Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Are We Seeing the Emergence of a Political Realignment: A Seventh Party System in the USA?

There have been six major cycles of American political history (with smaller epicycles within them:  The Eisenhower epicycle, the Carter presidency, the Clinton years). Each has brought about major political realignments (with two major dominant political parties) for periods of between 15 and 50 years–shifts that have defined the shape of political debate and elections for some time to come.  After the ’08 election, many asked if we were seeing a new political realignment, or just a hickup in the long Reagan era. I argued at the time that one could not know until the next election cycle: 2010 seemed to suggest that ’08 was a fluke, a hickup, but I believe that ’10 midterms were the result of two forces: 1) Understandable frustration with the pace of recovery and the promise of the out of power GOP to focus on “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” (a promise they immediately broke–as they focused on EVERYTHING ELSE BUT JOBS!) and 2) the emerging coalition that elected Obama had not yet learned to vote in non-presidential years, leading to a ’10 electorate that was older, whiter, more rural, and more conservative than the nation as a whole.  In the presidential election of 2012, we have seen that 2008 was not a fluke. I think it safe to say that it was a realigning election and that this election is consolidating the basic shape of a new political alignment, and a new cycle of political history. The long Reagan Era has drawn to a close. (So, GOP presidential candidates can finally stop arguing over which of them is most like the sainted, mythical, Ronald Reagan–a myth not much like the actual Ronald Reagan.)

First Party System:  George Washington, the first U.S. President after the adoption of the Constitution of 1789, thought there should be no “factions,” or political parties. But within his great unity government, there emerged two such factions, centered around 2 rival political visions or governing philosophies.  Alexander Hamilton and his followers wanted a strong central government, complete with a national bank and a deliberate strategy to become an industrial society. They became the Federalist Party.  Thomas Jefferson led a group that distrusted centralized power–worried that this would erode the republic and bring back something like the monarchy we had just fled. Jefferson’s “Democratic-Republicans” wanted a smaller, weaker, central government and stressed “states’ rights,” and a nation of farmers, both the landed gentry of slave plantations and the smaller farms of freeholders.  After the election of 1800, the Democratic-Republicans gained dominance for the next 20 years and the Federalists slowly died off.

The Second Party System:  One party rule is unhealthy and eventually leads to splits within the party that cannot be contained.  The Democratic-Republicans could not contain the major issues of the day, especially the growing conflict over slavery, within themselves.  The new system was a contest between the Whig Party and the Democratic Party. This was Henry Clay’s “American System.”  The rich tended to support the Whigs and the poorer voters tended to support the Democrats–who had evolved from the Democratic-Republicans during the Era of Andrew Jackson, the first “populist” president.  The Whig Party began to fracture over many pressing social issues, particularly slavery which was becoming ever-more contentious as the Abolitionist Movement grew.  This Second Party System–era lasted until 1860, just before the Civil War.

The Third Party System: The end of the Whigs led to the emergence of several smaller parties:  The Liberty Party, The Free Soil Party,–mostly focused on ending slavery–with tensions over the details.  In this era, the national differences began to split geographically. The North and East, becoming more industrial and urban, and increasingly seeing slavery as a national sin that was greatly at odds with the national identity as a democratic republic, began to identify with the new Republican Party: forged of the merger of the Free Soil, and Liberty parties, leftover Whigs, and the like. Southern and more rural Democrats pushed to keep slavery and to expand it westward while Republicans supporting ending it. This cycle lasted from the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln and the beginning of the Civil War until 1896, a time not only of war and conflict, but of rapid industrial and economic expansion.

The Fourth Party System:  After the Civil War, the Republican Party became a coalition of pro-business types, former slaves, and reformers (often at odds with each other).  During Reconstruction, the old Federalist vision of a strong central government, was given new life in the Republican party of the North, which also attracted Progressivists.  The South and West supported Democrats. Both sides courted immigrants.  This era lasted from 1896 until 1932. With brief exceptions, it was dominated by Republican presidencies. It had been a time of several “boom and bust” economic cycles, Progressivist Reforms (and the birth of the Social Gospel) in clash with industrial “robber barons,” the “Gospel of Wealth,” clashes over American Imperialism (as the U.S. began to rival other world powers) , the long struggle for women’s suffrage, the first grassroots peace movements, and the disillusionment of the aftermath of the Great War (World War I). The beginning of the end of the Fourth System was the election of 1928:  Industrialist J. Edgar Hoover, a Quaker, a self-made millionaire, and Republican had been a philanthropic hero during World War I (feeding masses displaced in Europe) and in the aftermath of the Great Flood of 1924 (when he once more organized volunteer philanthropists to rescue victims and help with the aftermath). But Hoover, who had always been the can-do guy, proved completely unable to deal with the Crash of ’29 and the Great Depression. Republicans, like the Federalists and Whigs before them, had always argued for a strong central government–but it wasn’t to play an active role in economics!

The Fifth Party System: Shaped by Franklind D. Roosevelt and the New Deal Coalition.  The election of 1932 was a realigning one.  Republican dominance since the end of the Civil War came to an end. In response to the Great Depression and the New Deal, the Democratic Party stopped referring to “states’ rights” and pushed the use of the federal government to create social justice. It now attracted the Labor movement and its concerns for workers’ rights, various minorities, Jews, reformers, and, for the first time, large numbers of African-Americans, who had previously been nearly 100% Republican since it was the “Party of Lincoln.” (In the South, many African-Americans continued to be Republican during this period because the South, dominated by Democrats, still strictly enforced racial segregation.) This system, briefly interrupted by the Eisenhower years, lasted from 1933 until approximately 1968.

The Sixth Party System:  In the 1960s, the Democratic Party rejected the Southern segregationists fully–ironically during the presidency of Texan Lyndon B. Johnson. Yet his Great Society fell apart due to social unrest in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, the War on Poverty, the Vietnam War and the movement to end it, the women’s movement and the youth movement. In 1968, Richard B. Nixon, former VP to Eisenhower, mapped out the “Southern strategy” to attract Southern and working class whites, especially less educated white men, threatened by the the Democratic Party’s championing of “hippies, African-Americans, and feminists (and, later, gays). Now the Republican Party revived the old language of “states’ rights,” (which it had long opposed) to attack New Deal and Great Society programs and as a code word for “supporting soft segregation,” and opposing “affirmative action.”  Interrupted briefly by the Carter years and the Clinton years, the Sixth Party System initiated by Nixon was fully cemented by Ronald Reagan in the election of 1980. It ended Democratic dominance in the South (between 1980 and 2000, a 20 year period, Republicans completely replaced Democrats as the dominant political party in the South). Nixon and Reagan created a new GOP governing coalition of Economic Conservatives (Libertarians and big business-types, united in their hatred for Labor), Military/Foreign Policy Conservatives (nationalists and neo-conservatives), and Social/Religious Conservatives (the Religious Right coalition of groups opposing mixed marriages, feminism, abortion, contraception, gay rights, etc.).

