Ukraine and Questions of Just War

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the response of the West should demand a national and international examination of conscience with firm resolutions for diplomatic solutions to save lives and prevent WWIII.

People stand near newly made graves at a cemetery outside of Mariupol, Ukraine, May 22, 2022, during the Ukraine-Russia conflict. (CNS photo/Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters)

In 1845, President James K. Polk sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico City to offer $30 million for New Mexico, California, and other territories north of the Rio Grande. Mexico refused the offer. A frustrated Polk sent troops to Texas in 1846 to provoke the Mexicans into war. It worked. Mexican troops fired on the Americans, and Congress delivered a declaration of war. Several decades later, Ulysses S. Grant wrote the war was “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine poses similar questions of just war, but like every European entanglement with many actors, the number of questions bewilders.

Who’s on first?

The politics and history of Russia and central Europe are complicated and hard to grasp. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, violent conflicts have plagued the region. The convoluted history suggests that Mark Twain is on target with a quip attributed to him: “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”

The Kremlin has a centuries-long history of conflict and repression of Chechens, who are particularly defiant. Chechnya immediately declared its independence in 1991. Russian forces tried to regain control over Chechnya. The Russians declared a ceasefire in 1996 when Russian forces bogged down and later signed a peace treaty.

The Russians soon waged a second war in 1999, destroyed central Grozny with tactical ballistic missiles, and recaptured it. In 2004, Russia assassinated its first democratically elected president (although conflicting stories remain). Russia ended its operations and pulled out most of its army several years later.

South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia. Secessionists demanded independence or unification with North Ossetia, located in Russia, although the international community recognizes it as part of Georgia. The Georgian-Ossetian conflict remains unresolved.

During the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, President George W. Bush campaigned to offer NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine. Russian President Putin said that NATO’s enlargement towards Russia “would be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country.” Russian military action in August 2008 concluded with the Russian occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In 2014, with the support of the majority Russian-speaking population, Russia formally incorporated Crimea, giving Russia further access to the Black Sea. Russia also supported pro-Russian insurgents in Donbas, the eastern portion of Ukraine. The war escalated in 2014. In 2015, Russia and Ukraine agreed to an uneasy ceasefire. In 2021, Russia massed troops on its border with Ukraine, and in early 2022, Russia invaded the country.

Until the invasion, successive U.S. Administrations did little in response to Putin’s serial aggressive moves. Russia suffered no punishment for several assassinations conducted against opposition figures abroad.

Does the West—the U.S., European nations, and the NATO alliance—have a moral obligation to enter the hostilities? How should the U.S. proceed?

(Note: A Catholic priest exercising his priestly ministry as he ponders his country’s war-making is best suited to remind political authorities of just war principles as he leaves the prudential judgments to the proper authorities. However, a priest has a right to express views as an American, provided he doesn’t compromise his religious teaching authority by equating his prudential judgments with Church teaching.)

A summary of just war doctrine

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time [for a country to engage legitimately in war against another nation]:

  • 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. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
  • These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. (CCC 2309)

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. (CCC 1897)

Within the context of a war:

  • The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. “The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties. (CCC 2312)
  • Noncombatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. (CCC 2313)
  • Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.
  • “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.”
  • A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons – especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons – to commit such crimes. (CCC 2314)

The Russian narrative

The Russians believe the U.S. and NATO are increasingly belligerent and aggressive in expanding their membership and mission. The Russian attack on Ukraine was pre-emptive with a defensive purpose. Russia must not allow NATO to use Ukraine to deploy threatening weapons (jargon aside, most “defensive” weapons can quickly become “offensive” weapons) for the same reason the U.S. would not allow Russia to arm Mexico. The Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrates the extent a nation like the U.S. is willing to go to defend itself. Russia is no different. Russia is also reclaiming Russian territory that, historically, they believe is rightfully theirs. Russia also must protect populations with high concentrations of ethnic Russians.

The U.S. misled Russia. In the early 1990s, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker assured Gorbachev that the West would not move “one inch eastward” with NATO expansion. But verbal assurances are not treaties, and NATO continued to expand. Ukraine is America’s proxy for aggression with U.S. military and financial support.

Over repeated Russian protests, NATO and the European Union posed a “grave, lasting, and certain” threat to Russian security that justified a pre-emptive strike. The Russian military is superior to that of Ukraine. A victory would guarantee the long-term sovereignty of Russia despite the human and material costs of war.

So goes the Russian justification of the war, as seen from Moscow.

Ukraine

Ukraine is a sovereign representative democratic republic with a multi-party system, with the President and Cabinet of Ministers exercising executive power. Legislative power is vested in Ukraine’s parliament. The Ukraine population of the vast western portion of the country favors closer European Union ties. Swaths of eastern Ukraine – Donbas, and Crimea – are predominantly Russian-speaking.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 (following its effective annexation of Crimea in 2014) represents a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Russia’s aggression is grave and certain. However, given Russia’s military superiority, the prospects for successful resistance are far from certain without outside military and sending financial help to Ukraine.

The European Union

In some ways, European fears are similar to Russian fears. Just as Russia fears hostile encirclement by NATO, the Europeans also fear Russian expansion and the annexation of the Baltic States and even Poland.  The Polish prime minister recently said Vladimir Putin is “more dangerous than Hitler or Stalin.”

