David Carroll COCHRAN, Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014.  ix + 252 pages.  $28.00 pb.  ISBN 978-1-62698-074-7.  Reviewed by Robert P. RUSSO, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560


               David Carroll Cochran is currently the director of the Archbishop Kucera Center for Catholic Intellectual and Spiritual Life at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.  His previous publications include articles on democracy, pacifism, and war in the Catholic tradition, and books dedicated to Catholic voting, and public policy.  His latest publication is an excellent, and oftentimes lurid, study of the factors of war, their potential elimination, and the grave destruction that war ultimately leaves behind.  Carroll Cochran’s thesis, although not directly stated, examines “why abolishing war is not unrealistic.  Like other forms of institutionalized violence, a reinforcing cycle of changing social attitudes and political institutions can reduce and eventually eliminate it” (4).  Although Carroll Cochran admits that the eradication of war is difficult to accomplish, he does offer a logical blueprint that is organized and well-researched.

In countering notions of utopian idealism with a sobering dose of reality, Carroll Cochran effectively reasons that war, while a constant occurrence throughout human history, is never morally licit or inevitable, adding that it “is not an inescapable part of the human condition” (1).  He further advocates that the elimination of war does not equate to a society free from conflict or violence, but a world that is made more humane for the effort.  Carroll Cochran deftly rides the fine line in terms of the debate between pacifists—who see killing of any kind as morally impermissible, and neoconservative Catholics—who believe that any deviation from the tenets of the just war theory are considered to be a weakness of character, presenting potentially disastrous consequences.  He bridges the wide gap found between extremist viewpoints by noting the historical decline of such anachronisms as dueling, lynching, and slavery.

Carroll Cochran devotes the first section of the book in establishing his argument, which contrasts pacifism and contemporary Catholic doctrine, amidst neoconservative criticism.  However, it is in this section that the reader will begin to notice numerous citations—there are nearly 900 citations spread out over the entire volume, and they contribute little or nothing in the way of supporting arguments or information.  These citations make the breadth and scope of the publication; they merely seem like the opinions of the various popes, socio-political activists, and theologians cited.  Voluminous notations aside, Carroll Cochran does make several salient points in the second section of his work, entitled “The Immorality of War.”

Concerning the death of innocent civilians brought about by war, Carroll Cochran rightfully states that “[t]here can be no such thing as a just war.  Since war inescapably violates one of the core moral principles of Catholic doctrine—the prohibition on intentionally killing the innocent—it should repudiate war completely…” (43).  He also views the death of soldiers who are wounded or surrendering to be morally wrong, in that they are equally innocent, and “they may not be punished for merely fighting in a war, even on the unjust side, but those on both sides may nonetheless be legitimately slaughtered during the course of the war” (63).  His solution to eliminating needless death in war is to establish a universal peace-keeping force to police areas of potential conflict.  Carroll Cochran also advocates the use of mediation during national disputes, trade sanctions, monetary fines, and on-going dialogue—war may still occur, but it will be minimized over time.

In the third section, entitled “Abolishing Institutionalized Violence,” Carroll Cochran wonders how society ever removed such long-standing and archaic institutions as dueling and lynching from the American conscience, asking “[h]ow did such behavior go from being routine and legitimate to being absurd?” (131). He views slow-moving shifts in cultural values, legal systems, and political pressure as factors of change, which may take centuries to occur.  Carroll Cochran later states that society may never reach moral perfection, however, we must still seek measures of relief which advance the realm of moral progress (165).

Carroll Cochran’s latest publication would serve as an excellent resource for advanced students of Cultural Anthropology, Ethics, the Just War Theory, and Moral Theology.  Although much of the foundation is not Carroll Cochran’s, he has presented a volume that is fair-and-balanced, and extremely thought-provoking.