The last time I wrote here about the idea of "just war" theory, I did so because a University of Kansas law professor was applying it to potential trade wars.
But I've written about it off and on over the years because I think it's important that our nation have morally defensible reasons for going to war. In this 2016 post, for instance, I even asked whether just war theory had outlived its usefulness.
Today I return to the subject -- or something close to it -- again to share with you this disturbing analysis in the current issue of The Atlantic that makes a persuasive case that almost endless war for the last two decades has left our military with a distressingly reduced morale because it's often unclear to those in uniform why they are being sent into battle.
The author of the piece, Phil Clay, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, notes that "The fraternal bonds of combat have always been invoked to political ends. But as we stand on the edge of 17 years of war, these ends have become smaller, indeed almost pathetic. . .
"If the courage of young men and women in battle truly does depend on the nature and quality of our civic society, we should be very worried. We should expect to see a sickness spreading from our public life and into the hearts of the men and women who continue to risk their lives on behalf of a distracted nation. And when we look closely, that is exactly what we see: a sickness that all the ritualistic displays of support for our troops at sporting events and Veterans Day celebrations, and in the halls of Congress, can't cure."
In the 1960s and '70s, we saw something similar to this when the U.S. bogged itself down in the Vietnam War, a foolish, costly intervention that moved our political leaders to engage in lie after lie about the mission and its potential success. In the end, that war badly split the nation -- a divide that in some ways hasn't healed even today. It was an immoral war that created enormous disillusion about the ways in which our leaders had lost their moral compass. It was one reason Jimmy Carter got elected in 1976 by promising never to lie to us.
Phil Clay notes that what makes a military unit effective is "the chance for that peculiar love born of camaraderie, a love that can exist between men who in normal circumstances would have no reason to love each other, men who might not even deserve such love. . .That such a thing is even possible is in part thanks to the selfless character of the men and women who join the military, submit to the arduous training and pledge to leave no one behind.
"But no less important is their commitment to something outside of the unit. They need a mission -- one that is achievable, moral and in keeping with the values of the society they represent and whose flag they wear on their uniform."
All of this is just one more way in which the U.S. appears to be morally adrift, led by a president with no apparent moral center. Whether we can turn this around will depend in large part on whether American voters understand the stakes and whether they care enough to choose people who can commit to reversing the endlessly violent and frustrating use of our military, which has been badly misused for a long time.
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NEW HEADGEAR AT THE VATICAN
The Swiss Guards at the Vatican are replacing their old metal helmets with much lighter plastic ones made on a 3D printer, it's reported. That miter might not help.
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P.S.: I'll be speaking tomorrow night at the annual Table of Faiths dinner sponsored by the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. If you haven't signed up already, the link I've given you will take you to a site where you can do that.