“Just War Theory is a dead letter” (129)—this is the claim that Meagher boldly makes and seeks to defend in his book. In short, Killing From the Inside Out is a declaration of war against the doctrine of war in the West. Moving chronologically, from Homer’s Iliad to William James’s “The Moral Equivalent of War,” and including the voices of combat veterans and military personnel, Meagher performs a style of argument that is directed at what James called “the sentiment of rationality.” He is aiming at the heart. His pen bears a great pain and burden.
Meagher shows the macabre pastoral dimension to a cold, objective reliance on the Just War Theory as an excuse to look away from the subjective pain that war creates. In his analysis, Meagher refreshingly refuses to consign these harms in toto to psychosis or pathology. The casualties of war, we see, are not only the dead and the physically wounded; they are also those killed from the inside, those who in alarming numbers take their own lives from wounds to the soul, from trauma of the heart; they are a collective, cultural wound we must learn to bear and heal together.
The industrial war complex makes casualties of us all.
Indeed, there is something like a phenomenology of war in this book that awakens us to the pastoral needs of our communities that live in the shadow of Empire, guarded by the implicit philosophical theology of Just War and the explicit nation-state that sponsors, wages, and celebrates it.
In the reviews to follow, I invite the reader to consider the pastoral dimensions of this dark and illuminating discussion, to see the ways that this symposium itself might teach us to learn and unlearn the subjective realities of violence and moral injury.
It is perhaps appropriate, then, that Meagher does not seem, in the analysis of the astute reviewers, to emerge a total, uncomplicated victor. There are a number of thoughtful counterfactuals and reservations brought to light, many of them rooted in the reviewers’ own personal relationship to war, others rooted in the limits of his argument.
However bellicose this rather academic critical routine may seem, we must not forget that the language of war is but an analogy to its reality on the battlefield and, as Meagher shows, the impossible return to civilian life. We surely cannot lose the realism of war amidst the language of theory and critique, just as that language and theory itself has a constitutive effect on the justification of its reality.
In other words, as much as philosophical questions about double effect and the analysis of intention might seem de rigueur in this discussion, the heart of the matter is itself, perhaps ironically, still thoroughly Augustinian: conversion. Meagher’s book and his critics here seem to all agree that there is a need for a deep and lasting conversion in the United States of America and the West with respect to war. Let us, then, be attentive to their words and willing to be moved to repent and believe in the Gospel.
About the Author
Robert Emmet Meagher, Professor of Humanities at Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts, has directed and participated in many events and programs concerned with understanding and healing the spiritual wounds of war in veterans, their families, and their communities. He served as an invited Commissioner for the National Truth Commission on Conscience in War and facilitates an ongoing MassHumanities/NEH VA Literature and Medicine seminar. His most recent book is Herakles Gone Mad: Rethinking Heroism in an Age of Endless War.