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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Some more on Just War Theory

I mentioned Just War thinking in a previous post, and I thought I should elaborate a little on it. Most people, if they have any sense of it, might think of it primarily in terms of "an alternative to pacifism". Of course, they're right, but it is worth knowing a bit more about what the Just War tradition says, in order to think about it and our world with greater clarity and nuance. There is an article on the Just War Tradition on the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life website.

It is worth excerpting one or two details, if only to whet your appetite to read the entire article.

One of the distinctions of the Just War Tradition is that it elaborates criteria for when one may go to war (jus ad bellum) and also criteria for how one may conduct oneself when in war (jus in bello). Justifications for going to war include:
· Legitimate authority. Private individuals and groups are not permitted to take up arms against others, however justified their cause may appear. Only governments—those who have been entrusted with the public good—may wage war, and they must do it openly and legally.
· Just cause. A government may wage war in self-defense, in defense of another nation, to protect innocents or to regain something wrongfully taken. The desire for personal glory or revenge, or to impose tyrannical rule, is never an acceptable cause for waging war.
· Right intention. The ultimate end of a government in waging war must be to establish peace, rather than to use a "just war" as a pretext for its own gain.
· Last resort. A governing authority must reasonably exhaust all other diplomatic and non-military options for securing peace before resorting to force.
· Reasonable chance of success. A government may not resort to war unless its prospects for success are good. In this way, lives will not be needlessly wasted in the pursuit of a hopeless cause.
· Proportionality. A government must respond to aggression with force only when the effects of its defensive actions do not exceed the damage done by the aggression itself.

Guidelines for conduct when in a war include:
· Noncombatant immunity. An authority waging war is morally obligated to seek to discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. While civilians unfortunately may sometimes come in harm's way, a government may never deliberately target them.
· Proportionate means. This criterion pertains to specific tactics of warfare and seeks to restrict unnecessary use of force. It is intended to ensure that the military means used to achieve certain goals and goods are commensurate with their value, particularly when compared to the loss of life and destruction that could also occur.

It is certainly worth mentioning -- and the article does a good job of pointing this out -- that simply having such criteria does not itself make decisions easier or always clarify the situation, particularly as methods of warfare have changed. For example, some question who may be counted as a noncombatant.

Others have looked at the changing nature of warfare and weaponry and decided that Just War thinking can no longer be relied on as a guide. These people then fall into one of two camps: those who think Just War thinking is unnecessarily restrictive, and those who think that Just War thinking in the age of, e.g., atomic bombs, makes no sense, as war has become too risky to the future of humanity. (In other words, both hawks and doves find something in Just War to cavil about.)

2 Comments:

Blogger Thunder Jones said...

Have you ever read the MacIntyre quote when he says, "Going to war for the modern state is like going to war for the phone company" or something similar. His point is that going to war for the modern state with its economic purpose is a far cry from going to war for the sake of a citizenry and is certainly nothing like what Augustine imagined.

Beyond that, I imagine that dropping bombs from the air on people certainly contradicts the idea of proportionality and noncombatant immunity. Oh well, lets keep blowing stuff (and people) up in Iraq. Look out Iran!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005 2:51:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Thunder:
I don't remember the quote, but I love it. What is the reference?

It reminded me of a great article from William T. Cavanaugh, professor of theology at University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities and one of the most interesting and challenging political theologians of our day. A friend of mine said that Cavanaugh's book Torture and Eucharist was the best book of theology of the last ten years, and I would be hard pressed to disagree. (I know you know his work, Thunder, I just thought I'd give some background.) Anyway, Cavanaugh wrote an article "Killing for the Telephone Company: Why the Nation-State is not the Keeper of the Common Good" in Modern Theology 20:2 (April 2004). He starts out the article saying "The fact that Pope John Paul II and the American Catholic bishops spoke out so forcefully, clearly, and repeatedly against the pre-emptive war on Iraq launched in March 2003 has been a great embarrassment to some politically conservative American Catholics who were accustomed, they thought, to having the Pope on their side." He just goes on from there and really delivers on the promise implied in the title. It's well worth a read.

Let me know the MacIntyre reference; I'm a little embarrassed not to know it off the bat.

Thursday, March 03, 2005 2:37:00 AM  

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