It seems that 2008 may have been the beginning of the end of this Sixth Party System: the Nixon-Reagan-Bush Era. 2012 seems to confirm that we are seeing a new political alignment.  The Obama coalition (youth, women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and other minorities) shows that Democrats now begin presidential races with a large block of states in the Northeast, West, mountain, midwest, and Southeastern states that, at least, lean Democratic.  Demographics are growing the Democratic dominance. The Republican Party is dominant only with white men and married white women. It is older, rural, less educated, more traditionally religious. But it lives in a world where Millenials (18-29 year olds) are comfortable with pluralism, have international and multi-cultural experiences, are highly educated (even if also highly in debt because of it), techno-savvy, and urban.  If I am right, we are entering an era where the Democratic Party begins each presidential cycle with increasing electoral advantages. The Republican Party is reaping the rewards of the Southern strategy: As Mitt Romney proved, it is now possible to win 60% of the white vote and still lose an election badly.  The exact shape of the realignment is not yet clear. Republicans maintained control of the House, but Democrats had the House all during the Reagan years and Reagan still drove the agenda. A governing philosophy based on constant tax cuts, ever higher military expansion, disgregard for the environment, anti-labor, and anti-government help is no longer a winning one.  The new alignment may not be a 21st C. New Deal/Great Society (this is not yet clear), but it is one that has a definite role for government to play in helping ordinary people.  The Reagan era is over. What will the new era be?


November 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Forward: Other Winners in the U.S. 2012 Elections

So, you may have heard that Pres. Barack Obama (D) and VP Joe Biden (D) were re-elected to a 2nd term Tues. night, November 6th, 2012.  But you may have missed the many OTHER victories for social justice in the USA. There were also some losses, as Pres. Obama himself has emphasized, progress comes in fits and starts and zig-zags rather than a straightline.  This post is a summary of as many of the victories and losses as I can find so that we get some idea of the current “lay of the land” as we prepare for the next struggles.  I list these in no order of priority, just as I remember them and find links:

  1. Women’s Rights won big.  The new Congress in 2013 will have a record TWENTY (20) female U.S. Senators, up from 17 this time. On the one hand, this is pitiful. 1/5 of the U.S. Senate will be female when when women are 51% of the nation? When women have had the right to vote since 1920? Clearly, sexism is still alive and well in the USA.  BUT, it is improvement: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) mentions that when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was just elected as the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right. (Before then, widows of deceased Senators were appointed to serve out the remainders of their husbands’ terms–something that still happens.) Only 39 women have EVER served in the U.S. Senate since the body was created in 1789! The new Senate in 2013 will have 16 Democratic women [Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and the newly elected Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), & Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)]and 4 Republican women [Susan Collins  (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) will be joined by Deb Fischer (R-NE), an ultra-conservative. Two other GOP women senators: Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), retired this year.]  All 8 of the men running for House and Senate who opposed abortion even in cases of rape were DEFEATED.  Women’s health, including the funding of Planned Parenthood, and coverage for contraception, were reaffirmed.  Most of the men who ran and won as Democrats were also strongly committed to women’s rights.  New Hampshire became the first state to have all female leaders: Electing Maggie Hassan as Governor (D-NH), and replacing two GOP men with Democratic women: Rep.-elect Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-01)–reclaiming a seat she lost in 2010–and Rep.-elect Anne McKlane Kuster (D-NH-02). NH already had 2 female Senators: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), neither of whom were up for reelection this year. For the first time, every state legislative body had at least one female member.  After the 2010 mid-terms, Republicans launched a nationwide war on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, with huge state legislative restrictions on abortion and attempts at restriction on contraception. However, equal pay for equal work, and other women’s rights were also under assault. The victories of Tues. did not completely reverse or end these assaults, but they did constitute a major rejection of this agenda. Women were key to the reelection of the president: with an 18% gender gap between the 2 candidates.
  2. LGBTQ Rights won several victories.  The reelection of Pres. Obama means that the GOP threat to reintroduce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into the military was rejected.  In addition, marriage equality was legalized by ballot measure in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, the first time marriage equality was implemented by popular vote. Further, Minnesota, though not yet affirming marriage equality, strongly defeated a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” again, the first time such a ballot measure in the U.S. was defeated at the ballot box rather than in the courts.  In Iowa, an attempt to unseat one of the state’s Supreme Court judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009 was defeated.  In NY, Rep.-elect Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) became the first openly gay man who is MARRIED with adopted children elected to Congress and the first openly gay Rep. from NY.  Likewise, Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will be the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator. The re-election of President Obama also was the first time an incumbent president (and VP!) endorsed marriage equality, wrote marriage equality into the party platform, and campaigned on marriage equality–and WON re-election! That and several legislative victories at the state level means that more progress for LGBTQ folk is surely on the way because of Tuesday’s elections:  Several more states will either enact marriage equality or civil union laws (usually an interim step toward full equality as voters see that the sky does not fall, but also that civil unions are still a form of 2nd class citizenship) between now and 2014. At the federal level, I expect a full court press to enact the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), preventing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ folk and either Congressional repeal or Supreme Court rejection of the ’90s-era “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which prevents same-sex married couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.  The next 4 years could even see the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice who is openly a member of the LGBTQ community.  Clearly, LGBTQ rights are on the march–a stunning turnaround from 2004, just 8 short years ago, when attacks on LGBTQ folk, and especially on marriage equality, was a winning strategy around the nation.
  3. Economic Justice. The gains here are more modest, but real. The reelection of Pres. Obama and an enlarged Democratic Senate means that Obamacare will be fully implemented, not repealed or watered down further, that GOP plans to voucherize Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, and privatize Social Security are off the table, as are deep cuts to social programs and education across the board.  Michigan voters repealed their state’s “emergency manager” law which had allowed for corporate dictators to usurp the elected government of any city that faced fiscal difficulties (like something out of the “Robocop” movies–set in Detroit!). Voters in CA rejected an attempt to end all union participation in the political process (while allowing corporations to continue unabated).  CA also voted to raise taxes on the rich and to a temporary sales tax increase, to fund education instead of facing more layoffs.  As well, CA achieved a Democratic 2/3 supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, enabling it to overcome the infamous Prop. 13 , enacted in 1978, which reduced property taxes to pre-1975 levels and then required 2/3 of each House of the legislature to raise them for any reason–leading to CA’s epic budget woes.  The new CA legislature will be able to forge a workable budget AND end Prop. 13 forever–a law which had allowed a tiny, tax-hating GOP minority, to rule the majority for decades.  In San Antonio, voters approved a tiny sales tax increase to fund quality Pre-K education.  Even in Texas, conventional wisdom to the contrary, Democrats CAN campaign and win on tax increases IF the public knows that they will fund worthwhile things.  Voters in a few cities around the country also approved small increases in the minimum wage.
  4. Civil Liberties.  Voters in FL killed an attempt to amend the state constitution to allow taxpayer support for religious institutions and activities (in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment).  They also blocked attempts to ban use of public funds for abortions and contraception and blocked an attempt to block implementation of Obamacare in the state.  They rejected legislature control over judges.  Voters in Colorado and Washington State legalized cannabis and in MA authorized medical cannabis.  Although it sets up potential conflict with federal law, it shows the end is in sight for the failed “war on drugs” and that a new, sane drug policy will emerge. Prohibition fails and regulation works.
  5. Diversity and inclusion.  With the election of Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Hawai’i sends the first Buddhist to the U.S. Senate. And with the election of Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to Hirono’s old House seat, Hawai’i also sends Congress its first Hindu member–who plans to be sworn in on the Bhagavad-Gita. They join 2 Muslim members of Congress.  Native Americans were key to the election of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in North Dakota.  Hispanic/Latino voters were a decisive factor in the reelection of Pres. Obama and several other races. Asian-Americans also made gains in representation. The days when old white men ruled everything are ending, something that fills many with fear. But those of us who have embraced inclusion and diversity since the Civil Rights movement welcome the coming rainbow society with open arms.

