The United States is currently the world's greatest military power. In 2008 alone we spent a total of $693 billion on defense, more than the next 29 most heavily armed countries combined. Compared with our six most heavily armed NATO allies combined we have almost as many tanks, more submarines, more aircraft carriers, and more than twice as many warplanes. We have at least 1,000 troops each stationed in thirteen different countries around the world.
The Founding Fathers would be appalled. While they did give the Federal Government the power to raise and maintain a professional military, they were well aware of the dangers of a standing army. Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist Paper #8, noted that standing armies "bear a malignant aspect to liberty and economy." War, he said, creates "a progressive direction to monarchy. It is the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority." How a modern president can create an "imperial presidency" and send American troops into combat without a declaration of war, and still call himself a "conservative," is utterly beyond us.
It should be obvious that war is a gravely moral issue. The sanctity of human life is grounded in the fact that human beings are created in the image of God. After the Flood God told Noah: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:6; NKJV). It is noteworthy that this text forbids murder but enjoins capital punishment at the same time. The two, in fact, go hand in hand. The punishment is the measure of the gravity of the crime. It is also apparent from other legislation in the Torah that a just war is also permissible. But what exactly makes a war just?
The basic premise behind the just war theory is that killing is justifiable only when absolutely necessary. That means that in order for a war to be just several conditions must be present:
- There must be a just cause. The adversary must be guilty of a crime worthy of death, i.e., the adversary must be guilty of armed aggression or of the gross violation of human rights. Moreover, war should be undertaken only as a last resort, after all diplomatic and political solutions have failed.
- The good must outweigh the bad. We must have a good intention, there must be a reasonable chance of success, and the good to be achieved must be greater than the destruction caused by the war itself.
Moreover, moral considerations are involved in the way the war is conducted well. It is manifestly not true that "all is fair in love and war." War crimes are never justified. Even in the actual course of war itself we have a moral obligation to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. In particular,
- We must avoid killing civilians and other non-combatants.
- Deadly force should be used only in proportion to the objective. For this reason weapons of mass destruction are almost always immoral by their very nature, because they involve the massive and indiscriminate destruction of human life.
- Ideally, military strategy should be aimed at disarming the enemy (i.e. destroying his capacity to wage war) and at maneuvering him into surrendering (i.e., cutting supply lines, routes of escape, etc.).
It should be apparent from all of this that foreign wars are especially hard to justify. If we have not been attacked here in our homeland, the war generally cannot be considered defensive. Trying to export democracy to a non-Western society is often an exercise in futility, and projecting military force to achieve some sort of geo-political balance or hegemony is positively immoral.
Unfortunately, if we honestly evaluate each of the wars in which the United States has been involved, we would probably have to conclude that the majority of them were unjust. Our current position as the world's leading military power carries with it an awesome responsibility and a good deal of temptation. The blood of every person we needlessly kill will be required of us by the righteous Judge of all the earth. "The also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence." (Gen. 6:11).