Hauerwas was interviewed by Sojourners editor Jim Wallis on November 8, 2001. A transcript of that interview follows.
“Jean Bethke Elshtain is rightly admired for her courage, for her trenchant critiques of peculiarly American pathologies, and for the wisdom of her political judgment. We think, however, that her current attempt morally to justify the Bush presidency’s “war against terrorism” along with its entire National Security Strategy”in Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World (Basic, 2003)”is nothing more than an uncritical justification of the ideology of America as empire. It is itself a deeply ideological work rather than one of careful and critical thought.”
“I can enter into just war considerations. And it’s not clear to me at all that the war in Afghanistan has been begun or fought on just war grounds. Particularly, it’s not clear who the war is against. Who’s your enemy? Under what conditions do they know that they can surrender? I just think all of that has remained completely ambiguous.”
“Even if the culprit is Osama bin Laden, and we track him down, and we kill him and destroy his network, he’s won.
That’s because he is ready to die, and the people who support him are ready to die. Americans aren’t ready to die”.
Terrorists don’t fight fair. To Christians who are accustomed to approaching matters of organized violence through the just war tradition, terrorist tactics are a source of frustration. Within the tradition are criteria for deciding when and how violence can be used legitimately in a limited fashion for the correction of injustice, but for the last few centuries at least, the tradition primarily has been applied to conflicts between states. What happens when major acts of violence are perpetrated by nonstate actors who don’t even pretend to play by the rules?
At a recent campus discussion about the bishops’ authority to speak on matters of war, much airtime was given to whether the bishops had overstepped their competence in judging such matters. Near the end of the session, a genuinely perplexed student stood and echoed the disciples’ question to Jesus: “To whom should we go? If we can’t rely on the church’s judgment in these matters, where should we form our opinions?” It is one thing to argue, on just-war grounds, against the overwhelming judgment of the pope and worldwide bishops, that the recent campaign in Iraq was morally justifiable. It is another thing to argue that the pope and bishops are not qualified to make such judgments.
Why do the Christian ethics of war and the law founded on it prohibit assassinations? Because assassination cannot be a true act of judgment. The logic of armed conflict is a logic of collective judgment on collective responsibility for wrong. War enacts justice between nations, taking over judgment, as the old saying had it,ubi iudicia cessant,where the courts run out. Its justice is attributive, denying the facility to do wrong, rather than vindicative, setting right old wrongs. As judgment it is pretty rough, lacking the detailed discernment to attribute personal responsibility.