Mark Tooley has written a very strange article on “Christian ethics and the Iraq war” in which he says this:
Treating Iraq, or Vietnam, as a simple morality play of arrogant American imperial overreach is grossly simplistic and leaves too many questions unanswered. Christian ethicists, relying on a rich 2000-year tradition, are called to help unravel the moral complexities of a deeply fallen world where God’s redemptive love is still active.
During World War I, a bishop explained to a Methodist seminary in Chicago God’s purposes in permitting war to dethrone the German, Austrian, Ottoman, and Russian monarchies so as to spread democracy. Such hopes were soaringly optimistic obviously, though democracy of a sort did eventually reach most of these countries, if only after decades of further war and brutal tyranny.
That last qualification is quite something. The destruction of these empires ushered in decades of illiberal authoritarianism, the eventual rise of Nazism, and the creation of the Soviet Union. WWI was one of the greatest disasters in history, and its aftermath led to most of the greatest evils of the last century. Decades later, after tens of millions of people had been killed, some of these countries regained some of the political institutions and goods that they had already had before WWI. I don’t think that God permitted these things to happen so that these nations might have democratic government. I’m sure that this bishop was not alone in explaining WWI in these terms, especially once the U.S. entered the war, but this is a dispiriting example. It is a reminder of how easily so many churches can fall prey to the ideological enthusiasms of their time, and how readily American Christians tend to mistake the forcible democratization of the world for its evangelization.
As for Iraq and Vietnam, both wars involved prolonged conflicts against nations that posed no threat to America and had not done anything to the U.S. that justified the wars that our government waged. In some respects, the Iraq war was worse, because it represented an even more aggressive approach to perceived threats than the disastrous misapplication of containment doctrine in Vietnam. If one saw North Vietnam as part of a unified global communism, it might have almost made sense to see North Vietnam as an enemy that the U.S. needed to oppose directly, but there never was a unified global communism, and Southeast Asia was of no strategic importance to broader U.S. goals. The Iraq war was a “preventive” war fought to eliminate a threat that had ceased to exist years before. Both wars were colossal wastes and terrible crimes in different ways. It doesn’t take much familiarity with Christian ethics to see that.