Fragile. Resilient. Broken. Indestructible. Helpless. Indomitable.

By Tom Castor | January 10, 2017 |

In 2013, I was living in Vietnam and wrote a piece that I never published. Although now a bit dated, the subject matter speaks to some universal questions. Now, it is January 2017 and I am in Ho Chi Minh City once again. I remembered the article and decided that now was a good time to post it.  Here it is, just as I wrote it more than three years ago.

Principles of the Just War

  • A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
  • A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
  • A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defence against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient. Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.)
  • A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  • The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
  • The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
  • The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

If you have ever studied sociology, history, ethics, or historical theology you have more than likely come across the principles defining a Just War. This wiki-like summary touches only a few of the high-points. I have no intention of engaging in the debate in this blog. The discussions and debates in the church predate Augustine and there is some rich (and heavy) reading to tackle for anyone who wants to plunge in.

The topic has been on my mind these past few days, because in my neighbourhood, on April 30, we celebrated Reunification Day. The date calls to mind the day when the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops captured Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) – April 30, 1975. This signalled the end of the Vietnam War, known in Vietnamese as Kháng chiến chống Mỹ (“Resistance War Against America”) and the conditions under which the country would be whole again. I have no appetite to climb into an argument, nor to intrude upon the memories of many who suffered during those days. I had high school friends who lost their lives in the conflict. I had relatives who, although they came home with no outward scars, were unalterably damaged by what they saw, and what they did. Some 58,000 American soldiers were killed. The Vietnamese government’s count records 1.15 million Vietnamese combatants lost their lives between 1954 and 1975. Civilian casualties were staggering. Estimates of 2 to 2 1/2 million are not uncommon. And, of course, the whole of SouthEast Asia was impacted when the US forces withdrew.

A few days ago, I toured one of Pol Pot’s most infamous prisons in Cambodia. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge leveraged the chaos of the American withdrawal and took control of the country. In a few short years, he murdered two million Cambodians in the killing fields, out of a population of 8 million. In that same period, the Pathet Lao were killing some 100,000 of the Hmong people in Laos.

In April, I watched the parades pass, listened to the speeches, and sat through several hours of scratchy, black-and-white footage of those days leading up to Reunification.

In May, I stood in the silence of dozens of makeshift cells in what once was a high school in Phnom Penh.

And in both places, I was struck by two thoughts.

The first was the incredibly capacity for evil that resides in the human heart. What human beings have done, and continue to do, to other human beings is beyond a decent person’s imagination. I spoke to local Vietnamese who were children during those days and relief workers who were working the borders of Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand caring for refugees. I do not imagine I will ever repeat the stories they told me. But their stories were also sprinkled with one other remarkable reality – the equally incredible resilience of the human spirit. The injustices, the unimaginable atrocities that these people suffered could have made them into bitter, trust-less, vengeful psychopaths or at least, cowering, emotionally-paralyzed shadow-seekers – hiding under whatever metaphorical rock they can find so as never to feel that pain and shame again. But as I listened to the stories, I was also struck by the realization that the stories didn’t come from places of deep-seated hatred – or from the infected, unhealed wounds of a relentless bitterness. They came from people who, although they had seen the worst that the world could serve up – they were alive with hope and gratitude. No, there was no denial. They knew clearly what they had suffered. Yet, somehow, they could see beyond it all.

Fragile. Resilient. Broken. Indestructible. Helpless. Indomitable.

Image-bearers.

Fearfully and wonderfully made.

Tom Castor

Tom Castor

Thomas Castor, founder of Clear and Simple Media Group, is a seasoned writer and communicator who has been delivering content with clarity and simplicity for 30 years.