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Just War Theory

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#1 Drew

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 06:06 PM

Last night I'd mentioned an enlightening article on Just War theory that I'd recalled reading in "First Things." I tracked it down and present it here: FT October 2001: Good Wars

Excerpt:

Quote

When Thomas Aquinas discusses just war in the Summa Theologiae (II–II.40), he does not do so in the section on justice, but rather in the section on charity—specifically, the love of God. He makes it clear that war is not a vice that is opposed to the love of God. On the contrary, war–making, when just, can be a form of love. Of course, war is always contrary to peace, but this is sometimes desirable, since peace is not always a just order that deserves to be preserved. Nazi Germany, for example, provided peace and order for most of those in conquered countries who were willing to accept Nazi rule. But no one wishes to argue that the peace provided by Nazis is the sort of peace we ought to preserve. War, for Aquinas, can be a means to a just peace as well as a means to destroy an unjust peace (such as one established by Nazis). We keep a just peace and fight just wars because these are acts of charity. Just soldiering, in other words, is something Christians ought to do out of love for God and neighbor, and thus it is the most “human” thing we can do in certain circumstances.

A couple other links on the subject of the Just War:

Interview with Fr. Richard Neuhaus on the Iraqi Crisis (A few weeks old)

FT January 2002: Moral Clarity in a Time of War
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#2 Anastashia

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 06:29 PM

Adding the link to Catholic Cathecism article 2309 referenced in Fr. Neuhaus' interview.
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#3 Rhea

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 07:27 PM

Ack! I think "good war" is an oxymoron. War is *never* a good thing. Sometime's it's necessary, but by its very nature it is wasteful of precious human lives and resources.  :(
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#4 Drew

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 07:30 PM

Rhea, on Mar 21 2003, 10:18 AM, said:

Ack! I think "good war" is an oxymoron. War is *never* a good thing. Sometime's it's necessary, but by its very nature it is wasteful of precious human lives and resources.  :(
So, what are your thoughts about the idea that failure to engage in a just war can be construed as a failure to love thy neighbor? If we ignore the atrocities committed by a dictatorial regime like Saddam Hussein's, are we not, in a sense, condoning his actions?

You're coming from a point of view that says that war is always an evil. That's understandable. But do you think that war can *never* achieve good?

Edited by Drew, 21 March 2003 - 07:42 PM.

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#5 StarDust

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 08:44 PM

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There is no reason to assume, for example, that simply because we believe that war can be a purposeful and reasoned activity that we will be inclined to engage in it too easily. In fact, defenders of Christian Just War doctrine typically argue that we ought to be reluctant to fight wars that lack sufficient moral and rational justification. Defenders of the Just War tradition regret that they live in a world where they have to kill human beings in order to restrain evil; that is to say, they regret the Fall. But they find it to be even more regretful for Christians to stand idly by while people are being abused and killed unjustly.

Of course people regret having to go to war, having to kill people, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't do it again given the same situation. If someone breaks into your home and tries to kill your family, and you get the opportunity to kill them, you are not going to regret it or feel you've done something wrong. You will probably regret that the situation arose, that you were put into that situation, but given that situation you did the right thing.  There is a huge difference between regretting a situation existed, and regrettting your actions given that situation.

Quote

Of course, war is always contrary to peace, but this is sometimes desirable, since peace is not always a just order that deserves to be preserved. Nazi Germany, for example, provided peace and order for most of those in conquered countries who were willing to accept Nazi rule. But no one wishes to argue that the peace provided by Nazis is the sort of peace we ought to preserve. War, for Aquinas, can be a means to a just peace as well as a means to destroy an unjust peace (such as one established by Nazis). We keep a just peace and fight just wars because these are acts of charity. 

This is one thing that really bothers me about a lot of 'peace at all costs' type people. It seems that so many are more concerned about peace and the perception of safety that they are willing to sell their rights, and the rights of others, down the river. There was a time when justice and freedom were far more important. They might as well be saying we shouldn't have fought the American Revolution, the Civil War, or even stopped the Nazis in WWII. In none of these cases were the majority of the people in imminent physical danger. However they were the most just of wars, the Civil War being long overdue. The fact of war may not be 'good', but it certainly is often 'good' compared to what not going means.

