Saturday, January 17, 2009

On "Weighing Crimes and Ethics in the Fog of Urban Warfare"

As the carnage in Gaza winds down, some observers, including Steven Erlanger in the January 17 New York Times, have begun a discussion of what he calls "crimes and ethics."  His article "Weighing Crimes and Ethics in the Fog of Urban Warfare," is provocative, recommended reading and is available at  While you're there, I urge you to click onto the three-minute video imbedded in the article.  It includes Erlanger's interviews with UN and Red Cross officials in Gaza.  
"Opportunity" is an awkward and probably inappropriate word to use in the context of all the killing these past three weeks, but this incipient discussion does offer all of us an opportunity to clarify our own thinking about war and peace and, in particular, the morality and ethics that apply to the conduct of war.  The very literal post mortem on Gaza that has already begun offers, moreover, an opportunity to air such issues in our several communities, dare I say churches.
For those of us willing to open such a discussion, there are myriad resources available.  Just War Theory, which encapsulates the traditional Christian, Western stance vis-a-vis war, is based on the writings of Augustine and Aquinas.  You would do well to go to the source, but those who want a quick introduction can turn to that 21st-Century crib sheet, Wikipedia.  There is a very helpful article on Just War Theory at  With regard to the issues in Gaza raised by Erlanger, focus on  
Jus in Bello or the Law of War as it relates to conduct in war.  The 1983 report of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops "The Challenge of Peace" takes a more thoughtful look at Just War Theory from the Christian perspective.  It can be found at
Those who want to gain some insight into the moral/ethical dilemmas faced by individual soldiers in the fog and horror of war would do well to check out the hour-long film "Soldiers of Conscience" ( and Chris Hedges' Losing Moses on the Freeway which incorporates his moving 2002 New York Times interview with Episcopal Bishop George Packard, Bishop Suffragan for Chaplains, which can be found at

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