Military service and unjust wars

I’m 18, a senior in high school. I will be going to Marion Military Institute, which is a 2 year junior military college. Once I get my associates degree, I want to enlist in the marine corp. I have always wanted to join the military since freshman year. The only thing i’m really scared of is being ordered to fight in an unjust war. I am a Catholic first. I have always wanted to be the guy in the combat situations getting the action. Not sitting behind a desk. Did any of you who have been (or are) in the military ever had this concern? If so, how did you deal with it?

Define an “unjust war.”

Well, if I were you I’d very carefully review Just war theory.

Most wars today, are obviously not just. (“Preemptive wars” are not just wars, period.)

A war that clearly does not meet the criteria of the just war doctrine in the Catechism.

The explanation of the just war doctrine on Catholic answers says that preemptive war can be justified.

Have you looked at joining the Coast Guard? Plenty of action, no need to worry about fighting in an unjust war.

As an enlisted Marine you take an oath agreeing to obey the orders of your superiors. You will also be told that you do not have to obey immoral orders. It’s up to you to figure out what is immoral.

I had to do many things I disliked, but didn’t consider them immoral. Good luck! You have lots of thinking to do.

By the way, the Coast Guard fights the war on drugs. Some might consider that immoral!

Er, the Coast Guard has a presence in the Persian Gulf. It is entirely possible given the proximity of Iran and the US and Israel there for one to be forced to fight…

Whoops! Just put my boot in my mouth on that one!

I’d edit my post were I able, so it will have to suffice to say that I’d like to rescind my claim.

**Raising grave moral questions about U.S. involvement in Iraq is in no way questioning the moral integrity of those in the military. **

Archbishop O’Brien Archdiocese for the Military, 2007.

The comment above is one to help demonstrate people can and will question every military action. And, at times, this can cause tension. But good-willed soldiers, especially informed by the Catholic faith understand the moral duty of military service. And they can make some of the finest soldiers!

Ill share, my wife and I are both are prior military and we have a fair tradition of military service in both our families. So a decade ago when our son approached us explaining he changed his mind about college and strongly desired to join the USMC we discussed the difficulties of military life. We didn’t immediately agree. We made sure he was orientated towards preparation of a stressful time. It is not an easy vocation. And depending on your MOS and duty assignment, you may not be able to get to Mass or confession for periods of time.

It’s good to have a mentor of sorts to help go over such questions.

So yes, you should properly discern if military service is the correct path for you (the same for every vocation) prior to signing up.

I will note, our son faithfully served in the USMC and now is in his final year at a fine University (benefit of the GI Bill).


Amen, or the Air Force, lots of options.


I think that you have tendencies towards scrupulosity.

So what you need to do if you haven’t already is to meet with a priest and find a spiritual director if need be.

I also think you should ask a priest/spiritual director about what you would be obligated to do in a situation of an unjust war.

But I do think that you ought to be able to join the military without having to worry about things like this, although like I said, you do need to ask the right people and look into this more or less scrupulous nature you have.

I do know that if you are scrupulous, you are "not bound by doubtful laws and obligations’ as stated in Scrupulous Anonymous.

When I read the OP this morning, this was a concern of mine, too. He does have a tendency towards scrupulosity and legalism, which is evident with his issues over what he feels can and can’t be done on Sundays. I guarantee that he will not be lounging around after Mass on Sundays if he’s in the military. Something to think and pray about before making any big decisions.

Don’t do it.

Perhaps the better question is what it means to be Catholic American with a war on terrorism going on and is it just or not. Doesn’t matter how connected one is specifically to for example the Marines or another area, its implicit being Catholic and American in some fashion in relation to just war explicit with a specific branch. Just connected in various ways. Its a matter of first do you think we are at war and with whom, and what are its implications as a Catholic American in its meaning to yourself in relation to involvement in just war or unjust war.

We are all involved in some interconnect way just being Catholic American, your full fledged involvement indicates your full pledged agreement.

Johnny, I’m glad to see you are further along in your education.

That said, didn’t we sort of do this to death a few weeks ago? Before you accept advice from anonymous strangers, I’d be curious whether you spoke to military officers; recruiters: etc. perhaps a chaplain? I think that would be a lot more relevant.

Aside: Whether the just war doctrine needs to be updated is another thread. War is very different now than it was for centuries, particularly since enemy combatants no longer are likely to be wearing a uniform of an opposing army. Just another thing to think about.

There are lots of Catholics in the military. The U.S. military has its own Archdiocese. One of the priests of my own diocese joined the Army while a priest, taking a leave of absence for a few years, to serve as a chaplain–in a war zone–then returned as a priest of the diocese.

I know several very fine Marines. My brother was in the Army. I was in the USAF. It was a good experience. I didn’t spend every day thinking about which wars I would fight in. That’s not for the individual to decide in any case. Shall we have each soldier and airman pondering whether or not to go to work on a particular day?

I don’t consider WW-II an entirely “just” war on either side, considering the number of civilian casualties that were deliberately inflicted. Yet, it was a war that needed to be fought.

If you have what it takes to be a Marine, go for it.

That’s all well and good, but if an enemy combatant is shooting at me I doubt I’m going to worry about whether or not I’m fighting an “unjust” war.

Talking to a chaplain is a great idea. I’d wager they know more about this subject than all of us combined.

Yeah, I would sure hope so. If you were ever ordered to do things like torture civilians, burn down all houses of worship of [insert religion here], fire recklessly upon your own countrymen, etc.

When you’re enlisted, you’re under the authority of your commanding officers. As Catholics, we’re under the authority of our bishops. Both of these types of authority are far reaching, but surely there’s a point at which they would have reached too far, right?

I would also wonder about your oath of enlistment. You took one, right? Does that oath itself not set some degree of boundaries outside of which no just authority could be operated?

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