The Just and the Unjust War

“…honest men must speak and speak loudly when a crucial moral issue is at stake.”

If today’s deeply divided national outlook concerns you, it should. If you think that the rigid polarization of the United States is something new, you probably missed the 1960s. (Hopefully some of our readers are post-Baby Boomers!)

On November 12, 1967 Rabbi Olan took on one of the most divisive issues of his day: the war in Viet Nam. Perhaps surprisingly, his sermon, “The Just and the Unjust War,” was not a diatribe either for or against the war. Instead, Olan created a teaching moment that offered an olive branch to both Hawks and Doves. Rather than speaking politically, he spoke analytically, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of both positions and highlighting the moral ambiguities on all sides.

Did Olan have an opinion about the war? I think he did. But expressing his opinion (telling people what to think) was not the point of this sermon. Instead, it seems that he wanted to foster informed dialogue that could move the country to accept a single course of action: all-out war or total withdrawal. Each solution would be difficult and costly. But not coming to a national consensus was also costly. We are living with the consequences even today.

I invite you to read this sermon thoughtfully and join Rabbi Olan in asking such questions as “Do the ends we seek justify the terrible means was are forced to use to achieve them?” Is our nation supporting the wrong regimes? Are we fighting the right enemies? Have we calculated the human suffering that our actions or inactions may cause? What gives us the right to intervene? Morality demands answers to these and other hard questions.

Follow this link to read the sermon text.
Follow this link to listen to the audio recording.
Follow this link to watch the scrolling-text video.

*Written by Tim Binkley*