Losses on election day include: Cannabis legalization in Oregon and medical cannabis legalization in Arkansas.   Michigan voters failed to guarantee the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, although that right is still part of MI law. CA tried and failed to abolish the death penalty by ballot measure–with only 48% of the public approving.  Death penalty abolition is making gains, but they are not uniform by any means.

There is clearly much work left to be done. But there is no denying that Tuesday night was a good night for social justice in the USA.

November 8, 2012 Posted by | civil rights, economic justice, GLBT issues, human rights, justice, labor, religious liberty, sexual orientation, U.S. politics, women | Leave a comment

Political Party Platforms Are Moral Documents: A U.S. 2012 Comparison

As a Christian pacifist and a Progressive social democrat I am often frustrated by how narrow the political discussion is in the U.S.  Both major parties are too beholden to corporate interests–and until Citizens United v. U.S. is overturned (or abolished by a Constitutional amendment stating that corporations are not persons with free speech rights and that money is not speech) that is going to continue into the foreseeable future. Both parties are too militaristic and neither will commit to a foreign policy based on nonviolence and human rights.  And, while the Democrats are far more environmentally concerned than the Republicans who deny climate change, their solutions are too small and timid for the scale of the problem.  And without structural change (e.g., abolishing the electoral college, which would take a Constitutional Amendment; establishing instant run-off voting, and/or proportional representation), Third parties can usually play only the role of “spoiler,” siphoning off just enough votes to let the worst candidate win. (See Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 2000. Al Gore still won the popular vote, but the vote was close enough in FL to allow the U.S. Supreme Court to steal it for George W. Bush thanks to the Electoral College. Had Nader not campaigned in Fl–or even in NH–Gore would have won.)  So, it’s frustrating. But there are real differences between the two main U.S. political parties–and those could not be clearer than in the 2012 Party Platforms.

Rev. Jim Wallis likes to point out that budgets (family budgets, church budgets, business budgets, and, yes, the budgets of national governments) are moral documents. What is included and what is excluded; what has funding cut and what has funding increased; these tell us the moral values of those who draw up the budgets and those who vote for them. We see this on the family level easily: A family budget that spent heavily on alcohol or gambling or expensive parties for the adults but skimped on nutricious food or clothing for the children would clearly be immoral. A nation that can always afford more military weapons, but is “forced” to cut education or health care or aid to the poor is likewise immoral.

I want to say that political Party Platforms are also moral documents. But the general public (unlike political nerds like me) seldom read them. So, I will compare and contrast the Republican and Democratic Party platforms in 2012 for you. In some years one finds broad areas of agreement. In this election, the differences stand out starkly and form clear moral choices. I don’t mean that all virtue is found in one party: I can understand those who are against abortion but in favor of economic justice being torn, for example.  But I present these summaries as a chance for readers to make informed decisions on a moral basis before going to the polls in November. Now–in the U.S. system no one candidate is forced to agree with everything in a party platform. Inform yourself of Congresscritter X’s views on Y or candidate J’s positions on B.  I’m a strong Democrat, but I have never voted a straight party ticket. But a platform does show one where a political party as a whole stands: what it’s values and vision are.  That’s important.

The Democratic platform in full is here.  The Republican platform in full is here.

I. Economics:  The Democratic platform is about growing the Middle Class. It advocates federal investment in green tech companies, rebuilding infrastructure, and raising the minimum wage as ways to increase employment.  It wants to keep taxes low on small businesses, but close tax loopholes which allow many large companies to pay no taxes whatsoever. It urges tax penalties for companies which offshore jobs and breaks for companies which bring jobs back home.  It urges keeping the current tax rate for individuals making less than $250K per year, but raising back to the Clinton-era rates for all individuals making above $250K.  The Democrats want to tax dividend income at the same rate as payroll income which would end the case of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies paying lower tax rates than their secretaries.

By contrast, the Republican platform would raise taxes on those making between $50K and $250K by $2000 per year and give even greater tax cuts to millionaires than they have now. Whereas the Democrats would end the taxpayer-funded giveaways to oil companies, the Republicans would keep them–and end subsidies for clean energy sources.  The platform follows the Ryan budget (without the numbers) in calling for an end to food stamps, aid to families with dependent children, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (Reagan’s only good idea for helping families out of poverty!) as well as ending most homeowners’ tax deductions–effectively raising taxes on millions in order to give more tax giveaways to the rich.

The Republican platform commits the party to work for the complete elimination of taxes on income earned by interest, on capital gains, on dividend income, and on inheritances.  This would balloon the deficit by billions. Also, since the wealthy seldom have paychecks with payroll taxes, this would nearly eliminate taxes for them altogether.

II. Healthcare: The Democratic platform commits to fully implementing the healthcare reform law (a.k.a.”ObamaCare”) and building on it to strengthen and expand Medicare and Medicaid. I wish it had committed to push again for a public option, but it doesn’t. But it does allow states to experiment and Vermont is leading the way with a Single Payer system.  It also commits to finding both more savings and more revenue for both Medicare and Medicaid and to no reduction in benefits. I would like to have seen a specific commitment to reimporting drugs from Canada as a way to control senior drug costs, but this commitment is not there.

By contrast, the Republican platform promises to repeal “Obamacare.” The old slogan of “repeal and replace” is gone. They have no plans to replace it. They would again let women be charge more than men for the same procedures, increase costs for seniors, allow preexisting conditions to be grounds for denying coverage, allow insurance companies to charge any price they want and drop you if you get sick. Etc., etc.  They also would cut Medicaid funding in half and make that limited block grants–effectively condemning millions  of poor people to no medical care. And they would turn Medicare into a coupon system for private insurance–and would bankrupt Medicare in only a few years. (I cannot tell by reading the platform whether or not Bill Clinton is right that Medicare would be gone by 2016, but no Republican has given out any figures to refute this. He’s done the math.)  The Republican platform seems to commit the party to WORSE than before “ObamaCare,” namely, to ending both Medicare and Medicaid and letting sick people who cannot afford private insurance to simply die or get help from private charities.