Moves to restore the old Soviet Union would gravely damage the community of nations. Some analysts argue Russia’s fear of encirclement is fraudulent and disguises its desire for expansion. Others suggest that Russia’s military is relatively weak and unsophisticated, although its arsenal of nuclear weapons is ominous. Hence, the Russians cannot sustain further expansion without a reckless and self-defeating threat of the first use of nuclear weapons.

Europeans must consider whether their military intervention will produce evils and disorders more terrible than Russia’s occupation of a portion of Ukraine.

The predominant U.S. narrative

The prevalent U.S. narrative is straightforward. Russia’s war on Ukraine is unprovoked and unjustified. Russian indiscriminate attacks on population centers are criminal. Putin’s aggression violates the “new world order” that requires inviolable national boundaries (except presumably, Africa – and the U.S. southern border) and the promotion of democracy. Russian gains in Ukraine will encourage them to threaten the Baltics, Poland, and even the Balkans.

Hence, the U.S. has a strategic interest in assisting Ukraine with funds, weapons, and intelligence. The Russians should expect the U.S. to send top-quality weapon systems to Ukraine. Russian aggression justifies American intelligence-sharing that presumably sank a Russian flagship and helped kill several Russian generals. Covert action to accomplish the overthrow of Putin is also justified. NATO has not yet sent troops or air support. (Almost certainly, American clandestine advisors are already engaged; we have helped train Ukrainian forces since 2014.)

Nearly the entire American ruling class favors supporting Ukraine with humanitarian relief, military aid, and billions of dollars of economic assistance, encouraging Ukrainians to fight to their last drop of blood. The Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell recently said, “I think we all agree the most important thing going on in the world right now is the war in Ukraine.”

Congress increased President Biden’s request for $33 billion in aid to $40 billion, adding to an already massive national debt. Senator McConnell explained, “Aid for Ukraine goes far beyond charity. The future of America’s security and core strategic interests will be shaped by the outcome of this fight.” The Senate overwhelmingly passed the appropriation, on a vote of 86-11.

For the most part, Democrats, Republicans, corporatists, political and intelligence community elites, and Hollywood support the American intervention allowing for little or no dissent. Apologists brand dissenters as either Putin stooges, isolationists, or insensitive to the sufferings of Ukrainians.

NATO

According to the NATO website, “the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union.” As the preeminent member of the Alliance, the U.S. protected a vulnerable Europe with its nuclear umbrella and military might during the Cold War.

The site adds the Alliance’s creation was also “part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration.”

(Did NATO indeed envision this array of potential diplomatic and military entanglements, or did the Alliance give into mission creep?)

An official NATO military mission has yet to materialize in response to the Russian invasion, although coordination among Alliance members is ongoing.

The invasion has accelerated interest in NATO. Sweden and Finland recently applied for membership. The U.S. nuclear umbrella has expanded to include the likelihood of billions of U.S. military and financial aid if needed.

Emerging dissident (originalist?) American perspectives

A small minority of prominent Americans – including U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance – dismiss the conventional wisdom and hold that the war in Ukraine is not our war.  The war in Ukraine is a European problem, and Europeans with Russia should solve it. America has too many of its own troubles, including a porous border, an opioid crisis killing 100,000+ Americans annually, and a crushing national debt. The incursion of illegal aliens – many of whom are “mules” delivering illegal drugs – violates our national integrity. The number of deaths exceeds those resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There is a significant difference. In America, the suffering underclass remains hidden from the media spotlight.

The complex European geopolitical tribulations are beyond the understanding of most Americans. How many Americans – including foreign policy specialists – grasp the intricacies of European geopolitics? American interventions are like a policeman knocking on a door of a domestic dispute. The antagonists often turn their wrath on the policeman. In the Middle East, Shiite and Sunni Muslims hate each other. After the two American invasions of Iraq, the U.S. emerged as their common enemy.

The military might and economic strength of the U.S. are waning. The Europeans use NATO as a tripwire for massive American military intervention while falling short of agreed-upon criteria in funding their own defense. It’s time for the Europeans to take control of their destiny without the U.S. military and financial ATM.

Further, ordinary Russian-speaking Ukrainians will be no worse off under the Russian oligarchs than under Ukrainian oligarchs. Why risk a protracted bloody, economically debilitating conflict? Why push Russia into the arms of the Chinese and risk nuclear war and WWIII? Americans should spend more time tending to their own history, geography, economy, and culture.

The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil eliminated. Our response to the war drives Putin toward a stronger alliance with China at a time when China is the greatest threat to our interests. We should be working to move Russia closer to us and further from China.

The history of American foreign interventions over the last thirty years is dismal. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan failed after the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. America has a strong military, but a consistently inept geopolitical strategy that emphasizes American military strength overemphasizes democratic ideals and fails to acknowledge the disruptions associated with American political and economic hegemony.

Or so goes these alternative minority views.

George Kennan’s Prophecies

The minority views are not necessarily “Putin talking points.” In part, they echo the warnings of one of America’s most esteemed anti-Soviet cold warriors. In an interview in the late 1990s, the elderly American diplomat and statesman George Kennan (the father of the American “containment” policy of the Soviets during the Cold War) called the expansion “a fateful error.” He explained:

I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.

George Kennan died in 2005 at the age of 101.

Constitutional and spending questions

Determining the moral legitimacy of going to war based on the evaluation of the conditions belongs to the prudential judgment of those responsible for the common good. Some insist America should not engage in acts of war without a Congressional declaration of war, as the Constitution requires. Congressional resolutions evade Constitutional responsibility and disassociate American citizens from the decisions of the ruling elites. As some said during the Vietnam War, “Declare war or get out!”

