The song I most hate in all the world is Imagine by John Lennon. Its lyrics ask us to imagine a world with no countries, religion, or property, in which there is "nothing to kill or die for". As the lyrics tell us that "isn't hard to do". It's 10,000BC. The strong oppress the weak, and no-one knows of any reason to protect them. The strong take from the weak, and no-one can say that's wrong in more than a childish way since there's no concept of respecting property. The powerful rape and murder and none but those compelled by passion and instinct rise to protect them, for there are no abstractions such as countries or religion that tell us we should sacrifice ourselves for others.
So, Imagine, despite its catchy tune, is a vision of a horrific dystopia, a world of nihilism and unrestrained vice. Thus far, however, I've not really said anything much against Imagine. I don't hate it for its dissolution. After all, there are plenty of songs about wickedness and vice that I like - eg the overtly Satanic Gates of Babylon by Rainbow is one of my favourite pieces. No. The problem with Imagine isn't that it's wicked; it's that people think it's good!! They actually appear to regard it as some kind of model. Children were dressed in white and made to sing "Imagine there's no heaven / It's easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky" at the Olympic closing ceremony. Well, imagine those kids had been made to sing lyrics from Gates of Babylon, such as "Sleep with the Devil and then you must pay / Sleep with the Devil, the Devil will take you away", and perhaps you'll understand what I thought of that!
For be under no illusion, despite its wickedness, Imagine captures the zeitgeist. People think we should imagine the ideal for this world is that there should be "nothing to kill or die for". Our picture of war has become the regretful silence of Remembrance Day or Wootton Bassett. At our churches we pray for "peace in the Middle East". We do not pray for justice, for the smiting of evildoers, for the Lord to raise up champions to lead us forwards to break the chains of oppression that imprison the unblessed. We have forgotten what "peace" really is.
The "Queen's Peace" is the protection she offers her citizens under her laws, the "frith" to use the old English term. Peace – the Queen's Frith, God's Peace – does not exist without justice, indeed it is justice that creates peace. Without justice, "peace" is merely cease-fire or long-suffering under oppression. And we should not have forgotten that the goddess Justitia carries the sword as well as the scales, for justice requires the judicious application of violence to tip the scales in favour of the righteous.
We must not forget, either, that human justice is imperfect. Of course some people are imprisoned who should not be! Of course some people are free who have committed crimes! Of course some people's sentences are longer or shorter than is truly just! Is any of that really a good reason for eschewing the state enforcement of justice? Obviously not!
Why, then, do we imagine human imperfection and error counts as a good argument against the pursuit of just war? Of course, just as human imperfection in state justice means we have principles of caution and due process in criminal prosecution and limits on the arbitrary powers of the instruments of state justice. We should exercise an analogous (though not identical) caution in our use of wars to promote justice. But war is not simply about self-defence, any more than state justice is only about the prevention of treason or insurrection. War is not simply a sad necessity, any more than the imprisonment of criminals is simply a sad necessity. It is noble and right, not just needed, to punish criminals when the occasion demands. And, when the occasion demands, it is noble and right to kill and be killed in war.
I can imagine a world in which no-one understood or cared enough or thought anything worth enough to sacrifice themselves in war. Imagining a world in which no-one thinks there's anything worth killing or dying for indeed isn't hard to do. But I'd much rather imagine and work for a world in which oppressors and thieves and murderers find my country and my religion their enemy, and that one day you'll join us so that victory and justice can be won.