III. Social Security:  The Democrats promise to keep Social Security strong, never to privatize it or place it on the stock market.  The platform does not rule out raising retirement age, but it does rule out any reduction in benefits.  I wish it would have ruled out any raise in the retirment age. The easiest way to keep Social Security solvent is to remove the payroll deduction cap. Currently Social Security payroll taxes are levied only on the first $100k of income. So, those who make more than $100k per year, pay no Social Security taxes on any income above that first $100K. Raise the cap to $250K and Social Security is fully solvent for the next 50 years or more. Remove the cap entirely, so that EVERY dollar of income earned is subject to the Social Security tax, and Social Security is solvent indefinitely. The Democratic platform DOES declare rightly that Social Security, because it is collected separately, adds NOTHING to the federal deficit and commits the party to making sure Social Security is NEVER included in any deficit reduction plans.

By contrast, the Republican platform returns to George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security and allow it to be “invested” in the Stock Market–despite the fact that this would have been disastrous in ’08. Remember what happened to your 401Ks and pensions? Imagine that happening to your Social Security, too.

IV. Immigration:

Here is one area which, as recently as 2004, saw broad agreement between the two parties, but which has now disappeared.  In ’04 both parties recognized the need to overhaul the federal immigration system, allowing for far more LEGAL immigrants and giving some path to citizenship to those here illegally. The Democrats still do that. They propose a fine and a longer waiting period for those who came here illegally (or allowed visas to lapse, etc.), but a path to citizenship, nonetheless. They also commit themselves again to passing the DREAM Act which would allow those brought here as children illegally to go to college, get a job, join the military, etc. without fear of deportation and also open a path to citizenship.

By contrast, the Republicans want to fortify the borders, restrict LEGAL immigration further (forgetting that we need the dynamism and energy and creativity of immigrants and always have), and deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants.  They want to create harsh conditions that lead to “self-deportation,” including denying healthcare or primary school education to undocumented children. They also want to deny citizenship to those born here whose parents did not come here legally.  The platform commends the harsh laws of Arizona as “a model for the nation.”

V. Gay Rights:  The Republicans commit to reintroducing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military. They also want a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one woman and one man. They want an end to anti-bullying measures and to hate crime laws because this is supposedly a violation of the religious liberty of those want to bully or commit anti-gay hate crimes. (The logic escapes me). They want to overturn Lawrence v. Texas and reinstate “sodomy” laws which criminalize homosexuality altogether. They want the State Department to commend, not condem, countries which put gays to death!

By contrast, the Democrats are more strongly committed to equal rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity than ever before.  They commit to defending the continued open service of gays and lesbians in the armed forces. They commit to repealing the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which prevents same-sex marriages from receiving the federal benefits than opposite-sex marriages do.  They also call for all states and the federal government to recognize full civil marriage equality–while also protecting the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. which object to such marriages, so that none could be forced to peform or recognize them.  The platform stops short of advocating a specific path to marriage equality: State-by-State, Constitutional Amendment, etc. But it puts the Democratic Party itself on regard as endorsing the freedom of all to marry whomever they love regardless of sex or gender.

The Democratic platform also commits itself to continue to push for enactment of the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) which would prevent anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace. No one could be fired or passed over for promotion or denied employment simply because of sexual orientation or gender identity–as they can now in the majority of states.

The contrast here could not be stronger. The days when the Democrats were saying, “We are slightly less homphobic than the other party” are over.  There are Republicans who are pro-gay rights (Megan McCain, Clint Eastwood), but they have no voice in their party platform.

VI. Women’s rights:

The Republican platform says very little about this as such. You have to read what they say about abortion and birth control and what they say about the market setting wages and salaries (i.e., their opposition to equal pay for equal work) to see how anti-woman the party has become. It’s ironic since the Republican Party was the first to embrace women’s right to vote, elected the first women to the House and Senate, and were the first Party to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (until Reagan had that removed). But that was a very different Republican Party than today.

The Democratic platform committed to continuing the struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment (it did not specify whether to try to get Congress to pass it again and send it to the states once more or whether to simply re-start the clock on state ratification where it left off). It committed to pushing for the Paycheck Equality Act to end sex discrimination by salary in the workplace.  It committed to continuing funding for Title IX which has promoted equality in women’s sports programs in public schools and public colleges and universities. It committed the party for working to end the “glass ceiling” for women in all areas of life.

And the Democratic platform committed to defending Roe v. Wade. Abortions need to be reduced but NOT by reducing women’s choices.  It also committed itself to protecting contraception coverage by insurance plans.

On the other hand, the Republican platform called for a Constitutional Amendment defining human life as beginning at conception and banning all forms of abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life or health of the mother. It would ban some forms of contraception as forms of abortion.

Once more, the contrast could not be stronger.

That’s enough for this post. I’ll check other areas for a second post.


September 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Rising Democratic Latino Stars: Who Are Joaquin and Julian Castro?

Twin brother Joachin introduced him and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro gave the Democratic National Convention’s keynote address and knocked it out of the park. So, just who are these young, Latino political superstars? Julian’s speech told us some things: Their grandmother was forced by economic circumstances to emigrate to the San Antonio. She learned to read and write both Spanish and English before she died. They were raised by a single mother who worked as a domestic but enabled them to win scholarships to Stanford University.

Joaquin Castro:

Born 16 September 1974 (the younger twin by one minute), raised on San Antonio’s West Side and educated in the public school system. Like the majority of Mexican-Americans, the Castros are Catholic (there is also a large and growing minority of Pentecostals). Joaquin is still single.  Joachin graduated high school a year early at near the top of his class. He majored in Political Science at Stanford University, graduating with honors (B.A.) in 1996.  He then went to Harvard University Law School, earning his J.D. in 2000. He returned to San Antonio at age 28, he was elected to the Texas Legislature where he is completing his 5th term as a state representative for District 125 which includes most of San Antonio.  In the Texas House, Joachin has championed green energy (in TEXAS!), managed to restore millions of dollars in education and health care money for lower income people, and has pushed progressive programs in teen pregnancy prevention, mental health care, and juvenile justice—none of which are causes that lead to instant popularity in Texas politics, but Joachin has overcome and become Vice Chairman of the Higher Education Committee and Democratic Floor Leader of the Texas House.  I have said for some time that the far-right’s hold over Texas politics is living on borrowed time and young, dynamic leaders like Joachin Castro from the state’s fastest growing ethnic demographic (Latinos, mostly Mexican-Americans), are a major reason why the time is short for the continued far-right control over Texas politics.

