On the eve of Remembrance Sunday, 11 November 2007, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams described the Western-backed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a tragic mess which failed to conform to the principles of 'just war' theory and brought great suffering.
The remarks came over the weekend as the head of the Church of England continued his visit to Norfolk. Dr Williams was speaking during a visit to Norwich Cathedral as part of a three-day tour of the region, reports the Norfolk Eastern Daily News.
The archbishop said that while people should recognise and honour the bravery of soldiers at war, past and present, the Middle East conflicts fell short of one of the significant requirements of what is traditionally held to be a just war.
He told an audience of 600 clergy and lay church leaders that: “One of the aspects of traditional just war theory is that you need to know what would count as a good end and how you would know when you have that and what to do then."
Dr Williams continued: “I don't think we had that in place sadly. I don't think we knew what we would do next or what would count as our ending. And that is the tragedy.”
Dr Williams also talked about how Christian pacifists can reconcile their beliefs with the reality of war and the church's development during some of the most turbulent times in history saying that for much of its early history it was involved in “damage limitation” exercises.
“Granted there are going to be wars, how do you stop then being nightmares and a mere expression of naked power?" he asked.
Christian peace campaigners have criticised the accommodation of mainline churches to violence during the 1700 years of Christendom, arguing that the core Gospel message calls for a more creative, nonviolent role in a violent and divided world.
The 'just war' theory was adopted when the Church moved away from its early refusal of military service. It has been used to call for limits on war, but has rarely succeeded. It was also used to justify the defence of Christian empires, say critics.
"Just war theory points to ways of limiting conflict, but historic Christianity has much more to offer in terms of creative alternatives and practical non-violence in line with the message of Jesus and well-researched modern theories of conflict transformation", suggests Simon Barrow of the think tank Ekklesia, which examines religion in public life.