Saturday, January 21, 2023

Musings on Might and Right When Going to War Is a Moral or Legal Obligation

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

War is terrible; but it’s sometimes necessary to defeat ruthless despots like Hitler and Putin.  In 1901 Elihu Root stated the purpose of the Army War College was “not to promote war, but to preserve peace.”  Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13).  

In the 4th Century Emperor Constantine corrupted Christianity with politics by making it the religion of the Roman Empire, and Saint Augustine began developing the concept of Just War.  At the beginning of the 1st Millennium the church set a terrible precedent for just war with the Crusades, and ever since the Holy Land has been a crucible for Holy War.

In World War II Dietrich Bonhoeffer exemplified the cost of discipleship when he went to Germany and gave his life in an effort to rid the world of Hitler.  Putin is a modern-day Hitler who claims the support of his Russian Orthodox Church in Russia’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine as a just war and crusade to restore the Russian Empire of Peter the Great.   

In America the concept of just war evolved into the Law of War with the Lieber Code of 1863.  It emphasized the protection of civilians from the ravages of war, but was ignored by Union General W.T. Sherman during the Civil War.  After World War II Hitler’s atrocities were not ignored.  All major powers signed the Geneva Accords that protected civilians in wartime.

In 2019 Putin refuted the provisions of the Geneva Accords and has since demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the Law of War, killing civilians and destroying non-military infrastructure in Ukraine.  Putin has threatened nuclear retaliation against any direct NATO support against Russian aggression, negating the Cold War doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD).

So far President Biden and NATO have failed to take any action against Putin for his war crimes, but if the Laws of War are not enforced, they become useless.  Will America and NATO  enforce the Law of War and humanitarian laws and hold Putin accountable for his egregious violations of international laws, and protect Ukrainian civilians from the ravages of war?  

The laws of war and international humanitarian laws that protect non-combatant civilians in wartime should be vigorously enforced against war criminals like Putin and his military minions, just as they were against Hitler and his Nazi henchmen at Nuremberg.  If not, the moral concepts of Just War and the legal obligations of the Laws of War will become irrelevant.

 Is there any such thing as a just war?  Can might ever make right, or is the world doomed to end in a cloud of radioactive nuclear dust?  More despots like Hitler and Putin and weapons of mass destruction are inevitable.  Will we ever learn?  The answer is blowin’ in the wind.  If we can’t end war with moral and legal obligations, we are doomed to self-destruction.


On the history of might and right, see Chapter 1 of Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millenium, Frank Cass, 1996.  A manuscript of the book is posted in Resources at

On the Liber Code and Humanitarian Laws of War as a Cause of America’s “Endless Wars” see

On how U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine may be slipping, see 

US says no to tanks, The Hill, January 19, 2023 (Read the full story here)

The Biden administration has decided against sending tanks to Ukraine for now, which comes after weeks of buzz around the topic.  Sabrina Singh, the deputy Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Thursday it “doesn’t make sense” to give Ukraine the tanks at this stage. “The maintenance and the high cost that it would take to maintain an Abrams, it just doesn’t make sense to provide that to the Ukrainians at this moment,” Singh said.

A blow to Kyiv: Ukraine has been asking for the M1 Abrams main battle tank and other, modern tanks for months amid its war with Russia. Ukraine is expecting a big offensive from Russia in the spring and will also need to conduct another major counteroffensive of its own to keep the upper hand in the war. Kyiv has had its hands on Soviet-era tanks upgraded for use but would like the firepower offered from modern, western-designed tanks. “There is no rational reason why Ukraine has not yet been supplied with Western tanks,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted earlier this month.

Group pressure: Germany is also refusing to provide its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine unless the U.S. goes first with its M1 Abrams. A group of European nations is forming to put more pressure on Berlin to allow them to transfer Leopard tanks in their country’s stocks to Ukraine, Politico reported. While 12 European nations operate the tanks, Germany would need to give the final OK to ship them over to Kyiv because of certain rules.

Not tanks, but Strykers: Instead of the prized M1 Abrams, the U.S. is expected to announce for Ukraine another shipment of Bradleys and, for the first time, Strykers. The Strykers are eight-wheeled armored transports with attached machine guns and grenade launchers.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be meeting with about 50 defense ministers in Ramstein, Germany to deliver remarks and hold a press conference.

See also, ‘They have us over a barrel’: Inside the US and German standoff over sending tanks to Ukraine at

Ukraine Is Top of the Agenda in Davos. But Some Fear Support From Businesses Has Peaked

On how Turkey’s opposition to Sweden and Finland as members of NATO is a gift to Putin, see

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