Outside the legislature, Joachin raised his own money to start Trailblazers’ College Tour, which sends underprivileged high school students on college visits, exposing them to some of the nation’s best institutions of higher education, inside Texas and out, and giving these students the tools to realize that matriculation into such schools is not outside their grasp.  He has created San Antonio’s largest literacy program, SA READS which has distributed over 200,000 books to schools and shelters throughout the city.  He has a small private law firm with his twin brother and has taught law at St. Mary’s University and Trinity University, both in San Antonio.

Now, Joaquin is running for Congress in the Texas 20th District (most of San Antonio) and is well ahead. Barring something strange happening, he should win easily in November, bringing his clean energy, education, and other progressive concerns to the U.S. House–from Texas.  I predict at least a U.S. Senate seat in Joaquin’s future.


Born 16 September 1974, one minute before younger brother, Joaquin, Julian is married to Erica Lira Castro, an elementary school teacher, and they have one daughter, Carine, born in March of 2009.  Like his twin brother, Julian was raised on the West Side of San Antonio and educated in the public schools. He also graduated high school a year early and earned his B.A. with honors from Stanford University in 1996. He then matriculated at Harvard Law School and earned his J.D. in 2000.  In 2001, at the age of 26, Julian became the youngest (at the time) elected City Councilmember in San Antonio’s history.  He is on the board of the Family Services Association and has taught at St. Mary’s University, Trinity University, and the University of Texas–San Antonio.  In 2005, he opened his private law office with his brother, Joachin.  In 2009, Julian was elected Mayor of San Antonio at the age of 35. His reforms and work for economic growth have transformed San Antonio into one of the top 50 cities in the USA. (San Antonio is now the 7th largest city in the U.S. and has recovered from the Great Recession faster than the rest of the nation–and faster than Texas as a whole.)

Mayor Julian Castro has a passion for green energy: He used federal stimulus funds to help CPS, San Antonio’s utility company, to weatherize homes.  Before Castro’s tenure as mayor, CPS was known for relying on outdated coal and nuclear plants.  Now, they are retiring these plants slowly and are following the mayor’s New Energy Economy plan.  In 2010, CPS pledged to get 20% of its energy from renewables by 2020 and is on track to easily surpass that goal.  The mayor and CPS are bringing in new green energy plants, especially wind and solar and training people in installation.  The mayor has led several green tech companies to move their headquarters to San Antonio, with pledges to create hundreds of local jobs each time.  Julian Castro wants San Antonio to be the green energy center than Silicon Valley, CA is to software and Boston to biotech.

In a state infamous for climate change denial, Mayor Castro declared September 2011 to be “Climate Change Awareness Month.”  He’s launched a bike-sharing and small-car sharing program to reduce gridlock and cut emissions in the city.  He has won support by pushing the (true) line that the city’s growth is tied to making it more livable and more modern and that greener policies are a part of that.

His advocacy of high speed comuter rail in central Texas has met more opposition in the Texas Legislature and the governor’s office, but Castro is gaining support.  He has also pushed for a strong water-conservation program in drought-prone Texas.  San Antonio was leading the state in water conservation years before Castro took office, but Castro has redoubled efforts: Thanks to his efforts, San Antonio now has a water-recycling system and a water-storage facility and is building a de-salination plant.

Is any of this popular in Texas? Well, last year (2011), Julian Castro was reelected Mayor of San Antonio with a resounding 83% of the vote!

Will he become the first Mexican-American Governor of Texas? Will either of the Castro brothers become the first Latino President of the USA? I don’t know, but I think the odds are good.  Texas will become the first state in the union with no ethnic majority. Whites will long remain the largest minority, but Latinos and African-Americans together will outnumber them and they are voting Democratic in large numbers.  The Asian population, especially Vietnamese, is also growing in Texas. The Republican Party’s insistence on remaining the party of white people, with anti-immigration policies, will hasten its downfall.  Red State Texas is quickly becoming Purple Texas and Blue Texas is not far behind.  The Castro brothers will be a large part of that transformation.




September 5, 2012 Posted by | politics | Leave a comment

In Memorium: Hugo Adam Bedau

Long-time death penalty scholar Hugo Adam Bedau died on August 13, 2012 .  Dr. Bedau had been the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, and is best known for his work on capital punishment.  Dr.  Bedau frequently testified about the death penalty before the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures. He authored several books about the death penalty, including  The Death Penalty in America (1964; 4th edition, 1997), The Courts, the Constitution, and Capital Punishment (1977), Death is Different (1987), and Killing as Punishment (2004), and co-authored In Spite of Innocence (1992).  This last book, written with Prof. Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado and Constance Putnam (Dr. Bedau’s wife), contained one of the best early collections of people who had been wrongly convicted in death penalty cases. In 1997, Bedau received the August  Vollmer Award of the American Society of Criminology, and in 2003 he received the Roger Baldwin Award from the ACLU of  Massachusetts.  Dr. Bedau was a founding member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.  He was a personal hero of mine and he will be missed in the struggle.

August 24, 2012 Posted by | capital punishment, ethics, heroes, obituaries | Leave a comment

The Practices of Just Peacemaking

In preparing for an extended defense of gospel nonviolence, I first reminded readers of basic principles of Just War Theory, the major ethic of Western civilization on war and peace issues for the last 16 centuries. I then pointed to internal weaknesses of JWT as noticed by proponents of the tradition themselves. Those weaknesses were noticed by several church groups during the 1980s and 1990s who called for a “positive ethic of peace.” We need an ethic, many voices said, that not only tells when it is permissable to go to war and under what conditions wars may be fought justly, but tells us how to make peace without appeasement, how to pursue peace justly. Pacifists agreed. So, with my mentor, Glen Stassen, taking the lead, a group of theologians, biblical scholars, international relations experts, and people with much experience in peacemaking, developed a new ethic, “just peacemaking,” whose practices are catching on because they combine moral seriousness with pragmatic realism. The new tradition is spreading despite the setbacks of global terrorism and preemptive war doctrines in the 21st C.

One note: Although Just Peacemaking has been uniting pacifists and those in the just war tradition in active work for peace, it cannot replace either of those older ethics. The best efforts of peacemakers sometimes fail and wars break out. When that happens, the pacifist will refuse to fight or support the war and the just war theorist will evaluate the particular war before deciding to support or not. Both can, of course, continue to work on peacemaking efforts during the war. Just Peacemaking, then, should be seen as a complimentary ethic, rather than a replacement for either pacifism or Just War Theory.

