevsky. He was faced with a Mongol horde capable of wiping out the Russian people, and having demonstrated both ability and willingness to engage in genocide in previous campaigns in central Asia. He determined to his satisfaction that that the Russian states could not withstand this invasion, but that the Mongol would be satisfied with payment of tribute and would leave the Orthodox Church in Russia in peace. At this time the Mongols were heathens who worshipped the Blue Mighty Heaven and had a reputation for toleration of religion. He applied this test, and the mighty warrior who had humbled the Germans and Swedes--coming with fire and sword to destroy the Russian people and Church--went to the Mongols, declared his submission, and delivered tribute.
Later resistance to the Mongol was catalyzed by the conversion of the Golden Horde to Islam and the subsequent persecution of the Church and demands of conversion, as well as the increased strength and unity of the Russian people. But I digress.
Now, this test is not, in my opinion, absolute. Some things are insufferable and must be resisted even if resistance is utterly hopeless. The prime example is the resistance of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto against the entire armed might of the German regime. They planned as best they could. They stockpiled what weapons they could. They took every step the could have been reasonably taken to maximize their chances of success. But every one in the Ghetto knew that there was only one hopeless foregone conclusion barring a breakthrough of the Red Army to the Ghetto. But the situation had become hopeless, so to go down fighting was the determination of those inside.
These two criteria are easily understood and rarely confused. The second and fourth are easily confused.
The requirement that other means have been shown to be impractical or ineffective does not mean that violence is indeed a 'last resort'. This is determined by the ground truth of any given situation. Negotiations need not be dragged out once your opponent has shown bad faith. Other measures do not need to be tried and exhausted, if careful consideration of the relevant facts leads the leadership of a nation to the conclusion that they would not work, and especially if extended periods of preparation would allow to aggressor to work further evil or solidify his preparations for war or otherwise impair the chances of an acceptable final resolution. Too often do the 'lovers of peace' cry for more time, more negotiations, more sanctions and embargoes and committees and conferences and discussions. They ignore the reality that the sooner an evil is ended, the less chance it has to work mischief. Sometimes a firm stance and willingness to use violence can prevent more harm than it causes. Indeed, the presumption of just war is that use of force is preferable to permitting injustice to continue.
The fourth precept, commonly known as proportionality, is also frequently misunderstood. In the common imagination, it is rather a 'tit for tat' sort of thing. If Nation A conducts a raid, Nation B conducts a reprisal raid. This is ludicrous. In this popular idea, the response to a terrorist attack is not to topple two nations and spend a decade fighting, but to shoot a few missiles at terrorist training camps in distant lands. If one "escalates" the fighting, then the other "escalates" in response.
Remember the precept that there must be serious prospect of success? Using the force necessary to achieve success (victory, or a state of peace) is a necessary precondition to adhering to this Just War concept. So that's not what it means. What is means is that the mess made by invading a nation, the deaths and destruction, must be less problematic than permitting the situation to continue. For instance, Cuba was a pesthole during the Cold War and had a heinous little despotic government that exported chaos for decades, supporting terrorist movements world-wide. Yet invading Cuba would have lead to thousands of deaths, a perennial pestilent guerrilla movement, and the risk of nuclear war with the USSR. So the United States decided not to invade Cuba with its own forces, though it could have been done had we been willing to do so. Some idiots decided to attempt a proxy invasion, but that didn't go too well because you can't half-ass this sort of thing. So it failed. Another example was the use of nuclear weapons on Japan. Harry Truman determined that the disorder of blowing two cities out of existence was considerably less than the disorder of invading Japan or blockading it in perpetuity. So he made that decision. This concept becomes complicated because some people place an artificially high regard on the lives of evil-doers, saying that to take a life or many lives is too high a price to pay. Obviously, I disagree and disagree most strongly. It is, however, highly subjective when it comes to determining how much new disorder one is willing to accept in order to reestablish a just order.
"That all war is physically frightful is obvious; but if that were a moral verdict, there would be no difference between a torturer and a surgeon." -- GK Chesterton
Now, this bears upon Mr. Obama's error in thinking. The classic Just War theorist starts with the principle that the state (king or republic, it matters not) is obligated to provide security, peace, order, and justice to its citizens. Indeed, without these benefits there is no reason to accept the limits on personal liberty embodied by the state. The question then becomes 'when and how may the state permissably use force in order to bring these benefits'? War is not an evil in and of itself, but a means which can be used for ill or good. It brings with it a host of evils, and creates an environment wherein the temptation to indulge in evil can be very strong. But war, the use of force directed against an enemy in order to force him to do our will, is a means to an end. It is not a lesser evil, but a positive good when entered into correctly and fought correctly.
The question of how much evil one will tolerate before engaging in violence to overthrow that evil is subjective, but if approached from that direction, is more likely to lead one towards a just peace than approaching the question from the other direction.
The final point which is to hand in comprehending Just War theory is the concept of Right Authority. What is that right authority?
A legitimate ruler is one definition historically. A sovereign prince had the legal right to make war, provided he was ruling justly and had a valid casus belli.
