[lit-ideas] Re: Just War

  • From: "Phil Enns" <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 6 Sep 2006 20:57:31 -0400

Lawrence Helm wrote:

"Phil doesn?t say where this ?well-established tradition of just war?
exists ..."

It has a long and well-documented history within the Christian
tradition, beginning with Augustine.

Lawrence continues:

"but I did read Jean Bethke Elshtain?s Just War Against Terror.  On page
189 she writes, ?. . . reason and careful reflection . . . teach us that
there are times when the first and most important reply to evil is to
stop it.  There are times when waging war is not only morally permitted,
but morally necessary, as a response to calamitous acts of violence,
hatred, and injustice.?

This isn't the tradition.  Here is a more accurate account issued by the
US Catholic Bishops:


When Is War Justified?

The moral theory of the "just-war" or "limited-war" doctrine begins with
the presumption which binds all Christians: We should do no harm to our
neighbors. Just-war teaching has evolved as an effort to prevent war.
Only if war cannot be rationally avoided does the teaching then seek to
restrict and reduce its horrors. It does this by establishing a set of
rigorous conditions which must be met if the decision to go to war is to
be morally permissible. Such a decision, especially today, requires
extraordinarily strong reasons for overriding the presumption in favor
of peace and against war. ...

Just response to aggression must also be discriminate; it must be
directed against unjust aggressors, not against innocent people caught
up in a war not of their making. The Council therefore issued its
memorable declaration: "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the
destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their
population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal
and unhesitating condemnation."

Side by side with the just-war theory throughout Christian history has
been the tradition of nonviolence. One of the great nonviolent figures
was St. Francis of Assisi.

While the just-war teaching has clearly been in possession for the past
1,500 years of Catholic thought, the "new moment" in which we find
ourselves sees the just-war teaching and nonviolence as distinct but
interdependent methods of evaluating warfare. They diverge on some
specific conclusions, but they share a common presumption against the
use of force as a means of settling disputes. Both find their roots in
the Christian theological tradition; each contributes to the full moral
vision we need in pursuit of a human peace. We believe the two
perspectives support and complement one another, each preserving the
other from distortion.


In my opinion, this accurately reflects the Christian tradition of Just
War, and my own beliefs.  In no way can one claim that under Just War
theory, war is ever 'morally necessary'.  It may be permitted, but it is
never moral and never necessary.


Phil Enns
Toronto, ON

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