The 10 Practices of Just Peacemaking:

  1. Support nonviolent direct action. First coming to global attention in the campaigns of Gandhi and King, this practice has spread globally in many contexts. Nonviolent direct action is a strategy that lances the festering boil of violence and injustifce and often produces healing without the resort to war. Boycotts, strikes, citizen embargoes, marches, mass civil disobedience, shunnings or (by contrast), actively fraternizing with enemy soldiers, accompaniment, are just some of the nearly 200 methods so far catalogued in the menu of interventions and defensive strategies being developed by nonviolent direct action campaigns. Support for such campaigns, studying when they work and when they fail and finding ways to make them stronger naturally reduces the numbers of wars and violent revolutions.
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threats. In situations of conflict, an arms buildup or any form of escalation can lead to or expand a war. But so can unilateral disarmaments or appeasements. What is needed is a series of surprising, independent initiatives that reduce threat levels and act as “confidence building measures” that often open up new possibilities of peacemaking. It is important that such actions are public, visible, happen at the times announced, and invite reciprocation.
  3. Talk with the adversary using proven methods of cooperative conflict resolution. Some politicians have refused to negotiate, claiming that speaking with party x should be a reward for good behavior. This is ridiculous. Strong leaders are not afraid to talk. One has to talk to make peace. Conflict resolution methods have developed which enable smart negotiators to be tough on the problem, rather than tough on the people involved. In every field, from business to foreign policy, principled negotiation techniques are making proven headway. Ignoring these practices for ultimatums or, by contrast, appeasements, is foolish.
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness. Seldom is all the blame for a war or conflict only on one side. Acknowledge the wrongs your side has done and repent and seek forgiveness. This invites reciprocation and healing. It used to be believed that only individuals can repent or forgive; groups and nations could not, nor ever acknowledge any wrongdoing without appearing weak. To the contrary, such repentance has often led to healing and failure to do so has led to resentments and future wars. The experience of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee greatly strengthened this practice and many nations are using it as a model.
  5. Advance Democracy, Human Rights, and Religious Liberty. It should go without saying, but recent years have proven otherwise: One cannot and should not try to “advance democracy” by means of military invasion or coercion. Democratic movements must arise indigenously. Established democracies seldom go to war with other democracies and, not needing to fear uprisings from repressed peoples, can spend much less on military budgets. (The U.S. is a glaring exception here, but is thereby becoming less democratic; more a plutocratic oligarchy.) As Roger Williams, Richard Overton and others knew long ago, the lack of human rights and religious liberty is a major cause of war. Protecting and spreading these norms works for just and lasting peace.
  6. Foster Just and Sustainable Economic Development. Patterns of economic hardship and exploitation can lead to “resource wars,” and poor people become desperate and are thus vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist fanatics (or power-mad government demagogues) offering cheap and easy solutions through violence. Fair trade, development that works with rather than against healthy eco-systems, these things are not only just in themselves, but win “hearts and minds” that can otherwise be seduced into violence.
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system. Everything which works to connect nations makes wars more difficult. Actions which weaken international institutions and cooperative forces make wars more frequent and more likely.
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and International Efforts for Cooperation and Human Rights. Goes with # 7. The UN is far from perfect. It needs internal reform. But its efforts to promote global health, end poverty, spread human rights norms, and make peace have, despite all this often proven successful in its 50 year existence. Those efforts, and similar developments such as the International Criminal Court, need to be strengthened. “Lone wolf” foreign policies which undermine the UN and the international system are perceived by others as imperial and sow the seeds for future wars.
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and the weapons trade. Okay, to a pacifist like myself, all weapons are “offensive,” but this refers to weapons whose nature makes them more useful for attack than defense. Work to eliminate “weapons of mass destruction,” (chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons) are vital–and no nation can simultaneously work to prevent the spread of these weapons, and insist on its own right to possess them and develop more. Further, some “conventional” weapons are, by nature, more offensive, such as cluster bombs which do much more damage to civilians than combat troops and landmines which, long after wars are over, continue to kill and maim civilian populations. Efforts to ban these weapons, often supported by prominent military figures, must be supported. The same goes for the weapons trade. The more people one sells weapons to, the more likely one is fomenting war. The U.S. is the largest dealer of arms–leading to its troops often facing weapons “made in the U.S.A.”
  10. Encourage Grassroots Peacemaking Groups and Voluntary Associations. Many of the above practices must become common among diplomats and policy elites, but some, such as nonviolent direct action, can be done by anyone. Also, peacemaking cannot be left to elites and experts. Grassroots groups can often take independent actions for peace before governments and they can and must pressure governments to make their own efforts for peace.

People often ask me as a pacifist, “If you are against war, what are you for?” It’s a fair question and the above practices are a large part of my answer. They also help Just War folk. After all, if war is to be a “last resort,” then one needs concrete ideas of what “resorts” can and must be tried first. One can explore these practices specifically regarding struggles against terrorism here.

August 4, 2012 Posted by | blog series, human rights, Just Peacemaking, nonviolent activism, pacifism, peace | Leave a comment

The Watada Case and Just War Theory

This post is a reprint from by former blog, Levellers, in 2007 when this case was front page news.

Although I am a Christian pacifist, my mentors, Glen H. Stassen and John Howard Yoder, taught me to learn Just War Theory at least as well as its supporters for several reasons: 1) To enlist JWTers support in opposing particular wars; 2) To ask about the adequacy of church practices in preparing Christians in the virtues needed for either pacifism or JWT; 3) To ask about internal weaknesses in JWT and what they might mean for its viability as a “live moral option,” especially for Christians. The case of the trial of U.S. Army Lt. Watada falls into the 3rd category.

Nota Bene: Yesterday, the judge in Lt. Watada’s court martial declared a mistrial and, because of double jeopardy issues, this may end the legal threats against him. I’ll continue the rest of this post with that in mind, but I think the issues the case raises for JWT remain the same. The mistrial declaration appears to hang on technical violations by the prosecution and not on the issues important here.

Summary of the case: In the aftermath of 9/11, Ehren Watada decided to join the U.S. Army specifically to be part of the effort to defend the nation in the “war against terrorism.” Already a college graduate with a bright future, Watada was not part of the “poverty draft,” but saw himself as a volunteer in a noble cause. Convinced by the Bush administration’s case against Iraq, he joined specifically wanting to be deployed in Iraq. But, during officer training school, Watada learned Just War Theory and how it is (supposedly) embedded in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, specifically in the difference between lawful orders, which must be followed, and unlawful orders, which must be refused. Watada also continued to follow the news and was astonished when no Weapons of Mass Destruction were found in Iraq and, point by point, the Bush administration’s case for the invasion (ius ad bellum, “justifications for the war” in JWT terms which must reach the level of a causus belli, a just reason for the war) fell apart.

By the time Watada’s unit was to be ordered to Iraq, he came to the conclusion that the war was illegal under both U.S. and international law. Therefore, any order to deploy to Iraq was illegal and any orders he would give as an officer in that deployment would be illegal. So Watada refused to be deployed with his unit. Note carefully: He was not claiming to have become a conscientious objector. One can apply for CO status in the U.S. military (I did over 20 years ago when I became converted to gospel nonviolence), although it is harder to win that status during war time. But Watada had not embraced pacifism and had no objection to military service as such. He volunteered to be sent to Afghanistan (which still seemed justified in his view), instead.

He was charged with several counts of missing troop movements, refusing to follow orders, and conduct unbecoming an officer. If he had been convicted (or if there is a 2nd trial and he is convicted), the maximum sentence he could receive would be a dishonorable discharge and 4 years in military prison. (Had his refusal taken place in Iraq, in the war zone, he might have been arrested and flown home for trial, but he could have been given a field court martial and possibly executed on the spot.)

