War and Legitimate Self-Defense
Starting a war is an immoral act. It is a very serious sin against the Fifth Commandment and it has been condemned by the Church’s Magisterium throughout all of Catholic social teaching. There are more appropriate ways that we have been taught to solve conflicts. Pope Pius XII even warned us that “Nothing is lost by peace; everything is lost by war.”
War itself has been one of the greatest threats to the sacredness of life throughout the entirety of human existence because of its horrible devastation to human life. In fact, it is estimated that between forty million and seventy million people died as a result of World War II. One would think that this loss alone would help convince the world that this fighting is not necessary, but clearly, we have not learned our lessons. Wars tend to cause more civilian deaths than soldier deaths due to the indiscriminate use of force, famines, diseases, and genocides that associate themselves with the evils of war. For these reasons the Church does everything within her power to prevent war from starting.
Moral law requires that all citizens and all nations do everything they can to avoid war. Pope Paul VI supported this notion by calling for “War no more; no more war!” in his speech to the United Nations assembly. The Church’s reason and the Law of Love tell us that it makes more sense to resolve conflicts without choosing violence, although this choice may be a difficult one to make. When war occurs, we may have to choose whether to defend ourselves through force and violence or through nonviolent resistance.
Legitimate defense is the teaching that limited violence is morally acceptable in defending yourself or your nation from an attack. The Divine Law does not forbid this type of defense because when threatened with bodily harm by an unjust aggressor, we have the right to defend ourselves and other innocent people who are also being threatened by the aggressor. Harming the...
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