Meanwhile, many on the Hill seek to strengthen Congress’s Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) legislation. Similarly, the nation should not negotiate or modify treaties without Senate ratification. Abiding by the Constitution in the U.S. democratic republic provides voters more of a say in war-making powers.

Some worry about America feeding the beast of international financial corruption. Senator Rand Paul – the Don Quixote of fiscal responsibility in the Senate – temporarily stalled a massive $40 billion* spending package. His demand for the appointment of an inspector general to follow the vast amounts of money into Ukraine may be the recipe to prevent massive financial corruption.

(*Context: In 2021, the German government spent $56 billion on the military. The United States had the highest military spending in 2021, with $801 billion dedicated to the military.)

The role of the media

The media – reflecting the predominant Western narrative – depict the Russian invasion as brutal, inept, blundering, and destined for failure, with Ukraine President Zelensky emerging as another Winston Churchill. Ukrainians have successfully repulsed the Russian attempted siege of Kiev (impressive, if that was a Russian priority).

Disinformation – lies – undermine confidence in official reports. Ukrainian military historian Mikhail Zhirohov explains, “It’s essential to have this propaganda [the fabricated hero-pilot Ghost of Kyiv], because our armed forces are smaller, and many think we can’t be equal to [the Russians]. We need this in wartime.” How much wishful thinking comprises a recent report by Ukraine’s head of military intelligence that a Russian coup will remove Putin by year-end? Moscow’s reporting is similarly suspect.

Adversaries have practiced Information Warfare since time immemorial. The propaganda flyers dropped from planes or planted Intel on dead bodies (Operation Mincemeat by the Brits in WWII misdirected the German military’s attention away from the Allied Invasion of Sicily) are now Twitter bots and YouTube videos. The media should expect PSYOPS and strive to report only facts.

The heralded Ukrainian victories (all over YouTube) call into question the motives for Finnish and Swedish plans to join NATO. If the Bear is inept, why provoke him further by expanding NATO? Do the requests reflect realistic national interests, with lingering worries about Russian motives? Did the surprising (but not unprecedented – see above) Russian failures on the battlefield (to date) fuel expectations that advanced weapons and technology will have a significant deterrent value? Or did the U.S. use financial pressure to enlist them? Will the Swedish and Finnish declarations to join NATO hinder any possibility of a negotiated settlement? Is NATO slamming the door on a face-saving agreement for Putin?

War brutality

The brutality of Russian tactics relates primarily to its arsenal of conventional weapons and a shortage of smart bombs. The Russians employ WWII tactics of surrounding, bombarding, and occupying (as in Grozny). So-called “collateral damage” is similar to that inflicted by the U.S. on enemies in their wars, especially before the era of smart weapons.

Are there atrocities taking place in Ukraine? Most likely. Are they all committed by Russians? Most unlikely. There are sober reports about the brutality of Ukrainian paramilitary groups in Crimea/Donbas and their affinity for the Nazis. We don’t know where the truth lies.

The likelihood of wartime atrocities bolsters the moral presumption against war. Just war principles – not present-minded impositions – remain the criteria to measure acts of war.

The status of diplomatic negotiations

The West rejects Russian concerns as “Putin talking points” without refutation. At least publicly, the Biden team is not aggressively pursuing a negotiated settlement. Former diplomat John Quigley, with experience in the region, laments, “The Biden administration has shown little interest in knocking heads together to bring an end to the war. It has framed the conflict in apocalyptic terms as a battle between democracy and authoritarianism.”

Others insist that Putin has rebuffed diplomatic overtures, believing he will win. In a new form of nuclear brinkmanship, the reluctance suggests that both sides (if true) favor a protracted and punitive conflict despite the threat of nuclear war.

In 1994, Quigley represented the U.S. as “an expert on constitutional matters” for “The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe” (later re-named Organization on Security and Co-operation in Europe). Recognizing Crimea/Russian history, Quigley devised a plan for autonomy for Crimea that he envisioned as a treaty between Crimea and Ukraine. He included international supervision by the CSCE. The Ukrainian government would not abide by international oversight and cracked down on the Crimean Republic. The conflict remained unresolved until the annexation by Russia in 2014.

Some Americans recognize U.S. complicity in provoking Russia and hope the U.S. will be instrumental in orchestrating a negotiated settlement. They hope that the aim of the Russian assault is limited to the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, with a large population of ethnic Russians. Commenting on the present conflict, Quigley argues: “As for the Donbas, it would not be difficult for Ukraine to offer more autonomy than it has to date. The Russian military assault seems to have pushed many Russian speakers in the Donbas to embrace Ukraine. They may be less demanding on autonomy than before. A renewed Ukrainian commitment on autonomy could be framed by the Russian government as a victory.”

The failure of journalistic integrity and the multiplication of conspiracy theories

Investigative journalists who “follow the facts wherever they will lead” are almost non-existent. The Russia Hoax during the Trump presidency reveals mainstream media ineptitude (at best). Before the 2020 election, over 50 prominent intelligence officials agreed that the Hunter Biden laptop was a Russian operation. The media took them at their word and did not investigate. The neglect is not a minor error; the deception was agitprop directed at the American public to influence the election.

Conspiracy theories fill the vacuum.

In the epic battle between authoritarianism and democracy, how does the Biden team view Western democracy? In August 2021, Biden allowed the ignominious fall of Kabul to the Taliban. According to reliable reports, the Joint Chiefs were stunned by the abandonment of many Americans and billions of dollars’ worth of equipment. Within months, Biden, in effect, offered Ukraine NATO membership.

Did Putin see the ineptitude of Biden with the fall of Kabul and take advantage of his weakness? As Putin’s military maneuvers were on the horizon, did the Biden Administration deliberately provoke the Russians? Did Biden incite Putin with his offer of NATO membership to Ukraine so that he, Biden, could prove his resolve against tyrants before the 2022 elections? Did Biden – or his handlers – conclude that Americans would oppose another war while we were still in Afghanistan?

Why was a provocation chosen rather than scrambling to negotiate a settlement? Are there subliminal reasons? We have learned not to underestimate the intensity of leftist hate. Putin’s opposition to the LGBTQ agenda and abortion is well-known. The LGBTQ, pro-abortion, gender fluidity, Woke, and Critical Race ideologies are entrenched in the White House. Is it beyond the pale to suggest that ideological hatred of Putin fuels the reluctance to negotiate and compromise? Does it explain the support Hollywood celebrities have for the war? Will the loathing prolong a war bleeding Russians and Ukrainians alike?

Provoking Putin has other benefits championed by leftists. The left has elevated the climate change ideology to levels of hysteria. Despite the threat of hyperinflation, Biden terminated the Keystone XL Pipeline. Indeed, the Biden Administration considers rocketing gas prices necessary to transition to so-called renewable (“green”) energy. Sanctions that effectively sever the European Union’s dependence on Russian oil and gas (Nord Stream II) would accelerate its green transition — and separate itself from the Russian economy. Why negotiate a ceasefire when the war in Ukraine is advancing the green agenda?

Finally, there is concern that the U.S. is depleting its inventory of munitions for replacement with modern weaponry.  A protracted conflict helps with the turnover and pressures Congress to approve more spending on defense. In his 1961 farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned against such a “military-industrial complex”:

Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

Is a protracted war in Ukraine designed to benefit financial and industrial globalists? If so, the globalists are bleeding Ukrainians to advance their agenda. The disastrous departure from Afghanistan is a warning. Ukrainians would do well to remember a famous quip by Henry Kissinger: “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.” It is more accurate to substitute “globalists” for “America.”

Removing obstacles to negotiation

“Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations,” states the Catechism, “constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war” (par 2317).

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the response of the West should demand a national and international examination of conscience with firm resolutions for diplomatic solutions to save lives and prevent WWIII.

The arduous art of honest compromise is inherent in diplomatic negotiations. Loyal Americans must break the self-delusions that undermine good-faith negotiations that could end the bloodshed and stop the headlong march to another U.S. war of choice, but this time one that has a nuclear dimension.

The time for loud and persistent calls for negotiations and compromise is past due as a unifying principle for friend and foe alike.


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About Father Jerry J. Pokorsky 22 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.

50 Comments

  1. Before writing the poem below my initial thought prompting me to write it was, can anyone imagine Jesus Christ carrying a gun, never mind using one, dropping a bomb on civilians/soldiers from an aircraft, or sticking a bayonet into anyone, etc? I think not, as we see His disarming action when we approach Him on The Cross and when/if this disarming action is encountered in a real-life situation, it confronts our own values and for a Christian, it should induce humility.

    “Attach bayonets! courage and glory are the cry, do or die
    First over the Parapet
    John leads the Ferocious attack
    While opposing Hans reciprocates the advance to the death dance
    In a crater of mud both stood
    Eye met eye one must die
    But who would hold true to the Christian creed they both knew?
    ‘To be’ the sign of the Cross,
    To ‘give’ without counting the cost
    Abandon bayonet, bowed head, bending knee, faith/love the other did see
    Worldly values gone the other in humility now holding the same song/pray.

    Christians do not live in a bubble we live in the world but are not of the world. Sharing at the Eucharistic Table as in giving Holy Communion to opposing Christian soldiers just before going into battle with each other is to demonstrate to mankind that we Christians are of the world not an alternative to the world.

    Quote “Peace at any price is not really peace. It is simply a cowardly capitulation to evil”

    As a Christian, this capitulation should be understood as a cowardly capitulation to the evil values of the Prince of this world who gives mankind a false peace, as it is a peace that realizes upon the ever-increasing capacity of weaponry held in the hands of worldly men (Many without consciences) aided and abetted by ‘Christians’ ..V.. As His true peace is given to us in our faithfulness to Him via the light of the Holy Spirit which cannot be taken from us”

    This ongoing collusion with the evil of war will eventually lead us into the Apocalypse.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

      • Thank you Justin for your comment
        The first recorded conscientious objector was Maximilianus, conscripted into the Roman Army in the year 295, but “told the Proconsul in Numidia that because of his religious convictions he could not serve in the military”. He was executed for this and was later canonized as Saint Maximilian.

        We all walk in our fallen nature, nevertheless, I am sure that throughout the ages many Christians have gone into battle on both sides thinking that they are doing God’s will aided and abetted by a worldly hierarchical church that gave The Holy Eucharist to opposing Christian soldiers just before going into battle against each other. Can there be anything more perverse/corrupting?

        I think not, to think otherwise is to hold the teachings of the crucified Christ in contempt.

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

    • I completely agree Kevin. Jesus forgave not fought. I tell myself and others the wisest of words I ever read, walk away from your enemies, I will deal with them. Not that I find it easy to do. I recall when I was young I wrote about the Falklands war, the only line I remember was “Fight on and on, till the bitter end, you have a politician’s ego to defend”. Blessings to you.

    • Kevin, clearly you think Jesus was a 1960’s long haired Pacifist Hippie, despite the fact that there is no historical or scriptural basis for this caricature. The truth is that He used violence to throw the money changers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12) and anyone who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one (Luke 22:36).

      If the Ukrainians followed your advice they would have to surrender and submit to Russian tyranny and repression, including the murder of civilians, rape, torture and pillaging we have witnessed in the last three months. Our Lord would never demand that of anyone.

      • Much like the Ukraine, South Vietnam asked for our help and we came to their assistance. Letting a country fall to a communist dictatorship was not something Americans would ever think of doing (and a number of countries in Asia joined and/or supported us).
        When we let S. Vietnam fall, we saw what a communist nation does to their own people (hundreds of thousands died). Our politicians, press and “higher education” had nothing to be proud of.
        US Army, Vietnam 1971-72.

      • Thank you for your comment Johann “clearly you think Jesus was a 1960’s long haired Pacifist Hippie”

        No, I do not, as my posts on Just War theory on this site clearly demonstrate. Previously I had said to you, “But of course, society at large has to be governed by the rule of law and we need a police force to enact it, etc”

        You quote (Luke 22:36) “and anyone who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one”

        Whereas prior to your quote Luke 22:36, we have Luke 22:35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out without purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered”
        So, from now on we see the divide between the true believer/follower who trusts in God alone whereas those who rely on possessions need to protect them, as in Luke22:36 “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one and since the time of Christ, we see the continual escalation of violence.

        In a previous post under another Article, you advised me to remain content with the status quo but as I stated previously “The teaching given by the church on a Just War theory is nothing more than a minefield, in regards to its application of justified murder.

        So, Johann before responding further to your present comment I will ask you once again to respond to this question.

        Can there be anything more perverse/corrupting than giving the Holy Eucharist to opposing Christian soldiers just before going into battle against each other?

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

        • I see nothing wrong with receiving communion before battle, as long as the soldiers don’t fight because they hate what is in front of them, but because they love whst is behind them as Chesterton noted. You still havrn’t answered my question and your deflection indicates you have no answer.

          • Thank you, Johann, for your comment “You still haven’t answered my question” (Which I believe refers to Jesus cleansing the Temple’)

            John 2:14
            “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple, he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

            His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

            Jesus acted in Righteous anger and only applied the force that was necessary to cleanse the Temple, there was no act of Violence–as in ‘an act of physical force that causes or is intended to cause (Physical) harm’ The whip was used basically to drive out the ‘cattle’ and sheep which their owners would hastily follow. He was in control of His emotions we can deduce this as in the deliberate pouringout of the coins of the money-changers leading to the overturning of the money-changers tables and the scattering of their coins. There is no inference to any whipping which is also applicable to the pigeon sellers who took advantage of the poorest Jewish worshipers as he only said to them “Take these things away”

            So, in these words, we see His intent and authority “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” There was no intent to cause physical harm. This is also applicable to Matthew 21:12 which you quote. And neither reflect the violence of war.

            Thank you for giving me your personal position on the partaking of Holy Communion just before going into battle, in being prepared to kill a fellow communicant who possibly has the same mindset and values as yourself “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” As you both try to stick a bayonet in each other rather than embrace the reality of the divine presence of Christ within yourself.

            This action would necessitate that you detach the intellect from the heart, in effect you would have to shut down your conscience. This act enables a man to commit atrocities as now he no longer feels empathy nor does he identify with his fellow man. In effect, at that moment in time, he has made himself into a heartless monster. No different from those heartless Concentration Camp personnel and others who say we ‘were just following orders.

            “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

            These words justify violence in teaching that a man can stand aloof from his actions and represent worldly values, as in, the end justifies the means while having nothing to do with the values given to us by Jesus Christ. Salvation comes from serving a lively conscience, reception of the Holy Eucharist should enliven it not deaden it, as Christians, we serve God first.

            kevin your brother
            In Christ.
            .

      • Thank you, Michael, for your supportive comment (Note I live in the UK) I followed your link to the poems I enjoyed CONFESSIONS OF A CHRIST KILLER; short extraction below.

        One day I noticed far away
        The enemy’s graveyard was solemn and grey.
        And creeping into this vast vista of loss
        Was stone upon stone bearing a cross.
        How could it be that God’s mortal foes
        Believed like me in the Man of woes?
        I asked teachers professors and men of the cloth
        But none could provide the answers I sought.
        Amidst all the songs, sermons, and missals,
        I came to perceive just thorns and thistles.
        So now I see all their vain exhortations
        Are just pathetic and banal rationalizations.
        Let’s just stop the sly theological fuss
        And recognize clearly
        The enemy is us.

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

  2. With all due respect, Father Pokorsky, you are using the words “provoke” and “provocation” incorrectly. In this context, to provoke means to commit an illegal act against whoever or whatever is being provoked. When a person or a country is provoked — that is, has been the victim of an illegal act — a response is justified, but the response must be commensurate with the provocation. Catholic just war theory is based on this principle.

