Making the moral case for war

Ukrainians face slaughter and subjugation. Church leaders must back them unequivocally

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This article is taken from the October 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

It is October and the war that began in spring is still burning fiercely in autumn. President Putin’s dreams of conquering Kyiv in three days have turned to dust, as have the bodies of tens of thousands of innocent Ukrainians murdered by the armies he has unleashed on his peaceful neighbour.

For us in Britain, and the West in general, the march from autumn to winter brings with it the cold consequences of neighbouring a resource-rich hostile country at war with a friend. Each nation is approaching the fuel crisis differently but for each the cause is the same: a Russia praying that its dominance of the gas market might force the European powers away from their support for the people and army of Ukraine.

The moral justice of the Ukrainian cause must remain in the foreground

The moral justice of the Ukrainian cause must remain in the foreground when those in Europe who face unemployment, freezing homes, or a lack of food as a consequence of Putin’s strategy will be tempted to follow the siren calls
of those advocating concessions to the Russians. 

As the horrors of Bucha and the memories of the tortured, slaughtered, raped, mutilated civilians of that town slip from our memories, those who peddle the narrative of false Ukrainian-Russian equivalence or of NATO provocation
are consciously or unconsciously giving great support to this malevolent strategy of Russia.

 Freezing and unemployed people who think the cause of their misery is a morally ambiguous war are unlikely to be receptive to any suggestion that their discomfort is a price worth paying.

This is why it is distressing to see Pope Francis echo so many of the Kremlin’s propaganda lines at various points since the war began. He has decried the “barking of NATO at Russia’s door”, he has condemned the “madness on all sides” of the war, without making clear what he might accept as a reasonable response to a fascist power invading your country. 

Though he recently made a volte-face, his inconsistent position until then was perhaps best summed up by what he said to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, “I can’t answer the question of whether it is right to supply the Ukrainians.” 

He never seems to have been asked why it is right for his own army, over which he has direct authority being a head of state, with the latest weaponry purchased from, of course, arms companies. Life is easier when your country is enveloped by a friendly democracy.

Now in case you think I’m being a salty Anglican cleric doing down the Roman Catholics, my own church has not covered itself in glory. While the two Archbishops have been very strong on this matter, and have put out statements condemning Russia and Mr Putin, the lead Bishop for Foreign Affairs is far more ambiguous. 

His paper, upon which a General Synod motion was proposed and passed, managed not to mention war crimes once, while managing to condemn nato twice and call for unilateral disarmament. 

During the debate in Synod not a single speech was allowed against the motion. Yet, there was time accorded to a representative of the Orthodox Church in Britain and two contributions from a member of the laity who assured us this conflict was “complex, delicate, and not as black and white as we might like to think, or are led to believe it is” and that it was “more Northern Ireland and less Hitler”. That will have come as a great comfort in Bucha and Izyum.

There is a certain type of person who likes to think that everything that happens in the world is the fault of the West. While dripping in self-loathing it is also, of course, utterly self-absorbed. Holding NATO, the EU, or arms companies, or whatever else guilty for Russia’s actions may give us a burst of self-satisfaction, but it flies in the face of what we can learn if we actually listen to their own words. 

Putin has proclaimed unambiguously his thesis that Ukraine should never have been given its independence and that his intention is to suppress not just the country but the culture of Ukraine. And he will do it if we cut off our support for Ukraine or end the sanctions against the Russian economy.

As Margaret Thatcher said to George Bush (Snr), “Now is not the time to go wobbly.” The voices of moral leaders need to be heard unambiguously proclaiming that Russia’s actions are justified neither in their cause nor in their execution (jus ad bellum, jus in bello to use the formal language of Christian just war theory) and that the horrors we have seen inflicted on the innocent people of Ukraine makes their defence just. 

We are facing personal and economic hardship this winter. Ukrainians are facing subjection and slaughter. We cannot allow Putin, or those who, intentionally or accidentally, spin his lines for him in the West, to use our distress to murder our neighbours. That would be a stain on our moral standing forever more. 

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