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The Ukraine Mess: Points to ponder about narratives, criteria, possible responses

The history of American intervention over the past forty years reveals that the experts are often wrong and captive to political and corporate interests that have a stake in never-ending wars.

A view shows the wreckage, which Ukrainian military officials said is the remains of a Russian Air Force assault aircraft, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in a field outside the town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 4, 2022. (CNS photo/Press service of the Joint Forces Operation/handout via Reuters)

Many years ago, I was visiting with some construction workers. I asked one of them about his views on the war in Iraq. He responded that he would favor the war if the President would risk his own family members. As we consider the Russian invasion of Ukraine and apply just war principles, we should also ask if we would be willing to risk the lives of close family members in the cause of Ukraine’s defense.

The war has launched a cacophony of media-driven soundbites that undermine moral and strategic analysis. Hence, an irenic consideration of motives, events, and possible responses is necessary for all of us, especially for parents with children in the military. The method of Saint Thomas Aquinas honestly depicts arguments. It provides us with a dispassionate means to evaluate conflicting points of view.

Here is a summary of traditional just war criteria based on the precepts of Natural Law through the lenses of Church teaching:

  • A just war can only be waged as a last resort.
  • All non-military options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
  • A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority.
  • A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered.
  • A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success.
  • Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  • The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace.
  • The force used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered.
  • The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.
  • Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians.

Here is a sampling of narratives explaining the Russian invasion, subject to rigorous analysis (from Russian aggression to the U.S. and globalist duplicity). The spectrum extends from strong criticism of Russia to Russian behavior associated with Western/U.S. culpability in the lead-up to the Russian invasion – all of which have persuasive dimensions, minus a broader context. Few responses in the U.S. media address nuclear weapons, an important factor in Russian military doctrine, especially the use of nukes at theater or tactical levels:

  • Russia is expansionist. The invasion of Ukraine is part of Putin’s (an old KGB hand) overall plan to restore the old Soviet Union, including eventual annexation of all of Eastern Europe.
  • Russia wants to consolidate its natural borders that have been validated by hundreds of years of history, with Putin invoking Soviet history and Russian Czarist history (with Orthodoxy as a central and unifying element).
  • Tribal warfare: Russia is merely reclaiming its historical interest and ethnic heritage in Ukraine. The tribal conflict is an internal matter for the ethnic Russian portions of Ukraine, although the conflict crosses recognized national boundaries.
  • Russia is paranoid and self-protective: Putin wants to conquer the eastern part of Ukraine where the population of ethnic Russians is high and establish western Ukraine as a neutral buffer from NATO members. Other than large expanses of land, no natural barriers protect Russia from attack from the West.
  • Russia is merely following the war-making template of the US and NATO in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan to secure its national self-interest.
  • The U.S. shares responsibility. Putin invaded before Ukraine (and other former Soviet-bloc countries) joined NATO. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia was not a military threat to the West. The U.S. and NATO shouldn’t have postured as a military threat to Russia.
  • Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., and NATO are unwitting pawns of globalist conspiracies for the “Great Reset.” The machinations explain the interest of prominent globalists encouraging Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion.
  • Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, is a puppet of Western globalist interests who stands to profit handsomely as a figure of “heroic” (but ultimately safe) resistance to Russian aggression.

Here is a summary of possible Western responses to the invasion (from resistance to virtual Ukrainian surrender). The principles of just war must provide the context for analysis:

  • Send U.S. and NATO troops, and military equipment to Ukraine.
  • Arm Poland and other countries that border Russia with nuclear weapons.
  • Establish “no-fly” zones over Ukraine and shoot down Russian aircraft as necessary.
  • Assassinate (or plot the assassination of) Putin and other Russian leaders.
  • Destroy the Russian gas lines.
  • Send substantial military aid – including fighter jets – to support the Ukraine resistance.
  • Indirectly send U.S. military equipment through NATO proxies.
  • Send low-level military assistance (guns and ammo).
  • Use intelligence services to fund and maintain a Ukrainian resistance movement during the Russian occupation.
  • Impose economic sanctions of various gradations: freezing assets of prominent Russians, canceling trade agreements, placing an economic embargo on Russian gas.
  • Send humanitarian assistance only.
  • Engage in secret cyber-warfare to disrupt Russian logistics and communications.
  • Negotiate a peace settlement. Be prepared to compromise. Identify Ukraine (and the Baltic states?) as neutral demilitarized zones (akin to the special “neutral” relationship Finland had with the USSR for decades).
  • Encourage Ukraine to give up resistance to prevent further bloodshed.
  • Keep out of the conflict completely because it’s none of our business.

