How to Vote Catholic 2012
“Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense” (CCC 1909).
Since the tragedy of September 11, 2001 both terrorism and national defense have become leading issues before the American public. In response to that pre-meditated terrorist attack, our nation’s leadership reaffirmed its fundamental duty of defending the lives of all citizens. A nation’s self-defense is at the heart of seeking the common good. To achieve this goal, the military capacity of a nation should be at least equal to that of its enemy.
The Catechism allows for this: “Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense” (CCC 2266). If a nation’s military is unprepared or its capacity to respond is poor, the aggressors will most likely prevail. A nation requires a well-trained and effective military or its government will be powerless to fulfill its primary obligation.
This does not mean that governments have unrestricted latitude in planning their defenses. Those entrusted with the defense of the common good are expected to act within a moral framework even when waging war and defending the nation against terrorism. For example, the Catechism allows for the use of arms when the common good is threatened (CCC 2265), but these weapons should not have the potential to become an even greater threat than the original source of danger (CCC 2309).
In the past, nuclear weapons were considered a viable deterrent to a more traditional type of war. The enemies were easily identified and clearly defined. Yet, in this new age of terrorism, how do nations defend themselves against isolated attacks and hidden aggressors? As terrorism becomes an almost daily occurrence is places like Iraq, Israel, and Pakistan the social teaching of the Church, like every other body of thought on national defense, is in a development stage. What is “morally acceptable” when it comes to terrorist groups who are willing to take innocent life in order to intimidate nations, influence policy, and affect the outcome of elections?
After the Iraq invasion many in the Church began examining the legitimacy of preemptive attacks in the light of just war teaching. Some bishops, especially those in the U. S., have questioned the legitimacy of using preemptive attacks to remove the threat from states supporting or shielding terrorist organizations.
But, the Church has long taught that terrorism is never a just form of war: “The purposeful taking of human life is an unjustifiable assault on human life. For the same reasons, the intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong” (USCCB, Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility). While recognizing the legitimacy of one soldier taking the life of another soldier under the condition of war, the Church does not recognize the legitimacy of terrorist attacks under any circumstances.
This is the dilemma of dealing with terrorism – what moral boundaries must be respected when grappling with an amoral foe?
In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, the bishops reminded political leaders to look beyond military solutions: “Without in any way excusing indefensible terrorist acts, we still need to address those conditions of poverty and injustice which are exploited by terrorists” (USCCB, Living with Faith and Hope after September 11).
The bishops recognize that poverty and inequality are not the sole, or even the chief, causes of terrorism, especially in the case of Muslim extremists, but these are conditions that are “exploited” by terrorists looking to clothe themselves in political legitimacy. Without a strategy that includes diplomatic and intelligence cooperation among the nations of the world, terrorist organizations and cells will always find “rogue” states to train and house their agents.
Conditions for Peace
Peace is not merely the absence of war; it’s not only achieved through defense, but through communication, respect, and solidarity with other nations.
In short, the best defense against aggression combines three elements: first, a military prepared to implement a proportionate and effective response; second, international diplomacy that identifies and resolves the causes of conflict before military action becomes necessary; and third, a foreign policy that seeks to correct social conditions that foster aggression and terrorism through international cooperation.
1. Nations have a duty to protect their citizens from legitimate threats.
2. Nations should build their capacity for defense in light of just-war theory.
3. Terrorism—the injury and murder of innocent civilians—is never justified.
By Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate