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What is a Just War?-The Just War Tradition in Brief

This is the second in an ongoing series about the just war tradition. Here is the first post where I review Charles and Demy’s book on the just war tradition. They list three basic sets of rules for a just war: rules for going to war (jus ad bellum),  rules for conducting a war (jus in bello), and a third list of what the authors call “prudential” or “secondary” criteria that flow out of the first two. There are three rules for going to war, two for conducting the war, and five prudential criteria.  In subsequent posts I will address these different criteria. In this post I give several quotes from the authors’ introduction where they explain what a just war tradition is and what it is not. The goal is to give the reader an overview of the just-war tradition.

Just war thought in its classic expression…is not first and foremost about military tactics and strategy; nor is it about justifying military operations that already have been undertaken. Rather properly viewed, it is a morally guided approach to statecraft that (1) qualifies the administration of coercive force and (2) views peace as the result of justly ordered relationships. Not all use of force is just; frequently it is not. And not all use of force creates conditions for bringing about peace and justice.  Therefore, the use of force must be highly qualified. Peace is not to be understood as the absence of conflict; it is rather the fruit or by-product of a justly ordered society…The ordering of society-and the just maintenance of that order at its various levels-is the task of policy

The authors hammer this point throughout the book. Peace is about a justly ordered society, not just about the absence of violence. A dictatorship can create a peaceful society on some level. Unjust laws can create a peaceful society on some level as well. But that is not what peace is ultimately about.  The just-war tradition is not primarily about war, but rather about to created a justly ordered peace. They go on to say this:

The present volume [their book] represents an attempt to stand in continuity with classic just-war proponents who variously have argued that the cluster of issues lying at the heart of war and peace-for example, the character and conditions of justice, the nature of politics, the importance and role of political authority, and the dualism of dignity and depravity that constitutes human nature-are most responsibly and realistically addressed by the just war tradition. As we have argued elsewhere in this volume, characteristic of the tradition is a moral realism that escapes the ideological poles of militarism, on the one hand, and pacifism, on the other. This moral realism is best understood in light of basic just war assumptions, which are ever in need of clarification and reiteration.

At the same time, we find it necessary to point out two general distortions [I only quote the first] in the popular perception of just war thought. One is to erect unrealistic expectations of just-war reasoning, as if it is an exact science or a ready-to-order, cookie-cutter solution that automatically and perfectly fits particular geopolitical crisis. In truth, just war thought provides a moral framework and moral parameters within which a principled analysis of policy options might be considered to govern a just response to catastrophic geopolitical developments…

That last sentence is a mouthful. The point is the just war tradition is about principles. The application can vary from situation to situation. The just war tradition will not give you a detailed map of how to fight a war or when to go to war. That requires wisdom. But it will give you a moral framework to help make the decision.  Here are a couple of other quotes to give you a sense of what the just-war tradition is.

From Augustine onward to the present, the development of just war thinking in Christian tradition emanates from these two fundamental burdens: when resorting to force is justified and how to use and apply force morally, or, in two words, permission and limitation. Justice regardless of its context, demands both permission and limits. And those limits have upper as well as lower restrictions. This is decidedly not the case for militarism, crusade/jihad, or the imperialist spirit…

In this present age, war will never be eradicated; thus the just-war tradition avoids the utopian error of thinking-or hoping-that war might be abolished. It reckons with the stubborn reality of human nature and human fallenness, which is not only the normative teaching of historic Christian theology but the empirical evidence on display in all of human civilization.

Finally, here is a quick list of basic “Just-war reasoning” It:

-Promotes skepticism and queasiness about the use and abuse of power while not opting out of political reality altogether in favor of utopian fantasies,
-Requires action and judgment in a world of limits, estrangement, and partial justice,
-Fosters recognition of the provisional nature of all political arrangements,
-Advances respect for other peoples and nations, in terms of both autonomy and accountability,
-Acknowledges the necessity of self-defense and intervention against unjust aggression and gross oppression while refusing to legitimize imperialistic crusades and empire building.

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One Response to What is a Just War?-The Just War Tradition in Brief

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