The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

It’s Wednesday, April 6th, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What Are War Crimes And Who Prosecutes Them?: Situating Vladimir Putin’s Actions in the History of War Crimes from the Last Century

A lot to consider both at home and abroad. Today, we’re going to start with Ukraine. The big story coming out of Ukraine is the certainty of the destruction of so much, not only of the nation, but of the civilian neighborhoods. It can only now be described as the intentional targeting of civilian populations and the infrastructure of the nation of Ukraine. This qualifies as a war crime.

As you look at the history of how we have considered morality and war, one of the most in interesting things is that there has been a developing conversation that was fast forwarded in the 20th century by some of the most horrible events of that very violent century. But first, let’s look at what’s going on in the ground in Ukraine. It is expected at this point that the Russians are changing strategy. Western intelligence sources are pretty much of one mind that Russia is digging in for a prolonged and extended military effort that is now going to be concentrated in the East.

Now, in the east, you have the Donbas region, which includes at least some cities that have a majority of Russian speakers in the population. You also have a corridor if not reaching Crimean and Russia’s annexation of Crimean, of course, in 2014 from Ukraine is a part of the background to this conflict. But nonetheless, if Russia controls that area and controls it incontestably, it is of significant addition to Russia’s territory and what it sees as its control of the near abroad on its Western border.

But what has become increasingly apparent is that Vladimir Putin is willing to destroy. There’s no other word for it now, but to destroy Ukraine as a nation in order to get what he wants. Now, again, we’re not absolutely certain that the Donbas region is all that he wants, but nonetheless, it’s clear right now that it’s in that Eastern region that Russian forces are concentrating their attention. But you still have reports of attacks in civilian areas far to the west of the Donbas region. And this is now coming with international confirmation, but this then leads to a couple of really important considerations from a Christian worldview perspective.

First of all, you have the fact that president Biden called Vladimir Putin a war criminal. The White House tried to back off of the statement, but then the president refused to back off, but that’s a very interesting development. And it’s also a morally significant development, it raises the question is Vladimir Putin a war criminal, what are war crimes? And how would we know when a war crime has been committed? How would we ascertain or judicially confirm who is actually responsible for that war crime?

There’s an interesting historical background to this, as I’ve discussed often on the briefing in Western civilization, there has been a very long, very thick conversation about the morality of war. And this has been in the main informed by explicitly Christian sources. This has led to what we call just war theory. It is a system of ethical thinking that helps to determine when the use of a military is justified and when it is unjustified. And then if we’re agreed that it’s morally justified, how such military efforts are to be carried out.

But as you’re looking at war crimes, you have to understand that we really are looking at the 20th century. So let’s go back. Let’s just remember the most horrifying events of the 20th century. And we might say that it comes down to three in particular, at least three horrifying mountain tops of warfare in the 20th century. And one of them was not so much a war as the threat of a war, but let’s think of them in sequence.

Number one, World War I. It was called The Great War at the time. And it was considered and is now recognized to be the first configuration that brought across the Atlantic multinational states into a concerted battle, and what at least for most of the war was a war to the death. World War I did not end with a victory, it ended basically with an armistice because both sides were exhausted, but the armistice was definitely at the expense of the German empire and of the Austria-Hungarian empire that had been Germany’s main ally.

And you’re looking at the fact that the European map was basically changed after world War I. Several of the biggest empires that had existed in human history simply disappeared or were broken up, redefined with the modern 20th century understanding of nationalism. There were undoubtedly what we would now call war crimes carried out in World War I. Most importantly, World War I saw the use of poisonous gas, so toxic gas and chemicals on the battlefield and the effects were so atrocious, so horrifying that they are basically impossible to describe.

Moral revulsion against the use of chemical and gas warfare led to international agreements after the war saying, “This must stop.” Remember that there were attempts during the time that World War I, as we now know it were being fought, that it was referred to not only as the war to end all wars, but it was considered to be a war from which civilization might barely survive. But it did survive. And then Europe went into a period of a false peace between what we now know were the two horrifying World Wars of the 20th century, World War I, follow a generation later by World War II. And the map was not exactly the same, but it had frightening similarities to World War I.

But if there were moral horrors in World War I, and there certainly were, they were multiplied with demons beyond imagination in the moral warfare of World War II. Most importantly, we have the memory of the Holocaust. The war crimes that were committed, particularly by the Germans in World War II were so vast in scale and so staggering to the moral imagination that it led to some basic moral questioning on the part of the Western allies after the victory, how in the world can we put together a moral order on the other side of the Holocaust, on the other to the concentration camps.