    Assembling troops within your own borders, even if they are positioned within a few inches of another country’s border, is not provocation. For a sovereign nation to join a defensive alliance against potential action by another country is not provocation. For country A to stage a coup in country B is not provocation to country C, however much it might be to country B. Even providing weapons to a country at war with another country does not constitute provocation to that other country; any country may trade on its own terms with any other country it likes. These may be imprudent, even terrifying to another country, but they are not provocation to that other country, and do not justify armed force. Diplomatic protests? Yes. Economic sanctions? Possibly. Invasion and threats of nuclear destruction? Absolutely not.

    What about Putin’s acts against Ukraine? Do they constitute provocation?

    Yes. In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea, the territory of a sovereign country, and funded insurgent movements in the Donbas. This was in response to alleged oppression of ethnic Russians in those areas — a Ukrainian domestic matter which did not concern Russia, and that did not constitute provocation to Russia. It did, however, constitute provocation by Russia of Ukraine, and thus justified Ukraine’s use of military force in the east.

    [As a side comment, I have friends in Ukraine, who are ethnic Russian and speak Russian as their first language. They have stated quite forcefully that they have never been treated any different from anyone else, and have issued a challenge to anyone who can prove that they have been. They have also issued an invitation to anyone who alleges that there are Nazis everywhere in Ukraine to come there and show them specifically who and where these Nazis are.]

    On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, alleging it was “provoked” by the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO and the alleged need to de-militarize and de-Nazify the country. Again, neither the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO nor actually joining NATO constitutes provocation against Russia on the part of Ukraine, nor does the goal of rendering a country unable to defend itself or purging it of alleged Nazis justify an invasion, whether you choose to call it a war or a special military operation. Very much the contrary: it was itself an extreme provocation by Russia against Ukraine, as was the deliberate targeting of civilians, hospitals, schools, and countless other war crimes.

    • To clarify, by citing “provocation” as justification, Putin is claiming that Ukraine carried out an act or acts that would cause a reasonable man to lose control and commit an illegal act or acts. Committing an act because one is provoked and thus out of control mitigates to some extent the blameworthiness of the one provoked, making the perpetrator less culpable than if the act or acts were premeditated and therefore committed out of malice, but it does not either excuse the act or acts or justify them in any way.

      Thus, by claiming provocation, Putin is asserting that the annexation of Crimea, the funding of the separatist movements, and the invasion of February 24 were not premeditated and that he was a reasonable man who was out of control, driven to commit acts he would otherwise have known were criminal and could not be justified.

  3. It’s unfortunate that he mischaracterizes Ukraine as having peacefully been minding their own business when the Russians “attacked”. The Ukraine government has been slaughtering 14,000 ethnic Russians since 2014. And the Ukraine government reneged on the Minsk Accords. And they were trying to make deals with the US to allow the US to put missiles on their border in exchange for NATO membership. The just war theory should be abolished because 1) there is no scriptural basis for it – Jesus teaches the opposite about praying for our neighbors and 2) propaganda like this article can be used to morally justify any war. It has for about 2000 years.

    • Seeing as how God outright orders war in the Old Testament, you’re assertion that it has no Scriptural basis is without foundation. And no, the New Testament does not render the Old entirely moot.

  4. Lincoln waged a horrible, bloody war to bring the Confederate states back into the Union. That made him a hero. Putin does the same with Ukraine, and he becomes a villain. Who says that Ukraine is/was a sovereign nation? It was part of Russia for hundreds of years?

    • Ukraine IS a sovereign nation, and has been since the Soviet Union fell. The Confederates were rebels who waged war to preserve the wretched institution of black slavery. There’s your difference.

      • Commies created “Ukraine.” It used to be called, “The Ukraine,” that is, the territory of Ukraine. Lincoln went to war to preserve the Union, even if it meant accepting slavery. Does a nation lose its sovereignty if it relies on slavery? That is, does the US have a legal obligation to attack nations that allow slavery? While in principle, I believe Ukrainians have a right to independence from Russia, this war is not the US’s business. It is another European was where Christians are killing Christians. Who benefits? Well, non-Christians benefit. There are a lot of them, even in the US.

      • And the Confederacy was a sovereign nation. Lincoln was anti slavery but he was perfectly willing to let slavery stand to avoid secession. One of the great ‘what ifs’ is what would have happened if the south just seceded and did not attack Fort Sumter. My opinion is that Lincoln still would have went to war. Lincoln waged war to preserve the union. The Emancipation Proclamation was a means to that end. So The Ukraine/Russia issue is comparable imo.

  5. “Loyal Americans must break the self-delusions that undermine good-faith negotiations that could end the bloodshed and stop the headlong march to another U.S. war of choice, but this time one that has a nuclear dimension.”

    If it is true that we don’t negotiate with terrorists, it is much less the case that one should reward unjust aggressors by compromising with or appeasing them.

    Nuclear weapons are irrelevant. The fact is that justice (and other virtues) requires certain actions regardless of consequences.

    • Taking action without regard to the possible consequences is never a good idea. In foreign affairs, it is especially reckless. When it involves a nuclear power, it is certifiably insane. Perhaps you should try to cultivate the virtue of prudence in yourself.

  6. We have learned not to underestimate the intensity of leftist hate. Putin’s opposition to the LGBTQ agenda and abortion is well-known. The LGBTQ, pro-abortion, gender fluidity, Woke, and Critical Race ideologies are entrenched in the White House. Is it beyond the pale to suggest that ideological hatred of Putin fuels the reluctance to negotiate and compromise?

