War and Legitimate Self-Defense Starting a war is an immoral act. It is a very serious sin against the Fifth Commandment and it has been condemned by the Church’s Magisterium throughout all of Catholic social teaching. There are more appropriate ways that we have been taught to solve conflicts. Pope Pius XII even warned us that “Nothing is lost by peace; everything is lost by war. ” War itself has been one of the greatest threats to the sacredness of life throughout the entirety of human existence because of its horrible devastation to uman life.
In fact, it is estimated that between forty million and seventy million people died as a result of World War II. One would think that this loss alone would help convince the world that this fighting is not necessary, but clearly, we have not learned our lessons. Wars tend to cause more civilian deaths than soldier deaths due to the indiscriminate use of force, famines, diseases, and genocides that associate themselves with the evils of war. For these reasons the Church does everything within her power to prevent war from starting.
Moral law requires that all citizens and all nations do everything they can to avoid war. Pope Paul VI supported this notion by calling for “War no more; no more war! ” in his speech to the United Nations assembly. The Church’s reason and the Law of Love tell us that it makes more sense to resolve conflicts without choosing violence, although this choice may be a difficult one to make. When war occurs, we may have to choose whether to defend ourselves through force and violence or through nonviolent resistance.
Legitimate defense is the teaching that limited violence is morally acceptable in defending yourself or your nation from an attack. The Divine Law does not forbid this type of defense because when threatened with bodily harm by an unjust aggressor, we have the right to defend ourselves and other innocent people who are also being threatened by the aggressor. Harming the aggressor, however, must be a last resort. We must only use the amount of force necessary to protect ourselves and others. It should not be our direct intention to kill or harm the aggressor in any way.
Because f this, the Church fully supports of our nation’s military and what they stand for. War, however, must also be a last resort when conflict is afoot. To help states determine when war is Justified, the Church has developed certain criteria that must be met for a war to be morally permissible. In order for a war to be considered Just, a lawful authority must declare it, there must be Just cause and the right intention, such as self-defense, and weapons must be used in way that protects the lives of innocent people.
If any of these conditions are not met, the war cannot be considered ust. Catholic social teaching recognizes that legitimate authorities have the right to call citizens into military service for self-defense. For some, answering this call and fighting in a war fulfills a moral duty that they feel needs to be met. Others understand Christ’s command to mean that they cannot fght in any war, even if it is considered Just. The Church asks all governments and military leaders to accept these conscience objections and to provide alternative ways for objectors to serve the needs of their country.