Another is the will of a sovereign people as expressed through legitimately elected representatives and authorities. While this exercise may have baffled or horrified Augustine or St. Ambrose of Milan, since the Enlightenment it has been accepted as an article of faith that free citizens of a Republic have collectively as much sovereignty and hence as much right to make war as any king.
But, asks the clever man, did not the United States begin in armed rebellion, as lawful subjects of the English crown? How then can they have had legitimate authority to do so? Certainly they did not achieve sovereignty until they had won it upon the battlefield. Does this retroactively excuse treason and revolt?
This is a digression from the original topic, but I believe a fruitful one. As an American, I have to have an answer which justifies support for the rebellion of the United States against England, and justifies suppression of the rebellion of the Southern states.
Anyone has the right to rebel against tyranny. Define tyranny? Each man must do so in the privacy of his own soul. Is it tyranny to draft a man and send him to war? To tax his tea or stamp his paper? Is it tyranny to impose tarrifs that favor one segment of the nation over another? Is it tyranny to tell him that a black man is his equal and not his slave?
Ultimately, when we enshrine the sovereignty of the Common Man as a whole, we must enshrine the sovereignty of each member of the body politic and recognize his right to hoist the flag of rebellion and defy his former fellows to the bloody end.
Does this mean rebellion should not be resisted? Absolutely not. For while each man has the right to rebel, he does not have the right to victory. Each State has the right to self-defense. He must wager his life, fortune, and sacred honor that he is right, and that he shall be able to convince enough of his fellows that he is right that together on the field of battle, they can defeat those of the opposite party.
"Here is an ultra-democratic doctrine: it holds that any man may overthrow the state, and be right to do it. But it does not believe that any man is good enough to do it." -- Grim
Now, I personally dislike civil war and believe that it weakens a state badly enough that it should only be entered into in the most extreme cases. But defining tyranny is not an easy exercise, nor one that lends itself to generalization easily.
Having disposed of jus ad bellum, let us turn to jus in bello.
The right conduct of war is a simple set of prescriptions which serve to protect the non-combatant and combatant alike.
Distinction - military operations should, where possible, be conducted so as to minimize non-combatant death. Obviously the death of civilians is an unavoidable consequence of combat, and has been since time immemorial. Wars are generally fought over population centers and hence often inside population centers. Modern warfare is more dangerous because modern Soldiers are often fighting against a fleeting enemy and using high explosives which run the risk of injuring or killing people who are not involved. The idea is that all measures practical, without needlessly endangering the troops or impairing operations, must be taken to avoid killing non-combatants. Brutalizing civilians is immoral, and that is really all there is to it. Soldiers signed up to wager their lives on the field of battle. Civilians did not. It is a particularly disturbing feature of modern warfare that frequently one side poses as civilians, operates among civilians, and deliberately exposes them to danger in a variety of ways, for propaganda purposes. This is the fault of that side, not the Soldier who pulls the trigger in the honest belief that he is killing a terrorist. Dishonest tactics and illegitimate ruses of war fall upon the dishonorable combatant, not upon the honorable combatant who makes a legitimate mistake. Likewise, cowardly forces which use human shields or place military weapons among civilian buildings assume the moral burden of any deaths inflicted in the destruction of these targets.
An attack must be intended to further a military objective. This should be obvious, but it needs to be stated. Inflicting damage upon a nation for the purpose of inflicting damage on a nation is foolish. Attacks on civilians do not further a military objective, nor does mindless destruction of a nation's infrastructure. Ideally, the unavoidable damage done should not outweigh the military advantage gained. One could argue that the bombing of much of Germany and Japan was in pursuit of no rational military objective and did not further the war one iota. This would be, I think, overstating the case. But certainly area bombing of cities was a strategy calculated to inflict frightful casualties on the civilian population of those two belligerents. One could argue that German and Japan both engaged in such atrocities, to include terror bombing, that these strikes could be justified as reprisals. Such a diversion would be interesting, but it is a rabbit hole that would unnecessarily lengthen what is already a terrifically long essay.
One interesting customary and legal requirement is the affixing of distinguishing devices and the carrying of arms openly. In order to be considered a legitimate combatant, a combatant must not hide his status. He can hide his person, through camouflage, evasion, retreat, or hiding. But there should never be a question in his opponent's mind whether or not he faces a fellow warrior who may be legally and morally slain. It is a relatively new legal requirement, but has long been a customary requirement. Combatants who hide their status endanger all civilians around them, because they make their opponents justifiably suspicious of people whom they should be trying their best to protect. There is a reason that for centuries, a man found in civilian clothes was liable to hung as a spy, saboteur, or bandit. A uniformed scout using stealth to do the same job who was caught was far more likely to be taken as a prisoner of war.
Other prohibitions apply to prisoners and the wounded. A man whose ability to resist is gone is not a threat, and hence cannot morally be slain. He becomes a non-combatant. He is subject to the same protections as any other.
And now we begin to touch on Chivalry. . .