Author: Tobias Winright

Deliberating on Drones and Just War

Kenneth R. Himes, O.F.M., in his article, “Intervention, Just War, and U.S. National Security,” which appeared in Theological Studies 65 (2004): 141-157, observed: “As has often been the case with jus in bello deliberations, the engine driving the debate is new technology” (152). A mere seven years later, the military technology du jour is the unmanned aerial drone–a topic I hope to think and write more about in the near future. I thought of Himes’ quote about jus in bello (justice in the conduct of war) in this connection because, on the one hand, the drones are precision guided and, as a recent article in the New York Times reports, “administration officials say [drone technology] has helped paralyze Al Qaeda in the region” of Pakistan; yet, on the other hand, others have expressed concerns about the data we actually have about casualties from drone strikes, including civilian deaths and injuries. In the aforementioned New York Times article, one military ethicist instead focuses on jus ad bellum (justice in embarking upon war) and, indeed, on only one criterion, just cause: “There’s a kind of nostalgia for the way wars used to be,” said Deane-Peter Baker, an ethics professor at the United States Naval Academy, referring to noble notions of knight-on-knight conflict. Drones are part of a post-heroic age, he said, and in his view it is not always a problem if...

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Update on Intervention in Libya

Over at Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Kim Lawton interviews Notre Dame’s Gerard Powers who reassesses the US/NATO intervention underway in Libya. It’s a brief piece, but I think Powers raises the right concerns: 1) Was the intervention morally justified in the first place? 2) Are the means being employed morally justified? 3) Is attention being given to how to foster and implement post-conflict justice? In my view, a case could have been made that the intervention was justified. There was just cause, namely, to stop the bloodshed of civilians that was underway and to prevent escalation of the violence to genocidal proportions. However, the other criteria of jus ad bellum (justice in embarking upon armed intervention) also need to be satisfied (legitimate authority, last resort, proportionality, probability of success), and I’m not sure these were satisfactorily addressed. Moreover, the armed intervention by third-party forces (US/NATO/UN) should have not taken sides in the conflict, which is actually a civil war; rather, the third-party forces should have prevented forces on either side from putting civilians in the crossfire of danger. That might have encouraged a cease-fire at some point so that a negotiated settlement might result. As for the means used (jus in bello), I agree with Powers that the air-strike approach alone is problematic. It protects our forces’ lives, which is important, but this should not be done at a...

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Report from the Annual Convention of the College Theology Society

Today is the final day of the 57th Annual Convention of the College Theology Society. Several of us contributors and a number of friends and colleagues have attended a number of excellent papers (of course, some were not so excellent). This year’s theme has been “They Shall Be Called Children of God: Violence, Transformation, and the Sacred.” The National Catholic Reporter has provided (and will provide more in the coming days) some coverage of it. Overall, some 260 persons were registered for the convention. Plenary talks were given by William T. Cavanaugh (“Violence Religious and Secular: Questioning the Categories”), M. Shawn Copeland (“God Among the Ruins: Companion and Co-Sufferer”), James T. Logan (an African-American Mennonite theologian whose book on prisons and punishment I reviewed for Christian Century; he offered a great response to Copeland’s talk), and Todd David Whitmore (“Theology as Gospel Mimesis: Lessons from a Conflict Zone”). During a fourth plenary, “Alive Man Walking: One Person’s Story of Exoneration from Death Row,” Shujaa Graham, of the Witness to Innocence Project, movingly shared his story of being on–and released from–death row with us. During the banquet last night, Peter Steinfels and Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, who were honored with the CTS Presidential Award, also spoke. Afterwards, during the CTS Celebration that began at 9:30 p.m. and included music and singing (a tradition here), a number of us stayed up late reflecting...

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Sixteen Years of Catholic Education without Hearing about Distributive Justice?

Appearing with Stephen Schneck on the O\’Reilly Factor, Vincent Miller pointed out to Bill O’Reilly that the “Catholic church speaks about distributive justice.” O’Reilly then said, “The Catholic church teaches about distributive justice. I’ve never heard that. I went to sixteen years of Catholic school. I never heard that.” Oh, really, O’Reilly? If that’s the case, then someone fumbled the ball when he attended Chaminade High and Marist College. It would be interesting to find the textbooks that were used during the 1950s and 1960s when he was in school. Textbooks that were used in Catholic high schools and colleges earlier in the twentieth century–on morality, politics, economics, social reconstruction–by the likes of John A. Ryan and Virgil Michel, OSB typically devoted a chapter to justice, with subheadings referring to commutative justice, distributive justice, retributive justice, legal justice, and social justice. Quotes on the topic are also frequently found in these texts from papal encyclicals, including Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum: “Among the many and grave duties of rulers who would do their best for their people, the first and chief is to act with justice–with that justice which is called in the Schools distributive–towards each and every class” (no. 27, emphasis in original, quoted in John A. Ryan and Francis J. Bolland, CSC, Catholic Principles of Politics, rev. ed. [Macmillan Co., 1958], p....

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Ethics after Easter

May 1, 2011–Second Sunday of Easter Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31 “Peace be with you!” When I say this greeting, which Jesus shares with his hiding disciples, in class to my students, they initially are caught off guard and aren’t sure how to respond. Some automatically respond, “And also with you.” Others almost do so. Indeed, outside of Mass or worship, this greeting and response seem out of place to most of us. But why is this so? Shouldn’t there be a connection between what we say and do during worship and what we say and do during the rest of the week outside of Mass? In his book, Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship, the Catholic theological ethicist, Paul Wadell, recalls how, many years ago, he was struck by a question that Methodist theological ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, once asked upon making an initial observation: “You Catholics go to Mass all the time. What do all those Masses do for you?” (15). In other words, does worship make a difference in our lives? Does it have anything to do with who we are (or ought to be) and what we do (or ought to do)? Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the earliest Christians, according to the author of Acts, experienced a new way of life together. “They devoted themselves...

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