    No it’s not beyond the pale. Putin mandating Christian religious education in Russian public schools fueled the hatred of the militantly atheistic left as well. The regime currently in power in the USA is becoming the old Soviet Union while Russia is on its way to becoming the last bastion of Christendom.

    • A nation that decriminalizes wife-beating, is one of the prostitution capitals of the world, and has higher per capita abortion rates than the US, not to mention waging unjust wars and committing horrendous war crimes, is NOT a bastion of Christendom. There simply isn’t one these days and it’s time to end your love affair with the Russian state.

      • What I love is the restoration of Christendom.

        I also love what the Founders understood to be the American experiment as articulated by John Quincy Adams (son of American Founder John Adams) in his 1839 Jubilee of the Constitution discourse, where he repeatedly contrasts “the judgment of the sovereign constituent people, responsible only to God” and the “grossly immoral and dishonest doctrine of despotic state sovereignty, the exclusive judge of its own obligations, and responsible to no power on earth or in heaven for the violation of them.”

        The latter is the case today under America’s currently reigning atheocracy, and profoundly so.

        Sovereignty rests in the people, not in a godless state. That is what made the American revolution different from all previous revolutions in history; the people didn’t want a new king or a new ruler; they established a government consisting of public servants.

        The activities of public servants are constrained by the “consent of the governed” who are “responsible only to God.” The activities of the currently reigning atheocracy are constrained by no ethical boundaries whatsoever. Their irrational evil may lead to nuclear war.

    • I agree wholeheartedly, though I (like everyone else) deplore the price ordinary Ukrainian (and Russian) folk are paying for this NATO/Zelentskyii drang nach Osten. At least Hitler and Napoleon tried to do theirs with lightning strikes (blitzkrieg). Has anyone looked at the record wherein it was Comrade Khruschev, a Ukrainian, who ceded Crimea to the then-puppet Soviet republic of Ukraine?

    • You’re not serious…

      Russia decriminalized wide beating, has more abortions per capita than the US, is a prostitution capital of the world, etc. It’s not Christian by any stretch of the imagination. Christendom died, and no nation is a bastion of Christian principle.

  7. Far and away the finest, intellectually sound, morally correct assessment of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. An excellent essay Father Jerry J Pokorsky that should be read and contemplated by all especially those harping for total Russian defeat.

    • That Russia is the aggressor is plain for even the most blind to see. There can be no compromise with aggression, and no peace save by the unconditional surrender of Russia.

    • Consent of the governed should be the guiding concept in Crimea and the Donbas. Perhaps a number of corrupt US politicians have a perverse interest Ukraine. If we take Putin at his word then what possible interest would the US have in incorporating the horribly corrupt Ukrsone into NATO? I do not agree with the war but I have absolutely zero support for the Ukrainian government. We are deliberately killing Ukrainians on a proxy war shsindt Russia. Is that a just war?

  8. Being a pragmatist, I don’t think its appropriate for us to be doing any armchair philosophizing and moralizing from the safety of our relatively peaceful lives here in the States. It’s easy for us to talk about just war theory because we have the luxury to do so. If we were in Ukraine right now, we’d have a different set of questions to attend to.

    • If we aren’t to philosphize and analyze in peace and we cannot philosophize or analyze if in war, shall we just give up on philosophy and thought altogether? I don’t see how applying principles and thought to the Russia-Ukraine war/situation is problematic or inappropriate. Quite the contrary.

      • Yes, good points. There is no doubt that we are called to think deeply and carefully. I was trying to challenge our tendency to retreat into abstraction. Russian soldiers are committing atrocities against the Ukranian people. Figuring out what we might actually do to help is an important practical consideration.

  9. No mention of Ukraine killing civilians in LDNR in the name of combating “terrorists” and “separatists.” That is also cited by Russia as a cause for war.

  10. As for “annexation” of Crimea, what evidence does the author have that the election results didn’t reflect the desires of the majority? This is why taking the side of the Ukraine state against the self-determination of peoples subject to its rule is just stupid. Regardless of whether their desires are “well-informed” or just being manipulated by Russia, they do have a right to make that decision, and the RC Church should not take sides or be seen as supporting tyranny, in this case that of Ukraine. It’s bad enough that the Vatican is echoing the opinions of Western imperialists.

  11. This is the most clear-headed and balanced analysis of the situation in Ukraine that has appeared to date.

    The U.S. has caused untold misery and geopolitical destabilization in its recent interventions. To my great shame and regret, I supported the war in Iraq. I actually confessed this support as a sin. Our initial incursion into Afghanistan to wipe out terrorist training centers was justified but we should have limited our engagement to this narrow goal. The twenty years of nation-building went down the drain in the ignominious withdrawal of last summer. How many Afghans and Americans were killed and maimed for nothing?

    I’m sorry, but I’m not blindly following the politicians in Washington or the arms manufacturers anymore. Can they articulate an end-game in Ukraine? Have they considered that supplying the Ukrainians with massive arms assistance may only prolong the war, causing more death and suffering to the population?

    If we’re concerned about the plight of those suffering from war why are we not intervening in Ethiopia where 500K people have been killed in a civil war? Why are we watching the Rohinga people endure genocide in Myanmar? And what about the people we abandoned to a living hell in Afghanistan. If we shouldn’t be the policeman for the rest of the world then why should we be in Ukraine?

    Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.

