The Morality of War

Jesus said, in Luke 11: 21-22, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.”

In 1620, John Winthrop explained to his fellow travellers, “Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

The Pilgrims believed the Elect were chosen to establish in New England a colony to do God’s work. God has, indeed blessed America and continues to do so even though our current culture must affront his holiness and righteousness.

Professor Stanley M. Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School and Frank Lentricchia, Professor of Literature and Theater, also at Duke, in a forthcoming anthology, “Dissent from the Homeland: Essays After September 11” argue that American Christians and Jews, being at least partially responsible for the attacks of 9/11, should be more critical of military responses.

Specifically Hauerwas and Lentricchia and their colleagues resent the religious undertones of the current crusade against terrorism. One writer laments that singing “God Bless America’ is in appropriate “because God blesses Afghanistan too.” America’s most successful wars, from the American Revolution and the Civil War to World War II and the Cold War, were crusades. Hauerwas and Lentricchia are from the “America as Victimizer” school of international relations. Like most post-modernists, they believe truth is relative.

Here is definitive truth. On Sept. 11, 2001, a group of evil Islamic terrorists committed an act of war on the United States. What we missed in the resulting carnage is that crashing airliners heavy with fuel into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was more than an act of terror.

It was a strategic strike; an act of war with two objectives: to cripple the American economy and de-stabilize the body politic. They partly succeeded in the first objective but failed in their second because of the selfless sacrifices of a handful of passengers led by Todd Beamer, a Christian who prayed before acting.

Pacifists, particularly post-modernist academics like Hauerwas and Lentricchia, miss the historical truth that war often moves history toward a greater good. Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, “A necessary war is a just war.” Wars can be fought for righteous causes…to save lives and liberate people.

Quakers preached abolitionism for fifty years. William T. Sherman and Union forces ended it between May 1864 and April 1865 by striking deep into Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, to devastate the Southern economy and break the back of rebellion. Allied forces, after landing in France on June 6, 1944 took just eleven months to crush German fascism.

Conversely, 20 years of pacifism and institutionalized disarmament in England and France, coupled with several acts of abject appeasement in the late 1930s, only encouraged Hitler’s aggression. Speaking at Nuremberg on August 21, 1926, Adolph Hitler stated, “Pacifism is simply undisguised cowardice.”

Despising Britain and France for their appeasement and pacifism, Hitler abrogated the Treaty of Versailles, re-armed Germany, re-occupied the Rhineland, forcibly incorporated Austria into the Reich, annexed the Czech Sudetenland, then invaded Poland to start the bloodiest war in European history, and subsequently murdered millions of innocent civilians.

A Latin proverb holds, “Peace is produced by war.” American armies ended slavery, kept the Union together, freed Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spanish domination, destroyed Nazism and fascism, and halted Japanese imperialism…which claimed millions of innocent lives in China and Korea in the 1930s while America wallowed in isolationism.

America’s nuclear deterrent contained Soviet expansionism for forty years until the Soviet Union finally collapsed; a victim of its own economic and political contradictions In the end, Soviet communism, responsible for at least 20 million civilian deaths during Lenin and Stalin’s bloody regimes, crumbled because President Ronald Reagan undertook the largest peacetime military build-up in American history…and the Soviets bankrupted themselves trying to keep up.

And what did the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament accomplish?


In response to the acts of war perpetrated by Islamic terrorists, American air power and U.S. Special Operations Forces, fighting alongside indigenous Afghan forces, liberated Afghanistan from an oppressive evil regime that routinely executed women and children.

God’s blessings came to Afghanistan on the wings of B-52s and with our Special Forces. Historically, military strength coupled with the will to use force gives pause to would-be aggressors. Pacifism and appeasement, on the other hand, encourage aggressors from Attila the Hun to Adolph Hitler to Saddam Hussein.

I recall a seminar in military history I took as a graduate student. While discussing the Vietnam War, a fellow student mouthed the tired anti-war shibboleth, “Wouldn’t it be special if they gave a war and nobody showed up?”

The professor, who served in the Marine Corps before completing his doctorate at Yale, replied, “Young man, aggressors invariably show up.”

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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