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Peace and War: Preparing for war in the season of peace (San Franicsco Chronicle) December 26, 2002

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.

The holidays have always been a season of paradox. Young children struggle with the paradox of giving amid the excitement of receiving. Even though the carol says it’s the season to be jolly, psychologists remind us that depression intensifies over the holidays. Now we add a national paradox to the Christmas list: preparing for war in the season of peace.

While we gather with family by the fireplace during the season of peace, our military is clearly preparing for the possibility of war. Just as they did in the days of George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, thousands of troops will spend their holidays living out the paradox of keeping the peace and fighting or preparing for war. The Pentagon reports that there will be over 250,000 American soldiers and sailors abroad or on board ships for the holidays, not counting the special buildup for Iraq, for which official figures have not been released.

We have been here before. In December of 1990, the nation celebrated the holiday season, holding its breath for the U.N.’s January 15 deadline for Iraq to remove its troops from Kuwait or face attack. Interestingly much of the policy-making ensemble was the same — Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Saddam Hussein in the same role is “evildoer.”

Today’s preparation sounds like Hollywood casting for “Gulf War 2: The Sequel.” Only weeks ago, terrorists attacked a hotel in Kenya on Thanksgiving Day. Alas, war and terrorism do not observe holidays.

But the timing is bad, you say? How can we celebrate the season of “peace on earth” while building up for war? We forget that, as classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson points out, across history war has been the global norm, and peace the exception. In the fifth century B.C., the democratic Athenians, in the greatest hundred years of their culture, fought 3 out of every 4 years. More people have died in conflict since World War II than the 60 million who perished on its battlefields. Hanson reminds us that, in Plato’s words, peace is “a parenthesis.” Alas, war in the season of peace is not exceptional.

The paradox we must accept is that, from time to time, war is a fundamental part of keeping the peace. No, not in a simplistic fashion, as the Vietnam officer who reportedly said, “We had to burn this village down in order to save it.” But in a very profound sense, there are dangerous and war-mongering powers in the world that will only be deterred by military force. With Hussein’s history of overrunning neighbors, and even his own people, and his persistent violations of international norms, military action becomes appropriate. As the great religious thinker Saint Augustine acknowledged, “the purpose of all war is ultimately peace.”

To help manage the paradox, spiritual leaders throughout the ages have recognized the proper place for a “just war.” Early Christian thinkers such as Augustine of Hippo and later Thomas Aquinas have taught that a just war should meet several criteria: a just cause, with wrongdoing on the part of the one attacked; a legitimate authority carrying out the war; and a good purpose, such as the advancement of good and the avoidance of evil.

The question of just cause is in the hands of Hans Blix and the U.N. weapons inspection team. Although Hussein has quite a history of wrongdoing, the issue is whether he has weapons of mass destruction now. It is hardly surprising that, after searching an area the size of California with the equivalent manpower of the Chico Police Department, no such weapons were found.

To establish a just cause now, the United States will need to step forward with its evidence that Iraq possesses chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Legitimate authority is a more difficult question these days. One could argue that the United Nations and other multilateral bodies do not have a lock on legitimate authority for war, as many presume. They are essentially political bodies, not moral ones, and their one-nation-one-vote decision-making empowers many states with illegitimate governments and their own human rights abuses with authority they should not have. Rightly or wrongly, however, President Bush was persuaded some weeks ago to cede the question of legitimate authority to the U.N. Security Council. It would be very difficult to take that back now.

The final requirement for a just war — a proper purpose — has been subject to healthy debate, but seems to be met. Some still wonder about economic motives and assuring a supply of oil to the West, but the surprisingly unanimous U.N. Security Council vote suggests that others are persuaded that Hussein presents real dangers.

While we pray and hope that war against Hussein will not be necessary, there is considerable evidence that this would be a just war. While we wish the United States could play the role of peaceful intermediary, our position as the sole military superpower may require us to hold one end of the rope when nations like Iraq and North Korea pull on it, leaving other countries or the U.N. Security Council to mediate and judge. The cost of such military power is high, but it may well be the price of peace.

In the end, peace is not merely the absence of war. It is a proactive process in which threats to peace and security must sometimes be removed in order to creat the conditions for a more lasting peace. Paradoxes are painful, but ultimately they lead to truth. President John F. Kennedy expressed this paradox well: “It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.”

This op/ed appeared on Page A-31.+

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