Duterte, The Pacifist, and The Just War Tradition

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse.” — John Stuart Mill

President Duterte has been accused of using unnecessary violence, killings, and other atrocities to fight the war against drugs, criminality, and corruption. Scores of news articles and blogs in social media hype drug-related killings associated with Duterte’s alleged wanton desire to use violence and murder to fight crime. Accusations hurled by the opposition reached the global stage as many foreign media reports pick-up the same exaggerated baseless number of deaths by drug-related killings, being reported to media by overly zealous human rights groups.

The Philippines is predominantly Catholic, yet most Filipinos fully support President Duterte’s war on drugs. According to a survey conducted by the Social Weather Station (SWS), 85% of Filipinos are satisfied with the drug campaign. This survey was conducted from September 24–27, 2016.1 However, a recent survey also conducted by the SWS, from June 23 to 26, 2017, concluded that 54 percent doubted the claims of cops that slain suspects fought back, with 20 percent saying they strongly agree to the test statement: “Many of those killed in the police anti-drug campaign are not really drug dealers.” 2

A more recent SWS survey conducted a few weeks after the deaths of teenagers Kian Loyd de los Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, and Reynaldo de Guzman, showed a drop of 18 points in the net satisfaction rating of the President. Based on the survey, 73 percent of respondents said they had “much trust,” 15 percent were “undecided,” and 12 percent had “little trust” in Duterte. The survey also showed a decline in his net trust ratings, which fell to +60 or “very good”, 15 points lower than the +75 or “excellent” in the previous quarter. 17

Although there is a drop, the timing of the survey may have contributed to this result, together with some Church leaders who denounced thousands of killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war by ordering the ringing of church bells each night to honor the dead.18

This brings me to the question, is a Catholic or Christian supportive of President Duterte committing a sin?

A more pointed question is, can a Catholic or Christian involve themselves in violence, killings, and war? Is this against the teachings of Jesus Christ? How do the faithful form their consciences in this issue? Asking the right questions is important when it comes to violence, killings, and war. Too often we ask under what circumstances when is it morally just and right for me to use violence and deadly force to resolve a conflict. One of the first rules of ethics is, “every moral principle must be universal”, that can be applied to everyone. So why not rephrase the question to when is it morally right and just for another person, people or nation to use violence and deadly force? Against me, my nation and my people to resolve a conflict.3 This depends on how your conscience is formed, and there is no way to judge whether a person is disobeying his or her own conscience. We can never know whether the act or omission is done with full knowledge and consent of a person committing a sin.

Having said this, does President Duterte’s war on drugs go against the teachings of the Church and other Christian denominations? This moral dilemma is non-conclusive and remains a debatable subject matter. It depends what side of the continuum your mind is set on, from the “Pacifist” on one side and the “Militarist” on the other.

The Pacifist

On one side of the continuum is Pacifism, a theory that strongly supports the view that peaceful means rather than violence should govern human interaction, and that arbitration, or surrender, should be used to resolve disputes. While most people accept the necessity of war as moral and legitimate, conscientious objectors have often been accorded a special recognition for their moral bravery in refusing to take up arms. An excellent place to start an analysis of pacifism is with the “absolutist” argument that all forms of violence, war, and killings are unconditionally wrong. 4

This is one side of the continuum.

The origin of the word, “Pacifist” comes from the latin words, pax (pacis) which means peace, and the latin verb, facio (facere) which means to make. Pacifism is not about avoiding conflict but actively engaging in peace making. 3

Many biblical scholars will attest that early Christians did not involve themselves in violence, killings, and wars. For the first 300 years, Christians were predominantly pacifists.

According to David Bercot, attorney and author on the subject of early Christian teaching, says that the “Biggest stumbling block is “Loving Enemies”. Nonresistance is not just a doctrine, but a way of life. It touches all kinds of everyday interactions…”. 7

C.S. Lewis contradicts the pacifist contention that war does more harm than good, that every war leads to another war, and that pacifism itself will lead to an absence of war, and more, a cure for suffering. Lewis points out:

“I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terribly by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made; just as the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race.”

He affirms the opposite that doing well in tackling immediate evils with deliberate force does more good than setting up position statements based on some humanistic view that good things will automatically happen. 8 I think the point of Lewis is you have to do something about a problem; they won’t go away just like that. That’s wishful thinking.

It is my view that modern day pacifists claim to be more righteous than other believers or proponents of the just war theory. Their stance of non-violence or non-resistance brings into play the overly stubborn fanatical belief that all forms of violence, war, and killings are absolutely evil.