There have been international agreements and international movements to try to agree upon the morality of war and even to assign responsibility. But by the end of World War II, that had reached a fever point of intensity. And one of the results were the war crimes trials known as the Nuremberg trials. And there the victorious allies put together consistent with our own legal principles, a formal judicial process, whereby at least some of the hierarchy in Nazi Germany could be brought to face the bar of justice. And several were, all the way to the hangman’s noose.

There is now an international criminal court. There are all kinds of international bodies that supposedly could handle the responsibility in the current context of determining whether or not war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. They certainly have been, the evidence is fully there, we’ll talk more about that in just a moment. But assigning blame and bringing about a criminal prosecution? Well, that’s a different issue.

Now, remember at the end of World War II, several of the top Nazi leaders had not only survived the war, many of them of course, did not some of them by their own hand, but they also were in the custody of the Western allies. They were in the custody of those who could bring them to face the court of justice. To state the obvious fact, Vladimir Putin is unlikely to fall in to the custody or to be arrested by Western powers. And so we’re looking at something that right now is making a moral statement and a necessary moral statement, but we should not mistake the context now for the context that was possible at the end of World War II.

But the second thing to think about as we’re looking at war crimes that have undoubtedly taken place in Ukraine, that doesn’t mean that every allegation of a war crime is legitimate. It doesn’t mean that every claim even made by Ukraine has yet been substantiated. It is to say that enough already has been substantiated to justify the statement that war crimes have been committed by Russians against Ukraine. That won’t be the end of the story, but we know that much already.

Part II

The Intelligence Age Meets Modern War: Why Are Western Intelligence Agencies Releasing So Much Information on War in Ukraine?

But that gets to the second big issue. We do know a very great deal and we know it in real time. So as you look at the knowledge of the Nazi atrocities in World War II, the American people basically only began to know of what we would now call the Holocaust during the final year of World War II. And then most Americans came to a confrontation of the actual moral horror only after the allies had taken those camps and liberated them, and then shown the irrefutable video evidence of what had taken place.

Emaciated bodies of those who had been the victims of the Holocaust simply piled up like firewood, horrifying pictures that simply changed the moral landscape of the 20th century. You also had vast international agreement about the facts of what had taken place. And so it was not just one country making an allegation against another country, it was a vast array of countries that were providing evidence, much of that evidence freely available now. But only for the most part, once governments had released this information and much of the information didn’t even exist until the war was over or in its final months.

But perhaps you’ve noticed that something is very different about Russia’s current war in Ukraine. We know a great deal, and we know it very quickly. And not only that, but as you look at the history of military intelligence, a major corner has been turned and it’s been turned just in the last several weeks. You may not have noted it, but the American intelligence agencies, the American government and allied intelligence agencies are now releasing vast amounts of documentary evidence to the people of the world, to the population of the United States, to the media. This is a vast change in the very idea of military intelligence.

Now, how and why has it is happened? Well, the how is technology. We now have the ability to see what is going on halfway around the world or more. We’re able to see with documentary evidence. We’re able to see, even as some of these events unfold what in the context of war, no previous generation has been able to see. And so, even as you go back to say the two Gulf wars undertaken by the United States and allies, you look at those wars, you recognize there was a lot of evidence. CNN after all, really came to the attention of many Americans during the first Gulf war.

When CNN had reporters on the ground and was able to give something like 24 hour coverage to that fascinating and important world story. But there were great limitations to what CNN and other media sources knew on the ground in Kuwait or in Iraq. And much of that was controlled by military intelligence. Now, military intelligence still has control over what is declassified and presented to the public, but declassification used to be something that took years. Now, it is taking hours.

Warren P. Strobel writing for the Wall Street Journal yesterday pointed out this, “The new approach to public intelligence sharing has involved declassifying a cascade of secrets, normally reserved for top policymakers updates on Russian troop movements, detailed allegations. The Moscow would stay age a pretext for its invasion, even last week reports of growing tension between Mr. Putin and his generals. White House officials,” say the Journal, “call the strategy ‘downgrade and share'”—with ‘downgrade’ referring to lowering the classification level of U.S. documents or data.”

But this article doesn’t point to another reason that this is happening. And that other reason has to do with the fact that governments and government intelligence agencies don’t have a monopoly on the technologies or on the ability to collect this data. For that matter, you could bring up at least some of this information, including aerial or satellite documentation if you have the right app on your smartphone.

A third thing for us to think about is the fact that information, facts, data, they all require interpretation. What do these things mean? And one of the things we have seen in recent weeks is that American intelligence agencies, which have had their own embarrassments through the years have actually appeared to have been overwhelmingly correct in making assessments and in predicting next moves. And this has raised internationally, the respect for American intelligence agencies, and that’s now being reflected in comments being made in public by others, including our European allies.

