"But, say they, the wise man will wage Just Wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars."
St. Augustine of Hippo, "The City of God"
St. Augustine was the first Christian theologian to suggest the theory of a just war. Over 1600 years later, theologians, ethicists, politicians, and soldiers still wrestle with the topic of killing others for a national purpose.
To execute or support a just war, one must often accept several conflicting facts at once, which can be difficult in the emotion and excitement of armed conflict, patriotism, and popular opinion. The Catholic Church, which is my own faith, spells out the criteria for a just war in its catechism:
• The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain.
• All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
• There must be serious prospects of success.
• The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
While these criteria are rooted in a spiritual tradition, the same questions are posed by the militaries and diplomats of ethical nations. The United States leads the world in this effort and NATO is an important consortium of like-minded nations. Israel, heavily militarized by virtue of the nature of its creation in 1948, is a lone Western-style democracy in Southwest Asia.
The leader of the Israeli Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, has long been known for his strong stance upholding legal and ethical standards in combat. He has a moral dilemma not unusual for Western military commanders: his opponent has no such scruples.
IDF forces raided al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza Wednesday because the Hamas terrorists are using hospitals as their operational bases, forcing staff and patients to be human shields. The United States has verified this fact.
There are several conflicting facts that make the war in Israel so difficult: first, Israel has a sovereign right to statehood; second, the Palestinian people have a right to a homeland; third, Hamas is not the equivalent of the Palestinian people at large but is the militant ruling party of the Palestinian government in Gaza that wishes to eliminate the state of Israel through force; finally, Iran is directly funding and equipping Hamas in Gaza and a similar organization, Hezbollah, which is a militant political party in Lebanon that wishes to eliminate Israel.
Adding to this, prior to the current war, there was growing tension between the military and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu's changes to the Israeli judiciary, widely criticized as anti-democratic, caused a ripple throughout the armed forces with many threatening to resign this summer. It had been rumored that Halevi himself would resign.
Some events are greater than even national-level political tumults such as this, however. When Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing over 1,400 civilians (32 of whom were Americans) and seizing nearly 240 hostages, it was the beginning of a series of atrocities still being perpetuated. Civilians were tortured before being killed and their bodies were paraded through the streets.
Using Gaza hospitals as operations bases and using newborn babies as human shields is craven and shows Hamas' utter disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians. Eliminating Hamas, who in 17 years of governing have kept Gaza in desperate poverty, may be one of the greatest kindnesses Israel can show to the Palestinians.
The men and women of the IDF under Halevi's leadership are doing their best in the most strenuous circumstances to operate justly. The free world should be with them. Whether they resign after the war remains to be seen. For now, they are risking their lives, making the hardest ethical decisions every hour, to save their homeland which is governed by a leader in whom many of them have lost faith. They are to be commended and deserve our support.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appeared regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run one head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.