Thinking Anglicans

Justification for War

As the background to the decision to remove Sadaam Hussain by force emerges, it becomes clearer that there were no grounds on which Britain or the USA could claim that this was a just war. There were no weapons that posed an external threat, and no plans to develop any.

True, Sadaam was a terrible tyrant, but the world has seen plenty of these. They aren’t often removed if the only threat they pose is to their own people, whether in SE Asia, in Africa, or in Latin America. Indeed, the USA has a shameful record of having supported some of these. Sadaam’s government was supported by the West whilst he waged a war on Iran which involved the use of chemical weapons.

We also know that the Iraqi regime gave no support to Al Quaida, and would have suppressed any act of terrorism. So, to decide to overthrow Sadaam in the aftermath of 9-11 now appears completely illogical.

It now looks as though the decision to go to war was fuelled by the failure of the USA to eradicate the sources of terrorism. The most powerful nation on earth simply wanted an excuse to show what its overpowering weaponry could do, and take the eyes of the American public away from the intelligence failures which had both allowed the 9-11 events, and provided faulty information about the dangers posed by Baghdad.

George Bush needed a victim, a scapegoat for his own failures, and found it in Sadaam Hussain. He convinced Tony Blair, but he failed to convince most of the European Union, failed to convince the United Nations, and failed to convince a million demonstrators in Britain.

It was clear from the way the war was prosecuted that this was a piece of scapegoating, rather than a liberation for the Iraqi people. Much of the infrastructure of the ancient city of Baghdad was needlessly destroyed. The army, who hadn’t been seriously mobilised in any strength, was disbanded. The ensuing power vacuum allowed looting and lawlessness on a grand scale, sowing the seeds of strong opposition to the invaders.

The idea of finding a scapegoat was always a mistake. It was an ancient idea of the Jews that once a year, in an elaborate ritual, the sins of the people could be driven out by loading them on to the back of a hapless animal, which was driven out into the desert. Surely a moment’s rational thought is enough to show that a dumb animal cannot carry the sins of human beings. A goat is quite incapable of making people good. It might, given an impressive enough ritual, have convinced people 3,000 years ago. It might have made them feel good about themselves. But today the idea of making a scapegoat of someone is morally bankrupt.

It was wrong for Christian nations to go to war on this kind of basis. As Christians — and the national leaders concerned own to a personal faith in God – we have shamed ourselves in the eyes of both other Christians, and those who hold other faiths. At the time, when the myth of the weapons of mass destruction seemed credible, a million people in our own country demonstrated against what they saw as an unjust war, and a terrible mistake. Today, we have sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind. We have set nations against us. We have driven willing volunteers into the hands of the terrorists. Though Tony Blair might claim Iraq is safer today, the world, and the West in particular, are surely less safe.

The lesson that needs to be learned is that nothing good will ever be achieved by making scapegoats. It doesn’t remove sin, or ultimately make people feel good about themselves. As Christians we should know that making scapegoats doesn’t work. Forgiveness of sins is the free gift of God through Jesus Christ.

There is a large body of literature which explores ideas of scapegoating from a Christian perspective. Much of it is indebted to the work of Rene Girard, who developed his understanding in the field of literature, drawing significantly on writing as diverse as Shakespeare’s plays, Greek tragedy and modern novels. For an except from Girard’s book I see Satan fall like lightning, see chapter 12 entitled Scapegoat.

See also a discussion of Girard’s work in relation to the Christian understanding of Atonement, and the implications of Girard’s theories on some current theological issues.

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Christopher Culver
19 years ago

Some Anglicans, myself included, do not believe that any war can be called just. I’m just trying to mention that “Just War theory” has always been limited to a part of the pacifists in the Church.

19 years ago

This little piece makes little sense to me. First, it asserts that “There were no weapons that posed an external threat, and no plans to develop any.” While this does in fact now seem to be the case, it certainly did not seem to be the case before the current war. No one qualified to make a judgment about the presence of WMD thought that they were absent. The USA considered them present. Britain considered them present. Russia considered them present. France considered them present. The UN considered them present. Why would Saddam evict weapons inspectors time and again unless… Read more »

Paul Yukl
Paul Yukl
19 years ago

For a “Thinking Anglican” this article (well rant really) is one of the most polemic bits of agit-prop I have read in some time. If this is the best that “thinking Anglicans” can come up with I wonder what all those stupid “non-thinking Anglicans” would say.

19 years ago

After the Shoah, there was a considerable sense of the failure of the West to intervene before Hitler and his forces began to brutalize the Jews and Roma. The idea that national boundaries or immanent threat outside of them was an excuse to not intervene was considerd by many a cop out desinged to get us off the moral hook. Now, the same left wingers, confronted by the reality that governments that they don’t like might be the ones intervening, have invented the “WMD” and “immanent threat” dogmas. So, are we saying it was OK for Hitler to kill German… Read more »

Alan Harrison
Alan Harrison
19 years ago

jimB asks: “So, are we saying it was OK for Hitler to kill German Jews at least, as they were not captured in agressive wars or by weapons of mass destruction?” No, nobody is saying that, Jim, but I think that your question is based on a false premiss – that Hitler’s treatment of the Jews was a factor in causing the Second World War. It wasn’t. Much like the operation of the Berlin underground, it was an activity of the German public sector which was already taking place before the war and, if Germany had won, would presumably have… Read more »

Andrew Marr
19 years ago

I want to commend the works of Rene Girard which are mentioned in this post but have not been mentioned in the comments so far. Girard’s thinking has much to offer in reflecting on the problems of violence today. For what’s it’s worth, what you say about the Iraq War seems to be in the right territory.

Louisa Braley
19 years ago

SCAPEGOAT: The animal was not simply driven into the wilderness. It was led into the desert by the red woolen yarn that the high priest had wrapped around its horns. It was taken to the edge of a high cliff and pushed off. Its bones were utterly shattered before it reached the rocky plains below. The young men and women of Jerusalem waited in the hills, dressed in white. When they heard that the SCAPEGOAT had reached the desert, bearing their sins away, they began to dance and sing. I discovered this information when doing the exegesis for my first… Read more »

Dan Brusca
19 years ago

You wrote: “It was wrong for Christian nations to go to war on this kind of basis.”

Funny, I thought we were in a secular nation?

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