Just War

The Just War theory....

Just War

In the OT we see God is fighting one's enemies in 1 Samuel 15. To fight for this empire was now a Christian duty. St. Augustine believed that warfare must be undertaken without hatred. This is difficult but not impossible maybe.

Aristotle: "The clever man knows the means to any end. The wise man knows what ends are worth striving for".

BENTHAM-> We should try and increase overall amount of pleasure in the world. We should do what will bring the most benefit to humanity. What of our enemy then?

MILL-> Happiness and not pleasure should be standard of utility.

KANT-> Two concepts of duty in war: 1) Duty as following orders 2) Duty as freely imposing obligation on one's own self.

Can killing in war ever be justified?

Absolutist-> killing is always wrong. Relativist-> in some circumstances, war may be allowed.

Spielberg said: "How do you find decency in the hell of warfare?"

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The Origins of Just War theory

  • goes back to Aristotle and Cicero who wrote that a war in self-defence was just.
  • first significant Christian development of Just war principles came with Ambrose of Milan and his student St. Augustine. The political situation had changed rapidly and the Roman Emporer Constantine began to use the Roman state to support the church.
  • Ambrose and Augustine stipulated that war must only be waged by a legitimate governmental authority; it must be intended to restore peace and justice, it should be a last resort.
  • Augustine drew on the existing Roman idea of justum bellum and the OT tradition where wars on behalf of Israel and God were clearly commanded by God.
  • Aquinas drew together thinking on Just War and listed right authority, just cause, just intention as the most important aspects. in the Summa Theologiae Aquinas presents the general outline of what became the Just War theory, and he discusses not only war's justification, but the kinds of activity that are permissible in war, who can fight a war and when a war can be fought. In spite of all this, he starts by saying that war in itself is sinful as it's contrary to peace.
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  • Just cause-> Catholic Bishops: "war is permissible only to confront a real and certain danger". But one country therefore is justified to go to war with another to obtain "decent human existence".
  • Competent and legal authority-> Aug and Aq both argue that any authority declaring war must have been legally appointed. No private armies or individuals therefore are justified.
  • Comparative Justice-> comparing justices of the claims of both sides in a conflict.
  • Right Intention-> Aug didn't maintain this but applied to criteria to actual combat by soldiers. They can't feel emnity and must have a virtuous inner disposition to bring about peace. Although this is difficult as Mussolini claimed that right intention was used to invade Ethiopia.
  • Last Resort-> all alternatives must have been previously exhausted before.
  • Probability of success-> wrong to wage war unless with reasonable chance of success. But could lead to build up of forces before war commences to guarantee success.
  • Proportionality-> damage inflicted by both parties must be proportionate to good that's expected. In "Ethics of War" Paskins and Docknil- war fought in defence of national honour is suspicious as weighing national honour against beings isn't right.
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  • Proportionality-> the war warfare is conducted- out of proportion to drop nuclear bomb on Buenos Aires when Arg. invaded Falklands.
  • Discrimination-> between killing of innocents and those fighting in conflict and treatment of POWs. Geneva protocols 1 and 2 of 1977 limited use of starvation as means of warfare as doesn't discriminate. 1983 US Bishops: "The lives of innocent civilians may never be taken directly". But in the Gulf war Iraqi military placed command over schools so allies would have to kill the children the kill them. Who is a non combatant? e.g. Guerrillas blend in with civilian population. Robert Holmes categorises people of war e.g. initiators of war compared to those who don't support it at all.
  • International laws on weapons-> e.g. 1139 Lateran council banned cross-bows, bows and arrows and siege machines.
  • Fair treatment of POW-> wrong to torture POW as they no longer pose a threat. Do terrorists deserve protection?
  • No means 'mala in se'-> you can't use weapons or methods in warfare which are 'evil in themselves' and have no contribution to war e.g. mass rapes, genocides and ethical cleansing, forcing soldiers to fight against own side.
  • No reprisals-> do not retaliate- if one country violates JIN the other can't retaliate
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  • Proportionality-> the peace treaty must be reasonable and not seek to humiliate- rules out unconditional surrender. not a source of revenge.
  • Discrimination-> distinction between leaders, soldiers and civilians of defeated country. Civilians should be protected- rules out sanctions after war.
  • Rights vindication-> settlement should be secure rights to life and liberty, territory and sovereignty especially violations which may have been trigger for war.
  • Punishment-> leaders who ran an oppressive regime and engaged in massive human rights violations should face international war crimes tribunals. Soldiers should be accountable for their actions.
  • Compensation-> financial support may be needed so defeated country can get back on its feet and repair itself.
  • Rehabilitation-> perfect to reform an aggressive regime. May involve disarmament- this requires TIME.
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Strengths and Weaknesses of Just War Theory