Why were the early Christians Pacifist? 5

1. A major reason why pacifism was pronounced among early Christians is because of their convictions. They believed that they were being Christ-like in pursuing nonviolence, pointing the example of Christ in this regard.
2. To a large extent, military involvement was not an option for them. Most of the early Christians were converts from Judaism, and were forbidden from serving in the Roman imperial army.
3. Survival: early Christians were mostly a persecuted minority sect in those early centuries. They were focused on struggling to stay alive.
4. Idolatry and pagan practices: The idolatrous practices were emperor worship. Soldiers had to swear an oath of allegiance to the emperor, an obligation that demanded blind loyalty to the emperor as the highest divine authority.
5. Geographical factors: the expansions of Christianity were mainly in the urban areas far away from frontiers of war.
6. No early church writer approved of military involvement; few appear to have condemned it either.
7. The early church looked for Christ’s imminent return. Over time this expectation diminished, as the realization that the second coming of Christ may not be taking place as soon as was expected. This prevented the early Christians from entering “worldly” professions.

Concluding thoughts in consideration of the predicament of the early Christians, some of these points are stronger than others, but to understand them holistically provides an intellectual framework to better understand why most early Christians were pacifists. After all, there were equally good political and social reasons.

The Just War Tradition

On the other side of the continuum is the “Militarist” side. The just war tradition or the theory of just war defense is in the middle between militarism and pacifism. In my opinion, slightly bent towards the militarist side. This view runs contrary to the assertions of non-resistance and non-violence from the pacifist theory.

Dr. J. Daryl Charles, author of books on ethics, defends that “coercive force can be used for just and moral purposes, which is not to argue that it always is or even that it normally is. But not only are just war theorists aware of that, but law enforcement officers on a daily basis.” 6

Dr. Charles further argues that, “The pacifism’s theological error is that temporary judgments in the present life, carried out through temporal authorities, are not necessary.” Those holding to Biblical nonresistance would agree that temporal authorities can “wield the sword” as indicated by Romans 13:1, 4 (Everyone is to obey the governing authorities, because there is no authority except from God and so whatever authorities exist have been appointed by God, it is there to serve God for you and for your good. But if you do wrong, then you may well be afraid; because it is not for nothing that the symbol of authority is the sword: it is there to serve God, too, as his avenger, to bring retribution to wrongdoers) 6, and the Schleitheim Confession, Article II: “The sword is an ordering of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and kills the wicked and guards and protects the good.” 7

Dr. Charles concludes that, “Alas, justice with force is a myth, which is not to suggest that justice always requires force. As all of us here know, if we resist paying our taxes we will be forcibly imprisoned.” He completed his conclusion by saying, “Just war is in the middle between militarism and pacifism. Just war is a marriage of justice and charity.” These statements completely rules out the absolute right wing “Militarism” as a just war.

Similarly the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) No. 2310 clearly states: 11

“Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.

Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.”

This was earlier supported by the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, GAUDIUM ET SPES promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965. GS 79 § 5 states: 10

“Those too who devote themselves to the military service of their country should regard themselves as the agents of security and freedom of peoples. As long as they fulfill this role properly, they are making a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace.”

Dr. Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy, and author of books on philosophy, theology, and Christian apologetics, refutes arguments for pacifism. 7

1. What part of thou shalt not kill don’t you understand? The word kill means murder. The same God who said thou shall not murder also commanded capital punishment.
2. The New Testament is radically new and the supreme model is Jesus on the Cross is the new model is martyrdom? Yes, this is quite true for individuals. We don’t fight fire with fire. When we have choice of fighting or giving up our life, giving up our life is the higher way, this is quite true. But Jesus did not give a political system.
3. Peace is holy, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Peace is the effect of Christ’s revolution? This is true. But Jesus said I do not give peace as the world gives. He also said: I bring not peace, but a sword. We should take Jesus’ words seriously. But Jesus spoke in paradoxes.
4. The real war is spiritual? This is true, absolutely true. Our enemies are our sin and spirits that inspire them… But our spiritual enemies often use flesh and blood, so this entails disarming them.
5. Jesus stopped the most just violence in history: Peter defending Jesus? Jesus approved of John as a good prophet in the old system. Jesus approved of centurion*. Paul (Romans 13:4) and Peter (1 Peter 2:14) defend the state using the sword. So are you going to separate Christ from His disciples?
*(Jesus approved of the centurion’s faith but there is no record of Jesus ever approving of violence in war. Matthew 8:8-10.)
6. God is love, therefore love most motivate every action, of every minute of his life. How then can you kill people out of love? Your motive must not be to kill, but to defend. You defend the innocent out of love… as a last resort. Jesus did start a revolution. Whether that translates into political pacifism is open to question.
7. War is hell. There is no such thing as a just war. James: What is origin of war? Greed. The origin of war is only evil. Even the Koran says Allah hates the aggressor. War is stupid? That’s true. There is no such thing as a just war. There is such a thing as just warring. A war against war. The use of violence as a last resort in defense, against a war of aggression. The end of a just war is not conquest, but peace.
8. All is fair in love and war…supposedly? That’s obviously nonsense. Pascal: “Two soldiers meet. Why are you killing me since I am disarmed? Because you live on the wrong side of the river. Since you are from the other side of the river I must kill you.” Human justice is radically unjust and we do not live in utopia. Sometimes we need amputations.
9. War always creates more evil than it corrects? That is questionable. Would it have been better if the Greeks had not warred against Xerxes? Romans against Hannibal? Us [Americans] against Hitler? Would that have created a better world?

