A U.S. Soldier, Just War and the Ensuing Response

Yesterday, a tragedy took place in Afghanistan.  It appears that a US Army Sergeant went nuts and killed at least 16 innocent Afghans – including children. The terror in those families, in those homes – in the middle of the night – must have been unreal.

What will the reactions be from around the world towards the military presence in Afghanistan?  What will the Muslim world think/do?  What about the Afghans themselves?  They will be angry, no doubt. How far will that go?  Will it justify, in their minds, another attack on US soil?  What about Afghans who live in America?

Sadly, news on the same day out of Israel and the Gaza strip was also filled with terror.  Gazans lobbing rockets into Southern Israel (no one confirmed killed from those) and then Israeli reprisal attacks into Gaza (a dozen killed and many others wounded from those).  Attack. Retaliate.  The problem is – both sides “forget” who started it and who’s simply “retaliating.”

Retaliation is another word we use for “Just War.” Actually the preeminent theologian of the 4th and 5th Centuries, Augustine, coined the term. A “just” war is one in which the one side has been attacked, so then claiming the right to attack back. Makes sense. If you clearly punch me first, then I have the right to punch back. And I do have that right. Few have argued against the merit of the Just War theory.

George W. Bush then expanded that a bit to a “Preemptive Just War Theory.” It goes like this – if we think someone might attack us (Iraq and now Iran) we can attack first – preemptively.  Makes a lot of sense. If “they” have WMD’s or Nuclear Weapons and might use them against us, or our friends, then it makes sense we take them out before they potentially use them.  Makes a lot of sense.

But there are some questions that need to be asked:

1.  Who gets to decide who started it?  Think of two kids fighting and both pointing their finger at the other. I can remember several times as a parent I either guessed wrongly (about who started it), or I simply gave up and punished them both.

2.  Once we’ve gone one round of “he started it and so I’m going to respond” – then what?  We’re in the middle of a tit for tat that may never end. How do you back out of that with grace and integrity?

3.  It’s nearly impossible for either side to see the conflict from the others’ perspective. Let’s be honest. Do we REALLY get what the Afghans or Iraqis feel?  Can we image what the Iranians are thinking right now? And vice versa?  Probably not. So then, by definition, are judgment is limited at best.

There will be a response to this latest tragedy in Afghanistan. It will be big or small.  Now or later? Not sure.  But there will be a response. That’s the law of the world. It’s the doctrine of a great Christian hero (and I am mostly a huge fan of Augustine, by the way). Just War. Maybe the Afghans or some other Muslims who feel desecrated and betrayed will borrow President Bush’s “Preemptive Just War” in hitting us somewhere that hurts so badly we can’t hit back.  But…that never works….we will hit back.

Oh….for the ways of Jesus.  Can those ways work in the realms of Foreign Policy? Not sure if we know, because I don’t think we’ve ever tried.


  1. Aaron says:

    Ha, your thought of most Americans having empathy for the Afghans and Iraqis made me chuckle. It’s become apparent that most Christians can’t even empathize with the poor people down the street when it comes to providing them some health care coverage brought in by a democrat President. However, it’s your closing question about a “turn the other cheek” foreign policy that is the real banger – I doubt any country has enough faith in God to give that a try! Perhaps Jesus’s message was meant for individuals, not states… Love your work Carl, keep it up!

  2. jeff says:

    Do you think folks even really have a clue where Afghanistan is let alone to have compassion for them? It’s amazing how we, and I am guilty of this too, believe that if we do it or believe it of course it is right. We are just in preemptive war because we hold the moral high ground to determine what is good, true and just. Seriously we have to be the epitome of Ezekiel 16:49 arrogant, overfed and unconcerned. Don’t get me wrong I love this nation but I don’t love who we are becoming or how we relate to the world. Sorry, officially off the box, thanks for highlighting this story and being honest with the issue.