just war?

From: George Murphy (gmurphy@raex.com)
Date: Sat Feb 15 2003 - 12:06:00 EST

  • Next message: RFaussette@aol.com: "Re: my new paradigm"

    With the likelihood of war very high, there have been a lot of discussions pro &
    con about the traditional "just war" doctrine (JWD)which most Christian churches have
    held in some form or other since the 5th century. These discussions are connected
    closely with the science-theology dialogue since the brunt of much criticism of JWD
    since WWII has been that science-based technology has provided weapons of mass
    destruction which make the JWD obsolete. I think that this criticism misses the point,
    & is often used when the real reasons for JWD lie somewhere else.

            First I would note that calling any war "just" is unfortunate: It sounds too
    much like "holy war," suggests that every means of fighting is OK because our cause is
    just &c. In reality war is always bad but the point of JWD is that in some
    circumstances it's the "least bad" choice available. "Justifiable war" would be a
    better term & I'd rather let JWD stand for that but established terminology is often
    impossible to change.

            A very clear statement of the criteria for JWD is given in a little book by
    Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, _When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just War
    Thinking_ (Augsburg, 1984). He lists "the simplest criteria" as follows (p.18):

            1) The authority waging the war must be legitimate.
            2) The cause being fought for must be just.
            3) The ultimate goal ("intention") must be peace.
            4) The subjective motivation ("intention") must not be hatred or vengefulness.
            5) War must be the last resort.
            6) Success must be probable.
            7) The means used must be indispensable to achieve the aim.
            8) The means used must be discriminating, both
                    (a) quantitatively, in order not to do more harm than the harm they
                    prevent ("proportionality"), and
                    (b) qualitatively, to avoid use against the innocent ("immunity").
            9) The means used must respect the provisions of international law.
    1-6 are the criteria for going to war, the _jus ad bellum_, while 7-9 are those for
    conduct of war, the _jus in bello_.

            The criticism I noted has focused on the _jus in bello_, & particularly on 8b.
    The argument is that nuclear weapons & other technological means of warfare are so
    destructive and so indiscriminating in their targets that the above criteria are

            But on what grounds do we then say that the use of modern weapons systems, such
    as the bombing of cities with either "conventional" or nuclear weapons, is illicit? In
    point of fact, what the critics have done is to _use_ JWD - & 8b in particular - to say
    in a quite inconsistent way that JWD is irrelevant! In fact, what they have done is to
    show that JWD rules out particular ways of using scientifically developed weapons.

            The _correct_ use of JWD in this regard can be found in the 1983 pastoral letter
    of the US RC bishops, _The Challenge of Peace_. (Some of you may recall that one of the
    ethicists involved in developing this statement was a speaker at the 1988 ASA meeting.)
    Dealing particularly with the question of nuclear weapons, the bishops applied JWD &
    concluded that virtually no military use of nuclear weapons could be justified precisely
    because it would violate the proportionality and immunity criteria.

            Of course pacifists who are opposed to all wars (e.g., Yoder) will not agree
    that JWD is an adequate framework for deciding war-peace issues. But a consistent
    pacifist is as much opposed to war with swords and spears as to one with nuclear or
    chemical weapons. I respect the pacifist position though I don't agree with it. I do
    think, however, that it is wrong for someone to argue for an effective pacifism under
    the guise of a criticism of JWD which is really based on JWD.

            I want to make it clear that I am _not_ putting forth this statement as a way to
    justify war with Iraq at the present time. The likely number of innocent deaths in such
    a war makes has to raise serious questions about abiding by the _jus in bello_. My
    point is simply that debates about war with Iraq, especially among Christians, are best
    carried out within the framework of JWD.

            The effects of modern weapons systems and our knowledge of ecology do, however,
    suggest that another criterion:

            10) The means used must not directly target the natural environment (or words
    to that effect). I have in mind things like the US use of defoliants in Vietnam or
    Saddam's firing the Kuwaiti oil fields. There is some biblical precedent for this in



    George L. Murphy

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Feb 15 2003 - 12:06:34 EST