Quote

The issue of how we fight is another matter. Aquinas himself offers little guidance regarding the proper rules for fighting (called jus in bello). Nevertheless, we can extrapolate a handful of guidelines from his writings. For one thing, we can presume that we should fight with the right intention, that is, we must intend to punish not just anyone, but only evildoers. Likewise, we should do our best to see that our use of force does not detract from our duty to uphold the good. Of course, the ability to target only those who deserve to be punished, no less than the capacity to formulate plans of action that will issue in more good than evil, must be cultivated. Thus, for Aquinas, right conduct in war is dependent upon the virtues of soldiers and the commanders who lead them.

The most noteworthy aspect of the moral approach to warfare in Aquinas and Calvin is that it teaches—contrary to today’s prevailing views—that a failure to engage in a just war is a failure of virtue, a failure to act well. An odd corollary of this conclusion is that it is a greater evil for Christians to fail to wage a just war than it is for unbelievers. When an unbeliever fails to go to war, the cause may be a lack of courage, prudence, or justice. He may be a coward or simply indifferent to evil. These are failures of natural moral virtue. When Christians (at least in the tradition of Aquinas and Calvin) fail to engage in just war, it may involve all of these natural failures as well, but it will also, and more significantly, involve a failure of charity. The Christian who fails to use force to aid his neighbor when prudence dictates that force is the best way to render that aid is an uncharitable Christian. Hence, Christians who willingly and knowingly refuse to engage in a just war do a vicious thing: they fail to show love toward their neighbor as well as toward God. 

In an example that people here could probably relate to, Gabrielle on Xena always bothered me. At times I outright couldn't stand her. I thought it hypocritical that she wouldn't kill, but was more than willing to let Xena do it for her. And it also bothered me how, on a number of occasions, she stood by while innocents and her friends were being attacked, and was totally unwilling to help them. That is immoral. And unfortunately it was a very realistic portrayal of many people.

And of course, there are the individuals and nations in Europe during WWII who were more than willing to sacrifice others (neighbors and friends) in order to save themselves from violence (they thought).

I wish people would stop whining "why can't we just get along" . That day will never come. There will always be 'broken' people, and some of them will always rise to power and find others to follow them, or force others to follow them. The goal is to reduce how often that happens by making a better world where people understand justice and freedom. The goal was never peace, it was freedom and justice, with the hope that those standards would create a better and more peaceful world, eventually. But there will always be those who don't want that, who want power, and who enjoy violence; the rest of us will always have to deal with them or risk everything by ignoring them to long.

And for people to say that peace is best, when people are being tortured and killed on a daily basis in that peace, are clueless at best, selfish at worst.

I find it amazing that some people claim to be worried about the poor people of Iraq that will be killed in war, but don't seem to care about the poor people of Iraq that are already dying and suffering every day. Makes no sense, especially when the war will end that suffering.

#6 Ro-Astarte

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 08:45 PM

I'll repeat something I said on another thread.

The lesser of two evils is still evil. Even if it is a necessary evil. Sometimes we have to make the bad/worse choice, and take the consequences. I believe this is such a time.

I do believe that great good can come out of great evil. It is, indeed the only response that will help break the cycle of violence and oppression.

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#7 GiGi

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 09:20 PM

I was just reading some effects of the "Shock and Awe" assault...  I got this awful vision in my mind....George Bush, eyes glazed, standing with a gun and saying -

"No power in the 'Verse can stop ME!"

Ugh, got to go get that out of my head!!!!  :Oo:

Edited by chiron777, 21 March 2003 - 09:53 PM.

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#8 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 09:38 PM

I dunno.

I think that sometimes "necessary evil" is a label that is perhaps looking at justice from a different perspective.  

I mean I think that the agression against Hitler was completely justified.  I think the current war is not.