I guess the bottom line in some of this is that there has been a victory, at least in part for truth in a world of falsehood, with the availability of so much of this data and the fact that it’s accessible to so many around the world. That doesn’t mean that pictures can’t lie. It doesn’t mean that video evidence can’t be doctored. It doesn’t mean that there cannot be false interpretations of the data, but it does mean that overwhelmingly just as in a court of law, the court of public opinion is drawn to the majority of the evidence and the authoritative nature of that evidence as corroborated by others. That’s the way in a fallen world we try to think most clearly and get to the truth most closely.

Part III

‘Russia is Big Enough, Why Does He Want More Land? … Would You Stay and Fight For Your Country?’: Helping Children—And the Rest of Us—Understand Moral Events on the World Stage

But next I want to talk about how we, particularly as Christians and how Christian parents, Christian teachers and Christian adults, how we think about interpreting these events for the young among us, for children, for teenagers, for students. And we’re talking about these things because the world is talking about them. An article that not only got my attention, but touched my heart was published on the front page of the New York Times last Friday and had to do with school children across Europe struggling to understand what they were hearing about this war and the images they were seeing about this war.

And that article, which was actually date lined in Horsham, England. That’s in West Sussex to the Southwest of London in a school. That article raised a host of issues that I think should be of interest to parents in particular and teachers wherever you are, and Christians, I’m speaking to Christians in particular. The articles by Emma Bubola, the headline is this across Europe, hard questions from students. And so it’s really about one classroom with students about the age of fifth or sixth grade. They’re in Horsham, England, but it’s extended to young people all over the world, particularly all over Europe, where students are asking questions.

The historical background is captured in one key insight in this article, “School children today were born long after the Balkan conflicts of the ’90s. And some were toddlers when the war in Syria was at its height. No conflict they are old enough to remember has been so widely displayed on their TikTok feeds as the war in Ukraine or for that matter, so close to home.” So in this sense, children in England and children on the continent of Europe might be feeling a bit more urgency in this story.

But frankly, children around the world come up with the same kinds of questions when they see this kind of news and they see these kinds of images. Children being children, there’s some fascinating questions that came up in this classroom in England among say 10 and 11 year olds. One boy named Max who was looking at an Atlas showing Russia and Ukraine said, “Russia’s big enough, why does he want more land?” Speaking of Vladimir Putin.

One 11 year old girl turned to the teacher and asked the teacher, “Would you stay and fight for your country?” Just think about the moral weight of a question like that posed by an 11 year old to the student’s teacher. We’re also told about another 11 year old, this one named Jessica, who we’re told stood with a knee on her chair and asked the teacher, “Why are most crazy people men?”

And that just points to another basic fact, and that is that when you look at the sphere of military and political operations, there are some women present, but that world is still overwhelmingly male. And an 11 year old girl had noticed that. The story then broadened to other European locations, including Marseille in France, where a 10 year old boy had raised his hand to tell his teacher that he was scared and that he felt like hiding.

An 18-year-old boy in Warsaw had worried that he might be called up to fight. And we’re told about a 16-year-old girl in Milan in Italy, who said she could not imagine what the future held for her, and presumably for her generation. A couple of things for Christians and most importantly, Christian parents and teachers to think about here, what does this show us? Well, it shows us that despite all the moral confusions of our age, it is still important that children ask adults certain questions.

They are looking for answers to these questions, but they’re not looking merely for cognitive answers that after all have better be right. They’re looking for emotional assurance. They are looking for moral grounding and here’s where Christian parents need to seize the opportunity. They’re not only asking, “What do you think about this?” They’re asking you, “How should we think about this?”

And there is a real opportunity here for Christian parents, even in the United States, because after all, we’re thousands of miles from this military action, but that same military intelligence data that is now streaming onto televisions and yes, onto TikTok feeds for better or worse. Nonetheless, the reality is that children, our children are not insulated from the knowledge of this war. And the images of this war, including the kind of military horrors with which we began the discussion today, they raised fundamental issues for children and children are looking not only for information, they are looking for reassurance.

And this is where Christian parents have an incredible opportunity to look at these excruciating moral issues and dignify the conversations with your own children, with our own children. In order to say, “The Christian worldview tells us how we are to think about these things. The Christian worldview, the scriptures guide us in understanding how we are to understand, calculate. How we are to morally evaluate everything as big as war and everything as small as a transaction at the grocery store.”

Excruciating images and screaming headlines raise an opportunity for Christian parents, but also for pastors and for teachers an opportunity because those questions are not in the main really being posed by 11 year olds to other 11 year olds, they’re looking to adults and yes, that matters. And it’s time for adults to be adults. And that’s particularly true for Christians.