Dr. Kreeft points out that a just war is a practical necessity, he reiterates C.S. Lewis lecture saying, “Only liberal societies tolerate pacifists”. How then can you kill people out of love? Your motive must not be to kill but to defend. But when you defend the innocent against the aggressor, your motive is not changed. Your motive remains love. Violence is a last resort.

Kreeft further underscores that there is no such thing as a just war, but there is a just warring—A war against war, the use of violence as a last resort in defense against the use of violence as the aggression, and the end of a just war is not conquest, it’s peace. The only motive where it is safe to kill somebody is a holy motive. 13

Jus Ad Bellum & Jus in Bello

The Just War Doctrine, first enunciated by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), addresses two questions. First in Jus Ad Bellum, in what circumstances is going to war right, moral, and just? Under what circumstances is it morally possible for Christians to participate? Second in Jus in Bello, what conduct is right during wartime? Once war has begun, what is allowable and what is not?

St. Augustine is noted in history as the founder of the just war theory. To counter the popular theory during those times that “might is right”, an earlier philosophical statement by Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic, he says: “justice is in the interest of the stronger”. 12

Augustine lived in an era when Rome was losing control of the world, and was quickly falling to the other powers. The questions of moral values in war were immanent. He then identified two aspects of war that require moral justification:12

1. The right to go to war (Jus Ad Bellum)
2. The right conduct in war (Jus In Bello)

There are seven criteria or standards for a just war. 9

1. Just Cause — a real and certain injustice must exist. Some aggressor must be endangering innocent lives and other basic human rights. The just war theory rules out preemptive strikes in so-called preventative war. The real goal must be the protection of human rights, and the restoration of justice and peace.
2. Right intention — the true intention is peace and must be the desired outcome. The just defense theory rules out common reasons why nations go to war: gaining and maintaining control over another nation’s territory or resources, revenge, humiliation, genocide, intimidation, and protecting investments.
3. Legitimate Authority — The king, the president, or even the congress in some countries. (By the way, this criteria raises the issue, that since no war is just unless declared by a legitimate authority, can there ever be a just revolution? If so, who then is the legitimate authority to declare such a war?)
4. Last Resort — No war is just unless it is the last resort. Non-violent means must be tried and proven ineffective. This goes after the following have failed: negotiation, mediation, legal action, blockade, non-cooperation, and civil disobedience. If all fails, only the minimum violence required to restore justice is permissible.
5. Reasonable Chance of Success — There must be good and sound reasons why violence, killing, and war will achieve the desired goal.
6. Proportionality — this means that the good achieved must outweigh the harm done. For example is it not morally just to kill 1,000 people to save 100 lives. A war becomes disproportionate and unjust when the evil effects outweigh the good to be achieved. (This raises an issue that St. Augustine never could have imagined: can the use of chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons ever be moral?)
7. Non-combatant Community — this criterion demands that the non-combatants must never be targeted or attacked. This also forbids destruction of the enemy’s infrastructure: water & sanitation system, power plants, hospitals and medicine factories, and crops and food reserves among others.

This criteria is supported by Vatican Council II Gaudium et Spes (80): “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.” 10

The war that begins as a just war may not remain just. Civilians and the infrastructures that sustain their lives must be protected and not subject to attack. And the damage done to both sides must remain proportionate. Just cause alone doesn’t make a war just. St. Augustine himself never claimed that any war could ever meet all the seven criteria. 9

When is it then morally justifiable to use violence, killing, and war against those unjust aggressors? Of course Catholics and Christians in the pacifists side say never. While Catholics and Christians who adhere to the just war tradition say only when all seven criteria are met.

According to the teachings of the just defense tradition, war is at best a regrettable but necessary evil. Most of us are somewhere in between the two extremes, the pacifist on one side and absolute militarism on the other.

