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Moral imagination and warfare

There are no atheists in foxholes." Terrorism has put us all in a foxhole.

The moral idiocy of terrorist actions, brought home so mercilessly on Sept. 11, caused millions to seek a higher moral authority. In asking how such evil deeds could occur, the very asking sought to transcend the moral repugnance, anger, and fear we felt.

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With the beginning of military action by the United States and Britain against the Taliban and terrorist bases in Afghanistan this week, new questions about the morality and ethics of warfare come to the fore, and a new moral ground is sought.

Our cover story (right) examines the Christian concept of "just war" theory in comparison and contrast to the Islamic notion of jihad of the sword.

Is there anything in common between these two historically and religiously grounded approaches to warfare that caters to "the better angels of our nature"?

I bounce between two poles: "How do I, as an individual, fit into the bigger picture of war?" and "How should my country wage war?" (Sadly, real wars are never fought by solitary individuals).

Our principles tell us we must fight wars of restraint. We cannot emulate the slaughter of Carthage by Rome. We must be wiser, and kinder, than Machiavelli. Moral imagination demands that we see more than war as "diplomacy by other means," as the Prussian theorist Clausewitz would have it.

There is little in human experience as complex as war, or as consuming. War joined, life is never simple again. Principle prevails.


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