Thinking Clearly About War by Gary Jason
James Turner Johnson: Can Modern War Be Just?; Yale University Press; New Haven.
There is nothing quite so fatuous as the nuclear pacifism currently fashionable among leftist theologians and their ilk. Visions of mushroom clouds (brought on by repeated viewings of On the Beach and Dr. Strangelove) cloud many minds. The result is the fuzzy-minded view that we must either accept the current MAD standoff with the Soviets, or else we must unilaterally disarm. Nuclear pacifism thus paralyzes the West, allowing the Soviets to replace pro-Western governments with proxy regimes.
Such fuzzy-mindedness and paralysis might be avoided if we relied more upon the “just war” theory, developed by philosophers and theologians since Augustine. Sketchily put, just war theory distinguishes questions about ius ad bellum (i.e., questions about what justifies resort to war) from questions about ius in bello (i.e., questions about which forms of force in war are justifiable). The consensus view has been that a war is justified if and only if there is a just cause (reason) for it, it is ordered by the right (proper) authority, with the right intent, as a last resort, with the end goal of peace, and the evil it produces is proportionate to the good. And a form of violence or weaponry is acceptable in a war if and only if it discriminates between combatants and noncombatants, and it is proportionate (i.e., not excessive) in the destruction it causes.
James T. Johnson has applied just war theory to questions about modern war. He is certainly well-versed in that tradition, having written earlier two books on the history of just war doctrines: Ideology, Reason and the Limitation of War, and Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War. These books were intended for an academic audience. In Can Modern War Be Just? Johnson attempts to address the lay audience.
Essentially, Johnson’s book consists of a number of previously written essays more or less modified to constitute chapters. In each essay/chapter he applies just war theory to some feature of modern war — either particular wars (such as Israel’s incursion into Lebanon) or specific weapons (such as the neutron bomb) or specific issues (such as conscientious objection). The results of his inquiries do not fall neatly into the current liberal/conservative dichotomy.
Some of his arguments are nicely drawn, and persuasive. He neatly punctures the ban-the-bomb balloon, rightly pointing out that unilateral disarmament is the real desire of people who want to ban the bomb, and that unilateral disarmament will increase-not decrease-the chances of nuclear war. He urges a move toward counterforce rather than counterpopulation strategy (i.e., developing weapons directed at the enemy’s military power, rather than at his population centers). This latter point of view has not been popular with the professional “peace” activists, causing Johnson some puzzlement. He observes that “there is no small irony in the fact that some of the opponents of counterpopulation strategy on moral grounds have been vocally opposed to efforts to transform our national defense posture away from this strategy, alleging the creation of instability.” He is surely right in thinking that there is a curious inconsistency in opposing nuclear holocaust yet opposing any move toward a less deadly strategy-such as President Reagan’s plans to put a defensive net in space. Johnson also argues well for the acceptability of the neutron bomb and cruise missile.
However, on a number of issues his arguments are much less persuasive. Occasionally, such as in his discussion of Israel’s incursion into Lebanon, his arguments fail to convince because they are hopelessly brief and superficial — a consequence of addressing far too many issues in a 190-page book, a book which has, moreover, a great amount of redundancy. In other cases, Johnson doesn’t fully come to grips with the issues. For example, he seems to urge that we pursue a “decapitation” strategy — develop weapons with the goal of wiping out the Soviets’ command and control structure. But he himself notes that this_ will violate the doctrine of avoiding noncombatants (the Soviet leaders, after all, reside in Moscow).
Though his effort is not satisfactory in every respect, Johnson does seriously attempt to balance principles and respect facts. For this he is to be praised. cc
Clear-Eyed Southerner by John Shelton Reed
Edwin M. Yoder Jr.: The Night of the Old South Ball: And Other Essays and Fables; Yoknapatawpha Press; Oxford, MS; $13.95.
These essays and columns by a distinguished journalist cover a wide range of topics, among them Sherlock Holmes, I’ll Take My Stand, the King James Bible, and Flannery O’Connor. A good many have to do with the South, one way or another, and Yoder confesses that he likes the South, with all its faults, better than the Sunbelt, with whatever its virtue may be. He suspects, deep down, that the South is gone, or going — and certainly the settled, small-town South that he (and I) grew up with is apparently doomed. In an essay on W. J. Cash, though, Yoder has some sharp things to say about the role of intellectuals (most certainly including journalists like Cash — and himself) in keeping ideas (like that of the South) alive and breathing.
For the most part, Yoder’s tastes are utterly sound, and the few I don’t share (Henry James, for instance) I’m compelled to respect. He is a fair but generous critic. (I’ve been the beneficiary, notably in a foreword to one of my books, reprinted here.) And he is a gentle man — like John Stuart Mill, whom he celebrates in one of these essays, always ready to try to see the point of those with whom he disagrees. (If this were all there were to liberalism, how much more attractive that ideology would be.) This style, evident through out this collection, makes it all the more effective when Yoder rounds on something or someone: it must have been egregiously awful to have provoked him. His dislikes are as well chosen and well-expressed as his enthusiasms: I’m surprised that Tom Wicker isn’t ashamed to show his face in public.
