UNLESS WE FIGHT
Morality and War. By Gerald Vann, O.P.
(Burns Oates & Washbourne, 3s. 6d.) Reviewed by THOMAS CORBISHLEY, S.J.
HE fact that we are actually at war is not, in itself, any reason against—it may indeed be an additional reason for— raising the general question of the ethical problem involved in the very fact of war, but many readers will at first share Fr. Vann's own misgivings a, to the expediency of publishing his book, written some months ago, at a time when its thesis may seem to be merely academic.
"But the aim of the book was never controversial; it was written in the hope of helping those who a.e worried by the moral issues raised by war to see the problem clearly and completely." And such Issues are not solved—though they may be temporarily shelved—by the mere existence of a state of actual warfare. Those sincerely perplexed will still need help.
The book has the great merit of clarity and sobriety. There is no casuistical hair-splitting, no rhetor:cal appeal to sentimental considerations; it is a plain statement of the principles involved, a dispassionate analysis of arguments for and against. The publishers are surely inaccurate in speaking of Fr. Vann's " conclusions. He is content to allow the reader to draw his own conclusions, to " form his conscience " for himself— though it is not difficult to see to which side Fr. Vann himself inclines.
TO the question of the means employed in modern warfare Fr. Vann devotes considerable attention. But the conclusion to which his argument seems to point is that the means will necessarily be wrong in themselves, and therefore the war will inevitably be unjust. The two methods which he singles out for reprobation are the bombing of civilians and the use of " hate-propaganda."
It would be unfair to Fr. Vann to suggest that this is an adequate statement of his argument, but a reviewer is bound to select and compress, and we hope that the above is in no sense a distortion of what he says. Now we believe that he has really fallen into the error against which he is so careful to warn us—that of over-simplification of the problem. " A really christian (why do the printers consistently refuse this word its conventional capital?) examination of the problem of war must go beyond a casuist application of isolated texts to isolated facts, and must penetrate to the heart of things." Quite true. And at the heart of things lies
the human spirit, which is not so easily measured and analysed.
TAKE the case of Belgium before 1A14 I or Poland in 1939. Was it or was It not right for England and France to guarantee Belgian neutrality or to commit themselves to tie assistance of Poland? If not, why not? If it was, then was it not equally right for them, would it not have been wrong to refuse, to fulfil their engagement?
Of course the answer of some will be that they had no right to enter into engagements which could only precipitate a state of misery and material loss, of vice and suffering out of all proportion to any possible good effects. Of course we agree that sin inevitably accompanies war. But then it inevitably accompanies almost any a. Linen activity —because human nature is prone to evil. And it seems necessary to insist that war is an opportunity for exercising the virtues, too, and that on a scale which might not and in all probability would not be forthcoming in any other situation.
WHY must we think of war as merely brutal and bestial? It is all that, true. But it is also heroic and compassionate and generous. Is the siege of Warsaw nothing but a story of sadistic cruelty? Ought we to see in the casualty clearing station nothing except the picture of man's inhumanity to man, and fail to see the heroic charity to which it gives occasion?
Let us be clear. We are not urging that war can be justified as an occasion for practising the Christian virtues. What we do strongly urge is that, in estimating the evil of war, we are oversimplifying the picture to concentrate our attention on the shade and shut our eyes to the light.
Of course we are bound to prevent war by all legitimate means, because It involves such frightful things. Of course we are bound unconditionally to fight only with such weapons as justice permits. But it is equally our duty ta resist war and war-mongering in a Christian spirit, with Christian weapons. And it is emphatically not Christian to stand by and allow oppression and injustice to prevail.