Q. This war with Iraq and similar situations in the world makes me wonder whether a man may refuse the call to arms?
Firstly, it is the duty of every citizen to defend his own country. This stems from both justice and charity. Justice: The COMMON GOOD of the country, that is, of his own people, of the society in which he lives, is of greater importance than his own good. It is not only a question of quantity, ie; they are more people than I alone. It comes from the fact that society is the natural vehicle by which people may work out their salvation. A naturally good and peaceful society is a perfect substrate for the production of upright citizens, and upright citizens form a perfect natural basis for a holy society. Man is a social being and cannot live outside society. If he cannot live outside society, he cannot sanctify himself (generally speaking) outside society either. It follows therefore, that the citizen must, in justice, safeguard and enhance his own society or country.
In charity also, he is bound to give his life if it would mean that his own would perish if he does not do so. Soldiers who so lay down their life for the nation as a whole, perform without doubt a heroic act of charity and will save their souls (unless other things impede of which God alone is the judge) according to the teaching of Our Lord himself, “there is no greater love than he who lays down his life for his friend.” This is the general principle.
But, what if he is required to fight in an unjust war?
There are two problems here: One; Is it unjust? and two; Even if it is unjust, his own country is (by its own fault) in danger.
Is it unjust? Most moral theologians are of the opinion that political and social questions which have brought upon the war are too complicated for the individual citizen or soldier to judge. Since he cannot judge them with accuracy, he is bound to fight because his own country is put in danger regardless whether the war is just or unjust. (the first principle prevails again).
In practice, although it seems that everything points out to the fact that America is waging an unjust war against Iraq, the American soldier is bound to respond to the call up by his country, because, as I have stated above, the cause of the war is too complicated for him to judge and so to take up the cause in his own hands. It is not here a question of obeying President Bush, it is rather the nation calling her sons to her self-defense.
But, in a country where living has become impossible due to a despotic leader, are the people justified to revolt?
The principle of the common good, as I mentioned above, may in such a case be turned upside down. It is precisely the common good which is at stake and the very person (the President) who is supposed to be its first protector has become its greatest enemy, such that the people are now ready to stake their own lives so that the common good may be restored once again. Yet, the answer is not so simple. The church, contrary to modern thought, has always taught that all power comes from God. Even in a democratic society, where the people will designate the Prime Minister or President. The power he receives to govern does not come from the people, as modernists claim, but comes from God. “You would not have had the power, if it was not given to you from above,” said Our Lord to Pontius Pilate. Saul became an evil king, but David would not lift up his hand against the “anointed one.” It follows from this that the people cannot dethrone a rightful President, for, as I said, he does not have his power from them but from God.
In the Second World War, there were many good (and holy) Catholic German men fighting under Hitler. They did not refuse. Neither is there a single address from Pope Pius XII which forbade them to fight, even though Nazism was condemned. When the First World War broke out, Pope St. Pius X greatly lamented the war, but never forbade any soldier from taking up arms to defend his own country, although in many cases it was Catholic against Catholic.
In a case where a despotic leader has taken power by non free and fair elections, such a leader may not have any power at all, and, it would seem that in such a case the people may seek to dethrone him.
As a citizen, a man may (and must) vote or voice his opinion against any evil he may find in his own society. Yet, he does this again in virtue of the first principle; the common good. It is for this reason again that the church has always taught that one is bound to vote at the time of elections.