Just war doctrine

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The Just War Doctrine, according to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraphs 2302-2317, authoritatively teaches what constitutes the just defense of a nation against an aggressor. Called the Just War Doctrine, it was first enunciated by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD). Over the centuries it was taught by Doctors of the Church, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, and formally embraced by the Magisterium, which has also adapted it to the situation of modern warfare." [1]

Principles of a Just War

  • A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
  • A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
  • A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient--see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
  • A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  • The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
  • The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
  • The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Source: Vincent Ferraro Resources, Mount Holyoke College International Relations Program. [2]

War against Iraq

Christians are by no means united on the subject of war against Iraq. Some reject war--any war--out of hand, preferring a pacifist position as the one that best represents the spirit of the Scriptures. Others admit that war is sometimes a sad necessity and that only war can prevent an even greater threat.

A number of religious leaders including Richard Land, Bill Bright, Chuck Colson, D. James Kennedy, and Carl Herbster wrote a letter to President Bush arguing that a war against Iraq could be justified. They believe that such a war meets the tradition of "just war" theory:

  • Just cause. Saddam Hussein is a threat to freedom and has attacked his neighbors and his own people.
  • Just intent. The United States has no interest in occupation, exploitation, or the destruction of the state of Iraq.
  • Last resort. Hussein has defied UN resolutions for years.
  • Legitimate authority. Resolutions from the UN as well as the U.S. Congress strengthen the authority of this action.
  • Limited and achievable goals. The goal of war is to dismantle weapons of mass destruction.
  • Limited casualties. Unlike Hussein, we do not intend to target civilians.
  • Proportionality. The human cost of war is less than the human cost of not going to war.

Source: From Summary: Current Thoughts and Press Online, "The Christian and just war" by Ted Kyle. Pulpit Helps, Dec 2002 (Vol 27, No 12). Pages 3+. [3]

Most of these premises have already been challenged. Some examples are:

  • During the Iranian hostage crisis in the late 1970's, the U.S. supplied arms to Iraq to attack Iran. (Attacking Neighbors)
  • Pre-Invasion meetings by administration to enter Iraq: Greg Palast, Armed Madhouse, Dutton, 2006 (U.S. Interests)
  • No weapons of mass destruction were found. (WMD's)
  • Casualties and occupation questions 5 years later (Human Cost)

Catholic Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor John Paul II condemned the war in Iraq.

Books on a "Just War"

  • Joseph L. Allen, "War: A Primer for Christians," Dallas, TX: The Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility and Southern Methodist University, 2001.
  • Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop, "130 Questions Children Ask About War and Terrorism," Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishing, 2002.
  • John D. Roth, "Choosing Against War: A Christian View: A Love Stronger Than Our Fears," Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2002.
  • Katrina Vanden Heuvel (ed.), "A Just Response: The Nation on Terrorism, Democracy, and September 11, 2001," New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002.
  • Lawrnece F. Kaplan and William Kristol, "The War Over Iraq: Saddam's Tyranny and America's Mission," San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003.
  • William J. Bennett, "Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism," Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2002.
  • Jean Bethke Elshtain, "Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World," New York: Basic Books, 2003.
  • Michael Walzer, "Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations" (3rd. Ed.), New York: Basic Books, 1977.

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