Just war

Published February 29, 2024

By Lib Campbell

One morning in the chapel at Duke Divinity School, two ethics professors sat facing each other in debate about “Just War Theory.” While I usually consider myself a pacifist, I am well aware of my own Mama Bear persona that considers attack fair game when one of my cubs is wronged. This experience is the basis of Just War. An initial attack is met with an equal and proportional response. It sounds fair and reasonable, if that’s where it ends.
When Israel was attacked by Hamas on October 7, 2023, seventeen hundred Israeli concertgoers were killed or kidnapped. It was horrendous, considering that the whole reason Hamas exists is to annihilate Jews from the face of the earth. Hamas provoked a sharp response from Israel. Most of us thought the response was appropriate. But after nearly six months of the Israeli response, some of us are questioning the proportionality of the response that appears to be ongoing.
Hamas was imbedded deeply in civilian populations. In hospitals, in schools, in neighborhoods. Palestinians quickly became collateral damage in the Israeli response. Over twenty-nine thousand Palestinians have been killed thus far in Gaza. When will somebody say enough is enough? 
Ukraine tells a different story. Russia’s invasion was completely unprovoked, it was aggressive and cruel from the beginning. Nobody stopped them from taking sovereign territory in Crimea in 2014. Ukraine looked like fair game to the ruthless despot Putin. In his hope to re-construct the old Soviet Union, he is playing dirty, killing civilians and threatening nuclear holocaust. Now, as the third year of this war begins, much of Ukraine is destroyed. There is war weariness for sure, but there is something far more sinister going on. 
After World War II, both the United Nations (1945) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949) were created as world peacekeepers, countries working to uphold democratic values. These alliances brought people to the table hoping to resolve differences before conflict ensued. 
The 1914 era League of Nations existed about 20 years before King Ferdinand was assassinated, leading to the start of WWI. The United States was not a member of the League of Nations. We were in a period of America First isolationism.  The League of Nations proved to be impotent, with little power to change the course of events. 
When the United States joined NATO, we were world leaders in the promotion of democratic values, like freedom and justice in the world. The 31 member nations of NATO stand ready to assist one another in the face of attack. NATO troops assisted the US after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in NYC. Such assistance is reciprocal. Peace is a good thing for all of us.
Finland was the last nation to join NATO in 2023 and Sweden will likely join this year. Hungary has removed the obstacles for them to join. Ukraine wants to join as soon as possible. 
It is ludicrous to even float the idea that we might abandon NATO. But Donald Trump and his MAGAs are rattling sabers of isolation and withdrawal from the world. There is increasing readiness to walk away from a world order that has kept a relative peace for the past 70 years. 
War rages in Ukraine. At this point 31,000 people have been killed and thousands of acres of land decimated. We fool ourselves into thinking we can step away from Ukraine, let Putin continue his slaughter and land grab, and expect it to stop there. Putin has told us his intent. And Article 5 of the NATO Charter says member nations will use reciprocal force against aggressors. Fighting Putin in Ukraine is in our best interest.
NATO is not up for grabs. Putin needs to be stopped. His inhumanity has given way to raw and savage power hunger. The Baltic States are in his sights after Ukraine. Then Finland, Poland and the rest of Europe. Unchecked power will change world order in ways we have not known since the drive of the Nazis through Europe in WW2. Cruelty will lead the way, and if you thought you were grieved about your lot in life, just wait. 
Regarding War in Israel, Netanyahu is leading the charge with a big hammer, destroying Gaza and killing 29,000 people while pulverizing the country with constant attack. This stopped being a proportional response early on. 
Neither Netanyahu nor Putin are honest brokers on the world stage. Despots thrive around and among us. 
There are words for reflection as we consider war: provocation, retaliation, preemption. What in your mind justifies war? Are you willing to send your sons and daughters into it? Just War is a myth. There are very few winners. World War I teaches us that isolationism does not lead to peace. 
The Temptations recorded “War” in the 1960s, during the height of Viet Nam. They had it right. War! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!
 When will we ever learn?
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite www.avirtualchurch.com. She can be contacted at libcam05@gmail.com