A short book, but a punchy book, written over 35 years ago by Australian Niall Brennan, is a fantastic read for anyone interested in not only the history of war, but just war theory, how far we obey the government of the day and militaristic economics. Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to get hold of, but if you know a young man who struggled with what to do if called up during the Vietnam War, he might have it.
Although it’s written from a Catholic perspective, it doesn’t have much churchy jargon – Niall Brennan is very readable, and has written many local histories, as well as a biography of John Wren, the gambler immortalised in Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory. He also wrote a biography of Archbishop Mannix, the Melbourne churchman who campaigned against conscription.
Brennan’s book concerns the history of thought in the church about violence and its legitimate (or not) use, and prime concern given that the church’s founder died violently and without resistance. He then asks whether a Christian can obey an order to kill, or join the defence forces where they will be expected to kill, even indirectly.
Brennan, though writing 35 years ago, speaks remarkably well into the “war on terror”. My favourite quote, which neatly denies the nice division between the ‘axis of evil’ and the ‘coalition of the willing’:
War between civilised people is inconceivable…it should be difficult for the backward nation to provoke the civilised nation into warfare. If warfare is instigated by the more primitive nation, something is clearly wrong with the less primitive. (p. 72)