The great Catholic bishop and saint of the late Roman era, Augustine, thought intensely about the conditions under which war may be initiated justly, which he termed jus ad bellum, and the conditions under which war can be waged justly, or jus in bello.
To go to war jus ad bellum, according to Augustine, a state must have a just cause, which may be the safety of its citizens, the integrity of its territory, or the correction of massive crime in which another state is complicit. Restoration of peace must be the primary objective when war is to be chosen. A competent authority acting openly rather than covertly (except under extreme circumstances) must declare war, and only after exhausting other options.
To wage war jus in bello, military violence must remain in proportion to the wrong that provoked the war. It must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. It must not commit treachery, for example, by offering treaties that it does not honor.
Leo Tolstoy served in the Russian army for about 3 years, rising to the rank of second lieutenant and showing exemplary bravery while serving with a forward artillery battery at Sevastopol. His writing career actually began during his brief time as a soldier – 2 short novels based on childhood memories, a story about a military raid, and dispatches from the battlefront. Tolstoy was thrilled at the reception of these early works by the reading public as well as literary champions, including Ivan Turgenev, the foremost Russian author of that era. According to biographer Henri Troyat, Tolstoy’s decision to leave the army stemmed mainly from his desire to pursue a literary career.
As a young man Tolstoy plunged repeatedly into cycles of lechery, gambling, and fervent religion. At age 34 he married Sonya Behrs, and they enjoyed 15 years of happy married life at Yasnaya Polyana, his ancestral country estate, as 12 children arrived one after another. During this time with immense help from Sonya, Leo Tolstoy wrote the great novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
All the while his religious yearnings grew. The one-time soldier and the great novelist of war became a dedicated pacifist. He found a model in the peasant stonemason and sectarian Syutayev. This man refused to pay taxes that would support an army. He gave no resistance when the police came to seize his animals and his land, saying, “It’s their sin, let them do it.” Like Syutayev, Tolstoy came to espouse a kind of faith based on literal obedience to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. His later writings focused repeatedly on his pacifist and religious ideals, greatly influencing Gandhi and then Martin Luther King in their subsequent deployment of nonviolent methods for political change.
In the early 20th century, two great world wars engaged the energy, thought, and spirit of more people than had ever previously found themselves pressed into desperate conflict. One such person was Ruth Weigle, born just 3 years after the end of the first world war, only 20 years old when the second shocked the United States into action. Although none of Ruth’s forebears were recent immigrants, her ethnic background was almost half German, drawn from families in eastern Pennsylvania. I’m Ruth’s 3rd child, and I remember as a little boy learning the word gangschnell, which means get moving!
In October 1942 the tide had just begun to shift toward the Allies and away from the Axis powers. Nazi Germany celebrated the capture of Stalingrad on the Volga River, but also suffered defeat at El Alamein in North Africa. The siege of Leningrad continued in a stalemate. In the Pacific the Japanese navy recently had suffered a major defeat near Midway Island. The six-month Battle of Guadalcanal had just begun. British airplanes had initiated Allied bombing of German cities that would last for 3 years.
In her notebook, which almost served as a diary of those years, Ruth put a copy of a talk for another vespers service at Pine Manor Chapel in October 1942. Her remarks give hints of dinnertime conversations in her own family in the decades following World War I. She strongly condemns the Nazi regime (even before the unveiling of the Holocaust), but struggles with her feelings of kinship with the German people. She recalls how, as a young teen, she had met a group of Japanese on a trip to the Orient with her parents and older brother.
Then speaking from the heart to the Pine Manor girls, Ruth moves well beyond Augustine’s “just war” theory to something more profound. She does not stray as far from common practice as Tolstoy espoused. She recognizes the necessity of the war, but seeks to apply what she understands of religion to its conduct.
I realise that what I am going to say may startle you or displease you. Some of you may misunderstand. Yet I speak because I must.
We are all aware of the character of Naziism and the Rising Sun, the powers against which we are struggling_ their brutal repression of freedom of thought and speech and religion, their torturing of education, their perversion of justice, their frank materialism, their doctrine of racial superiority, their glorification of the state, their open opposition to the church and to the Christian religion. The leaders of these powers no longer trouble to veil their purposes. We have only to turn to the newspapers and read. It was left for Mr. Goebbels to achieve the height of blasphemy in a recent broad boast to the peoples under the Nazi rule. He offered them this alternative: “You must choose either Jesus Christ or the Fuehrer”. God pity those who chose the first.
