William Manchester in his award winning biography of the United States Five Star General, Douglas MacArthur (1880 – 1964), American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880–1964 (1978), illustrated one of the most brilliant military operations of World War II. MacArthur having been initially forced out of the Philippines by the invading Imperial Japanese Army, was making good his promise of ‘returning’. In a series of swift ‘island hops’, as part of Operation Cartwheel, MacArthur proceeded to push the Japanese forces, island after island, northwards from the South Pacific Theatre of War. The Japanese in response decided to strengthen their garrison on Rabaul (New Britain), by sending to this base hundreds of carrier planes, along with experienced soldiers, aviators and engineers. Astonishingly in counter-response, MacArthur decided not to land soldiers on Rabaul – but destroyed the Japanese planes by way of non-stop US and Australian bombing raids; by so doing,  effectively isolating Rabaul – and the experienced Japanese ‘crack’ fighters. The Japanese forces on Rabaul were rendered totally inactive while the rest of the Pacific War raged on. Whereas other Generals may have staged a great landing effort, fighting bloody battle after bloody battle – MacArthur’s tactics acted like a fire-blanket over a flame, suffocating the enemy and sparing MacArthur’s forces further loss of life. Conversely in shame, because of their continued military impotence, many of the Japanese soldiers at Rabaul killed themselves. Those that did not commit Harakiri, knowing they could not be rescued, nor be re-supplied; just sat there; each and every day – while their nation, without them, went on losing the War.

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When I first read Manchester’s account of MacArthur’s action – I was deflated. Where was the bold action? Where was the climb up through jungles and muddied hills? But MacArthur’s answer was in fact military genius. Why risk wasting the lives of your soldiers on an enemy who is completely isolated? In effect the Japanese forces on Rabaul became unofficially a very large prisoner of war camp. Maximum result was achieved for relatively small sacrifice.

St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologiae introduced to the world a concept that has become known today as the Principle of Double Effect. To open up his polemic Aquinas set about discussing the morality, or not, of self-defense. By tackling the issue of self-defense critical religious questions, came to the fore, such as –  is it indeed right for a person to use violence if violence is perpetrated against them? Aquinas replied with the objection: 0oes not the New Testament instruct us to love our neighbour and to turn the other cheek, if we are struck? There appeared to be clear moral contradiction in Aquinas’ mind. Yet faced with such an egregious dilemma Aquinas rationally responded by concluding: “I answer that, Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. Now moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intentions, since this is accidental … Accordingly the act of self defense may have two effects, one is the saving of one’s life, the other is the slaying of the aggressor. Therefore this act, since one’s intention is to save one’s own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in being, as far as possible. And yet, though proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful, if it be out of proportion to the end.” (ST, II-II, QU. 64, Art. 7).

St. Thomas’ Principle of Double Effect is based on four conditions: First, that the action has to be a morally good or indifferent one; Second, that the bad effect – has not deliberately come about in the intention that evil is being conducted in the hope of good coming from it; Third, that the evil effect is only the unintended and avoided side effect of the good act; Fourth, that there be a serious reason for allowing the evil effect to occur – the question of proportionality.

In such light, we begin to understand the Catholic Church’s view of the vocation of the soldier, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Public authorities, …  have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense. Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.” (CCC, par. 2310). The key concept here is the notion of the soldier conducting his duty ‘honorably’.

Now if we combine the words of the Catechism with that of St. Thomas, we see that in the case of the Ukrainian soldier doing his duty on the battlefield: the good he is attempting to do is defend his country, and he, faced with a violent, unjust aggressor, whose intent is to kill him, and commit acts of genocide on the innocent people of his nation and his military brotherhood, must defend the innocent, even though in this defense he will kill the belligerent. As Aquinas stressed, the soldier placed in this situation must defend himself, and be trained by his Government in order to do so, to maximum effect. In the process of self-defense, the evil effect – the maiming or killing of the enemy, is the natural consequence of self-preservation. If he or his nation could preserve himself/themself without killing or harming his enemy, then that is an act of proportionality, but such proportionality should not bring about the death of innocents. The first concern is always the right to defend oneself from harm. For example, Douglas MacArthur’s actions in the case of Rabaul, involved the sparing of the lives of his own soldiers as being paramount. As a general he had the moral responsibility to win a battle by proportionality. MacArthur’s Rabaul action was devastating for the Japanese – as it rendered a sizeable part of their army simply irrelevant. Something similar may be said of the forty kilometre stalled convoy of tanks held up on the road toward leading to Kyiv. Tactically the invading force that on paper seemed insurmountable was in reality useless. Every tank that stalled, was another obstacle the invaders had to find their way around. By not attacking the convoy – the Ukrainians were able to put other forces in defensive efforts elsewhere. This most likely saved Kyiv.