Let’s consider possible military and geo-political effects:

  • Ukraine halts and rolls back the Russian invasion.
  • The national boundary lines on maps are redrawn with a Russian takeover.
  • The corruption of Russia’s oligarchs replaces Ukrainian oligarchs. After a chaotic transition, ordinary citizens return to the same way of life before the invasion, with a new bunch of corrupt leaders.
  • Russia pacifies Ukraine and effectively abolishes the Ukrainian language and culture.
  • The war becomes extended with increasing bloodshed on both sides.
  • A protracted counterinsurgency bleeds the Russians and the Ukrainian economy.
  • Russia becomes more brutal in an urgent attempt to bring the war to an end before sanctions cripple their efforts.
  • Russia becomes a firm ally of China, and as a result, China invades Taiwan.
  • Russia uses tactical nukes in Ukraine or East Europe, i.e., Poland.
  • Russia launches one or more ICBMs to selected U.S. military targets. The U.S. may escalate with a nuclear response.
  • WWIII (following the Russian use of tactical or strategic nukes – or an EMP attack taking down our electrical grid and all means of communication).

The effects in the U.S. also need our consideration:

  • The war comes to a quick end with Ukraine on the Russian side of the ledger of economic and political power. Long-term effects are negligible.
  • A protracted war bumps the U.S. into another extended period of international entanglement that calls for troop deployments, Special Forces operations, covert action, and economic assistance. (However, few are addressing the diminished state of the US military following decades of wasteful foreign wars, the Afghan debacle, and the imposition of woke cultural indoctrination of the rank and file by a leftist, woke senior officer and political class.)
  • The leftists use the invasion to disguise responsibility for hyperinflation and gas shortages.
  • The leftists advance the “climate change” green agenda as gas prices rise.
  • Economic pressure on the middle-class increases. The dislocations drive more families below the poverty line, and more people become dependent upon the government.
  • Government spending grows out of control and expands socialism and globalist Marxism.
  • Oligarchs continue to run Russia and Ukraine.
  • The U.S. enters into another era of endless war and economic ruin.

Ordinary Americans need sober expert analysis, historians, and statesmen. However, our rulers should respond to our provocative but legitimate, intelligent, and informed questions. The history of American intervention over the past forty years reveals that the experts are often wrong and captive to political and corporate interests that have a stake in never-ending wars. A healthy hermeneutic of suspicion – especially in the post-COVID pandemic world of disinformation – helps.

The risks are high. With every foreign intervention, the lives of our children are at risk. We would do well to consult the common sense expertise of that thoughtful construction worker of yesteryear.

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About Father Jerry J. Pokorsky 31 Articles
Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.. He holds a Master of Divinity degree as well as a master’s degree in moral theology.


  1. Your final analysis on worldwide dynamics, and the consequences of degrees of intervention is correct. Hopefully, there’ll be a judiciously limited degree of intervention.
    Russia’s Dmitri Peskov announced what seems a workable compromise for cessation of hostilities. Prayerfully it will lead to peace.

    • The International Court of Justice has been hearing a case this week of Ukraine v Russia. The application asks for a remedy that Russia be ordered to cease its war of aggression against Ukraine and give adequate guarantees against non-repetition, and that it pay reparations for the death and destruction its armed forces have caused to Ukraine.

      Ukraine has reserved application for further remedy, which could predictably include just satisfaction over and above other remedies.

      The law concerning the responsibility of states for internationally wrongful acts entitles Ukraine to demand that Putin and the other political and military leaders of Russia step down from office and be surrendered to face trial for crimes against peace and war crimes. All remedies applied for, or reserved, and awarded by the ICJ are lawfully and justly coercible by means of armed force.

  2. Interesting you chose to designate and use the term leftist
    The leftists use the invasion to disguise responsibility for hyperinflation and gas shortages.
    The leftists advance the “climate change” green agenda as gas prices rise

    So the coin of life is one sided?

    • Moderation not needed. If you call out one side then rightfully call out all sides. A moderate right writing
      A rightist responding.
      Thanks though for your insights

  3. Thank you for a well-thought out and reasoned summary. Many of us are not being particularly rational about this conflict, and passionate intensity (to coin a Yeats phrase) cannot lead to anything good.

    • All the scholistic reasoning and the elite intelligencia’s ramblings are a great waste of time.
      The causes of the invasion and personal commentary mean nothing to a people who are experiencing genocide. Share this article with the families who are fleeing, the mothers (on both sides) that have lost children and those hiding in basement or bunkers. They don’t give a damn about all the philosophying and political rhetoric. They are struggling to live. What
      practical things are we doing to help Ukraine. Oh, and what about American oligarchs?

  4. To me the two biggest problems with the principles for just war usually set out by the Church are, first, that “all non-military options must be exhausted.” That is too subjective. There will always be some people that will claim more could have been done. This rules out preemptive war in the face of obvious escalation: an enemy builds up his forces, issues threats, is clearly making plans to attack. At some point it is just to strike first in this situation. You do not owe your enemy a first punch. Second, I have trouble understanding the idea that weapons can distinguish between civilian and military targets. With the sole exception of a nuclear bomb (although a tactical nuke could be used on a large enough military target) it is how the weapons are used, not the weapons themselves. But the issue is wider: if an enemy puts soldiers and military equipment among civilians, the other nation has the right to target those forces.

  5. Really? “Long term effects are negligible” if Russia wins against Ukraine?? I suppose for us, but not for the millions newly enslaved by the Russians. Or those civilians already killed because they were deliberately targeted.That is an acceptable outcome only if freedom and quality of life means NOTHING. In the US we have built our nation on saying otherwise. “I’ve got mine, too bad for you??” No doubt every country, including ours, has to pick its battles carefully. But sitting on our hands doing nothing ( like now) because your administration is making the calculation that higher prices from an oil embargo will carry a political cost they dont want to pay, is reprehensible. In addition to being immoral. It is especially stupid because only a year and a half ago our country was oil independent and this administration CHOSE to turn off the spigot in a mean spirited attempt to erase everything good and smart Trump accomplished.They let their unrealistic “green new deal” fantasies get the better of them. Disgusting calculations, and very dangerous. History has shown that at every level of life, a bully, if not STOPPED, will always come back. And indeed failure to deal with ONE bully, will make you more vulnerable to the others who will surely follow. Our founders, many of whom gave up everything they owned for FREEDOM, must be spinning in their graves.

  6. It is not unheard of for a dictator to start a war to distract his own citizens from the everyday sorrows they face.

    Would Ukraine care to be part of a restored Soviet Union after Russia invades, destroys and kills?

    That we would be much in prayer for our leaders, that they would seek wise counsel from the Lord.

    Ecclesiastes 3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

    Matthew 24:6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.

    Jeremiah 51:20 “You are my hammer and weapon of war: with you I break nations in pieces; with you I destroy kingdoms;

    Deuteronomy 20:1-4 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’

    Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

    Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

    2 Corinthians 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

    Proverbs 21:15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.

    Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

    Some might argue that a high ranking cultural Marxist (from outside of Russia) might be persuaded to visit Putin, asap!

  7. Again, no mention of the proximate causes, the failure of Ukraine to comply with the Minsk Agreement and the war it has been waging indiscriminately against the LDNR.

    • We all you know, dear SOL, that you are just a robot of the Russian Secret Service, inserting your spin here, there and everywhere in an effort to confuse people’s thinking on the straightforward question of what is illegal in International Law, namely the invasion of a sovereign nation.

    • You mention the ‘failure of Ukraine to comply with the Minsk Agreement.’ How? Do you not agree that the Minsk Agreement was simply a statement of a ‘conundrum’? Also, hasn’t the term of the Agreement ended?

  8. Who guards the guardians themselves? With regards to the relations between nations there isn’t any formal higher authority. In the Catholic past, the pope had been called upon to negotiate treaties when Catholic nations disputed.

    Because their is no higher temporal authority there is a duty for those nations who can to defend nations who have been treated unjustly by other nations. The specifics would be guided by the virtue of prudence. However, after a country is unjustly invaded I see no alternative, but some kind of EFFECTIVE military aid. Economic “warfare” can’t be a substitute because the “weapon” is slow and affects everybody – not just the belligerents.

  9. A question on just war doctrine:

    If a war can only be justified if there is a reasonable chance of success, and if deaths and injuries are unjustifiable in a hopeless cause, what about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising? The defenders had no reasonable chance of success. Should they have submitted to extermination?

    Why should the right to self-defense be conditional on how successfully you can expect to defend yourself?

  10. Sometimes the simple approach is correct in defining a situation (Oakham’s razor). The question to ask is “but for, would this be happening”? The answer is a continuing cruel and incompetent leadership in a questionably civilized country for 104 years underlies the present condition of Russia and its actions on the international stage.
    Volumes have been written and more could be, but this constant is the overriding cause for Russia’s problems, now and in the past. As a side note: Does anyone think that if Kerensky’s attempt at a social democratic revolution in 1917 had been successful that Hitler would have been so easily tempted to invade?

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