Subscribe to Christianity Today
Just War Against Terror: Ethics And The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World
Jean Bethke Elshtain
Basic Books, 2003
256 pp., $23.00
State of Fear
Harper Collins, 2004
624 pp., $27.95
The Just War Revisited (Current Issues in Theology)
Cambridge University Press, 2003
152 pp., $31.99
J. Daryl Charles
Between Pacifism and Jihad
How would you begin a book called Just War Against Terror, written in the aftermath of 9/11? Jean Bethke Elshtain begins by recalling a novel written in the aftermath of World War II: Albert Camus' The Plague, published in French in 1948 and in English translation a year later. As Elshtain reminds us, Camus' allegory, set in the Algerian city of Oran, examines the psychology of "'humanists' … who see themselves as living in a reasonable world where everything is up for negotiation." They see what they want to see. "There are no rats in Oran," they reassure themselves, even as disease-bearing vermin are overrunning the city. "Why?" Elshtain asks. "Because there cannot be. That sort of thing does not happen anymore." Seduced by a complacent modernity, "unwilling or unable to peer into the heart of darkness," these infinitely reasonable people "have banished the word evil from their vocabularies."
Alas, as Elshtain suggests, the lesson of Camus' allegory is abiding. Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan: is there really any doubt about what will happen when radical evil goes unchecked amid hemming and hawing and principled equivocation? And yet answers to the questions raised by such crisesâ€”questions for lay persons, educators, politicians, and policymakers alikeâ€”are not transparent. Should we intervene? Why or why not? And by what criteria and in what measure? Do various types of interventionâ€”for example, against genocide or egregious human rights violations by a non-democratic regimeâ€”call for different kinds of moral criteria?
What is the proper relationship between the church and the world? Between Christ and Caesar? Why should we not intervene preemptively to prevent potential mass murder when it looms?1 Do nations presently lack the will to oppose genocide? Is pacifism as it is preached todayâ€”in the academy and from the pulpitâ€”the authentic expression of Christian charity in the face of political-moral evil? The ancient question "How can the use ...