An intrinsic part of the soldier’s vocation to act ‘honorably’, is reflected in the conduct, that once an enemy combatant has been rendered helpless, they should be treated with compassion and humanity – something that is in truth often overlooked in the heat of battle. The Catechism of the Catholic Church may be applied here: “The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. “The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties.” (CCC, par. 2312)

That Ukraine’s right to fight – is morally just, can be argued along a number of lines. First, prior to the commencement of Putin’s operation, Ukraine had not been an aggressor – save for defending its territory from illegal occupation and annexation. Second, Ukraine had shown itself to be a peaceful member of the world of nations, by taking the extreme step of reducing it’s status as a leading world military nuclear power to nil – trusting on the other signatories of the Budapest Memorandum: the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia to preserve Ukrainian sovereignty. That Russia steadily mobilized forces into the national territory of Ukraine since the signing of the Budapest Memorandum, was a moral as well as political abomination. Third, as distinct from the Russian soldier, who is part of a hostile force attacking a peaceful nation, the Ukrainian soldier acts in good conscience to rid the invader from Ukrainian soil.

In contrast, the Russian soldier initially was spoon fed a lie as to the ‘Special Military Operation’, being necessary to free Ukraine from NAZI’s. Putin had to sculpt the lie in order to free up the Russian soldier’s conscience to act with alacrity. The fact that when the Russian soldiers arrived and found no garlands of flowers awaiting them – and no NAZI occupancy, meant two things: the first that they realized they were lied to; the second, that they had a choice to lay down their weapons, or if not, to knowingly accept the lie, and by so doing, become complicit in the murders, genocidal acts, rapes, thefts and other crimes perpetrated against humanity. Once a soldier has descended in to such a pit – they lose their moral compass, and become intoxicated by evil. Their minds and spirits – lose contact with humanity. Tragically for both the Ukrainian people and the souls of the Russian soldiers – very few Russian soldiers chose to act with moral force. If they had – the war would be over, and a change of government would have occurred in Moscow. Initial arguments were raised in the defense of the Russians, that their disreputable behaviour was as a consequence of only following orders – but as St. Thomas Aquinas also taught – no individual is required to obey any order that demands of them to do anything against the law of God. The indiscriminate bombing of civilians, the ethnic cleansing of the Ukrainian populace; the renting of children from their parents, the starvation of people, acts of sexual violence and depravity, are not acts of soldiers – but acts worthy of eternal damnation. Let the Catechism speak once again: “Practices deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes.” (CCC, par. 2328)

In the eyes of God, orders from a mere Putin, do not supercede, the natural law, nor the Divine Law. It would have been better for those who perpetrated war crimes to have: refused to have obeyed; laid down their weapons or rebelled against the demoniacal authority giving the command – for a person’s soul is the greatest treasure that one holds – and earthly victories are both hollow and pyrrhic if they come at the cost of spiritual damnation. Even as a conscripted soldier – one does not lose the ability to choose and act against a moral evil; a refusal to obey may come at the cost of your life – but the choice is still yours – to do good or evil.

There is also a national culpability, for the reticence of the general population to act against the immorality of a government. Evil can only succeed if the majority of a nation’s people accept a situation. We saw the defeat of communism in the late 1980’s by the empowerment of the population – who became less afraid of their government, than they were of living lives half lived. Putin and Lavrov and Medvedev – may be cruel puppet-masters, but can only be so if the Russian people classify themselves as puppets. Democracy cannot function if it is the representative government of puppets. Perhaps what has occurred in Russia since the breakdown of the Soviet Union, is that the nation has been fed and stupefied on materialism, at the cost of idealism.

No matter how great the military victory – Putin would personally never take an eternity of Hell in exchange for any Ukrainian city. He thinks too much about himself. That is why he has feathered his own nest and that of his friends. But similarly, without question of doubt, he would readily exchange the souls of tens of thousands of his own soldiers for such a victory. Near the outset of the invasion, Putin claimed that the death of 50,000 of his own troops would be adequate price for Ukraine. But how can this be so? How can the Russian populace accept such a scenario? It is well and good to send another grandmother’s grandson to his death – to equip him with aged weapons, providing him with decades old ration packs to feed himself and inadequate uniforms. But where in all this mess are the children of the oligarchs – and senior political figures? What part of the killing and dying are they doing? They are sheltering like some characters from a Dostoyevsky novel, in bunkers or in the underground – hiding from the daylight. Pity them that they cannot see this. Pity them, like the NAZI’s before them – with all their medals, chest beating and sabre rattling, that they did not act before they immolated their nation before the Grand Jury of history.

The great Spanish medieval mystic, St. Teresa of Avila once prayed, that Christ has no body but ours in this world; but incredibly, the same can be said of the devil; he is a spirit. Why give the devil your body to act from within so as to spread evil from without? Why give your soul for a mere creature who is steadily but surely dying? Once he dies – what is your meaning to your life? Even in the fog of war, one must search for the light of Truth. No act is committed in a vacuum. Every act is called to high account.

Gita Sereny in her work, Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth (1995), articulates that Hitler at the close of his futile and murderous war – called Speer in to his bunker, and gave Speer the order to raze Germany to the ground. In losing his war – the Germans had failed him; they therefore did not deserve to exist. Speer refused to carry out the order. As a consequence of Hitler’s death, Magda Goebbels poisoned her children and died with her husband, not wishing to live in a world without Hitler. As if this pathetic creature – had been a partner in the Act of Creation. Putin will surely order his minions to do the same. He has lost his grip on God – and now clambers for any life jacket – for he is dying without God. He is like the mythical man in a pit in Hell, trying to escape the pit by using the bodies of his servants to do so. The more that are with him – the more he can use to climb out. But then who is more the fool – the fool or the thousands who follow him into the pit?

By Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania