|A JUST WAR?|
June 22, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Now, the enduring questions of right and wrong raised by the Kosovo mission, and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: In his trip to the region today, President Clinton reasserted a moral justification for the war just ended and for the peacekeeping mission now underway. To discuss the ethical dimensions of all this, we're joined by three religious thinkers: Father J. Bryan Hehir, professor of the practice in religion and society at the Harvard Divinity School, he's written widely on the ethics of military conflict. Reverend Jim Lawson, pastor of Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, and chairman of the Fellowship Reconciliation, a worldwide interfaith group. He also hosts a religious talk show on cable television. And Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, he's also chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Welcome all of you. The President today said on several occasions that NATO was right, that it was a noble endeavor to go to war against the forces of religious persecution, genocide, forced migration. Do you, Rabbi Saperstein, as a religious thinker, do you endorse that basic concept?
RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN Margaret, my religious tradition in the mainstream -- as I understand it -of the Christian tradition argues that there are moral uses of force. They should be used only as a last resort, we should pursue peace in every way, but there comes a time when we need to use force for self-defense, for protection of innocent people, for moral values that are so sacred that if deeply threatened we have to react. Amongst those would be the use of force in a case of genocidal activity such as ethnic cleansing. I think the President had a right when he talked about just cause and used that just war terminology, it is a helpful construct. This effort at eviscerating the presence of this group with all the force aimed at them, the massacres that went on, the removal of the entire presence is genocidal activity. It was justified to respond.
MARGARET WARNER: Reverend Lawson, how do you see it? Do you think it was a justified use of military power to stop religiously based persecution?
REV. JIM LAWSON: No war is just. War is still a sin. It is an evil. You cannot overcome one evil with another evil. Certainly from the perspective of Jesus, violence, war and hatred are always unfair, unjust ungodly. In the case of the Kosovo war, we have to remember that in all the wars of this century, it is the women and children who do most of the suffering, become mostly the victims of it, more so than those men who make the decisions to go to war. And there are alternatives to the bombing of Belgrade and Kosovo that the United States never examined and never permitted to come to the surface. This included letting the United Nations be the central international figure handling it, rather than NATO, which could thereby bypass it. In addition, it must be said that we never declared war. And from my point of view of the United States, all wars that we fight, where we the people have never been declared it, are unjust wars. And in addition to that, when we ourselves are not being attacked it is an unjust war.
MARGARET WARNER: Father Hehir, where do you come down on this question?
FATHER J. BRYAN HEHIR: I think that all wars are tragedies but not all wars are sins. Secondly, that makes it possible to distinguish morally right uses of forces -- use of force under certain limited conditions from morally wrong uses of force. Thirdly, I actually think I'd have to differ with Dr. Lawson in the sense that the argument that if you use force in self-defense it's right, but if you use force in defense of others, it's wrong doesn't seem to me to ring true with at least a good part of the Christian tradition where it was originally thought, for example, by St. Augustine that if you used force to defend someone else, it was morally superior to using force to defend yourself. So that in any case it seems to me there was a reason to use force. I think it's possible that other diplomatic initiatives could have been tried ahead of time, as has been indicated, but I also think that in the end, there was here a policy and a personality in Mr. Milosevic that had demonstrated that there was systematically planned destruction of human beings and that needed to be stopped in some form or other.
REV. JIM LAWSON: Of course that ethnic cleansing increased once the bombing began. The year before the bombing on April 20th, only 2,000 people, ethnic Albanians, had been killed. Immediately with the bombing, this escalated radically.
FATHER J. BRYAN HEHIR: I think I would distinguish a couple of things. I think there is no question that there was an escalation in the evacuation and liquidation of the Albanians after the bombing started I do not think that (a) that the bombing caused that to take place. I do think there was a mistake in the strategy that there was no preparation for how rapidly Milosevic would increase what he was already doing -- namely carrying out ethnic cleansing. So there was a problem with the strategy, but it was not primarily a moral problem. It was primarily a problem that the strategy in the beginning was not effective.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Rabbi Saperstein back in here. Would you go so far as the President today and in several -- including his interview with Jim ten days ago -- he seemed to almost be saying that the world -- not only it was right to do it -- but almost has a moral obligation whenever it can, whenever it has the means, to actually step in in situations like this -- again, when it's religious and ethnic conflict in another country.
RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN: I believe that he's right on that. In Leviticus, it says we shall not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. We are required to intervene on the behalf of innocents. In the Jewish tradition there is a law about the pursuer. You see a guilty person pursuing an innocent person, you must intervene. I believe that this is an extraordinary moment in human history, Margaret. In the 1990's, we have seen some of the only uses of military force by world powers for overwhelmingly humanitarian causes in Somalia, in Bosnia, in Kosovo,. We didn't intervene for economic benefit; we didn't intervene because of an ideological battle with an ideological enemy. We didn't intervene to expand our land. We intervened for humanitarian causes. It should be done sparingly. We should seek out all other options. But in this sense I think it was a moral use and I'm glad that America is setting a pattern in saying the civilized world should not stand by idly when it sees genocidal activity.
REV. JIM LAWSON: But we are standing by. The Turks are committing ethnic cleansing against the Kurds. We are doing nothing about that. The Indonesians are engaged in ethnic cleansing against East Timor. We are doing nothing about that. So, I do not believe that in this case of the Balkans our motives are altruistic.
RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN: But Reverend Lawson, the argument that you cannot do everything everywhere should not be used to justify that you shall not do anything anywhere. That seems to me to be a very difficult moral argument to make.
REV. JIM LAWSON: But can you not establish the processes in international law whereby indeed internationally much more could be done about all of these instances? In the case of Indonesia and the Turkish government, they are our allies, and therefore we are implicated in the ethnic cleansing that is going on at this moment.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gentlemen, let me get Father Hehir in now on another point that the President raised today. He seemed to be saying that if -- as he put it -- the credibility of the principle for which NATO went to war; that is to stop this religious and ethnic persecution still hung in the balance and it depended on whether or not the post-war Kosovo became a place of reconciliation where these two groups live together or became a place of just revenge and further religious persecution. Do you think there is, in essence, another moral test for the rightness of this conflict?
FATHER J. BRYAN HEHIR: Well, I think to some degree there is although I would not say that the second test can invalidate the first one. In other words, I think you have to judge the military intervention on its own grounds. I think there was reason to do it. I must confess I do not think that the United States has done it in every occasion where it should have. We failed miserably in Rwanda, which was a much larger taking of life than the one in Kosovo. But I do think it was the right thing to do. I think secondly the so-called winning of the peace will bear upon people's conception of how you can intervene effectively. In other words, one of the problems with intervention in the internal affairs of another state is the question of what is morally just and not just to do, and then secondly, what you can do effectively. And I do think that this is a very complicated question we've only started to examine. There are ways in which we may intervene in certain circumstances, I think, simply to stop the killing. That could have been done in Rwanda and was not done. There is secondly, beyond stopping the killing, the building of some kind of civil society -- a much larger and more complicated task. That's what the President was talking about today. And then thirdly, when you seek to build civil society in some of these states that have been collapsed and failed states, you really have to deal with the political economy of the country and not just with its constitution or stopping the killing. This is a very large order, and I think we're going to have a debate in this country about whether we're willing to do any one of these three things . But I think there are clearly times when we ought to do one, clearly stop the killing and there are other times when we should do a good deal more. And I do think we are capable of doing it.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Rabbi?
RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN: Well, Margaret, I think there is one other issue on which the three of us would agree and that is on the just means parts. The way this war was waged was really problematic. Just means should correlate with the just cause. It should have been aimed, the means we used should have been more directly aimed at actually stopping the ethnic cleansing as early as possible. It wasn't. We used this high level bombing, on the assumption we could not put our soldiers at risk. And in doing so, it violated as I understand the Christian imperative to actually protect civilians, non-combatants and the Jewish imperative to leave intact as much as possible the civilian infrastructure so that normality of life could resume on all sides after a war. If the lesson we draw from this is that this strategy of this high level bombing is the way we should project our force when we intervene, then I think we may have learned the wrong lesson from here. We need to learn you do intervene sometimes, but you do it in the most limited manner in a way most directed at stopping the evil involved. And I think part of that message has been obscured and lost.
REV. JIM LAWSON: Well, also part of the message is that we've lost the notion that in going to war over the Balkans the NATO countries actually broke international laws in relationship to attacking other countries. We bypassed the United Nations and we bypassed the Geneva Accords over and over again.
MARGARET WARNER: But Reverend Lawson, in a word, if reconciliation were to be brought to Kosovo, would that change your view at all as to whether this war corrected a moral wrong?
REV. JIM LAWSON: Well, my contention is that war never corrects a moral wrong. And my contention is that the suffering -- especially of the women and children in the Balkan area is not worth what may be the reconstruction down the road. Such a reconstruction in the light of the history of the Balkans will be, in fact, a several generational effort.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gentlemen, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you all very much.