4-30: Unjust War Theory

Just War Theory

Two Doctors of the Catholic Church, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, lived in violent times, as do we. War waging played such a big part of their lives that they felt it necessary to write about when it was justified to engage in combat. After all, there is also that pesky “Thou shall not kill” thing they had to del with.

Being dubbed “The Church” at the time (before the Reformation) carried the burden of preaching peace in confrontational times. Their words on the subject are now traditionally referred to as Just War Theory, whose tenets are:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

Russ Wellen reports in Foreign Policy in Focus that “the Vatican just held a conference titled ‘Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence.’” Pope Francis keeps proving that he cares deeply for the downtrodden of the world, which includes innocents whose lives are ruined by war.

Injustice of War

Erica Chenoweth of  Political Violence at a Glance attended the conference. She concluded: Just War, “has had a monopolistic influence on the way people in the West think about war and violence—whether they know it or not.” This is not unlike David Swanson’s position in War Is a Lie that Participant A in all wars claims to be the defender (of something) and Participant B is always the aggressor (for whatever reason). Therefore, in Participant A’s point of view the war is always just, or at least justifiable.

It is propitious to claim that this war or that is “just” for whatever reason we choose. The phrase has that Augustine-Aquinas church bell ring to it and so seems to have an implied theological approval. I don’t think that’s the way Pope Francis is going to see it.

Technology, specifically nuclear technology, has changed war and the threat of war. During the early centuries the main weapon was the sword: a one-at-a-time slayer. Today, the press of a button can result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. That action cannot in any way be contorted enough to fit under the precepts of just war theory.

Some Americans (Participants A) argued that invading Iraq (Participant B) was necessary to preserve America’s way of life–presumably an oil-driven way of life. That made America the defender. Others called it “preemptive” war: let’s get them before they get us. Despite either rationale, can the destruction of that country be justified? It boggles my mind that anyone could deem the US invasion of Iraq as a defensive measure.

If you are a soldier in that war–or any other today, take your choice–what do you think about before you go to sleep? When you get home, do you ever ask, why was I there? You have served your country honorably and well. Is that enough?

Each of us is responsible for his actions. We are not responsible for our circumstances. We find ourselves in a state of war, when what we are searching for is a world at peace.


7 thoughts on “4-30: Unjust War Theory”

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