We here have made our choice. We have chosen to resist and to destroy this abhorrent, cruel evil. Yet how shall we resist it – that is what I would ask you this morning? This is a war of the spirit. Shall we fight the powers of fascism in the spirit of fascism? Fight we must, for there is no other way, but shall we fight hate with hate, blindness with blindness, fanaticism with fanaticism, retaliation with retaliation? It is tragically apparent that these were our weapons in the last war. R.H. Abrahms has compiled a book called Preachers Present Arms, exerpts from the sermons, letters, articles, and speeches of Christian ministers and laymen in this country during the years of the first World War. Let me quote from it: “Let all the peoples of the Allied countries hate the Hun and hate him with a will to victory. Let that doctrine of hate be spread until it reaches the smallest towns in the United States. In His name, I pray you, hate the Hun.” –or– “I should do my best to put to death any Boche in America or any so-called American who would apologise in any way for what the Boche has done….Loathe the Boche, preach against him, work against him, ostracise him socially and commercially- Take no chances –even tho his reputation for loyalty has been a long-standing one. The leopard cannot change his spots –neither can the Boche lose his horns.” Such hatred and emotional blindness have come to rapid harvest, have they not? But the harvest is not what the President of Carnegie Institute anticipated when he declared in 1918: “show Germany by 100 years of social and commercial ostracism that her crime is beyond forgiveness until her children’s children beg for it with contrite hearts”. Social and commercial ostracism did not inspire contrition.
Now in 1942 we are picking up the same weapons. We are traveling the same road at a frightening pace. How few can make any distinction between the Nazi system and the German people, between the militarist party of Japan and the poor folk in its clutches! How many refuse to recognise, far less, value the cultural heritage of our enemies. We ban the singing of Bright College Years, Yale alma mater, because it is written to a German tune. We rename the Japanese cherry tree the flowering cherry. We abolish German from school curriculums. We hide our Japanese laquer, and take down our Japanese prints. We rally to the latest catch slogan, eager to Slap the Jap off the Map. We start to whisper about our friends and acquaintances, “Is she German?”, “He lived in Japan, you know”. . . .
But you will ask me –why should we change? Why should we not hate with a passion for vengeance? I would give you three answers.
We must fight in the spirit of love–with compassion and understanding, with the knowledge of world community, because, 1st, we are intelligent beings. We have been trained to use our minds, not our emotions, to think on the basis of reason, not to generalize on the basis of feeling. Our intelligence forces us to distinguish between the system and the individuals in its toils. It is right and reasonable that we should hate fascism, whether German or Japanese–hate it with a passionate hatred, for it is a vicious evil. But it is neither right nor reasonable that we should hate the individuals bound by it –some bewildered, some helpless, some ignorant –human beings weak and fallible as ourselves, misled into believing that they are pursuing the right. Did you read the letter of the little German housewife printed in the N.Y. Times of last week? This letter, dated May 31, was found on the body of her dead husband in Russia. Shall we hate Frau Lingling? And can we forget too the heroic souls who have withstood their leaders- Kagawa and his little band of Japanese Christians, whom it was my privilege to meet in 1935, Niemuller and his fellows in the concentration camps of Germany. Intelligence demands that we do not forget.
Secondly, we must fight with compassion and the consciousness of a world community, because we are citizens of a world community. Isolation is a dream of the past, forever shattered. Whether we will recognise it or no, we share an essential solidarity with all men on this earth. Looking back, we are forced to realise that much of today’s tragedy is the result of our own failures and self-satisfaction. Looking forward, we are forced to realise that after the war we must live with those whom we would hate now. We are putting up emotional barriers which we shall not be able to tear down. We, and those we love, are fighting and dying for a peace that shall endure, a peace that shall achieve union and understanding among nations, but we must begin now to lay the foundations for that peace–to set to work the spiritual forces that can heal and build. Unless we do so, we conquering, will be overcome by the conquered. Our blood and suffering spent to free mankind from hate and blindness and racial oppression, will be in vain, for we shall have caught the disease ourselves. World citizens, we must be world-minded.
Thirdly, we must fight in the spirit of love and compassion because we are more than intelligent beings, more than citizens of a world community, we are created of God. Together with all men, we come from one maker, and we are fashioned in His image. Under God, there are no dividing lines of race and geography. All question of intelligence or practical necessity aside, love of his fellows is enjoined upon every seeker after God. For men and women of religious convictions, the ultimate brotherhood of men cannot be denied. In the words of the 1st Epistle of John; “If a man say I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar, for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God, love his brother also.”
Can war be waged in this spirit of love and compassion? I believe it with all my heart. It is no easy task, but it has already been tested in the experience of many in China and in England. It was once embodied in Abraham Lincoln. His words I would recall to you in closing:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and his widow and his orphan– to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”.
Second Inaugural Address
March 4, 1865
Prayer: Lord, give us the power to love, though we must fight. Forgive us and redeem us all . . . and give us peace.
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Header image: Air raid at Monte Cassino, by Archives New Zealand from New Zealand – Peter McIntyre, February 1944, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia commons.
 Henri Troyat. Tolstoy. Translated from French by Nancy Amphoux, Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 1967.
 Ilya Tolstoy. Tolstoy, My Father: Reminiscences. Translated from Russian by Ann Dunnigan. Cowles, Chicago, 1971.