Duterte and the just war on drugs

At this point, it may easy to conclude that President Duterte’s war on drug is unjust. But I find it much easier to defend his war on drugs based on the principles being advocated by the pacifist view vis-à-vis the just war tradition. All seven conditions of a just war can be met and defended: just cause, right intention, legitimate authority, last resort, reasonable chance of success, proportionality, and non-combatant community.

According to Michael Walzer (a prominent political theorist and public intellectual), the just war theory is an argument on what justifications makes sense. What are the plausible justifications? And that we citizens judge what they do when governments go to war. There are many arguments about when to fight and how to fight. There are biblical and Islamic arguments; there were arguments among the Greek on how to fight. The debate on what is morally right continues until today. Walzer further asserts that the just war theory as a doctrine comes out of Catholic moral theology. 14

Going back to my original question earlier, does Duterte’s war on drugs really go against the teachings of the Church and other Christian denominations? No it does not, and neither does the pacifist’s non-resistant stance. When both choices are morally justified, then this becomes the choice of the present civil authorities. It is their right and their decision to choose what kind of action to take to solve worldly and temporal problems. This is the jurisdiction of the legitimate civil authorities.

Collin Donovan, vice president for Theology at EWTN, says: “Over the centuries it was taught by Doctors of the Church, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, and formally embraced by the Magisterium, which has also adapted it to the situation of modern warfare. The following explanation of Just War Doctrine follows the schema given in the Catechism.” Donovan further professes, “The responsibility for determining whether these conditions are met belongs to “the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” The Church’s role consists in enunciating clearly the principles, in forming the consciences of men and in insisting on the moral exercise of just war.” 15

The pronouncements of Collin Donovan was recently supported by Peter Kreeft, who also contends that, “Church doctrine does not pronounce in a final and authoritative way on all moral questions, leaving many up to prudential human judgment.” 16 It has been my assertion for quite some time that the Church should stick to matters of faith and morals. This includes condemning what they find to be unjust killings, all unjust killings. It’s like there’s a just war against drugs, but some of the soldiers capture their enemies and instead of treating them as they do in a just war, they seem to be “executing” them. Instead of rehabilitation, it seems the police are shooting them unjustly in a war that’s supposed to be just.

It is my view that the war on drugs per se is supposed to be a just war. But the unjust killings by some scalawags in police and military personalities make the war on drugs appear unjust. Arresting suspects, following due process, and rule of law must still prevail.

It is my conclusion, that it is morally just for a president to use violence, killings, and war to achieve a higher purpose of peace that outweighs the possible problems they may encounter in the process. President Duterte and his people are the legitimate authorities whose belief that this war is the last resort in curtailing the proliferation of the drug trade, establishing peace and order in society in the long run. There are also glaring reasons to justify its success as shown by the figures of the Philippine National Police (PNP) — number of arrests, those who surrendered, the unrelenting pursuit of drug personalities, and cases filed against the perpetrators. The proportionality of the losses of lives against those future losses of lives to be inflicted by unjust aggressors is justified.

The immunity of non-combatant can be argued as a reason that cannot be met to justify a just war, knowing it is impossible to have zero non-combatant casualties during police and military encounters with the unjust aggressors such as drug lords, drug pushers, narco-politicians, terrorists and other criminals.

The pacifist Liberal Party (LP) brings up the dangers of Duterte’s war on drugs using alleged use of excessive force, violence, and extrajudicial killings. They decry the declaration of martial law as a violation of human rights. Ridiculous as it may seem, they want to return to a pacifist stance that failed and, worse, became the cause of the staggering rise in the proliferation of illegal drugs.

Why insist on returning to the precursor of the problem? Perhaps those against the just war tradition, and critics of Duterte’s war on drugs, have much to lose in the eventual decline in the drug trade.

Personally, of all the criteria for a just war, the most difficult really is no. 5: “reasonable chance of success”. Some countries like Singapore and Malaysia have succeeded, by making the punishment very harsh, but effective. I think this is what Duterte is doing: sowing fear in possible users and actual pushers. How to deal with the collateral damage from other reasons (like that son of the OFW who was killed by the police after his neighbor, with whom he had an altercation, invented an accusation that the poor kid was a drug user; I think those who do that should be prosecuted using the full extent of the law, so they don’t do it again).

Wait…that’s being too politically correct. I think those who involved in unjust killings should be shot just like in a just war. The unjust aggressor must be stopped from doing any further harm to society.

Finally, of course, the fact that many policemen, politicians, businessmen, and officials in authority are involved complicates the proper implementation and defense of the just war against drugs. A problem the President Duterte keeps battling every day.

