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Caroline C. Lewis / Sep. 7, 2017

Just War or False Peace?

Well-meaning peace advocates do not recognize the truth of Ronald Reagan's slogan, "Peace Through Strength."

The North Korean nuclear threat has continued to escalate in recent weeks, beginning with Kim Jong Un’s threat to destroy the U.S. territory of Guam, the launching of a missile over Japan, and claiming to have tested a hydrogen bomb, tremors of which were felt in China and South Korea.

In early August, President Donald Trump responded by declaring that an attack by North Korea would be met with “fire and fury.” Last week, the president issued a statement clarifying that “all options are on the table.”

On Monday of this week, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke at an emergency UN Security Council meeting, where she said that Kim’s “abusive use of missiles and his nuclear threats show that he is begging for war.” She continued, “War is never something the United States wants. We don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited. … Twenty-four years of half measures and failed talks is enough.”

Critics claim that such statements by both President Trump and Ambassador Haley appear brash, impulsive or harsh. Such critics, however, ignore the longevity of the issue. Since 1993, the UN Security Council has issued nine sanctions attempting to negotiate with North Korea and to thwart its nuclear program economically. Yet, over the past two decades, not only has North Korea violated these sanctions but it has continued to build its own nuclear arsenal and test its nuclear weapons with brazen confidence while signaling its intent to use those weapons.

Some in the media think of Kim Jong Un as a silly little boy threatening to blow up the playground with his baking soda and vinegar volcano project. They hope, Maybe he just needs a little fresh air. Maybe he just needs friends. Maybe this will all go away when we wake up tomorrow.

Others characterize Kim as a crazy man. However, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell thinks differently: “People are wrong when they say he’s crazy. He’s not crazy. He’s very rational in his own world. He is smart, he is decisive, his is persistent, but he’s also an attention-seeker. He’s also paranoid … and … extraordinarily violent.”

Our postmodern culture labels the aggressors as victims and the responders as aggressors. It has blurred the lines between right and wrong, innocent and guilty, victim and victimized. Our universities spend time trying to “understand” Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini. Our courts speak of mass murderers as “troubled” people who forgot to take their medicine. We dismiss terrorists when they issue threats and minimize their actions and violence. Our chronic avoidance of real threats can have dangerous consequences.

Peace advocates see disarmament and negotiation as the only way to solve problems. Though well-meaning peace advocates do not recognize the truth of Ronald Reagan’s slogan, “Peace Through Strength,” or the wisdom of Winston Churchill’s statement, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”

Many people assume that only a war kills innocent people. However, “false peace” or a peace that solves no problems can be just as dangerous. Consider, for example, how the “Peace Movement” of the 1960s destabilized and disrupted the Vietnam war to ensure a victory for the communists. The movement, which played upon the sentiments of Americans to stop the war, ultimately led to the American retreat from Vietnam. As a result of this “false peace,” the communists slaughtered nearly three million innocent Cambodians and Vietnamese when they gained power.

In contrast to false “peace” movements, the “Just War Theory,” espoused by medieval luminaries such as St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas, refers to situations in which the use of military force is justifiable. The conditions include the following:

  • The war must be a response to an action of direct aggression
  • The war must be in the protection of the innocent
  • The war must be declared by a legitimate authority
  • The war must be fought with the right intent
  • The peaceful conclusion of the war must be non-vindictive

Professor Jean Bethke Elshtain Professor of Social and Political Ethics at University of Chicago notes: “St. Augustine claimed that war may be resorted to in order to preserve or achieve peace — and not just any peace, but a just peace that leaves the world better off than it was prior to the resort of force.”

We should not apologize for or dismiss the threats made by Kim Jong Un. In addition to enforcing the sanctions, we need to revive the information strategies used to topple the Soviet Union. We need to implement political warfare and information campaigns to raise doubt among the North Korean military leaders about the regime in order to fray the loyalty within their ranks. Yet, if the situation requires military action, we need to know that a just war protects more innocent people than a false peace.

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