Now, here’s where things get interesting for our purposes: Watada was told that he could not bring up the issue of the war’s legality in his court martial. Nor could he offer his reasons for refusing to deploy in his defense. This tactic is not limited to military courts martial. There have been many cases of civil disobedience in post-Vietnam era U.S. history (especially under federal judges appointed by Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I & II) involving trespass at military bases or attempted destruction of nuclear weapons in which defendants were not allowed to bring up the legality of such weapons under U.S. or international law, nor allowed to cite the Nuremberg Principles in their defence.

Q: Naturally, a jury could decide that someone like Watada was wrong in application, but if judges rule that one may not even bring up the question of an order’s legality, then what is the point of the distinction between lawful and unlawful orders? Deeply embedded in Just War Theory is the concept that unjust wars may not be fought and unjust actions in war must be refused. Is this a “live option” in the U.S. context? If not, can U.S. Christians who hold to JWT join the U.S. military? A “blank check” to the nation agreeing to fight any wars it wants to fight is ruled out by JWT, but is the U.S. effectively asking its citizens in uniform for such a blank check? If so, if adherence to JWT norms is impossible in the U.S. context, can U.S. Christians give it any support? Should they then re-investigate the claims of Christian pacifism?

August 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Internal Weaknesses of Just War Theory

Pacifists such as myself are not the only critics of Just War Theory. The standard form of JWT has also been criticized from within the tradition by some of the best current minds in moral philosophy. The Jewish philosopher, Michael Walzer, for instance, considers standard JWT to be too ahistorical and not attentive enough to the cultural contexts in which moral reasoning is done. He works to correct these efforts in his classic Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations.Another internal critic of JWT is Alan Geyer, Professor Emeritus of Political Ethics and Ecumenics, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Senior Scholar at the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy. The following list of weaknesses was compiled by Geyer and his wife, Barbara Green, of the Presbyterian Church USA’s Washington Office.

  1. JWT tends to obscure the ambiguities of justice in most conflicts. It’s a rare war in which all the responsibility is on one side. In most cases, there is plenty of blame to go around.
  2. Concentration on the justice of one’s own cause tends to make it difficult to be self-critical or to repent for the evil one’s own side has done–and repentance is usually both a pre-condition of reconciliation. Because JWT helps groups and nations avoid repentance, it also encourages group or national delusions of self-righteousness.
  3. JWT tends to react to the latest provocation rather than to a whole longitudinal series of historic events. In that respect it is much like a referee in a sport who sees and penalizes one player’s punch, but misses the prior kick that went unnoticed.
  4. Very seriously from the standpoint of Christian theology, Just War thinking tends to presuppose a large disjunction between justice and love. This has the effect of both relegating Christian love to individual one-on-one ethics and to “elevate” to a platonic or docetic (i.e., disembodied) ideal–irrelevant for the “real world.” But surely Jesus’ command to love enemies was meant precisely for this real world: we aren’t likely to have enemies in heaven or the Coming Kingdom, after all.
  5. JWT tends to define “justice” only in terms of violent resistance to military or terrorist violence against the nation-state or the forces of the status quo. (Notice, for instance, how hard it would be for a “just revolution” to meet the criterion of legitimate authority.) JWT thus tends to neglect the conditions of systemic injustice and oppression that lead to many wars.
  6. JWT tends to justify excessive human suffering and death (not to mention ecological degradation), dismissing them with euphemisms like “collateral damage.” JWT appeals to the principle of “double effect,” focusing on the intention of targeting policies and discounting the actual consequences of those policies.
  7. Thus, JWT tends to serve as the military ethic of the most powerful nations, rationalizing their policies against weaker powers and tending toward the unacknowledged conceit that “might makes right.”
  8. Finally, at least for Geyer and Green, JWT tends to reinforce unilateral decision-making in a world of multinational realities and the necessity of working for common security.

Another weakness of the JWT tradition is the way that the criterion of “last resort” can actually work psychologically to limit the imagination when creative conflict resolution skills are called for. Knowing that “if all else fails” one can always resort to force can result in moral laziness, in a national impatience with looking for alternative “resorts” to war. One issues an ultimatum and then says, “Well, we TRIED diplomacy but they just wouldn’t listen to reason.” If one rules out both appeasement of tyranny and violence from the start, one is forced to find creative alternatives to the “flight or fight syndrome.”

August 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Basic Principles of Just War Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed

I am not a believer in Just War Theory or the Justified War Tradition (JWT). I am a Christian pacifist or advocate of gospel nonviolence (what Paul Alexander would call a “crucifist”).  But I find it useful to remind people of the basic principles of Just War Theory–as did the great pacifist theologian John Howard Yoder in his book, When War is Unjust and as Yoder’s disciple, Stanley Hauerwas often does in a more ad hoc manner.  Despite the fact that this has been the semi-official ethic of Western civilization regarding war and peace for roughly 1600 years, and despite the fact that the majority of Western Christians since Augustine have considered themselves adherents of JWT, there seems to be a woeful ignorance about the basics of this tradition, even among seminary trained ministers.  Further, it seems that few pastors of non-pacifist churches discuss these principles with parishioners, leaving them without the information and without forming them in the moral virtues it would take to make this a serious moral force in the world.

I consider gospel nonviolence to be a calling for Christians, not necessarily for nation-states. My criticisms of particular wars or lost opportunities for peace are usually rooted in the common Just War vocabulary that forms the basis of much international law, relevant portions of the U.S. military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice, etc.–in short, the moral standards claimed by the mainstream Western world. So, it looks like this pacifist will have to give some remedial Just War instruction–even if only to avoid misunderstanding.

The principles below were hammered out over time. They were forged by major influential moral thinkers (e.g., St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Hugo Grotius, etc.) with a basic assumption that nations will make war. This ethic attempts to tame war and have it fought more morally than otherwise–sometimes to great success, but not at other periods of history. The overarching premise is a moral presumption against war: War is a terrible evil. It should be morally very difficult to justify going to war and the conduct of the war must be fought within very tight guidelines. General Sherman famously remarked that “War is hell,” but, if so, the major premise of JWT is that there must rules even in hell.

As the Just War Tradition has developed, it has been distilled into seven (7) principles: five (5) that judge whether a decision to go to war is morally justifiable (ius ad bellum) and two (2) to guide just conduct in waging the war (ius in bello). There is also a corollary that we will discuss at the end of this review.