Postscript: As I write this article, I received good news that shows from an SWS survey (conducted from September 23 to 27, 2017) that 77% of Filipinos remain satisfied with the Duterte administration’s efforts to eradicate illegal drugs. 19


1. 85% of Pinoys satisfied with drug campaign–SWS. (2016, Nov.16). Retrieved from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/845295/85-of-pinoys-satisfied-with-drug-campaign-sws
2. SWS: Majority of Filipinos think ‘nanlaban’ victims didn’t really fight back. (2017, Sept.27). Retrieved from http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/09/27/1743222/sws-majority-filipinos-think-nanlaban-victims-didnt-really-fight-back
3. Edsirois. (2013, Feb.17). Catholicism and the Just War [Defense] Tradition (1 of 6). [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjYEI4dp8U8
4. Pacifism (n.d.). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/pacifism/
5. Were the Early Christians Pacifists?. (2007, March 23). Culture Watch.
Retrieved from https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/03/23/were-the-early-christians-pacifists/
6. Romans–Chapter 13. (n.d.). Catholic Online. Retrieved from (http://www.catholic.org/bible/book.php?bible_chapter=13&id=52
7. Landis, M. (2014, April 22). Non-resistance versus Just War. Should Christians Fight?. Retrieved from https://kackorean.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/its-just-war-should-christians-fight-kreeft-charles-taylor-bercot.pdf
8. Kincaid, Z. (2014, June 19). Why I’m Not A Pacifist. Retrieved from http://www.cslewis.com/why-im-not-a-pacifist/
9. Edsirois. (2013, Feb.17). Catholicism and the Just War [Defense] Theory (part 4 of 6). [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rkbW_RlyQQ
10. Gaudium et Spes GS 79 § 5 (Dec.7, 1965). Section 1:The Avoidance of War. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html
11. Cathecism of the Catholic Church. (n.d.). Avoiding War No. 2310. Retrieved fromhttp://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm
12. Augustine: Just War. (n.d.). Great Philosophers. Retrieved from https://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/Philosophers/Augustine/augustine_justwar.html
13. Followers of the Way. (2014, April 20). “It’s Just War” – Should Christians Fight? Debate. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4xQaDDKY7k&t=3s&list=LLu8L2fKrx59xv8d7Q42RbMQ&index=6
14. Big Think. (2011, Aug 29). Michael Walzer on Just War Theory. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcBovmGZSPU&index=7&list=LLu8L2fKrx59xv8d7Q42RbMQ
15. Donovan, C.B.. (n.d.). What is Just War? CCC 2302-2317. Retrieved from https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/just_war.htm
16. Kreeft, P..(2016, July 1). Peace and the just war doctrine. Legatus Magazine. Retrieved from http://legatus.org/peace-just-war-doctrine/
17. Cabuenas, J.V.D..(2017, Oct.8). Duterte’s net satisfaction drops 18 points —SWS survey. GMA News. Retrieved from http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/628732/duterte-s-net-satisfaction-drops-to-record-low-sws-survey/story/
18. Philippine cardinal condemns drug killings, orders bells rung. (2017, Sept.8). Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-4865264/Philippine-cardinal-condemns-drug-killings-orders-bells-rung.html
19. A.F. Bajo. (2017, Oct.11). SWS: Public still satisfied with Duterte’s war against illegal drugs. GMA News. Retrieved from http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/629197/sws-public-still-satisfied-with-duterte-s-war-against-illegal-drugs/story/?utm_source=GMANews&utm_medium=Facebook&utm_campaign=news


About Carlo de Leon

I am a marketing consultant, entrepreneur and executive director of an NGO. I have extensive experience in advertising, product management, media, and general management.

I love art, graphic design, philosophy, theology, and history. I continue to study these subjects to enjoy my intellectual and artistic pursuits.

Post Author: Carlo de Leon

I am a marketing consultant, entrepreneur and executive director of an NGO. I have extensive experience in advertising, product management, media, and general management.

I love art, graphic design, philosophy, theology, and history. I continue to study these subjects to enjoy my intellectual and artistic pursuits.

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2 Comments on "Duterte, The Pacifist, and The Just War Tradition"

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I don’t believe in the SWS False Asia Survey. Data in such surveys, can be manipulated, to project the goodness, failure or evilness of anyone, where the survey is applied. Their Statistics, can be wrong. Their way of collecting data, can be questionable. Their way of calculating their Statistics, can be wrong. Their purpose, can be to put down people being surveyed… War is important, to defend our county; our way of life; or to combat the evil that comes to us… Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany had his Holocaust. Those NAZI Death Camps, with incinerators in them; that burned… Read more »

Before Venus, censorious; before Mars, timid.