Home > Culture > How Just is the War on Terror?

How Just is the War on Terror?

Paulist Press
RRP $24.95

Rarely has a book left me so angry and disturbed.

It is not that this short book isn’t well written. The four lectures, their study questions and case studies are easy reading and provocative and that is the point. It disturbs you and makes you think.

It is worth reading even though as US centric book it has the myopia about the rest of the world we have come to expect.

Frustratingly, How Just is the War on Terror? has little to no theological centre except the Just War theory. While this is well analysed it never criticised. Ron Sider and Richard Taylor’s 25 year old Nuclear Holocaust and Christian Hope is still does a better job of describing the bankruptcy of the theory.

In any case the Just war’s assumptions do not readily fit the war on terror.

Many of the difficulties Flynn raises highlight that moral issues cannot be resolved without recourse to a foundation.

The difficulty for Christians is, what are our choices if we leave aside simple pacifism, which is easiest to defend from the biblical narrative.

To pose an old dilemma, if a madman is driving a bus down a crowded street saying “tut tut” is not enough. We must out of love for others spoke his wheel.

How to so act is the daily question confronting any service person. However Flynn uncritically makes the western assumption that a person’s conscience should be trusted, both in heat of the moment decision making and in assigning blame in post “incident” investigation.

Her questions are good. Theologically however, human conscience is even in the best of conditions an imperfect guide to right action, let alone in the confusion, fear and tension of a life and death encounter.

Flynn is right in that Soldiers, politicians and communities have to live with the consequences of actions taken. War does not last forever.

The question not asked is whether punitive or reactive measures are effective or do they generate further problems.

Maybe there is merit in the ‘draining the swamp’ approach favoured by European leaders who have wanted to provide “economic and social regeneration to those parts of the world which appear to believe that acts of suicidal terror hold the key to salvation” as reported post 9/11 by Dunne in Issues in World Politics.

The third chapter on Rules of engagement worried me.

The problems cited in action – do they result from poor rules or poor training? Has our Australian experience been luck or the highly professional manner in which our people are trained? Or do horrific mistakes happen as a result of how people are valued?

No army wants to take casualties, but who do you put first? Arguably as defenders of the weak it should be civilians first, then your own soldiers and then enemy combatants.

Is part of the problem that a fourth category gets added so that it becomes our civilians, our troops, others and then the enemy? Too bad if you are classified other.

In How Just is the War on Terror?, there is lot of discussion on proportionality – the thorny issue of collateral damage, but none on fifth and sixth conditions of a Just war. That there be a reasonable chance of victory and that the benefits of victory should outweigh the costs.

The last case study deals with the practice of Rendition, the subject of a recently released movie. This is the practice of relocating suspects for questioning to countries where extreme torture is legal.

I can’t help thinking that where this last issue has failed to be summarily dismissed as in the examples Flynn describes not only is the struggle not just, but the war is lost, terror has won.

Reviewed by Rob Brennan