I don't know where the line is though so don't ask.  It's a thorny question.
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#9 gadfly

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 09:55 PM

I vowed to stay out of this but I do have a question(s) to ask anyone who'll answer:  based on the information Drew posted how can this not be used by anyone to justify their actions? Who establishes what is "just" and what is "right"?  How does it keep from becoming an "our values vs your values" conflict?  How do we know the difference between standing up for ourselves and bullying? And who's to hold nations accountable for their actions when they cross that line?

Again, I'm not suggesting anything either way.  These are just questions that have been floating around in my head and have been bothering the heck out of me.  Perhaps some of you could shed some light on my dilemma.

#10 Blondie

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 09:59 PM

gadfly, on Mar 21 2003, 12:46 PM, said:

I vowed to stay out of this but I do have a question(s) to ask anyone who'll answer:  based on the information Drew posted how can this not be used by anyone to justify their actions? Who establishes what is "just" and what is "right"?  How does it keep from becoming an "our values vs your values" conflict?  How do we know the difference between standing up for ourselves and bullying? And who's to hold nations accountable for their actions when they cross that line?

Again, I'm not suggesting anything either way.  These are just questions that have been floating around in my head and have been bothering the heck out of me.  Perhaps some of you could shed some light on my dilemma.
Good questions.

We're not the first to ask them either.  To me, it becomes a just war if you go in with the intention of creating something better out of it.  Now I know that's a broad statement, but it serves right now.  If you're aim is conquest, acquisition, or revenge...you're a warmongerer.  If your intention is to right a widely perceived wrong, to save others, or to protect you and yours, most won't argue against it's justification.

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#11 StarDust

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Posted 21 March 2003 - 10:41 PM

^^^ Pretty much agree with this.

Usually a 'bad group' is someone who is trying to gain land, to take control and/or absorb. The way the world viewed the Soviet aquisition of the Eastern European block. They turned what was supposed to be an temporary occupation to 'fix' things, the way the rest of the allies did it, into a way to aquire and take permanent control. They didn't go home at some later time and leave the people to handle their own government (despite attempts to make it look like they did).

EDITED to add that the Soviets role in WWII was not bad. They were defending themselves from the Nazis. Of course they became a psuedo ally because the Nazis turned on them. Before that they were in bed with the Nazis. And they took the opportunity to pursue their original goals post war.

Edited by StarDust, 21 March 2003 - 10:46 PM.


#12 Jude

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Posted 22 March 2003 - 12:54 AM

Aren't there a few 'universally accepted' laws that are 'just'? Like 'It is not just to take someone else's property' 'It is not just to impose yourself on another person'? Or something.  :unsure:

And that article brought to mind the old Rihannsu saying "There's a lot of peace in a prison camp". :(

But don't mind me. :tired:

#13 StarDust

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Posted 22 March 2003 - 03:08 AM

Of course there are universally accepted laws, but not universally accepted punishment. For example, we think cutting off a robbers hand is a bit extreme :)

The idea of freedom however has nothing to do with culture, and it bothers me when people say someone is imposing their culture by saying people should be free. It wasn't a part of anyone's culture really.

However, when individuals are free to determine the direction of their own lives, the world is a better place to live. That doesn't mean they can't choose whatever they want. If a woman wants to wear a burka and be subservient to her husband, that is fine. But she shouldn't be forced. If a woman wants to stay home and raise the family, if she wants to work, if a man wants to raise the family, etc that is all fine, if that is their choice.

If people want to live a more traditional life, they can, they just shouldn't be able to force others to do so. Freedom has nothing to do with culture, and doesn't mean the end of a culture. However, the fear that freedom will mean an end to the culture means that culture has something wrong with it that people would not choose to live that way.

And when people feel they have choices, when they feel they control their own lives, they are less likely to have chips on the shoulders, and less likely to take that anger out on other people.

Whether you're talking about disadvantaged people in the US who feel they have no choices (rightly or wrongly) or whole nations that literally have no choices, it all ends up the same, with the same relative violence against others.

I think westerners take the choices they have for granted, and are rather arrogant to suggest that others shouldn't have the same choices.

#14 Shalamar

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Posted 22 March 2003 - 06:05 AM

THANK YOU STARDUST  Your last three posts have been what I have been trying to express coherently for many days.  Thank you for putting into words what I could not.
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#15 Kahoutek

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Posted 22 March 2003 - 06:22 AM

This has been a good discussion; I appreciate everybody staying pleasant while disagreeing.

The "just war" concept is really difficult.  If the basis is to "rid evil" from a loved neighbor, we need a basis to judge "evil".  Cultural context plays a big role in this -- I might find some aspects of criminal justice in other countries to be 'evil', and they might find some aspects of ours 'evil' -- do we both get to declare a just war if these evils are "common enough"?

Again, thanks; this stuff is giving me challenges to consider.

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#16 StarDust

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Posted 22 March 2003 - 06:42 PM

Shalamar, on Mar 21 2003, 09:56 PM, said:

THANK YOU STARDUST  Your last three posts have been what I have been trying to express coherently for many days.  Thank you for putting into words what I could not.
Why thank you!

I have to admit I haven't always been able to put it into words, but all of a sudden it just seemed to come together in a coherent way.

#17 StarDust

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Posted 22 March 2003 - 06:57 PM

Kahoutek, on Mar 21 2003, 10:13 PM, said:

The "just war" concept is really difficult.  If the basis is to "rid evil" from a loved neighbor, we need a basis to judge "evil".  Cultural context plays a big role in this -- I might find some aspects of criminal justice in other countries to be 'evil', and they might find some aspects of ours 'evil' -- do we both get to declare a just war if these evils are "common enough"?
In general, I don't know that we'd go to war over a justice system, exactly. However, that system may be indicative of other things that are also going on.

We tend to be rather tempered in our acceptance of the rest of the world's cultures, sometimes to much so it seems. However, I don't think that people realize that our justice system, since that is what was brought up, is one of the most liberal in the world. It is far more liberal than even countries in Europe. This is one reason people are warned when leaving the country and told not to assume you have the rights out there that you have here.  Of course the rougher/quicker justice of nations such as France and Germany have come in handy in dealing with some terrorists in a manner we may not have been able to do.

It's all in the balance and different places do it differently, and that isn't always exactly a bad thing. For example, Nazi memorabilia is illegal in France and Germany. That would be considered censorship and infringement on free speech in the US, especially since a lot of memorabilia has nothing to do with NeoNazis. However, given their history, you can understand why they may feel the need to nip certain tendencies in the butt. It's not what we would do, but you can't exactly say they are wrong, either.

I think problems come in to play with extremes. I believe there is a lot of patience with regard to shades of grey. And I believe that what ever system that is chosen by the people is generally accepted. The difference is that it's the choice of the people and continues to be their choice. Certainly the people of Afgahnistan chose the Taliban, but then lost all rights to continue to chose, something they didn't forsee. A democracy doesn't have to look like the US, it just has to allow the people choice on a permanent basis.

#18 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 22 March 2003 - 11:45 PM

I must say that I agree pretty much whole heartedly with what Stardust is saying.

I do not believe in a good war, but I do believe in a just and neccessary war, and that going to war can, sometimes, be the right thing.
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#19 Josh

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Posted 22 March 2003 - 11:48 PM

I agree with Kahoutek as well...

How do we define a "just" war? Considering that the opinions on this war have been extremely divided, it's an even more important question.
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#20 Anastashia

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Posted 23 March 2003 - 12:10 AM

Josh, on Mar 22 2003, 03:39 PM, said:

I agree with Kahoutek as well...

How do we define a "just" war? Considering that the opinions on this war have been extremely divided, it's an even more important question.
The Catholic cathecism article #2309 poses a realistic framework for discussion Josh.

Quote

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- 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. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

Edited by Anastashia, 23 March 2003 - 12:12 AM.

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