  • defines conditions under which violence may be used and it combines wisdom of thinkers and philosophers from many centuries.
  • a flexible theory and grows and develops with the times.
  • recognises the necessity of action against aggression.
  • allows defence of the defenceless.
  • doesn't allow acts of war simply because they are though to be in the interest of one nation.
  • weapons of mass destruction may change Just War theory, but we still need to consider their use within a moral framework.
  • in spite of difficulties with the individual people, Just War theory still universal theory.


  • says that violence is permitted, but morality must always oppose deliberate violence.
  • it's unrealistic, as the strong and powerful will always win.
  • conditions are too simplistic and ambiguous to apply in practice
  • weapons of mass destruction demand a different approach, as they break all the basic rules
  • terrorism demands a different approach, as terrorists take no notice of the rules.
  • many wars are only considered just in hindsight.
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The Church

St. Augustine:

  • when Moses killed an Egyptian his actions were justified because it was preparation for Israel's rebellion against tyranny in Egypt.
  • other acts of violence recorded in Bible as examples of private killing e.g. Matthew 26: 52-53. Peter cuts off high priest's servant's ear. Jesus condemns him for his hastiness and impetuousness in acting for himself and not God's command.
  • NT and OT are consistent. Moses and Peter both shows desire for JUSTICE not revenge, or cruelty or lust for power. e.g. John the Baptist Luke 3:14 didn't condemn soldiers who came to see him because they were warriors but warned them not to rob anyone by violence/false accusation.
  • Jesus cures Centurion's servant the main is praised for this but not condemned for being a soldier.
  • Matthew 5-> Jesus doesn't literally mean turn the other cheek but instead to have an inner disposition of peace-making.
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  • based on distinction of two kingdoms: kingdom of this world and spiritual kingdom to come from true Christian. Romans 13:4 justifies use of a sword as a means through which God carries out his judgement using man.
  • Jesus suggests war has its own place on earthly plane: "if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight" John 18:36.
  • war can't be wrong if it's the will of God because then Moses, Joshua and David would be condemned for using violence- instead their praised.

Tradition and Conscience:

  • have strong allegiance to state/ruler. Pacifists use "conscientious objector" to argue that a Christian's private morality supersedes his objections to the state.
  • Aug and Luther both differentiate between secular realm and kingdom of God or heavenly city. Earthly kingdom-> tainted by sinful wills of individuals. Christians may have a vision of what COULD be the cause but they live under secular authority and must learn to compromise.
  • Charles RAVEN risked condemnation from other Christians by placing conscience before traditional church teachings and loyalty to the church.
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  • they fully appreciate the horrors of war and try to assess its costs but they also respond to war in term of its benefits. War sometimes gives a state extra land or resources.
  • argue that war is a non-moral activity actions such as killing, maiming or stealing may be wrong for individuals but have no application to nations in times of war. So if a state is thinking of going to war with another state, it doesn't have to have moral reasons before actually starting the war. You can't criticise nations for how they act in a war, not can you expect them to provide moral justification for going to war.

How is this defended?

  • there is no moral authority to whom nations are accountable and who will guide them in how to act.
  • to survive, a nation must look after its own interests.
  • the threat of war and the war itself mean it is impossible for a nation to do anything but act in their own interests
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anything is fair when it comes to war- only self-interest matters.

