The Ethics of War
the Ethics of Peace

Randy Kehler
Al Miller
Dr. Jonathan Shay, M.D.
Lt. Col. David T. Vacchi

Kristin Henderson

On Thursday April 20, 2006, in the Johnson Chapel of Amherst College, the Nostoi Project, “Stories of War and Return,” will present a symposium on the ethics of war and the ethics of peace. The aim of this open discussion will be to explore and to discuss the many profound ethical questions and concerns raised by the waging of war as well as by the rejecting of war; and surely there is no more fundamental nor inescapable question than this: is war inevitable?

Traditionally, and for many today, the ethics of war focus on the grounds and goals with which a war is undertaken, as well as the manner in which it is conducted. Across many centuries, for example, the Catholic Church developed and maintained a "just war theory" that provided criteria by which to measure and decide the moral legitimacy of an armed conflict, in prospect and in retrospect. From ancient times to the present, warring peoples asserted and sought to enforce codes or conventions of battle conduct acceptable to their gods, their governments, and their own consciences. Underlying these traditions was the conviction that it was possible for a war to be morally justifiable and for such a war to be fought in a morally acceptable manner.

The moral rejection of war is also as old as war itself. Ancient literature is resonant with voices decrying not only particular wars or wars fought in a particular manner but war itself. Even in the war epics of Greece and India we find the adamant conviction that non-violence is the highest virtue and that all war is folly. In the words of the Mahabharata, "Peace is preferable to war. Who, having the choice, would prefer to fight?"

Some, while preferring peace, say that they have no choice but to go to war, that they are compelled by self-defense, duty, or some other necessity or compulsion beyond their resonable control. Others argue and live by the conviction that there is no compulsion great enough to excuse engagement in war, regardless of whether that war be enjoined or sanctioned by a ruler, a nation, or a religion.

These are only some of the ideas and issues provoked by war and dividing individuals and communities confronted by it. The aim of this symposium is to face the terrible reality of war and the ethical challenges it raises in open, probing, and respectful discussion with each other. In this discussion we will be led by five people who have long pondered these challenges and have come to some very different commitments and conclusions regarding war and peace.

Randy Kehler, for his refusal of military induction in the 1960's, served nearly two years in federal prison. Ever since he has been a dedicated advocate of peace and social justice. He is a central force in the war tax resistance movement and founder of the Taprock Peace Center.

Al Miller served with the Americal Division as an infantry squad leader in Vietnam, where he was badly wounded. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Today Al is a poet and a farmer. He has for many years been a leading figure in the peace movement in the Valley and beyond.

Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D., a psychiatrist and classical scholar, has worked for many years with veterans suffering with PTSD. His voice on behalf of veterans has been heard across the nation and in the highest offices of military and political power. He recently held the Chair of Ethics in the U.S. Army. His books Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America are on the bookshelves of most classicists and countless veterans.

Lt. Col. David T. Vacchi, U.S. Army, is a veteran of the war in Iraq and is currently Professor of Military Leadership at the University of Massachusetts. A central concern of his teaching and of his writing is military ethics and the moral issues that must be addressed in military training, service, and command.

Kristin Henderson is a Quaker from a family in which conscientious objection was more the norm than the exception. She is also the wife of a Navy chaplain, who has served in multiple war zones with the U.S. Marines. Her most recent book While They're At War: The True Story of American Families on the Homefront has drawn national attention to "Penelope's War" — war as endured by spouses and children left for a time or forever "while they're at war."

"When the lives of our own children come to matter more to us
than the lives of others' children, war is near."
"I fought against terrible powers and I did what I could."
The Mahabharata