Ethics, War, and Peace

Published May 1, 1987

At its November 1986 meeting, the Board of Directors of the United States Institute of Peace awarded a grant of $91,400 to the James Madison Foundation in partial support of a program aimed at reinvigorating the scholarly debate on ethics, war, and peace over the next decade.

That task of reinvigoration, it seems, must be undertaken in every generation. Historical circumstances dictate that fresh thought be applied to issues that are as old as Thucydides and the “Melian Dialogue.” In this time, when the moralism of the Vietnam era remains at flood tide in many influential religious circles, it is surely worthwhile to step back from the daily arguments, reconsider the basic questions, and try to establish wiser terms of debate for the future.

The project that is being supported in part by the Peace Institute has two components. The first is a year-long seminar that will bring theologians, ethicists, foreign policy practitioners, and media commentators together throughout 1987 in a common exploration of ten basic issues in the ethics, war, and peace field. Co-sponsored by the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, the seminar is led by your editor and Dr. John Langan, SJ, acting director of the Woodstock Center. In addition to the cross-pollination of ideas that will take place among twenty-five influential figures in the ethics, war, and peace debate, the seminar will also produce a major book, intended to be of use in senior undergraduate, graduate, and seminary courses for years to come.

The seminar is thoroughly ecumenical in both theological and political terms. Among those preparing papers for the seminar are the seminar co-directors; Dr. Mark Amstutz of Wheaton College; the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus of the Center on Religion and Society; Dr. James Turner Johnson of Rutgers University; Rev. J. Bryan Hehir of the United States Catholic Conference; Dr. Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School; Dr. Paul Ramsey of the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton; and Rev. David Hollenbach, SJ, of the Weston School of Theology. Practitioner/commentator participants include Joseph S. Nye, Jr., of the Harvard Center for Science and International Affairs; Owen Harries of The National Interest; R. James Woolsey, undersecretary of the Navy in the Carter administration; David D. Newsom, undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Carter administration; Suzanne Garment of the American Enterprise Institute; Larry Fabian, secretary of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; James D. Watkins, former chief of naval operations; and John Ahern, former head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Other participating scholars include Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute, Kent Hill of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, James H. Billington of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and William V. O’Brien of Georgetown University.

In addition to the seminar series, the Madison Foundation will launch, with partial Peace Institute support, a survey of seminary and divinity school curricula in the ethics, war, and peace field. The study, which will begin in the fall of 1987 and be guided by a panel of distinguished educators, will identify, and then assess, the current state of teaching on issues of moral reasoning and U.S. foreign policy in seminaries and divinity schools across the denominational spectrum. That research will lead, in turn, to the development of new curricula in the field for Jewish, Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and mainline Protestant schools. The seminary component of the project will be completed by the end of 1988.

We look forward to keeping readers of AMERICAN PURPOSE in touch with both dimensions of this major project.

One sour note: the project was attacked in a singularly inept and mean-spirited way in the March 2 issue of the New Republic, in a story by one Crocker Coulson. Mr. Coulson managed to cram three factual errors into four sentences, while painting the project as some sort of sinister neoconservative cabal—which would probably have come as news to at least half the seminar members noted above, who, whatever their other attributes, accomplishments, and/or deficiencies, hardly constitute a monochromatic conspiracy to forward anybody’s ideology. As your editor wrote in a letter to the editor of the often-admirable New Republic, “The seminar includes liberals and conservatives, Catholics, Jews, and Protestants. The admission price is competence, not ideology. The result will not be anybody’s propaganda, but scholarship.” Who knows? Perhaps, in a few years, our ecumenism, and his accomplishments, may be such as to include Crocker Coulson in a similar project. For now, though, we’ll just get on with the work.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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