The (Just) War Department

My meeting with Donald Rumsfeld

Reprinted with permission from BreakPoint.

On most days on BreakPoint, you'll hear examples of how we are trying to resist the cultural slide and maintain our witness against formidable odds--oftenbad news.

That's why I'm happy for this broadcast--some good news--a case of our leaders working hard to honor the principles that came down to us through the Christian tradition.

On Nov. 28, I attended a meeting called by my old friend Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense. He had invited a dozen or so religious leaders--oneimam, one rabbi, the rest Christians, mainline and evangelical--to the Pentagon. The purpose was an open, no holds barred, discussion of the moral limits on war--what is the Just War doctrine. The fact that the Secretary of Defense would demonstrate sensitivity to these concerns was in itselfheartening, but even more heartening were the presentations given by the Pentagon officials.

The Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Admiral Thomas Wilson, told us how targets in the war in Afghanistan are determined. His briefing was straight out of the Just War tradition, emphasizing the importance of proportionality and avoiding civilian casualties. He told us that they use just enough ordnance to do the job but not enough to cause collateral damage.


The enemy, he said, often uses innocent civilians as "human shields" around key leaders or targets. Then he added that we choose not to hit those targetsbecause it's not moral to take out civilians even in the pursuit of important targets.

And this policy hasn't been without cost. Pilots have complained about lost opportunities created by our insistence on protecting civilians.

Dr. Joseph Collins then gave a heart-rending account of our extraordinary efforts to provide relief to suffering Afghanis. I was impressed by the Pentagon's humanitarian concerns.

Rumsfeld himself spoke for only 10 minutes. "I didn't come to talk," he said, "I came to listen." In the discussion that followed, he was, as always,quick, bright, and engaged.

When I asked Rumsfeld about the sensitive question of preemptive strikes, he quickly responded with the example of the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclearpower plant in 1981, an example most Christians believe to have been a just use of force. Our lively dialogue made it clear that Rumsfeld had thought deeply about the moral questions and was committed to prosecuting this war against terrorism in a way consistent with the Just War doctrine.

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