The simple truth is that war is never good. Indeed, I believe that one of the principal uses of the Bible is to serve as a powerful counterweight to the ancient Homeric legends of Odysseus and Achilles which glorifies war and lionizes generals. while many patriarchs of nations - from Romulus all the way to George Washington - were generals who defeated their enemies on the field of battle, the three patriarchs of the Jewish nation were humble shepherds, with Abraham even defending the immoral inhabitants of Sodom, his nemesis.
The prophet Moses defeats the tyranny of Egypt through the power of the spoken word rather than pike-wielding legions or invading Mongol hordes. Indeed, one may search the length and breadth of Israel and still not find a single triumphal military arch remaining from ancient times. Unlike Rome which built the Arch of Titus and Trajan's Column, the Jews never treated war as anything but necessary.
Indeed, in the same ancient world where Alexander of Macedon and Caesar of Rome sought greatness and immortality on the battlefield, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah was proclaiming that real bravery involved the attempt to live side by side with our fellow man in harmony. He famously predicted a time when the classical heroism of brutal combat would be replaced by a Biblical heroism of valiant men who beat swords into ploughshares and never teach their sons the art of war.
Everything which arises in life may be easily classified into the three neat categories of the good, the bad, and the necessary. War is never good, it is usually bad, but it is sometimes necessary.
A woman friend of mine who was in a loveless marriage for fifteen years threw a party for her friends when she finally got divorced. Insulted that I did not attend, she called me up and asked me if I would have preferred that she remain in a miserable union. "Of course not," I said. "Tragic as it always is, divorce is sometimes necessary. But no divorce is ever the cause of celebration." The same is true of war.
War is like chemotherapy. The good and innocent cells are going to be killed along with the bad. But where there is a cancer that threatens to snuff out life, what is one to do but fight back?
Far murkier morally is a preemptive war like the one being advocated President Bush and Prime Minister Blair against Saddam Hussein. Can we really risk allied soldier's lives, as well as civilian collateral casualties, when we are not yet sure that Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction, or that even if he does, that he has plans to use them?
To this very legitimate question I respond that the most moral of wars are not even those fought in self-defense, but those fought to defeat tyranny and genocide. If a war of self-defense demonstrates an appreciation of our own lives, a war to defend our neighbor's existence manifests an appreciation for all life.
Imagine for a moment that Hitler had abided by the agreement he forged with Neville Chamberlain in Munich in September 1938. Say Hitler had bsatiated himself with the Sudetenland, and had not later taken the rest of Czechoslovakia or invaded Poland. Had the Second World War not broken out, Hitler likely would have completed the final solution, gassing all Jews and gypsies in his realm.
Would the allies have launched a war against him? Or could European nations, as in the old Bob Dylan line, "close their eyes and pretend that they just don't see." Would the nations of the world have watched in silence as Hitler killed millions of Jews? Whatever the answer to that hypothetical question may be (although an indication of probable inaction may be surmised from the lack of a military threat to Hitler after the passing of his Nuremberg laws and the pogrom of Kristallnacht), what is certain is that now that the world has witnessed one Hitler, we must never another to grow in his shadow.
Saddam Hussein has gassed more than 100,000, and murdered approximately 300,000 Kurds by other means--roughly ten percent of the Iraqi Kurdish population. In 1988, in the town of Halabja, on the southern fringe of Iraqi Kurdistan, wave after wave of Iraqi Migs and Mirages dropped chemical bombs. Along with the sickly stench of rotting humanity, what greeted rescue workers the following morning defied belief. The city was strewn with corpses. Men women and children had died suddenly and without warning. Babies, frozen in death, still lay at their mothers' breasts. Lifeless boys and girls held their parents' hands. In a single day, 5,000 innocent people died. They were buried mass graves.