Elizabeth Anscombe argues that pacifism is an indefensible position: it simply does not take account of the simple fact that society without coercive power is generally impossible. This is not to say that war is not generally a great evil, principally because it tends to lead to the morally indefensible killing of the innocent. (The principle of double effect offers help in distinguishing when killing the innocent is, and when it is not, murder.) Pacifism, she adds, tends to have a morally pernicious effect: by ignoring the distinction between shedding any blood and shedding innocent blood it tends to lead to an "anything goes" position once war is initiated. One is, furthermore, misguided if one believes that Christianity entails pacifism; such a position sees Christianity not, as in truth it is, a severe and practicable religion, but rather as a beautifully ideal and impracticable one.
Since there are always thieves and frauds and men who commit violent attacks on their neighbours and murderers, and since without law backed by adequate force there are usually gangs of bandits; and since there are in most places laws administered by people who command violence to enforce the laws against lawbreakers; the question arises: what is a just attitude to this exercise of violent coercive power on the part of rulers and their subordinate officers?
Two attitudes are possible: one, that the world is an absolute jungle and that the exercise of coercive power by rulers is only a manifestation of this; and the other, that it is both necessary and right that there
From Nuclear Weapons.A Catholic Response, edited by Walter Stein, pp. 45-62. Copyright © 1961 by the Merlin Press Ltd. Reprinted with permission.