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  • Greg Smith

Ukraine and the Catholic Doctrine of Just Warfare

Ukraine and the Catholic Doctrine of Just War

A few months ago, it seemed like half of America started flying blue and gold Ukrainian flags. “I Stand with Ukraine” was “The Next Big Thing.”

There were a lot of reasons why. Many were genuinely concerned about the war and impressed with Ukraine’s resistance. It also became a wedge issue in American politics. Biden and the Democrats floated a weird narrative that the Ukrainian invasion was a sort of proxy war against…them (why…?). Anyone who asked skeptical questions about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was somehow on Putin’s side in that proxy war. It didn’t make any sense at the time, and a few months later as the news cycle has moved on, it makes even less sense.

But at the time, I thought the events raised interesting questions about the Catholic doctrine of “just warfare.” So, I did a short video about it.

Now, a few months later, I wonder if anything has changed. The criteria I laid out in the video are still the same. But wars have a way of getting muddier as time goes on. Causes and conditions that seemed crystal clear at the outset get cloudier as compromises are made and the conflict evolves. Time and time again throughout history, both sides begin wondering what they’re fighting for, and it gets harder to make sense of the conflict. Just within the last century or so, we’ve seen this play out in World War I, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and so on. And since the American media has moved on to the next narrative, we don’t know much about what exactly is going on in Ukraine right now.

A lot of the conflict in Ukraine is tied up with ethnic and religious conflicts between the various branches and jurisdictions of the Orthodox Churches. It’s very complicated, even for Roman Catholics, who since the Great Schism of 1054 have become outsiders to these ancient power dynamics. I might dive into that in a future video.

But the just warfare doctrine that I laid out in the video is, I think, still valid—even if the particular situation in Ukraine has gotten murkier. Catholicism has spent twenty centuries working through questions of war and peace, empires and invasions, diplomacy and resistance. It’s wise to at least listen to what it has to say. The application of that doctrine to particular circumstances, especially those that change over time, means that sometimes these questions and criteria are going to make us uncomfortable. And that’s as it should be. Questions of war and justice are never to be taken lightly.

Anyway, take a look at this video and let me know if you think it still holds up now that Ukraine is no longer “The Current Thing.”

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