Tomorrow in The Briefing, we’re going to be looking at developments in two states in particular, Oklahoma and Colorado and what those developments show. Just in a matter of days, if not just a matter of hours is the divide in the United States over the most basic of issues, including the dignity and sanctity of unborn life. We’re going to be looking at those two states and legislative issues that bring that contrast into just an undeniable focus. And that’s important, it’s going to take more time that we have for the remainder of the briefing today.

Tomorrow, we’re also going to be looking at the likely confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. And in particular, we’re going to be looking at the decisions announced by three Republican senators that they would be voting for Judge Jackson for confirmation to the nation’s highest court. That means that in all likelihood, Judge Jackson will be confirmed by the United States Senate by the end of the week.

But there are huge issues that come to the fore here, and one of the most important would be the decision making that’s been revealed on the part of those three Republicans. Most importantly, main Republican Senator Susan Collins. We’re going to be looking at her comments and her explanation of why she decided to vote for the confirmation of Judge Jackson. Big issues there. They demand our attention will get to that also tomorrow.

Part IV

Advertisements Shape Public Opinion: Cruise Line Devotes Full Two Page Ad to All-Inclusive Project of Celebrity Cruises

But as Christians try to understand the world around us, sometimes it’s not so much a news story or an opinion piece or a headline, a national event of that kind of magnitude or international news that gets our attention. Sometimes it’s an advertisement, and we need to remember that advertising has a great deal to do with shaping American opinion. It reflects American opinion, of course, but it also shapes opinion. And it is a very clear signal of the moral movement in a society.

You can see that with the redefinition of the family and advertising with couples, including now same sex couples often presented in advertising. You can see all kinds of things, but frankly, I was not yet expecting the full color two page spread in the print edition of Sundays New York Times for a cruise line that made this point undeniably. Let’s just say it made that point in full color.

The major part of the two page four color spread has to do with two people in a cruise suite, they are at sea. The woman is looking wistfully out the window, the man is sitting on bed. Now, evidently by identification, the man and the woman only happened to be in the photograph together. And the man is shown in something of an Eastern religious pose with his bare chest showing, the woman’s skirt flowing. So what would be the message of this ad? Well, it’s about the all-inclusive project of celebrity cruises.

Now, I’m old enough to remember when all-inclusive when referring to travel meant that all of the charges were included in a total fee. You had cruises and they were all inclusive so everything’s included. The meals and everything. It’s just all one fee, or at least that was what was presented in theory. But in this case, “all inclusive” has nothing to do with meals or a ride on a boat. It instead is a moral statement. It’s a photo project, which we’re told is made possible by Celebrity Cruises. And here is how the cruise line defines the project: “Celebrity Cruises is starting a movement to address under-representation in travel marketing through our all-inclusive photo project. In partnership with world renowned photographers, we have created the world’s first open source photo library featuring ethnic, disabled, curvy and LGBTQ+ change makers. We invite our industry to join us in changing the face of travel.” Well, you’re told you can learn more about it at a website. The Q code is provided you can look those up for yourself if you want, but we’re told that celebrity cruises is now making a major corporate statement and undertaking what is called the all-inclusive photo project.

And by the time you read the words, “all inclusive” includes even more than Celebrity Cruises wants to acknowledge would be included. It’s also really interesting to see the descriptors that are mentioned here in the all-inclusive plan. Again, ethnic, disabled, curvy and LGBTQ+ change makers. Now, here’s where Christians understand there are issues of inclusion that are deeply morally justified. No doubt about that. And there is also no doubt that at advertising has to take responsibility for presenting a certain kind of image.

And sometimes that can be something that is unhealthy and costly. Just consider the controversies, say in the beginning of the 21st century about the fact that so many models presenting women’s clothing were basically anorexic. They were fundamentally unhealthy. This was communicating a very unhealthy image to American girls and women. That’s a morally significant fact. But in this case, when you see the actual description of this project, it has another kind of moral mission. And that moral mission is the normalization of well, it’s put here right in print, LGBTQ+ change makers.

Remember that last line, “We invite our industry to join us in changing the face of travel.” Now, that’s virtue signaling in the corporate form of ever we have seen it. If this was a company that wanted to communicate to its competitors in the industry, it wouldn’t do so with an extremely expensive two page full color spread in the New York Times. No, this is about virtue signaling. And this company is signaling what it claims is its virtue. And that virtue is to join the moral revolution without hesitation, without boundaries.

We’ll talk about this more someday, but it is very interesting to know that much of the modern advertising industry can be traced back to a man in New York named Edward Bernays and his uncle was not coincidentally Sigmund Freud. As you might imagine, a big story there. One day, we’ll track it out.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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