That these essays are not in chronological order is unfortunate on two counts. In the first place, it is disconcerting to read, for instance, why Yoder finds the outgoing Carter Administration disappointing and then to read 6£ his high hopes for the incoming Carter Administration. More importantly, one reason for a collection like this is to allow a reader to get acquainted with the writer’s mind, and no one — certainly not Yoder — has the same “mind” for 20 years. Or, more precisely, the same mind in different contexts can look quite different.
The early pieces here display a mid- 60’s Southern liberalism, probably pretty much the outlook that guided Yoder when he wrote for the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina, an outlook well-represented at that institution since the days of Howard Odum and Frank Porter Graham: at worst, naive; at best, large-souled, optimistic, and, withal, very Southern. But America has changed since then, and so have Yoder’s circumstances. He’s no longer the boy-journalist crusading against bigotry and ignorance. Now he lives just across the Potomac from the Great Wen, and consorts up close on occasion with the mighty. Lately, Yoder seems to be becoming something of an American version of a Tory “wet”: skeptical about ideologues, whether of the right or left, but undeniably some sort of conservative. He hasn’t changed all that much, though: many Southern liberals of the 50’s and 60’s look equally conservative by latter-day standards. It’s almost a question of taste. cc
From the Wilderness to the White House
William Rusher: The Rise of the Right; William Morrow; New York.
As a political movement, conservatism died in 1964 with Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat. All the commentators said so. But some people, including Bill Rusher, publisher of the National Review, were not listening. For those who had worked for two decades to forge conservatism into a new political force in America, Goldwater’s campaign was only a dress rehearsal. So what if the leading man was upstaged by a crafty Texan or if the mob scene (i.e., the election) was poorly choreographed? The point was that the script was finally written, a stage (the Republican Party) was secured, willing sponsors were sub scribed, a talented supporting cast (including a promising actor from California) had been found, and skilled directors and stage ma:1agers were enlisted. The show would go on. Rusher’s The Rise of the Right is the engaging account of how the script of political conservatism first got written (largely in the pages of his own magazine) and of how it finally brought down the house in 1980. It is a fascinating story, written with clarity and full of the kind of insider information that could make a fortune on Wall Street.
If Rusher’s “observations …from a seat in the first row” have a fault, it derives from the author’s gentlemanly decency, which may have led him to downplay the backstage ironies and the tensions between some of conservatism’s principal figures. Rusher perceives that the “three components of modern conservatism” — classical liberalism, traditionalism, and anticommunism — derive from “very different sources.” But his assertion that the differences are “more complementary than contradictory” verges on wishful thinking, especially since Rusher himself concedes that leading libertarians and traditionalists anathematize each other. If “conservatism” is no more than antiliberalism, then its unity requires a strong, even dominant, opponent-and that, in the Reagan years, can no longer be assumed. It has been the fate of revolutionary movements that as soon as they succeed, their united front breaks up into squab bling factions. In these internecine struggles, it is all too often the most ruthless and intolerant elements that take power (one thinks of Robespierre and Lenin) before handing it over to simpler and less principled successors.
Now, conservatives have not actually taken power, but they have, at least, taken a large piece of it. It will be partly due to the efforts of men like Rusher if the “movement” does not become a battleground for feuding leader and ideological remnants. cc
Satire In and Out of Season
Franky Schaeffer and Harold Fickett: A Modest Proposal: For Peace, Prosperity and Happiness; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN.
Writing in 1738, Alexander Pope lamented, “Satire is no more — I feel it die.” What was the cause of the genre’s demise? Pope explained:
Vice with such Giant-strides comes on amain,
Invention strives to be before in vain;
Feign what I will, and paint it e’er so strong,
Some rising Genius sins up to my Song.
And if Pope’s wit found it difficult to keep up with the sinful Geniuses of his day, the talents of Franky Schaeffer and Harold Fickett are simply no match for today’s accomplished engineers of evil. Even so, they have made a genuine contribution to social enlightenment. Aiming at a modern version of Swift’s masterpiece on the Irish question, the authors adopt the persona of a leading government bureaucrat in the l 990’s planning the imposition of a quality-of life utopia. The eating of (aborted) babies is only part of the agenda which includes infanticide, euthanasia, bioengineering, and antireligious thought control. Swift would have applauded the choice of targets. But whereas the Dean’s Modest Proposal required an heroic exertion of imagination, Schaeffer and Fickett have only had to extrapolate from obvious trends.
Physicians are publicly advocating euthanasia and infanticide, graduate students are experimenting with live human fetuses, homosexuals are asserting their right to promote sadomasochism in public schools. Against a social backdrop of common sanity, Swift’s singular vision of the grotesque was both striking and original. Now that the backdrop has fallen down, writers who conjure images of degeneracy are in competition with the evening news. (BC) cc