Front Matter Believing and Doing The Moral Agent Conscience Laxity and Scruples The Law of God and its Breach Sin How to Count Sins Capital Sins Pride Covetousness Lust Anger Gluttony Drink Envy Sloth What We Believe Why We Believe Whence Our Belief: Reason Whence Our Belief: Grace and Will How We Believe Faith and Error The Consistent Believer Unbelief How Faith May Be Lost Hope Love of God Love of Neighbor Prayer Petition Religion Devotions Idolatry and Superstition Occultism Christian Science Swearing Oaths Vows The Professional Vow The Profession The Religious The Vow of Poverty The Vow of Obedience The Vow of Chastity Blasphemy Cursing Profanity The Law of Rest The Day of Rest Keeping the Lord's Day Holy Worship of Sacrifice Worship of Rest Servile Works Common Works Parental Dignity Filial Respect Filial Love Authority and Obedience Should We Help Our Parents? Disinterested Love in Parents Educate the Children Educational Extravagance Godless Education Catholic Schools Some Weak Points in the Catholic School System Correction Justice and Rights Homicide Is Suicide a Sin? Self-Defense Murder Often Sanctioned On the Ethics of War The Massacre of the Innocents Enmity Our Enemies Immorality The Sink of Iniquity Wherein Nature Is Opposed Hearts Occasions Scandal Not Good to Be Alone A Helping Hand Thou Shalt Not Steal Petty Thefts An Oft Exploited, But Specious Plea Contumely Defamation Detraction Calumny Rash Judgment Mendacity Concealing the Truth Restitution Undoing the Evil Paying Back Getting Rid of Ill-Gotten Goods What Excuses From Restitution Debts

Explanation of Catholic Morals - J. Stapleton

On The Ethics of War

In these days, since we have evolved into a fighting nation, our young men feel within them the instinct of battle, which, like Job's steed, "when it heareth the trumpet, saith: 'ha, ha'; that smelleth the battle afar off, the encouraging of the captains, the shouting of the army." Military trappings are no longer looked upon as stage furniture, good only for Fourth-of-July parades and sham manoeuvers. War with us has become a stern reality, and promises to continue such, for people do not yield up willingly their independence, even to a world-power with a providential "destiny" to fulfil. And since war is slaughter, it might be apropos to remark on the morality of such killing as is done on the field of battle and of war in general.

In every war there is a right side and a wrong side; sometimes, perhaps, more frequently, there is right and wrong on both sides, due to bungling diplomacy and the blindness of prejudice. But in every case justice demands the triumph of one cause and the defeat of the other. To determine in any particular case the side of right and justice is a very difficult matter. And perhaps it is just as well that it is so; for could this be done with truth and accuracy, frightful responsibilities would have to be placed on the shoulders of somebody; and we shrink instinctively from the thought of any one individual or body of individuals standing before God with the crime of war on his or their souls.

Therefore it is that grave men are of the opinion that such a tremendous event as war is not wholly of man's making, but rather an act of God, like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and the like; which things He uses as flails to chastise His people, or to bring them to a sense of their own insignificance in His sight. Be this as it may, it is nevertheless true that a private individual is rarely, if ever, competent to judge rightly by himself of the morality of any given cause, until such time at least as history has probed the matter and brought every evidence to light. In case, therefore, of doubt, every presumption should favor the cause of one's own country. If, in my private opinion, the cause of my country is doubtfully wrong, then that doubt should yield to the weight of higher authoritative opinion. Official or popular judgment will be authority for me; on that authority I may form a strong probable opinion, at least; and this will assure the morality of my taking up my country's cause, even though it be doubtful from my personal point of view. If this cannot be done and one's conscience positively reprove such a cause, then that one cannot, until a contrary conviction is acquired, take any part therein. But he is in no wise bound to defend with arms the other side, for his convictions are subjective and general laws do not take these into account.

Who are bound to serve? That depends on the quality of danger to which the commonwealth is exposed. First, the obligation is for those who can do so easily; young men, strong, unmarried, with a taste for such adventure as war affords. The greater the general peril, the less private needs should be considered. The situation may be such as to call forth every able-bodied man, irrespective of family necessities. To shirk this duty when it is plainly a duty—a rare circumstance, indeed—is without doubt a sin.

Obedience to orders is the alpha and omega of army discipline; without it a cause is lost from the beginning. Numbers are nothing compared to order; a mob is not a fighting machine; it is only a fair target. The issue of a battle, or even of a whole war, may depend on obedience to orders. Army men know this so well that death is not infrequently the penalty of disobedience. Consequently, a violation of discipline is usually a serious offense; it may easily be a mortal sin.

War being slaughter, the soldier's business is to kill or rather to disable, as many of the enemy as possible on the field of battle. This disabling process means, of course, and necessarily, the maiming unto death of many. Such killing is not only lawful, but obligatory. War, like the surgeon's knife, must often lop off much in order to save the whole. The best soldier is he who inflicts most damage on the enemy.

But the desire and intention of the soldier should not be primarily to kill, but only to put the enemy beyond the possibility of doing further harm. Death will be the result of his efforts in many cases, and this he suffers to occur rather than desires and intends. He has no right to slay outside of battle or without the express command of a superior officer; if he does so, he is guilty of murder. Neither must there be hate behind the aim that singles out a foe for destruction; the general hatred which he bestows on the opposing cause must respect the individual enemy.

It is not lawful to wantonly torture or maim an enemy, whoever or whatever he may be, however great his crime. Not even the express command of a superior officer can justify such doings, because it is barbarity, pure and unmitigated. In war these things are morally just what they would be if they were perpetrated in the heart of peace and civilization by a gang of thugs. These are abominations that, not only disgrace the flag under which they are committed, but even cry to Heaven for vengeance.