  12. Ukraine has a right to self determination and a right to defend itself against unprovoked aggression from Russia. In addition to that the following are good reason the West must support Ukraine financially and with weapons:

    If Ukraine falls Putin will set his sights on the Baltic states, Finland and Poland for invasion. The world’s food supply will be in jeopardy due to reliance on Ukrainian grain (and the disruption in food supplies is proof that it is already in jeopardy). Allowing Russian aggression and bullying to stand will embolden other rogue regimes like China to take similar steps towards Taiwan, which would place the world’s semiconductor supply in danger.

    For these reasons, it is essential to ensure that not only will Ukraine survive this war, but that Russia will suffer a complete and unambiguous defeat.

  13. This excellent analysis deserves to be read and studied by anyone interested in the Russia – Ukraine war or international relations in general. While Fr. Pokorsky has his own perspective on the conflict, he fairly and calmly presents all sides. Father ought to be working in the Vatican diplomatic corps or the US State Department. He would be a vast improvement over what we currently have in either institution. Finally, the quality of this piece stands in stark contrast to another one I can think of recently published at CWR.

  14. I don’t think you should regret your support for the war in Iraq.

    The legal and moral definition of a war of aggression corresponds exactly to the definition given by Article 2(4) and (6) of the Charter of the United Nations. it is identical to the definition given by the customary international law which incriminated the leaders of Nazi Germany: the use of armed force against the territorial integrity or political independence of a State or in any other manner inconsistent with the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.

    By Resolution 1483 the UN Security Council certified that the use of force on this occasion was lawful and within its powers, and it enabled the Council to close the case on the situation between Iraq and Kuwait.

    The intervention in Afghanistan was legally and morally lawful for the same reason – it had the mandate of the UNSC, and it would have been justified anyway because the Islamic enemy wages religious war in furtherance of idolatry.

    Any use of force against Russia on this occasion to put down its campaign of territorial conquest can rely on the Resolution of the General Assembly which condemned Russia as an aggressor by an overwhelming vote.

    • You’re talking about the Gulf War of 1990. I’m talking about what is called the Iraq War which was much longer, costlier, and bloodier and which destabilized an entire region. The war spawned ISIS and their depredations resulted in unimaginable suffering for people like the Yazidis. Pope John Paul II strongly opposed a preemptive strike against Iraq before the war began. Just War doctrine says that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.” I don’t know anyone except Dick Cheney who defends the Iraq War. And WMDs were never found.

      I said that the initial foray into Afghanistan was justified. The twenty-year engagement was not. We lost that war in the most shameful manner and the Afghan people are now living a nightmare. What do you say to all the young Americans who lost their lives or limbs in a war that was meaningless? What do you say to the Afghan people we abandoned? One principle of Just War doctrine is that “there must be serious prospects of success”. Again we lost the war and have not relieved the suffering of the Afghan people.

      • I was referring to the entire campaign against Iraq from 1990 to 2003 and beyond. The UN Security Council was seized of the situation between Iraq and Kuwait and its intervention was lawful. By Resolution 1483 it determined that the Coalition campaign of 2003 served the interests of international peace and security. It could not lawfully have done any of these things unless Iraq was threatening international peace and security.

        In law, an injury to the community of nations is “lasting” within the meaning of the Catechism if it has a continuing character, alone or in combination with the failure to execute in full the legal consequences.

        For further details see the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts 2001.

  15. Great article, Father. I linked to it from the comment section of my blog on an article by my blog partner Susan who’s been posting about the war. I hope many people read it. There are no heroes in this situation that’s for sure!

  16. A lifetime of being lied to by Western mass media hasn’t prevented their lies from having seemingly sure sway over the mass mind.

    Please, people. Shouldn’t we know better than to believe what we’re being told?

  17. There are more problems now in Ukraine than when the MINSK Accords held sway.

    Zelensky contradicts himself. Kiev contradicts itself. They contradict each other.

    Then, certain NATO members, certain groups of the military-industrial complex, certain global operator types and Britain, used the Porochenko-Zelensky-Neo-Nazi idealism to provoke and extend a war Ukraine couldn’t win.

    There was never a popular desire for what is happening and it hasn’t been good for Ukraine. Nor is there popular desire for Ukraine to be beholden to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova and Romania. Or Germany or EU.

    Ukraine fears dismemberment from the west more than losing the Donbass and Crimea but to allay its fears it has made itself hostage to the west! Who can figure it out: while doing that it made boasts that the whole world should risk nuclear war in order to annihilate Russia.

    There is nothing there that can be sustained and the alliance that is supposed to facilitate the progression, NATO, is at odds with it as well as what the outcome should be if Plan A doesn’t work. NATO has no Plan B because actually, that’s not NATO’s business.

    There are now scores of thousands of mercenaries in Ukraine who are ready to move anywhere and do anything under their own recognizance, including back in EU.

    And many of them are trained “inter-operable” with US and British weaponry.

    Truly this has been a marvel work of confusion and desperation that brought nothing but devastation to a thriving nation and an undoing of EU trajectory of peace, that was undertaken and accomplished FOR NO GOOD REASON.

    https://www.foxnews.com/world/ukraine-reality-conflict-putin-zelenskyy

  18. I can see two very crucial reasons for the United States, other than providing material aid, to stay out of the unpleasantness between Russia and Ukraine. The American people by and large do not want a war with Russia. And the so-called “elites” who seem to want such a war will not be the ones called upon to fight it.

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