The Falklands War was a just war
There were those who viewed this conflict as the last gasp of British imperialism; others favoured negotiation and compromise. Still others wondered why on earth the United Kingdom had any interests at all in a few godforsaken and inhospitable rocks in the South Atlantic.
The truth, of course, is that the inhabitants were and are British and free. This was a war between liberty and tyranny; freedom and oppression; good and evil. Margaret Thatcher knew that, even if some of her Cabinet colleagues and the US State Department did not. Since the Lord’s Prayer is no longer taught in our schools, it is highly unlikely that future generations will ever be introduced to Augustine or Aquinas. But to understand war and peace it is necessary to grasp the development of the understanding of evil, and so the ‘just war’. To Augustine, the Pax Romana was a false peace: Rome conquered and was herself conquered by her own lust to dominate over others. He wrote: ‘Think of all the battles fought, all the blood that was poured out, so that all the nations if Italy, by whose help the Roman Empire wielded that overwhelming power, should be subjugated as if they were barbarous savages.’ Rome was driven by a lust for vengeance and that impulse triumphed under the façade of peace. That Empire became a kingdom without justice, its rulers little more than a big-scale gang of criminality.
Here Augustine famously repeats the story of rejoinder given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great when Alexander queried him about his idea in infesting the sea. ‘And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, “The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate: because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.”’ And so peace became another name for dominion. If the ravages of war are, in part, punishment for sin, human beings sin, often savagely, in enacting that punishment.
If we reflect on the terrible slaughter of war carried out for wicked motives and to unworthy ends, we will determine to wage only limited, justifiable wars even as we lament that they must be waged. The wise ruler takes up arms only with great reluctance and penitence. Given Augustine’s account of limited justifiability, he is considered the grandfather of ‘just war’ thinking. It involves living, as the Falklanders now do, in the penumbra of fear and worry, because such insecurity is intrinsic to our transient, temporal humanity. As Augustine observed, the only place which promises eternal peace and security is ‘the mother, the Jerusalem which is free’.
Margaret Thatcher waged a justifiable war of necessity against unwarranted and unprovoked aggression. She rescued the innocent and free from oppression and destruction. The motive was the love of kinship and the desire for a more authentic peace. This was the grudging endorsement of a lesser evil: the Falklands War was a tragic necessity. She did not engage in it to rescue herself, but in the understanding of her responsibility as a ruler for the well-being of a people who desired and desire to remain British and free.
Today is a time to reflect on and lament even this justifiable war. Not to look back with grief marks one as pitiable: there were no victory parades in Augustine’s world; for, however just the cause, war stirs up temptations to ravish and devour, often in order to ensure peace. The Just War is a cautionary tale, not an incautious and reckless call to arms. For peace is a great good, and there is nothing better to be found.