“The time has come to be wild. We’ve all been a lot too tame.”
G.K. Chesterton in Tales of the Long Bow
Typically, columns written by people with my beliefs and sensibilities bemoan that Memorial Day is popularly seen as an opportunity for barbecues, travel and sleeping in rather than for reflection on the sacrifices of our servicemen.
This weekend, I prefer to write a few semi-random thoughts on the Catholic view of war, and how we can put it into our writing.
“All war is unjust!”
Yeah, I’ve heard this before. There are folks who truly believe that you can be Catholic and pro-abortion choice, but you cannot be Catholic and support any other violent action sanctioned by our government.
Be very wary about putting main character’s with doublethink issues in your work; most readers have a laser-guided radar for spotting inconsistencies such characters, and your narrative may lose all credibility in the reader’s mind.
“All men have an instinct for conflict: at least, all healthy men.”
To show Catholics engaged in conflict, whether taking up arms against Nazis, the Seljuk Turks or the Uruk-Hai armies of Saruman is not to be contradictory towards our faith. As with many things, the motivation of our characters is the key. Are they waging war for a needed resource or pure conquest? Are they acting in defense or to appease the ego of a brain-addled Roman emperor?
“We must go back to freedom or forward to slavery.”
G.K. Chesterton, in the Introduction to William Cobbett’s Cottage Economy
The Church has long ruled that a war can be just, if fought for the right reasons. Enumerated by St. Augustine back over a thousand years ago, these principles are collectively known as the Just War Theory. Look it up. It’s fascinating.
Two other thoughts on some character motivations in war that can make for great storytelling:
First, even a character fighting in an unjust war may be fighting it for just reasons on a personal level. There were individuals who fought the Civil War for reasons unrelated to slavery, for example.
Second, in order to truly fight for freedom, the individual must on occasion take on the group without the benefit of the group backing them up.
“The true patriot is always doubtful of victory; because he knows that he is dealing with a living thing; a thing with free will. To be certain of free will is to be uncertain of success.”
G.K. Chesterton, in the introduction to American Notes
Terrifying? Yes, assuredly. But Christianity was begun by such a terrifying prospect. Saying to the greatest military power the world had ever known that you will not comply with the simplest and most reasonable requests of emperor worship can be terrifying, but make for great and inspirational storytelling.
And for some of us in this modern era, that inspiration may be sorely needed sooner than we think …
John McNichol lives in Vancouver Washington with his beautiful wife and seven children. He is the author of the first two books in The Young Chesterton Chronicles, a Catholic-themed adventure series for young men.
He is working on the third book, likely while you read this.