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Andreas R. Batlogg SJ {*}

Pacem in Terris - the End of the Just War


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 4/2013, P. 217 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


The words have lost nothing of their oppressive impressiveness. Fifty years later they appear as topical as at that time, "Thus, in this age which boasts of its atomic power, it no longer makes sense to maintain that war is a fit instrument with which to repair the violation of justice" (No. 127). They were written under the subhead "Signs of the Times" by someone who was at the age of 82. On 11 April 1963, a Green Thursday, Pope John XXIII, a serious cancer had already left its mark on him, published his eighth encyclical "Pacem in Terris." It was directed not only at Catholics, but (for the first time) at "all men of good will." Less than two months later he was dead.

The Roncalli pope, who had worked for most of his life on second-rate diplomatic outposts, was neither naïve nor unrealistic, even if he has been and is sometimes portrayed in this way by some contemporaries (also within the church). Two years before the publication of his peace encyclical Berlin had become a divided city by the Building the Wall. On 8 September 1962, four weeks before the beginning of the Council, the Soviet cargo ship "Omsk" berthed in Havana with a cargo of SS 4 medium-range missiles, but the cargo was not brought ashore. On September 15, the Americans succeeded in getting recon photos of the Soviet cargo ship "Poltava" laden with military equipment on its way to Cuba. When on October 11, 1962, millions of Catholics saw via TV the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the world was on the brink of a nuclear war between the superpowers USA and the Soviet Union - due to the deployment of Russian long-range missiles in Cuba. The by President John F. Kennedy on 14 October imposed total naval blockade - from the American perspective impressively retold in the Hollywood epic "Thirtheen days", with Kevin Costner in the role of presidential advisor - was the almost desperate, but ultimately successful attempt by a visionary politician and his advisers to prevent the army, which was "ready for battle, from triggering the nuclear first strike.

On 7 March 1963, after a press reception on the occasion of the award of the International Balzan Price, John XXIII granted a private audience to Rada and Alexei Adschubej, the chief editor of the government newspaper Izvestiya and son of Nikita Khrushchev, for whom he performed special missions as regards foreign policy. Both within and outside the Catholic Church, this encounter triggered fierce reactions. In the West, there were speculations about a political softening toward communism, in the Vatican the pope's "pastoral sociableness" was regarded with suspicion.



On April 22, less than two weeks after its publication, a detailed summary of "Pacem in Terris" was published in a Moscow magazine. In an interview with the editor of the Milan newspaper Il Giorno, Khrushchev personally gave a very positive view on the Pope's writing. John XXIII was convinced that the world political situation would compel us to give up the centuries-old doctrine of the "Just War." According to Giuseppe Alberigo, "This was a change of great consequence. Its implementation is still going on."

Over the past five decades, the global political coordinate system has significantly changed: the Cold War is a thing of the past. There is only one "superpower." The acts of terrorism of 11 September 2001 have cruelly revealed how vulnerable it is. For years, India and Pakistan have been positioning their nuclear arsenals against each other. North Korea is near to an economic collapse but continues building up the threat scenario of nuclear war also under its new leader Kim Jong-un.

In the West, vocabulary items that were no longer used are reused. Since the Iraq war one is talking again of a "just" or a "preventive war." From the idea of a "just war," which was developed first by Aristotle over Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to Hugo Grotius, the founder of modern international law, it differs in this way: what matters is not the "restoration of peace" - in view of the impending war the then expected evils appear to be of such a huge extent that a preventive military strike seems advisable. Since one nation alone (unilateralism) is hardly able to make such a decision, the U.S. government had at that time chosen the path through the United Nations and campaigned for Security Council decisions. Only the UN, it was said, was able to counter the threat potential of Iraq by an effective "coalition of the decent". Unlike with the resolution 678 in the second Gulf War in 1990/91, the UN refused such a mandate. Whereupon troops of the United States and the United Kingdom with political and military support of allied countries started their invasion of Iraq on their own initiative - against international law.

A military strike is commonly regarded as "ultima ratio". In contrast, let us not forgot the pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes" in which the Council Fathers suggested with regard to "Pacem in Terris" that "all war can be completely outlawed by international consent" (GS 81). Only a "universal public authority acknowledged as such by all" could put an end to the arms race. The UN undoubtedly enjoys today this worldwide authority. It alone has the authority diplomatically to pull out all the stops in order to avoid a war. Standing up for peace and promoting its preservation means a huge task also for the Christian Churches. Pope John Paul II quoted "Pacem in Terris", when he spoke out against an invasion of Iraq. As a peritus of the Council, Benedict XVI collaborated on "Gaudium et Spes."


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