Christian Realism

  • Niebuhr- it is impossible to achieve ethical ideals because sin is present in everyone and in every action, especialy in war as this situation shows great self-interest and the desire for power.
  • war is an evil which is the result of human sinfulness, but it may be necessary to prevent greater evil.
  • saw the importance of creating systems of justice in society. Sometimes this means using force to restrain evil and prevent greater injustice. Warned we should not forget our limitations or overestimate our power to do good.
  • He was opposed to pacifism even though individuals may sometimes rise above self-interest
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reject all war in favour of peace. Conflicts between nations should be settled by international gatherings such as the UN. The use of force is always wrong, even in self-defence, and so pacifism rejects both the Just war theory and realism. a broad term which can be divided into Absolute pacifism which sees all war as wrong, and Consequentialist r Contingent pacifism which sees the costs of fighting the war as always greater than the benefits. However, both forms place great emphasis on the importance of respecting human life, and so reject killing.

Absolute Pacifism

  • says it's never right to kill another human being, no matter what the consequences of not doing so might be, even loss of life. This may be a religious belief or a secular one.
  • difficult to keep in practice as they would see it as unethical to use violence in any situation, even to rescue an innocent person who is being attacked and may be killed.
  • however, when accepted it does provide a straightforward way of making decisions- there is no need to follow a set criteria.
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Religious Pacifism

  • in west, pacifism is rooted in Christianity. It looked for the Gospels which record that Jesus called his followers not to violence but to sacrificial love. Jesus taught that we must love our enemies, do good to those who hate us and "Blessed are the peace makers" (Matthew 5)
  • early christians saw Jesus' commands as a prohibition on the bearing of arms, and so they refused to join the Roman army.
  • there have been influential peace churches which continue the original Church position, such as the QUAKERS, the MENNONITES and the ARMISH.
  • quakers were founded at time of civil war and consider that violence only leads to more violence, and also that it is important that each person actively works to overcome anything which causes conflict between peoples.
  • most of these pacifist Christian communities were not against state military service or the idea that a state should be able to defend itself, as they saw the state as a necessary vehicle for social order, but they themselves would not serve in the military.
  • they follow the teaching of Paul in Romans 13 where the state is permitted to use force but not the individual Christian.
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  • peace churches see a complete separation between the 'church' and the 'world' and take the stance of conscientious objectors.
  • this pacifism doesn't mean doing nothing but often encompasses non violent direct action.
  • most well-known example is Martin Luther King Jr who used forceful language, non-violent resistance, strikes, peaceful protest and civil disobedience.
  • Examples are Ghandi, Lech Walesa.
  • Not only Protestant movements but also Thomas Merton who influenced many of his prolific writings. He renounced violence as a way to peace and wrote that the task of the Christian is to work for the total abolition of war.

Contingent Pacifism

  • not opposed to war on absolute grounds, but on contingent grounds- war as know it cannot be waged in a morally acceptable way. All wars today involve killing of the innocent, and this is morally unacceptable.
  • they accept war in some circumstances such as self-defence and defence of others but innocent must always be protected. They must look at each case if there are justifiable ways to fight the war.
  • Bertrand Russel-> he believed WW2 is a necessary evil to rid of Hitler.
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Preferential Pacifism

  • preferential option over violence. They choose this option partly because war has been so destructive historically.
  • Peace being not just the absence of war is the basis of the the Catholic Workers' Movement and the view of its leaders, such as Dorothy Day and led to what's become known as "the preferential option for the poor"- social injustices, inequality, and lack of human dignity are seen as militating against social and international peace.
  • for the Preferential pacifist, pacifism is about how to live life, but sometimes it is either impossible or immoral to maintain a pacifist stance.

Strengths of P: pacifism is clear cut- opposes all forms of violence; follows teachings of Jesus which Pacifists see as ignored by Just War theory;follows historical position of early Christians; promotes absolute value of human life.

Weaknesses of P: we don't live in a world based on pacifism and as G.E.M. Andscombe points out, P is wrong because it denies the right of self-defence; state has a duty to protect it's citizens; allows evil to dominate.

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