IS THIS WAR MORALLY JUSTIFIED? Ius ad bellum Principles:

  1. Legitimate Authority: According to JWT, not just anyone can decide to go to war. The decision must be made by a legally recognized authority. In ancient times, this was the emperor or king. In the U.S., the constitutional right and duty to declare war is given to Congress alone (Art. I), even though the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and has the authority to negotiate peace. The purpose of the Constitutional Framers was to make it more difficult for the nation to go to war. A major legal question of the  Iraq war/occupation is whether or not this requirement was met by the Congressional resolution that authorized Pres. Bush to use all necessary force to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction (never found). Some say “yes,” but others believe that a formal declaration of war must be issued by Congress, that the Constitution does not allow this “passing of the buck” to the Executive Branch. This issue was also raised when Pres. Obama intervened militarily in Syria without even consulting Congress and few were convinced by his claim that the intervention was not “major” enough to require Congressional approval–certainly I was not and I am an Obama supporter.  It is a fascinating and terrifying political development in the U.S. to see that, since the Korean War, Congress has voluntarily ceded much of its authority on warmaking voluntarily to the Executive Branch, undermining the intentions of the Framers. (Where are the Constitutional “strict constructionists” on this? The only person to make an issue of this recently has been Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)–perhaps the only point at which I find myself in agreement with Sen. Paul!) Many Just War thinkers insist on a formal Declaration of War, not just to fulfill a legal requirement for the U.S., but because this has historically served as a last opportunity to sue for peace before the battle begins. Since the creation of the United Nations and the signing of its Charter, it has also usually been contended that, unless attacked or under immediate threat of attack, member nations have surrendered the right to declare war unilaterally. The legal authority in all cases except immediate attack or threat is then the UN Security Council. Member nations may not unilaterally presume to enforce Security Counsel resolutions by force. (Before conservatives start crying foul at this “erosion of our national sovereignty,” they should be reminded that the U.S. Constitution itself declares that all signed and ratified international treaties (which would include the UN Charter) share with the Constitution its status of “highest law of the land.”)

  2. Just Cause: A war may not be fought for national pride or to expand territory, etc., but only for a just cause, such as resistance to aggression by means of attack or threat of attack. In extreme cases, such as attempts at genocide, a war may be justifiable to prevent an incredible violation of human rights, such as when North Vietnam invaded Cambodia to stop the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge. Because war is so horrible, however, the bar is very high for justifications to invade a sovereign nation for any other reason than to resist aggression. This is the only principle with which most Americans and American Christians seem familiar (although they too easily think that the national cause must always be authomatically just–an idea that is anathema to this tradition). When asked whether war X or Y is just, they will point to the presence or absence of a Just Cause–and forget about the other principles.

  3. Just Intent: The aims of the war must be just and limited: to restore peace and justice, not vengeance. The classic example where this was violated was WWI. The desire of the Allies (especially France) to punish and humiliate Germany was unjust and sowed the seeds for the rise of Naziism. Over the years, Just War theorists have been very conservative at this point–generally disapproving of overly grand war aims such as militarily spreading democracy throughout the Middle Eeast. International law reflects such conservatism. (Note: This also puts severe restraints upon an occupying power–it may not profit economically by the war, but must protect and restore the health of the occupied country.)

  4. Last Resort: All other means to resolve the dispute must have been tried and shown to fail, before one may justifiably unleash the dogs of war. I will have more to say about this in a future post on the practices of the developing ethic of “just peacemaking.”

  5. Reasonable Chance of Success: A war must not be initiated or continued if there is no reasonable chance of success. This is counter-intuitive to the American penchant for admiring underdogs who “go down fighting.” But it is based on the concept that it is unjust to ask citizens and soldiers to go through the horrors of war–no matter how just the cause–if it appears that said war is likely to end without achieving the aims of the war or, even worse, in a crushing defeat.

All 5 of the principles of ius ad bellum must be met before JWT believes it morally justifiable to go to war. One can have a clearly just cause and just intent, but if one has not met the other requirements, especially last resort, then going to war is unjust.

ARE WE WAGING THIS WAR JUSTLY? ius in bello Principles or Just Means:

  1. The Principle of Discrimination: Those waging the war must (a) honor noncombatant or civilian immunity. Thus, noncombatants may not be directly targetted. As modern war has grown more destructive, this rule has tightened to say that those waging war must take extra care to minimize civilian deaths–even at greater risk to one’s own soldiers. Any tactic or weapon that makes discrimination between combatant and noncombtant impossible or difficult, is thereby forbidden. (The classic examples here are nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, but this judgment has also been made about landmines, bombing civilian cities or infrastructure,  drone attacks that kill civilian bystanders, etc.) Noncombatant immunity also means that prisoners captured in war must be treated humanely. They are like chess pieces removed from the board–they may be interrogated, but not tortured or treated inhumanely. (b) Military forces limit themselves to military targets, refraining from looting, massacres, rapes and other atrocities, and all forms of wanton violence. Most war crimes trials result from violations of these principles of discrimination–and “the other side started it” is never a justifiable excuse.

  2. The Principle of Proportionality. [This principle is also used in judging “reasonable chance of success” in the decision of whether or not to go to war.] Wars are violent. People are killed and both property and the land are destroyed. This principle says that war’s violence and destruction must be restrained by the norm of proportionality: The war’s harm must not exceeed the good accomplished. This applies both to the war as a whole, and to particular tactics or weapons. There can be no “destroying the village to save the village” nonsense.

    How Should the Victors Treat the Vanquished?–ius post bello

    In more recent development of the JWT tradition, there have been attempts to spell out the principles by which victors may treat the vanquished justly.  There is less consensus here, but general recognition that victors have an obligation to help the vanquished rebuild, that occupying armies must treat civilians justly and be accountable to civilian governments for atrocities, etc.  This needs to be fleshed out more by those who work in this tradition.

Selective Conscientious Objection: The corollary of the Just War tradition is that people, including those already in the military, will refuse to serve in an unjust war–no matter the cost to themselves, even prison. Recent examples include the Israeli refuseniks who have resisted serving in the occupied territories of Palestine and several military members in the  Iraq war, such as Lt. Ehren Watada. (Thanks to “Marty on the Homefront” for posting that video of Lt. Watada’s speech at the annual meeting of Veterans for Peace.)

The churches which claim to embrace JWT are failing their members by not teaching them these principles and not preparing those of their members who choose military service for the possibility of needing to become a conscientious objector to a particular war. On the battlefield, soldiers may have to refuse an order which violates discrimination or proportionality–even at risk of field court martial and summary execution. This is extraordinarily difficult. Even though the Uniform Code of Military Justice explains to recruits the difference between “lawful” and “unlawful” orders, the ethos is (in some senses must be) one in which it is extraordinarily difficult to question orders. The same is true of all other armies of other nations. So, churches that fail to form in their members the moral character that would make such integrity and bravery possible are not really preparing them to be soldiers in the Just War tradition, but to be uncritical nationalists and militarists instead.

At its best, JWT is a high and difficult moral code. But there are limits to it that even non-pacifists have noted.

August 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Critical Variables in Moral Discernment Revisited


I hope people will read the posts at the above link and comment because I think this conversation needs to be held more widely.  I will refer to it often in an upcoming series in which I argue for the U.S. abolition of the death penalty.

August 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment